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Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Revelation 10



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CH. 9–11.] The last three, or woe-trumpets. These, as well as the first four, have a character of their own, corresponding in some measure to that of the visions at the opening of the three last seals. The particulars related under them are separate and detailed, not symmetrical and correspondent. And as in the seals, so here, the seventh forms rather the solemn conclusion to the whole, than a distinct judgment of itself. Here also, as there, it is introduced by two episodical passages, having reference to the visions which are to follow, and which take up the thread of prophecy again at a period previous to things detailed before.

Verses 1-11

1–11.] THE VISION OF THE LITTLE BOOK. 1–4. Introductory. And I saw another strong angel ( ἄλλον, perhaps in allusion to the many which have been mentioned: but seeing that the epithet ἰσχυρόν occurs in the mention of the angel who cried out in reference to the sealed book, ch. Revelation 5:2, and that the present angel’s errand also regards a book, we can hardly help taking ἄλλον with both substantive and adjective, and referring it to that first ἄγγελος ἰσχυρός in ch. Revelation 5:2. And this consideration may serve to introduce the assertion, to me hardly admitting of a doubt, that this angel is not, and cannot be, our Lord himself. Such a supposition would, it seems to me, entirely break through the consistency of apocalyptic analogy. Throughout the book, as before observed, on ch. Revelation 8:3, angels are the ministers of the divine purposes, and the carriers out of the apocalyptic course of procedure, but are every where distinct from the divine Persons themselves. In order to this their ministry, they are invested with such symbols and such delegated attributes as beseem in each case the particular object in view: but no apparent fitness of such symbolical investiture to the divine character should induce us to break through the distinction, and introduce indistinctness and confusion into the book. When St. John means to indicate the Son of God, he indicates Him plainly: none more so: when these plain indications are absent, and I find the name ἄγγελος used, I must take leave to regard the agent as distinct from Him,—however clothed, for the purposes of the particular vision, with His delegated power and attributes) descending out of heaven (the place of the Seer yet continues in heaven: see below, Revelation 10:8-9), clothed with a cloud (as a messenger of divine judgment: see ch. Revelation 1:7), and the rainbow upon his head ( the well-known, ordinary, rainbow: indicating, agreeably with its first origin, God’s covenant of mercy. See note on ch. Revelation 4:3. On the accus. after ἐπί at the first mention of superposition, see note, ch. Revelation 4:2), and his face as the sun (indicating the divine glory with which he was invested: see ch. Revelation 1:16, Revelation 18:1; and compare Luke 9:26), and his feet as pillars of fire (see ch. Revelation 1:15. The symbols with which this angel is accompanied, as those which surrounded the throne of God in ch. Revelation 4:2 ff., betoken judgment tempered with mercy, the character of his ministration, which, at the same time that it proclaims the near approach of the completion of God’s judgments, furnishes to the Seer the book of his subsequent prophecy, the following out of God’s purposes of mercy), and having in his hand (his left hand, by what follows, Revelation 10:5) a little book (the diminutive has been taken by some to point to the subsequent eating of the book by the Apostle: so Eichhorn: but Düsterd. remarks that if so, even the βιβλαρίδιον would be too large:—by others, to the size relatively to the angel: so Bengel. But the most natural reason for its use is to be found by comparison with the βιβλίον of ch. 5 ff. That was the great sealed roll of God’s purposes: this (see below) but one portion of those purposes, which was to be made the Seer’s own for his future prophesyings. The form βιβλαρίδιον is not found in Greek writers: the diminutive is βιβλιδαρίον, used by Aristoph. frag. (in Julius Pollux, vii. 210. See also Phot(105) Bibl. p. 142). On the signification, &c., of this little book or roll, see below Revelation 10:8, notes) open. And he placed his right foot on the sea, and his left on the earth, and cried with a loud voice as a lion roareth (the whole imagery represents the glory and majesty of Him whose messenger this angel is: and is to be taken literally in the vision, the earth meaning the earth; the sea, the sea: and the description of the loudness of the voice being simply thus descriptive). And when he cried, the seven thunders (it is probable that the art. αἱ is prefixed because, like the seven stars, churches, seals, trumpets, and vials, these seven thunders form a complete portion of the apocalyptic machinery: and having no other designation, for the very reason that their meaning is not revealed, they are thus designated, as “the seven thunders”) spoke their (no further stress on ἑαυτῶν, than as it belongs to the peculiar character of the utterances of these thunders. They were to be concealed, remaining unwritten: and this fact, I conceive, reflects back a tinge on the possessive genitive, making it so far emphatic: the voices were, and remained, ἑαυτῶν: not shared by being perpetuated) voices. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write (in obedience to the command in ch. Revelation 1:19): and (not, “but:” as I was about to write, a new circumstance arose) I heard a voice out of heaven (from which it does not follow that the Seer is on earth, any more than in ver.1) saying, Seal up the things which the seven thunders spoke, and do not write them (cf. the contrary command, ch. Revelation 22:10. Many speculations have been raised as to the purport of the utterances of the seven thunders, and the reason for concealing them. From the very nature of the case, these must be utterly in vain. The wisdom of Him who signified this Revelation to His servant John, has not seen fit to reveal these things to us. But the very nature of the case also convicts some of these speculations of error. The thunders, e. g., did not speak “humanum excedentia captum” as Ewald, seeing that not only did St. John understand their utterances, but he was about to write them down for others to read, as intelligible to them also. Again, they were not any utterances of mere human device. They were spoken by command of the great angel, as Revelation 10:3 necessarily implies: they in common with the seals, trumpets, and vials, form part of the divinely-arranged machinery of the Apocalypse. It is matter of surprise and grief therefore, when we find historical interpreters of our day explaining them of the papal anathemas of the time of the Reformation. Elliott, vol. ii. p. 100 ff. It seems to me that no interpretation could be more unfortunate—none more thoroughly condemnatory of the system which is compelled to have recourse to it. For, merely to insist upon one point,—if it were so, then the Apostle sealed the utterances in vain, for all know what those thunders have uttered: then the command should have run σφράγισον.… ἕως καιροῦ συντελείας, as in Daniel 12:4, instead of an absolute command as here. Thus much we may infer; from the very character of thunder,—that the utterances were of fearful import: from the place which they hold, that they related to the church. from the command to conceal them, first, encouragement, that God in His tender mercy to His own does not reveal all His terrors: secondly, godly fear, seeing that the arrows of His quiver are not exhausted, but besides things expressly foretold, there are more behind not revealed to us).

