This chapter and the greater part of the next, from the first to the fourteenth verse inclusive, is of the nature of a parenthesis; for the fifteenth verse of the 11th chapter evidently connects the narrative or series of events with the ninth chapter. The ninth chapter closes with an intimation of impenitence on the part of those who had been punished by the plagues of the preceding trumpets. Then it follows, as we have seen, that they are to be still farther visited by the infliction of the closing judgment symbolized by the seventh trumpet. The immediate design, therefore, of interrupting the natural order of the narrative is to place before us the actual condition of society when the seventh trumpet sounds.
1. And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:
2. And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,
3. And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
Vs. 1—3.—The majestic description of this Angel agrees to no creature. It is proper to God—man only. It is partly the same display of the Mediator's glory which we had in ch. i. 15. Especially is this the case as to his face, his feet and his voice. The "rainbow" is still the sign of the everlasting covenant. "In wrath he remembers mercy."
This "book" differs from the sealed book as a part from the whole, or a codicil from the will to which it is appended. Also, it is distinguished from the former as being little and open. They do therefore greatly err here, who would make this little book comprehend all the remaining part of the Apocalypse, which would make it larger than the sealed book. The little book is open, because it is part of the large one, from which the last seal had been removed by the Mediator. But another reason why the little book is represented as being open, is the fact that the most of the events to which it refers, had transpired prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet. That trumpet had been without its appropriate object, as presented in any preceding part of the prophecy. To present that object is the special design of the little book. All the events predicted in this book of Revelation are not successive in the order of time, but some are coincident; and the inspired writer of the Apocalypse, on several occasions goes back, as we shall see, in order to explain at greater length, what had been but briefly and obscurely narrated.
The angel set his feet upon the world, as his footstool; by which position is emblematically signified his sovereign dominion over sea and earth. And this is agreeable to his own plain teaching in the days of his public ministry:—"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matt. xxviii. 18.) He trod upon the billows of the ocean literally in the state of his humiliation, giving thereby evidence of his power over the mystical waters,—"the tumults of the people." During the popular commotions signified by the trumpets, he said to the raging passions of men and their towering ambition, as to the waves of the sea,—"Hitherto shall ye come, and no further; and here shall your proud waves be stayed," "He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still;" and whether the nations of Christendom are at war or in peaceful tranquility, he reigns over them as their rightful sovereign; "his right foot on the sea, and his left on the earth." In possession of universal dominion, he speaks with authority, "as when a lion roareth." Although a lamb slain, the victim for our sins; he is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, ruling over his own people, restraining and conquering his own and their enemies.
The "seven thunders," etc., give a premonition of tremendous judgments, the import of which is to be "sealed up." until it be demonstrated to all the world by the seventh trumpet and vial.
4. And 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.
5. And the angel, which I saw stand upon the sea, and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven,
6. And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.
7. But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
Vs. 4—7. The attitude assumed by the Angel of the covenant is very impressive, instructive and exemplary:—"his hand lifted up to heaven." This is the external attitude of solemnity most becoming the jurant when performing the act of religious worship, the oath. Abraham, in the presence of the king of Sodom, used the same form, appealing to the "Lord, the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth." (Gen. xiv. 22.) "Kissing the book" has no example in all the Bible; hence it is: unquestionably of heathen, and so of idolatrous origin and tendency. No Christian can thus symbolize with heathens, without so far "having fellowship with devils" as really as in eating in their temples. (1 Cor. x. 21.)
The matter of the Angel's oath is, "that there should be time no longer." Here it is humbly suggested that our excellent translators are faulty as in ch. iv. 6, already noticed. Neither the original Greek text, nor the coherence of the symbolic narrative, will sustain or justify the version. John, like all pious people, when he heard the lion's voice, followed by the "seven thunders," was filled with solemn awe, anticipating the coming dissolution of all things.
It was not the only instance of his weakness and misapprehension, (ch. xix. 10;) nor is this infirmity peculiar to the apostle John; for we find other disciples mistaking "the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." (2 Thess. ii. 1—3.) These Thessalonians had misapprehended the language of Paul in his first epistle to them, when speaking of the end of the world. (1 Thess. iv. 15—17.) To relieve the anxieties of the Thessalonians, relative to the apprehended and sudden coming of the Lord, Paul wrote again to correct their mistake; so it may be supposed that the Angel interposed this solemn assurance to his servant John, for the like purpose, of allaying his forebodings. The words in the original, literally translated, stand thus: "That the time shall not be yet." That is, the "time of the end," as we read in Daniel xii. 9, shall not be, till the seventh trumpet begins to sound. The phrase, "time of the end," may signify either the final overthrow of antichristian power, or the end of the world, because of the resemblance between the two events. The plain and certain meaning, then, of the Angel's oath is, that the "mystery of God shall be finished" only by the work of the seventh angel. What this mystery is, we will discover in the following chapters. Indeed, it had been long before "declared to the prophets," but still accompanied with comparative obscurity suitable to their time; for the word "declared," is expressive of glad tidings, being the same in origin and significance as that which we translate,—gospel, good news. Accordingly, our Saviour directs his disciples, in view of his appearing either to overthrow the Roman power, or to judge the world, in the following words of cheer: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." (Luke xxi. 28.) To the prophet Daniel the same event was attested with like solemnity. (Dan. xii. 7.) This is the period to which the suffering saints of God have been long looking forward with believing and joyful hope. As Abraham rejoiced to see Christ's day of appearing in our nature, and by faith saw and it and was glad; so the covenanted seed of the father of the faithful, in the light of prophecy, and by like precious faith, are favored with a view of the certain downfall of mystical Babylon.
8. And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.
9. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
10. And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
11. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
Vs. 8—11.—John is next directed by a voice from heaven, or by divine authority,—to take and eat the open book. There is obvious allusion to a similar transaction in Ezekiel iii. 1—3. The prophet was a captive by the river of Chebar in Babylon, under the dominion of the first beast of Daniel, as John was in Patmos under that of the fourth; and both were favoured and employed by the glorious Head of the church in an eminent part of their ministry. "The word is not bound" when ministers are in confinement.
The "eating of the book" represents the intellectual apprehension of the things which it contained.
"Thy words were found and I did eat them,"—(Jer. xv. 16.) A speculative knowledge of the word of God, and especially of those parts that are prophetical, will afford pleasure to the human intellect, even though the mind be unsanctified. (Matt. xiii. 20, 21.) But when the prophet gets a farther insight into the contents as containing "lamentations, and mourning and woe," like Ezekiel's roll; the pleasure is converted into pain. A foresight of the sorrows and sufferings of Christ s witnesses causes grief to the Christian's sensitive heart. He "weeps with them that weep," by the spontaneous sympathies of a common and renewed nature. "Sweet in the mouth as honey, but in the belly bitter as wormwood and gall."
Upon the apostle's digesting the little book, the Angel interprets the symbolic action by the plain and extensive commission,—"Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." This commission did not terminate with the ministry of the apostle, although he may be truly said to prophesy by the Apocalypse to all nations till the end of the world. This is equally true, however, of all the inspired penmen of the Holy Scriptures. (Psalm xlv. 17.) But John is to be considered here as the official representative of a living and faithful ministry, on whom devolves the indispensable obligation to open and apply these sacred predictions to the commonwealth of nations, however constituted authorities may be affected by them. And, indeed, these messages will prove unwelcome to the immoral powers of the earth, as in the days of old. (1 Kings xviii. 1 7.)