The Colossus, A Vow, and An Edible Small Scroll

The Colossus, a Vow, and an Edible Small Scroll

Aside from shouting loudly with a roar like a lion, the Mighty Angel in Revelation Chapter Ten performs two conspicuous actions. First, he raises his right hand to heaven and makes a solemn vow by Him who lives forever and ever that there will be “NO MORE DELAY!” And second, he gives Narrator John an edible small scroll and instructs him to eat it, but warns John beforehand that it will hard on his stomach. Therefore, we will focus here on a solemn vow of prompt completion and an edible, yet indigestible small scroll. In my previous blog-cast I mentioned that I would get to each these two loose ends from Revelation Chapter Ten, so here I go.

As I explained previously, the Mighty Angel is actually Christ Jesus himself, but in the guise of the Angel of the Lord, which was how he appeared to people over and over throughout the Old Testament. The Mighty Angel (who is Christ Incognito) stands on the sea and the land. To stand on the sea and the land is a symbolic action of dominance. It shows the Mighty Angel’s supreme sovereignty over the Sea and the Land. Throughout the Book of Revelation the Sea represents foreign and distant nations, especially the diverse ethnic groups that populated the Roman Empire. The Land represents local and native people, which would mean the Jewish people, if and when Israel is the narrative point of reference, or alternatively, the natives of Roman Asia, if the Province of Asia is the point of reference. Thus the strident symbolism is meant to show that even when Christ is Christ Incognito, he is still sovereign and dominant over the the various peoples of the Roman Empire, and by extension, the whole world.

For the first recipients of Revelation, the natives of Provincial Asia, this imagery of the Mighty Angel astride the land and sea very likely (read: almost certainly) brought to mind the nearby ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes. The Colossus of Rhodes was once a tourist-attracting giant harbor-front statue, something like the Statue of Liberty near Manhattan. Like the Temple in Jerusalem, the Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And also like the Temple in Jerusalem, the Colossus of Rhodes was associated with one particular deity; in the case of the Colossus, that deity was the Hellenistic sun god Helios. But by the time Revelation was written and circulating, both had been toppled and were in ruins. The Temple in Jerusalem had been demolished by Emperor Titus’s troops, the Colossus of Rhodes by an earthquake. It is contextually telling, therefore, that the Mighty Angel of Revelation Ten stands astride the sea and the land. Revelation’s message must be that Jesus Christ stands supremely sovereign, where the Colossus had fallen.

Back to the narrative of the passage, though. In the fifth verse of Chapter Ten, the Mighty Angel raises his right hand to make his vow of prompt completion. This hand-raising action refers back to not one but two key Old Testament passages. The first passage is Deuteronomy 32:39-42, wherein God says, “For I lift up my hand to Heaven and swear, ‘As I live forever … I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me.’” With the threat of certain vengeance, this might disturb a 21st century reader. But it makes the point clear that God is not to be trifled with. It also begs the question of whether the Mighty Angel is somehow the same person as the Divine Vow-Maker of Deuteronomy, given the strong similarities and the slight differences of the two passages. See my previous blog-cast entitled “The Cast of Chapter Ten” on that point.

The second passage is Daniel 12:5-13, where we see a Mysterious Figure — a Man. The Man is clothed in (white?) linen. He stands atop or above the Tigris River (see Daniel 10:4). He raises both his right hand and left hand to Heaven in a vow. He then informs (or perhaps more accurately, declines to clearly inform) the statesman-prophet Daniel how long he and his readers must wait until the end arrives. Daniel is given the cryptic answer of “a time, times, and half a time” until everything is accomplished. For Daniel, there will be delay — a very long delay. In the ninth verse of Daniel 12, the Mysterious Man solemnly says, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret (that is, a mystery) and sealed until the time of the End.” This passage is exactly what Revelation 10:5-7 references. Daniel is informed of a very long delay. Alternatively, John and his readers are promised that the delay will end promptly, when certain conditions are fulfilled. We are meant to catch that.

Of utmost importance, the Mighty Angel/Christ tells John that the Mystery of God will be fulfilled (or accomplished) when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet. What then, is the Mystery of God? Recall that the Mystery of God was sealed to Daniel. Does it remain sealed? Can we know what the Mystery of God is before the End? We can know it; and we do know it. We are already living in the last days, which is the Church Age. And we are privy to the Mystery of God.

While the Book of Revelation usually references the Old Testament, here we have to look to the New Testament. The Mystery of God is an important theme of the Apostle Paul’s. And yes, John’s listeners would have known that, because they were very familiar with the Pauline Epistles. Paul had written to them and their near-neighbors before John wrote Revelation. Therefore, when Jesus through John began talking about the Mystery of God, they knew exactly what he was talking about. The Mystery of God was their own adoption into the family of God. Adoption was and is the Mystery of God. Even though most of them were once pagan Gentiles, they had been invited to come join the household of God. Before the Church began, this was something unheard of and almost entirely unexpected. But God had extended an invitation to outsiders and foreigners. They, too, could accept the invitation and choose to be part of the household of God. The Mystery of God was the extent of his gracious invitation: It was even for Gentiles, who were previously excluded (see Ephesians 1:3-14; Colossians 1:24-27; 1 Timothy 3:14-16).   