Verses 1-14

CH. Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:14.] EPISODICAL AND ANTICIPATORY. As after the sixth seal, so here after the sixth trumpet, we have a passage interposed, containing two episodes, completing that which has been already detailed, and introducing the final member of the current series. But it is not so easy here as there, to ascertain the relevance and force of the episodes. Their subjects here seem further off: their action more complicated. In order to appreciate them, it will be necessary to lay down clearly the point at which we have arrived, and to observe what is at that point required.

The last vision witnessed the destruction of a third part of the ungodly by the horsemen from the East, and left the remainder in a state of impenitent idolatry and sin. Manifestly then the prayers of the saints are not yet answered, however near the time may be for that answer. If then this Episode contains some assurance of the approach of that answer in its completeness, it will be what we might expect at this point in the series of visions.

At the same time, looking onwards to the rest of the book, we see, that as out of the more general series of visions at the opening of the seals, affecting both the church and the world, there sprung a new and more particular series of the trumpets, having reference to one incident in the former vision, and affecting especially the “inhabiters of the earth,” so if now the gaze of prophecy once more turns to the church and her fortunes, and the Apostle receives a new commission to utter a second series of prophecies, mainly on that subject, it will also be no more than what we might fairly look for.

Again: if the episodical vision in its character and hue partakes of the complexion of the whole series of trumpet-visions, and, as regards the church, carries a tinge of persecution, and of the still crying prayer for vengeance, not yet fully answered,—while at the same time it contains expressions and allusions which can only be explained by reference onward to the visions yet to come; this complex character is just that which would suit the point of transition at which we are now standing, when the series of visions immediately dependent on one feature in the opening of the seals is just at its end, and a new one evolving the other great subject of that general series is about to begin.

