In this chapter we are given the first part of the parenthetical portion that comes in between the sixth and seventh trumpets (11:15). We have already noticed that there are similar parentheses between the sixth and seventh seals and the sixth and seventh vials. It is an evidence of divine order not to be overlooked. The seventh trumpet ushers in the millennial kingdom and goes right on to the close of the course of time and the establishment of the great white throne for the judgment of the wicked dead. But before these final events are brought to our attention, we are given fuller instruction regarding God’s plan for Israel in connection with these future events.
This tenth chapter contains truth largely of a moral character, therefore one is likely to pass over it without very careful attention. It does not seem, at first sight, to have to do with any of the great movements we have been considering in connection with either Israel or the Gentiles. In the first chapter of the book of Daniel we have set before us, in the history of the three Hebrew youths who refused to be defiled with the king’s meat, the necessary moral condition for spiritual instruction. So in this tenth chapter we find the Lord dealing in a very special way with His beloved apostle John, in order that he may be the better prepared to unfold the great mysteries lying in the rest of the book of Revelation. And in the Lord’s preparation of His servant John, we get great moral principles that should speak to our own hearts. If grasped correctly these principles better prepare us to serve the living and true God while we wait for His Son from Heaven.
The Angel of the Covenant (Revelation 10:1-7)
The mighty angel can surely be no other than that same glorious angel of the covenant whom we saw standing at the golden altar officiating as the angel-priest of the heavenly sanctuary (8:3-5). Of no created angel could such glorious things be said as those John wrote in connection with this wondrous being.
The reason our Lord is brought before us in this angelic character is that in this portion of the book of Revelation we are dealing largely with Israel, the earthly people, before their Messiah has been revealed to them. Therefore it is only natural that He should take the same position that He had with them in Old Testament times. They will receive a fuller revelation when He descends in glory. They will behold the marks of His passion and cry out in amazement, “ What are those wounds in thy hands?” Then He will answer, “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” At last the full truth will burst on them that the crucified Nazarene and the angel of the covenant are identical. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son,… as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zephaniah 12:10). This will be the true day of atonement for Judah and Jerusalem. They will afflict their souls as they realize the enormity of their sin in rejecting their divine Savior. The merits of His atoning work will be applied to their hearts and consciences. Then will they be able to cry out in the full assurance of faith, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). But until that moment of His full unveiling, He is to them the angel of the covenant—an uncreated angel.
He comes down out of Heaven, clothed not merely with a cloud, but the cloud, as it should read; the cloud is the symbol of the divine glory. The cloud is the chariot in which He led His people of old through the wilderness all the way from Egypt to the land of promise. We are expressly told that in that cloud was the angel of the covenant (Exodus 14:19). It is the uncreated cloud of glory that dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy-seat in the tabernacle (Leviticus 16:2). When Solomon built the temple and dedicated it to Jehovah, He came in the cloud, dwelling in it as His house (1 Kings 8:10-13). Nearly five centuries later, when Ezekiel was called on to declare the desolation of that once holy house, he beheld the cloud lifted up from the most holy place. It tarried a moment over the door of the sanctuary, then departed and hung above the city wall as though loath to give up the place where His glory had so long been manifested (Ezekiel 10). Slowly the cloud moved over to the adjoining mountain on the east, the mount of Olives, and then up into the heavens (11:23-25).
Thus the visible representation of Jehovah’s presence had disappeared from Israel because of their sins. That cloud never returned to the land of Palestine until our Lord Jesus Christ went up into the holy mount, which we commonly call the mount of transfiguration. There Peter, James, and John had a vision of the coming kingdom— “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16). There they saw Him transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah— Moses representing the saints who have died and will be raised again at our Lord’s return, and Elijah picturing those who will be caught up at Christ’s coming, without dying. Peter, overwhelmed by such an abundant revelation and not knowing what to say cried, “Lord, it is good for us to be here:…let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matthew 17:4). And while he was speaking, “behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them” (5). This was the Father’s way of showing them that He would have no mortal man, however holy and devoted, put on a level with His beloved Son. After Christ had died on the cross and was raised from the dead by omnipotent power, He led His disciples out to the mount of Olives near Bethany. With hands lifted up in blessing, he was parted from them, and they watched Him going up until the cloud received Him out of their sight. When He returns again we will behold Him on the cloud and every eye will see Him (Acts 1:9-11). So here, when John wrote, “I saw another mighty angel… clothed with a cloud,” we may understand at once that this angel can be no creature; He is Himself the Creator of all things, our Lord Jesus Christ, clothed with the sign of the divine majesty.