Consequently, when the Mighty Angel/Christ says in Revelation 10:7 that the Mystery of God will be fulfilled when the the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, he means that when the End comes, all the Gentile peoples will have had a chance to accept the invitation to be adopted — to join the family of God. The Mystery of God is accomplished when the Church accomplishes its mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ worldwide (see Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10).   

As for the scroll that the Mighty Angel gives to John, it contains information — bittersweet information. Although it is true and ultimately good, it is nonetheless very difficult and even sometimes terrifying. As with Ezekiel, the scroll that John must eat contains information about various trials and catastrophes that are yet to come (see Ezekiel 2 through 5, where God tells Ezekiel of the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem). This is unwelcome information that the recipient must nonetheless pass along. It is information that pertains to the events of the End, as in, the end of the Church Age.

Considered as a whole, Chapter Ten is about Christ’s commissioning of John to pass along a preparatory revelation of the events to occur at the end of the Church Age, which I believe is about where we find ourselves in history. (Parenthetically, I say that because the fulfillment of the Great Commission seems both foreseeable and likely within the next century, if not sooner.) The contents of the Little Scroll are found in chapters eleven through twenty-two of the Book of Revelation. The Little Scroll reveals what Daniel 12 conceals. What was sealed to Daniel has been revealed to us by Christ via John in the Book of Revelation.

The Cast of Chapter Ten

The Cast of Chapter Ten, Audio Version

Count the characters. This chapter of Revelation presents listeners with a variety of characters. How many do you count? While some observers say Chapter Ten presents listeners with ten different characters, I see six fewer. No, not ten — only four. One, two, three, four, and no more characters are to be found in Chapter Ten. Of those four, one or two are primary and focal, while the other two are mostly peripheral. You might not agree with me. You might count more. How is it I count only four? Why so few? 

John, of course, counts as one character, albeit a relatively minor character. John serves throughout the Book of Revelation as the vision transcriber and as our narrator. For the most part, John quietly and inconspicuously narrates what he sees and hears, and does so whenever possible from the periphery. He does not focus on himself. That is true here in Chapter Ten, except for when he must eat the edible yet indigestible scroll. More on the edible scroll in a forthcoming blog cast.  

The Seven Speaking Thunders count as a second character. I say they are a character, as opposed to an event, since they do more than rumble. They speak, and speak intelligibly. Although they are said to number seven, they neither do nor say anything obviously distinctive from each other, but appear to function just as one message bearer. Perhaps they spoke simultaneously in stereo surround sound or echoed the same message in turn; yet nothing in the text indicates that they delivered seven different messages. Again, the Seven Speaking Thunders seem to function narratively as just one character. Furthermore, the Thunders cannot be considered a major character in Chapter Ten, since they appear only briefly in verses 3 and 4, where they deliver a message that is curiously censored, and immediately so. 

Forgive me, but to make my point I must resort to Seminary-speak in this paragraph. As I already said, the Seven Speaking Thunders function narratively as one — as a singularity. That fact may be intended to point Revelation’s listeners to an underlying ontological/essential reality: Somehow the Seven Speaking Thunders are best understood as one — a unified one. Ontologically (that is, in essence), they may be just one spiritual entity. Like the Seven Spirits of Revelation 1:4 and 4:5, the Seven Speaking Thunders may constitute not seven separate and distinct individuals, but just one single, yet diverse, entity. Indeed, if Chapter Ten is best interpreted using a Trinitarian hermeneutic, as I would argue it ought to be, then the Seven Speaking Thunders may well be one and the same as the Seven Spirits before the Throne — the one Holy Spirit. I am suggesting that the Seven Speaking Thunders may be the same entity as the Seven Spirits before the Throne, also and more commonly known as the Holy Spirit. Please reference in particular Revelation 4:5, where peals of thunder and seven flaming torches are some of the phenomena associated with the Throne of God. 

As for Chapter Ten’s third character, the Mighty Angel stands center stage. And the fourth character, though very, very important, is heard but never seen. That would be the Voice from Heaven. Throughout its eleven verses, Chapter Ten turns John’s attention, and thus the listener’s attention, to these two primary characters, who sometimes act and speak in tandem. Do notice that the Mighty Angel gets most of Chapter Ten’s airtime, by far. Thus the Mighty Angel ought to be considered Chapter Ten’s central character and primary focus.  

Now that the four main characters have been counted, I will move on to my next controversial claim. Here it is: The main character is probably not whom you think he is.  

Many Revelation-readers/listeners will quickly get the identity of one of these characters right, and just as quickly get identity of the other character wrong. The Voice from Heaven must be God, they will decide, and correctly so. As for the Mighty Angel, he is most likely a high-ranking angel, such as an archangel, many will conclude, incorrectly. Sorry, but that’s the wrong answer, albeit entirely understandable. No, the Mighty Angel is not merely a high-ranking angel. He is mighty. The adjective is there for a reason. He is mightier than other messengers, and far greater than other heavenly emissaries. The Mighty Angel is someone mightier than other messengers, and yet someone other than God Almighty. Who could it be?   