Now each one of these particulars is found as described above. For 1) the angel of ch. 10 declares, with reference to the great vengeance-burden of the whole series of the trumpet-visions, respecting which the souls of the martyrs had been commanded ἵνα ἀναπαύσωνται ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν, ch. Revelation 6:11,—that χρόνος οὐκέτι ἔσται, but that in the days of the seventh angel, when he is about to blow, the whole mystery of prophecy would be fulfilled.

2) The same angel gives to the Seer the open little book, with a distinct announcement that he is to begin a new series of prophecies, and that series, by what immediately follows, ch. Revelation 11:1 ff., evidently relating to the church of God in an especial manner.

3) The whole complexion of the episodical vision of the two witnesses, ch. Revelation 11:3 ff., is tinged with the hue which has pervaded the series of trumpet-visions, from their source in ch. Revelation 6:9-11, viz. that of vengeance for the sufferings of the saints: while at the same time allusions occur in it which are at present inexplicable, but will receive light hereafter, when the new series of visions is unfolded. Such are the allusions to τὸ θηρίον τὸ ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου, ch. Revelation 11:7, and to ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη, Revelation 11:8.

With these preliminary considerations, we may, I think, approach these episodical visions with less uncertainty.

Verses 5-7

5–7.] The oath of the strong angel, that the time of fulfilment of all prophecy was close at hand. In this portion of the vision, the reminiscences of Daniel 12:7 are very frequent:— καὶ ἤκουσα τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τοῦ ἐνδεδυμένου τὰ βαδδίν, ὃς ἦν ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος τοῦ ποταμοῦ, καὶ ὕψωσε τὴν δεξιὰν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀριστερὰν αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, καὶ ὤμοσεν ἐν τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ὅτι εἰς καιρὸν καιρῶν καὶ ἥμισυ καιροῦ, ἐν τῷ συντελεσθῆναι διασκορπισμὸν γνώσονται πάντα ταῦτα. And the angel whom I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted his right hand (not both hands, as in Daniel above, seeing that the little book lay open on his left. On the practice of lifting the hand in swearing, cf. ref. and Genesis 14:22 (Exodus 6:8 and Numbers 14:30, marg. and LXX)) towards heaven (as God’s dwelling-place, Isaiah 57:15) and sware by (construction, see reff.) Him that liveth to the ages of the ages (cf. Dan. above), who created the heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it (this full and formal designation of God as Creator of all is given, because the subject of the angel’s oath is, the mystery of God, which necessarily rests in His power alone who made all things.