Next we observe that the rainbow which we saw in chapter 4 around the throne of God, is now seen wrapped, as it were, around the head of this mighty angel. It seems to speak of His coming to confirm the covenant made with Noah after the world had been destroyed by a flood. Another evidence that it is a divine person who is here brought before us, is found in the next clause: “His face was as it were the sun” (10:1). It is the same face that Saul of Tarsus saw when he was marching along the Damascus road, his heart filled with hatred against the Lord Jesus and burning with rage against His followers. Struck down, he saw a light above the brightness of the sun and in that glorious light beheld the once-crucified Christ of God. He heard Him ask in tenderest accents, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4) When He comes again it will be as the Sun of righteousness.
“His feet,” we are told, were “as pillars of fire,” thus linking Him with the same wondrous Being described in chapter one. There we read that “his feet [were] like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” We also read a similar description in Daniel 7.
We are told next that He had in His hand “a little book open” (10:2). There have been various speculations as to what this book might be. It seems to me it could be no other than the same book we had before us previously (Revelation 5:1). It is the title deed to the earth, the seals of which have been broken, one after the other, until the entire scroll is seen unrolled. The Lord descends with all the evidences of divine majesty and with this title deed in His hand He sets His right foot on the sea and His left foot on the earth, as indicative of taking possession of His own inheritance. As Man on earth, He had redeemed that inheritance with His own precious blood.
His voice is the voice of the conqueror: “He cried… as when a lion roareth” (3); for the angel and the Lion of Judah’s tribe are one and the same. When He had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. The thunder, we have noticed before, speaks of judgment. John said, “When the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not” (4). As Mediator of the new covenant He seals up the utterance of the seven thunders. It is not necessary for us to know what they uttered. They represent judgment due to wayward man, but He Himself has borne the judgment and those who trust in Him need never know its dreadful secrets.
Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Saviour’s name;
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.
He has bought us with His blood;
He has brought us home to God
Have you ever noticed how inquisitive people often are in regard to those things that the wisdom of God has purposely kept from them? In the Old Testament dispensation the law was hidden in the ark, covered with the mercyseat; yet the men of Bethshemesh foolishly looked into the ark and were killed in judgment (1 Samuel 6:19). So there are things hidden from the people of God in all dispensations, which He would have them leave with Himself. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children” (Deuteronomy 29:29). It is only too natural for man to pass over the precious revealed truth that would be for his sanctification and blessing. Instead he occupies himself with hidden things, which are not given him now to know. If it had been for his blessing to know, God would have revealed these hidden things. I am often asked, “What do you suppose was written in the flying roll of Zechariah’s vision?” I only know what the Word has said. I am also asked, “What were the unspeakable things Paul heard when caught up into the third heaven?” If Paul could not utter them, how could we? And so many have puzzled over the things spoken by the seven thunders, but faith rests in the fact that John was commanded not to write them.
It is important to notice the difference between the last clause of verse 6, as found in the King James version and in any critical translation. Instead of reading, “That there should be time no longer,” read, “That there should be no longer delay.” Because of the erroneous translation given in our generally correct and excellent English version, many have been misled into supposing that this vision brings us to the end of time. However, the context makes it very plain that such is not the case. The vision is distinctly a premillennial one. The point is that the hour of accomplishment has almost struck, and God will not delay the completion of His plans and the fulfillment of His promises. “A short work will the Lord make upon the earth” (Romans 9:28). The angel swears by Him that liveth for ever and ever (that is, by Jehovah Himself, the Creator of all things) that nothing will cause any more delay. In the days when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, the mystery of God—that is, the mystery of God’s long tolerance of evil—will be finished. Everything will then be made plain. The mystery of retribution—the mystery of predestination—the mystery of the great struggle between light and darkness and good and evil—all will be explained then. There will be no more secrets in God’s ways and dealings, and man will need no longer question; the dispensations of faith will have come to an end, and the dispensation of sight will have dawned. Are you often troubled by questions as to God’s purpose, His counsels, His judgments, His apparently strange dealings with you and with the world? To the man who has not the secret of the Lord, His ways may seem contradictory. Learn from this Scripture to wait in patience until God Himself makes all clear in the days of the voice of the seventh angel.
The Little Scroll (Revelation 10:8-11)
In the second part of the chapter we are occupied with a very different line of things. We are now to read of an experience the apostle John had that God would have every student of His Word undergo.
