Studies in Revelation—Lesson 18
by Reta Halteman Finger
Revelation 10:1–11:2 is part of a long interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, just as Revelation 7 functioned as an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals. The interval in this present passage, however, runs through 11:14, and is longer and more complicated. Rather than an encouraging glimpse of the sealed believers in heaven (as in 7:1-17), it takes place on earth and includes the prophetic roles John and other witnesses must play before the sounding of the seventh trumpet.
A mighty angel comes down from heaven bearing the divine characteristics of Yahweh of old. Wrapped in a cloud (10:1), he is the storm god of Job 37, Psalm 18:7-15, and Zechariah 10:1. The rainbow sign of the covenant from Genesis 9:13 surrounds him, as in Revelation 4:1-3, and he speaks like the roaring lion of Amos 3:8. As in Revelation 5:1, the figure carries a book (10:2). Like Jesus in Revelation 1:15-16, the angel’s face is like the sun and his legs like “pillars of fire” (10:1). “The figure of the angel,” says Eugene Boring, “is thus transparent to the figures of God and Christ who speak through him. As in 1:1-2 and throughout Revelation, the images of God, Christ, Spirit/angel collapse into each other” (p. 139).
(Note: though angels are spirit messengers without gender, they are linguistically masculine in both Hebrew and Greek. “Spirit” is feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek. Since nouns in English do not have gender, we should be free to use she, he, or it for extra-terrestrial beings.)
Why doesn’t John tell us what the seven thunders reveal?
When the angel shouts, seven thunders sound (10:3). John sees what they reveal in his vision and is prepared to write, but is told not to do so. “There will be no more delay,” says the angel (10:6). We can only speculate why John should not write what he has seen. With so little repentance, perhaps there is no reason for more calamities (Grimsrud p. 77). Perhaps the seven thunders compare to the things the apostle Paul saw in the third heaven, which “no mortal is permitted to repeat” (2 Corinthians 12:4; Metzger, p. 67; Boring, p. 141). The change of plans also echoes Mark 13:20 where days of suffering are cut short. Instead, “the mystery of God will be fulfilled” as announced to the prophets (Rev. 10:7). The “mystery” is simply the gospel of Jesus, as is used elsewhere in the New Testament. In Greek, the word “announce” is eúaggelizomai, which means “preach the gospel.”
John eats a scroll
In 10:8, the angel offers the same scroll that was in the hand of God in 5:1, though now unsealed by the slaughtered Lamb in chapter 5. It contains God’s purpose for the end of time. (The unsealed, open scroll is apparently what “little scroll” means.) Here John draws heavily from Daniel 12:1-10. The angel is “Michael, the great prince,” who tells Daniel in verses 4 and 9 to keep the book sealed until the time of the end. But now that the scroll is opened, the angel tells John not to read it, but to eat it! (Rev. 10:9-10). In other words, absorb its meaning so it becomes a part of your very being. John alludes to Ezekiel 2:8-3:3, where the prophet Ezekiel was also told to eat a scroll that was as sweet as honey in his mouth. From both of these texts, it becomes clear that the scroll contains both (sweet) salvation and (bitter) judgement.
Measuring the temple
The last verse of chapter 10 shades into chapter 11 as the scroll that John has eaten pushes him further into his prophetic role. However, the first two verses of Revelation 11 are quite puzzling. John talks about measuring the temple, but by the time he wrote in the late first century, the temple was no longer standing. Eugene Boring (p. 143) agrees with a number of other scholars who propose that 11:1-2 is a fragment of a previous Zealot prophecy that was made during the last days of the Jewish War against the Romans in 66-70 CE. The Zealot prophets were promising their army that Yahweh would swoop in at the last minute to save the temple and their military campaign. John uses this prophecy, but adapts it in an entirely different and non-violent way.
Ted Grimsrud compares the measuring of the temple of God and the worshipers to the counting of the sealed faithful in Revelation 7:1-8. “God will provide for the preservation of the church during the great distress. As the twelve tribes represent the whole church throughout the world, so the temple and its worshipers represent the church in all lands” (p. 86). But even though those who are sealed are safe inside the temple, “the nations” trample both its outer court and Jerusalem itself (11:2). This indicates that believers are not preserved from suffering and death, but are spiritually secure through their faith in the slaughtered Lamb.
As we read Revelation, we must remind ourselves that John is seeing a vision, and the objects and events are not physically real. Bruce Metzger puts it this way in Breaking the Code: “The descriptions are not descriptions of real occurrences. The intention is to fix the reader’s thought, not upon the symbol, but upon the idea that the symbolic language is designed to convey” (p. 66).
We will discuss the rest of chapter 11 in the next lesson. The seventh trumpet will announce the end of the age!
Questions for discussion and reflection
- The Greek aggelos means messenger. Do you believe angels are real? Or are they symbolic representations of God or Christ?
- Revelation 10:1 to 11:13 is an “intercalation,” where symbols are repeated from earlier in the writing (see Lesson 12). What symbols from past chapters of Revelation are repeated in this interlude?
- How is the measuring of the temple in Revelation 11:1-2 a “recapitulation” (see Lesson 12) of chapter 7?
- What are the dangers of interpreting the sequences of seals and trumpets chronologically?
Sources referred to:
Boring, M. Eugene. Revelation. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. John Knox Press, 1989. Pp. 139, 141, 143.
Grimsrud, Ted. Triumph of the Lamb. Herald Press, 1987. Pp. 77, 86.
Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Abingdon Press, 1993. Pp. 66, 67.