Many Revelation interpreters will doubt with my assertions at this point. Some may anticipate where I am going, and disagree with me on this point. They will argue that the Mighty Angel is obviously portrayed as a high-ranking angel. The text clearly says he is an angel, so he must be a heavenly emissary, simply an angel. What else or who else could he be? If not a high-ranking angel or an archangel, what else or who else could the Mighty Angel of Revelation Chapter Ten possibly be?

That is a key question, a crucially important question. Chapter Ten effectively poses that very question to those who are familiar with the Bible. But those who are not well acquainted with Old Testament prophecies will likely make some quick assumptions and even miss the question altogether, because it is implied. The Book of Revelation makes a lot of subtle scriptural references and drops a lot of detailed hints. Key questions and leads are there to be discovered; but they usually require a significant degree of prior biblical knowledge and a substantial measure of theological discernment. The Book of Revelation does this sort of thing very frequently. You gain deeper understanding of the Book of Revelation as you catch the subtle referential hints, which are almost always hidden in plain sight, there in the details. In fact, it may be an accurate statement to claim that no detail whatsoever in the Book of Revelation is extraneous. Every detail given to the listener and provided by the Book of Revelation is there deliberately and intentionally. Such details often require further study. The interpreter will have to reference and re-read Old Testament prophecies. But it will be worthwhile, since the details will help a careful interpreter arrive at a clearer interpretation.

To be blunt, the hints all point to the Mighty Angel being Jesus Christ himself. More specifically, the Mighty Angel is a New Testament cameo of the pre-incarnate, pre-existent Jesus Christ. The Mighty Angel is who Christ Jesus was before he was born as a human being. Throughout the Old Testament, Jesus appears and reappears as a mysterious figure known as the Angel of the Lord. And Revelation Chapter Ten is dropping hints galore that the Mighty Angel is the pre-incarnate Christ. That is indeed the correct interpretation, in spite of how things may initially seem on a superficial, un-referential read.

In particular, two key Old Testament passages are hidden in the details of Revelation Chapter Ten. The first key passage is the opening vision of Ezekiel the exiled priestly-prophet, found in the Book of Ezekiel chapters one and two. The second key passage is the concluding vision of Daniel the exiled statesman-prophet, found in the Book of Daniel chapters ten, eleven, and twelve. If a reader/listener compares Revelation Chapter Ten to the opening chapters of Ezekiel and the closing chapters of Daniel, the detailed references are overwhelmingly obvious.

In both the opening of Ezekiel and the closing of Daniel, a Mysterious Figure appears. Although the Mysterious Figure seems like he might well be God himself, the two passages leave the  identity of the Mysterious Figure something of a mystery, because unlike God, he is described as visible and likened in form to a human being, a man. So if he is not exactly God, who is the Mysterious Figure? Is he a variation or manifestation of God, or an angelic proxy, or what? Revelation Chapter Ten points the discerning listener directly to both prophetic passages, and links the Mighty Angel to the Mysterious Figure therein, leaving the distinct impression that the Mighty Angel is one and the same as the Mysterious Figure in both passages. 

Therefore, at least three claims can be made. First, the Mysterious Figure in Ezekiel and Daniel is, at very least, God-like in position, appearance, and glory. Second, the Mysterious Figure in Ezekiel and Daniel personally and authoritatively delivers divine messages and interpretations to the respective prophets. Third, Revelation Chapter Ten ties or even fuses these two Mysterious Figures together into one. In Chapter Ten, the equation is not one plus one, but one times one. This is just one individual. The Mysterious Figure in the opening chapters of Ezekiel is one and the same as the Mysterious Figure in the closing chapters of Daniel; that is what Revelation Ten portrays in the person of the Mighty Angel.  

So if the Mysterious Figure of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation is the same singular being throughout, who is he? If your inclination is to say that he is an angel of some sort, I would caution you with the observation that he is enthroned in glory among the cherubim in Ezekiel (see also Ezekiel 10:20). Enthroned in glory, like God and as God. Among the cherubim, like the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant, where the presence of God resided. However, if your inclination is to say that he is simply God, I would ask you, How is it that he appears visibly in the likeness of a man in both Ezekiel and Daniel? How is it the prophets can see anyone at all, since God is invisible, and since no one can see God and live (see Exodus 33:20, John 1:18, and 1 Timothy 6:16)?

This individual defies easy categorization because he actually fulfills all three. He is wholly divine. But sometimes he takes the role of a heavenly angel/messenger in order to appear to human beings. But then he went an additional condescending step and even assumed full humanity in the incarnation. He became a man for our sake. Only one individual in history fits all three categorizations: Jesus Christ. Therefore, especially when its two primary Old Testament prophetic references are taken into account, Chapter Ten of Revelation pushes a trinitarian portrait of God, the whole way through. The Voice from Heaven is God the Father. The Seven Speaking Thunders are the Holy Spirit. And the Mighty Angel is Jesus Christ. 

But I have not covered everything in Chapter Ten yet. There are two big remaining narrative issues from Chapter Ten that need to be addressed. There is a vow made by the Mighty Angel. And there is an edible scroll given by the Mighty Angel.