What are we to understand by verses 8-10? You will recall that a similar experience was given to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3). He too was called on to “eat the book.” And the lesson in both instances is the same. It is only as we feed on and digest the Word of God that we ourselves are nourished and built up in the truth of our most holy faith. Only then are we in a right condition of soul to use that Word for the help and instruction of others. David said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). And again, “Thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6). This, I take it, is what John’s experience illustrates. He was commanded to eat the little book that was in the angel’s hand—that is, to meditate on it and to make it thoroughly his own.
Someone has said that in these busy days of ours meditation is a lost art. Would to God it were restored and His people were more given to feed on His truth. For it is not only that God would have John and Ezekiel eat the book, He wants you to eat it likewise. He has given it to you who believe on His Son, to be the food of your own souls, to make you fit to serve Him in this world. And remember this is just as true of the prophetic books as of every portion of the Word of God. In both the instances cited it is particularly the prophetic word that is in view. Lay hold of dispensational truth, of prophetic teaching, in this very practical way and it will have a most beneficial effect on your inner man.
John said that when the book was in his mouth it was very sweet, but when he had eaten it his inward parts were made bitter. This is most instructive. There is no sweeter portion in all Scripture than that which God has revealed concerning the manifestation of His blessed Son. Prophetic truth is generally sweet and attractive to those whose interest is just being awakened in it. But if followed up, if the book is really eaten, it leads to self-judgment and to separation from evil, and this will always be bitter. There is not one of us who readily takes the place that God’s Word would put him in during this period of Christ’s rejection. And so the point here is that God’s truth makes demands on people. You who are following these studies with me will soon find this out, if you have not already done so. If you conscientiously undertake to walk in the truth revealed, you too will know something of its bitterness. You cannot enjoy things that you used to enjoy if you receive the prophetic testimony and walk in the power of what is revealed there. As the great divine program unfolds before your mind, it may be very interesting, and in this sense the book is sweet. But as great divine principles enter your hearts, and you realize more and more the call to strangership in this Satan-controlled world, the truth becomes bitter indeed, and it makes demands on you. It is not always the sweet things that are best for us; we need the bitter as well as the sweet. Every soul who has walked in the truth as God has revealed it to him, has finally found the blessedness of obedience. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
It is a very sad thing indeed when truth is simply held in the intellect, with no particular bearing on the life. In speaking of the second coming of the Lord, the apostle John wrote, “Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). It is a truth that should affect the believer at every angle of his life. Anyone who truly believes that Christ will return cannot afterwards live for self or for the world. If one professes to hold the second coming of Christ and yet lives like the world, he demonstrates that whatever he may hold mentally, the truth of the Lord’s coming does not hold him. That truth believed makes carnal Christians spiritual; it makes worldly people heavenly; it makes covetous people generous; it makes careless people earnest. And so I want to be very frank with you. If you do not desire to let this truth have its sway over your lives, it might be better to cease studying this book of the Revelation right here. For all God’s truth has been made known for the obedience of faith. I am certain that these truths are going to change the lives of some people completely, or they will harden them in their waywardness and be the means of searing their consciences as with a hot iron.
After the apostle had eaten the book, the angel said to him, “Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” (11). This is of importance in connection with the further opening up of the book. This verse does not mean that John was to go to other peoples and nations to prophesy. Rather he is to prophesy in regard to these nations, to the same servants of God to whom he has already been giving the word. The point is that when the seventh trumpet sounds (11:7) the present outline of prophecy comes to a close; for as previously mentioned, the seventh trumpet carries us right on to the great day of judgment at the end of time. But in the last verse of the eleventh chapter (which properly belongs to chapter 12) John begins once more to prophesy concerning nations, and kings, and tongues, and people. This second great outline culminates in the new heaven and new earth. You will remember that the roll which was seen in the hand of Him that sat on the throne, the seals of which were broken by the Lamb, was written on two sides (5:1). As the book was unrolled, John could see clearly what was written on the inside, and I understand this to be the outline we have already had before us. But beginning with chapter 12, the roll is, so to speak, reversed, and we see what was written on the other side. God confirms the former outline and fills in details there omitted, so that we have a clearer and fuller understanding of the great events yet to take place in the world where our Lord was crucified.
If this is clearly seen, the book becomes plain. Otherwise there is confusion. There are those who endeavor to make everything chronological with their scheme of interpretation. The trumpets not only follow the seals, which is quite correct, but these interpreters go on to make the vials, or bowls of wrath, follow the trumpets. This necessarily puts the twelfth chapter and the rapture of the manchild far over into the seventieth week. Yet, as we will see when we reach that point, chapter 12 and chapter 4 fit together chronologically. As when God gave Pharaoh two dreams (the one confirming the other) so here the message is duplicated that we may know the certainty of the words of truth wherein we are being instructed.