We may observe, that the fact as well as the form of this oath is against the supposition, that this strong angel is the Lord Himself. Considering St. John’s own declarations respecting the Son of God, it is utterly inconceivable that he should have related as spoken by Him an oath couched in these terms), that time (see below) should no longer be (i. e. should no more intervene: in allusion to the answer given to the cry of the souls of the martyrs, ch. Revelation 6:11, καὶ ἐῤῥέθη αὐτοῖς ἵνα ἀναπαύσωνται ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν. This whole series of trumpet-judgments has been an answer to the prayers of the saints, and now the vengeance is about to receive its entire fulfilment: χρόνος οὐκέτι ἔσται: the appointed delay is at an end. That this is the meaning is shewn by the ἀλλʼ ἐν τ. ἡμ. which follows. Several erroneous views have been taken of this saying: e. g., 1) that of Bed(106) “mutabilis sæcularium temporum varietas in novissima tuba cessabit,” al., and apparently the E. V. (“that there should be time no longer”)—that it imports the ending of the state of time, and the beginning of eternity: 2) the chronological one of Bengel, who allots a definite length, viz. 11111/9 years (?) to a chronus, and then interprets, “there shall not elapse a chronus:” bringing the end, on his successive-historical system, to the year 1836, which is self-refuted: 3) the view of Vitringa and Hengstenb., which grounds an error on the right understanding of these words themselves,—“moram nullam temporis esse intercessuram inter clangorem septimæ tubæ et oraculorum propheticorum implementum:” for the assertion of Revelation 10:7, which is the carrying out of this denial, expressly identifies the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, with the immediate fulfilment of all prophecy): but ( ἀλλά is not = εἰ μή, but bears its proper meaning of strong contrast) in the days of the voice of the seventh angel (i. e. the days indicated, in the fulfilment of the vision, by the sounding of the seventh angel’s trumpet. De W. well observes, that there is in the diction of this clause a mingling of the fulfilment with the prophecy), when he is about to blow his trumpet (these words ὅταν μέλλῃ are used, as in reff., in their strictest propriety. For when the seventh angel does sound, the completed time of the fulfilment is simultaneous with his blowing: cf. ch. Revelation 11:18; so that it is properly said that the fulfilment comes in the days when he is about to blow. Elliott’s version, “at what time soever he may have to sound,” can hardly be the rendering of ὅταν μέλλῃ σαλπίζειν. For 1) ὅταν will not in the LXX and N. T. bear this emphatic uncertainty, but is simply “when,” in contingent clauses: and 2) μέλλῃ, in a sentence spoken strictly of time, must be kept to its temporal signification. Of course, the E. V., “when he shall begin to sound,” is inadmissible), then (this καί in apodosi is in fact the token of a mixed construction: which resolved would be ἀλλʼ ὅτι ἥξουσιν αἱ ἡμέραι κ. τ. λ., καὶ κ. τ. λ. So also in reff. See Winer, edn. 6, § 53. 3, f) the mystery of God (this expression will be best understood by ref. Rom., connected as it is here with the verb εὐηγγέλισεν (see below). It is the mystery of the kingdom, as unfolded in the course of the Gospel dispensation, as is clearly shewn by the thanksgiving after the blowing of the seventh trumpet in ch. Revelation 11:15 ff.) is fulfilled (lit., was fulfilled,—the speaker looking back, in prophetic anticipation, on the days spoken of, from a point when they should have become a thing past), as He evangelized (it is impossible to give the force of εὐηγγέλισεν with the accus. by a periphrasis, without losing its force. It expresses that God informed them of the glad tidings: it being left to be understood by their office of προφήτης, that they published the εὐαγγέλιον. See Galatians 3:8, where the sense, though not the construction, is much the same) His servants the prophets.

Verses 8-11

8–11.] The delivery of the little book to John, and announcement of a further work of prophecy to be carried on by him. And the voice which I heard out of heaven, (I) again (heard) talking with me and saying (the sentence is a curious instance of mixed construction. One of its simple forms would be κ. ἡ φωνὴ ἣν ἤκ. ἐκ τ. οὐρ. πάλιν ἐλάλει μετʼ ἐμοῦ λέγονσα: the other, κ. τὴν φωνὴν ἤκουσα ἐκ τ. οὐρ. πάλ. λαλοῦσαν μετʼ ἐμοῦ κ. λἐγουσαν. The former member of the first of these, and the latter member of the second, are united in the text), Go take the book which lieth open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went away (from my former place as a spectator in heaven: from which, however, the Seer docs not seem wholly to remove, cf. ch. Revelation 11:16; Revelation 19:1 ff., although his principal spot of observation is henceforth the earth: cf. ch. Revelation 11:1, Revelation 14:1, Revelation 17:3, &c.) to the angel telling him (the pres. part. contains the reason of the ἀπῆλθον) to give me the little book. And he saith to me, Take and eat it up (cf. Ezekiel 3:1 ff.; Jeremiah 15:16; Psalms 40:9): and it shall embitter thy belly, but in thy mouth shall be sweet as honey. And I took the book out of the hand of the angel and ate it up: and it was in my mouth as honey, sweet; and when I had eaten it up, my belly was embittered (there is the difference between Ezekiel’s roll and this, that, in the prophet’s case, only the sweetness in the mouth is mentioned. The Angel, dwelling most on the most important thing, the working of the contents of the book, puts the bitterness first: the Evangelist, in relating what happened, follows the order of time. The text itself will guard us against some misinterpretations of this bitterness and sweetness. It is plain that we must understand these to belong, not to differing characters of different portions of the contents of the book (as Heinr., Ewald), but to different sensations of the Evangelist in different parts of his body respecting one and the same content of the book. Nor again must we invert the order, imagining (as Herder and Rinck) that the first bitterness leads afterwards to sweetness and joy, or (as Bede, Aretius, al.) that the bitterness in the belly indicates the reception by the Evangelist, but the sweetness in the mouth, the declaration to others; proceeding on a misunderstanding of Revelation 10:11. For further particulars, see below). And they say ( λέγουσιν leaves the speakers quite indefinite; amounting in fact to no more than “it was said”) to me, Thou must (i. e. it is God’s will that thou shouldest: a command is laid upon thee so to do) again prophesy (as thou hast done before in writing the former part of the ἀποκάλυψις: see in the interpretation below) concerning (not, as E.V. “before:” nor can ἐπί with a dat. bear such a meaning. The substantives which follow the preposition are the objects of the προφητεῦσαι. So in reff. See Winer, edn. 6, § 48, c. C) peoples and nations and languages and many kings (i. e. concerning the inhabitants of the earth, as before: cf. ch. Revelation 5:9, where the Lamb’s worthiness to open the former βιβλίον is connected with His having redeemed ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς κ. γλώσσης κ. λαοῦ κ. ἔθνους).

I have postponed till this point the question, what we are to understand by the βιβλαρίδιον, and the Seer’s concern with it. And I will at once say, before discussing the various differing interpretations, that I conceive the simple acceptation of the description and symbolism here can lead but to one conclusion; viz. that it represents the μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ above spoken of, the subject of the remainder of the apocalyptic prophecies. So far, many of the principal Commentators are at one. Indeed it is difficult to conceive how any other interpretation can have been thought of, except as made necessary by some previous self-committal of the Expositor regarding the sealed book of ch. 5, or by the exigencies of some historical system. But within the limits of this agreed meaning, there are many different views as to the extent of the reference of the “little book” to that which follows, and as to its relation to the seven-sealed book of ch. 5. As regards these points, we may remark, 1) that the contents of the “little book” cannot well be confined to ch. Revelation 11:1-13, or we should not have had so solemn an inauguration of it, nor so wide-reaching an announcement of the duty of the Apostle consequent on the receipt of it: 2) that the oath of the Angel must necessarily be connected with his bearing of the open book on his hand, and if so, makes it necessary to infer that the contents of the book are identical with the mystery, respecting which he swears: 3) that the episode which follows, containing the first work of the Apostle under this his new prophetic commission, inchoates an entirely new matter—the things which befall the Church of God and the holy city, which new character of incidents continues to prevail until the very end of the book: 4) that the relation of this “little book” to the sealed book of ch. 5 can hardly be doubtful to the readers of this Commentary, seeing that we have maintained that book to be the sum of the divine purposes, which is not opened at all within the limits of the apocalyptic vision, but only prepared to be opened by the removal of its seven seals. That this is not that complete record of the divine purposes, nor, technically speaking, any portion of it, must be evident to us. For it forms a small detached roll or volume, lying open on the angel’s hand: it is destined for the especial individual behoof of the Seer, into whom it passes, and becomes assimilated with himself, to be given forth as he should be directed to utter it. 5) That it contained more than we possess in the remaining portion of this book, is probable. St. John doubtless knew more than he has told us. Previously to this, he knew what the seven thunders uttered: and subsequently to this, we can hardly imagine that he was ignorant of the name of the wild beast, whose number he has given us.

It remains that we say something on the circumstances accompanying the Apostle’s reception of the mysterious book. Its sweetness, when he tasted it, allusive as it is to the same circumstance in Ezekiel’s eating the roll which was all lamentation, mourning, and woe, doubtless represents present satisfaction at being informed of, and admitted to know, a portion of God’s holy will: of those words of which the Psalmist said, Psalms 119:103, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste, yea sweeter than honey unto my mouth!” But when the roll came to be not only tasted, but digested,—the nature of its contents felt within the man,—bitterness took the place of sweetness: the persecutions, the apostasies, the judgments, of the church and people of the Lord, saddened the spirit of the Seer, and dashed his joy at the first reception of the mystery of God.


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 10:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.

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