Revelation 10
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The Book of the Revelation is written for the comfort of the Church in presence of her oppressing foes. It is designed to sustain the faithful people in well doing, when the severities of cruel dealing make their lot hard and almost unendurable. Their patience is often severely tried; sometimes it has yielded under heavy pressure. Here is afforded another word of promise which is calculated to sustain the faint of heart. A vision is granted of" a strong angel" who brings assured promise of a certain and even speedy termination of the time of suffering and of struggle. "The mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets," shall be "finished." This is the encouragement to hope; and to the Church in the early times, under the pressure of her first destructive persecutions, this would be a word of the utmost comfort. It is the re-echo of "Behold, I come quickly." This word of consolation is of great preciousness and help to the suffering Church; for -

I. IT IS GIVEN BY THE LORD HIMSELF. The strong angel "coming down out of heaven, arrayed with a cloud," can be none other than the Lord himself. The surrounding symbols are his, and his alone. "The rainbow was upon his head;" "his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." It is the reflection of the Divine glory in Christ. When he cries the seven thunders utter their voices, and his great voice was "as a lion roareth." From the word of such a one the Church may always gather the utmost comfort.

II. IT GIVES THE PROSPECT AND PLEDGE OF RELEASE. The suffering Church writhes in its anguish; but a definite limit is put to the days of sorrow. "In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound." This is not indefinite and uncertain: "There shall be time no longer " - there shall be no more delay. Relief is certain and speedy. This is assured by oath, even by the voice of the angel who "sware by him that liveth forever and ever, who created the heaven, and the things that are therein, and the earth, and the things that are therein, and the sea, and the things that are therein." This oath is for truest confirmation.

III. The word of consolation and promise IS GIVEN IN THE MOST SOLEMN AND ASSURING MANNER. This seen in the whole vision - the person, attitude, message, oath, and surrounding testimonies.

IV. IT IS THE TRUEST, THE UTMOST ENCOURAGEMENT TO HOPE. Upon this vision the Church should ever reflect in the time of suffering and fear. It is possible patiently to endure and hold out when a definite and assured prospect and pledge of relief is given. The words, "declared to his servants the prophets," shall have their fulfilment; "the mystery" shall be "finished." - R. G.

He had in his hand a little book open. Like as there was an interval between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, so is there between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpets. The record of this latter interval, and of the events which took place in it, stretches through this tenth chapter down to ver. 13 of Revelation 11. This chapter is occupied with the account of the little book which St. John saw in the hand of "another strong angel coming down out of heaven." The other "strong angel" is spoken of in Revelation 5:2, in connection with the seven-sealed book held in the right hand of "him that sat on the throne, and which only the Lion of the tribe of Judah" was found worthy to take and open. This book told of here is described as "little" as compared with that, and, probably, in contrast with it. Now, although the historical interpreters affirm that this little book means the Bible, as we have it, yet the difficulties that beset this interpretation are so many and so great, that it has been abandoned by all the more reliable expositors of the Apocalypse as inconsistent with its avowed purpose to declare the "things that must shortly come to pass," and the time of which was "at hand;" still, what is here said of this "little book" does suggest to us not a few of the most interesting and important characteristics of the Word of God. For note -

I. THE AMBASSADOR WHO BRINGS IT. Much may be learnt concerning any message that is sent by an earthly monarch from the character and rank and insignia which belong to the messenger. If the business which he has to transact be of great importance, and it be desired to impress its significance upon the minds of those to whom he is sent, he himself will be of such dignity, and accompanied with such tokens of authority and power, as will prepare those to whom he comes rightly to receive the message he brings. So here, he who brings God's message to mankind is one of no mean order, and the tokens of his authority are of the most impressive kind.

1. He comes from heaven. The Bible is not a merely human production. It is inspired by God; it is a message from heaven. It contains what no human mind could have known or invented; it speaks with an authority that they who receive the message realize to be from God. Inspiration cannot be argued and so demonstrated to the intellect, but it speaks to the soul, and is felt to be present in the Scriptures, which therefore are declared to be the Word of God. It wakes up a response in the soul, quickening, informing, strengthening, consoling, uplifting, sanctifying it, as no mere human words have ever done or can do, save as they draw their inspiration from this source.

2. It is mighty in its potter. It was "a strong angel" that St. John saw, suggesting to him and to us the strength of that message which he was commissioned to bring. What trophies of its power has not the Bible won? Where is the age, the country, the rank, the character, the intellectual condition, the circumstances of any kind, amid and over which it has not proved strong to subdue and bless and save?

3. Its truths fill the soul with awe. The angel was "clothed with a cloud " - symbol this of the majesty and mystery that surround and invest the foundation teachings of the Word of God. The soul can only bow in reverence and awe before them, and confess its feebleness in their presence.

4. But they are crowned with blessed promise and grace. "The rainbow was upon his head." Though there be so much that we cannot penetrate or comprehend, nevertheless the predominant characteristic is that of "grace," that of which the rainbow was at the first and is ever the beautiful and blessed symbol. Even those awful judgments of God spoken in ver. 7 are there declared to be part of "the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets" (see Revised Version). And when we preach out of the Bible we are said to preach the gospel. This is its main character and intent.

5. They irradiate and illumine all our earthly life. "His face was as it were the sun." "Truly the light is sweet, and pleasant thing it is to behold the sun" - so says Ecclesiastes 11:7. And the confession of this radiant grace, this blessed light which streams forth from the Word of God, is commonplace of all the sacred writers and of all who have rejoiced in that light.

6. And they shall never be driven forth or removed. "His feet as pillars of fire," and ver. 2, "He planted his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth." His invincible power is signified by "the pillars of fire;" and his having set his feet upon the earth and sea tells of "the immovable steadfastness of the heavenly Conqueror against all the resistance of his enemies." He is come to stay, and he cannot be driven forth. When and where has not the attempt to dislodge the Word. been made? But it has never succeeded. All Church history proves this. In many ages and places it has been death to keep a copy of the sacred writings. Wherever they were found, they were ruthlessly destroyed, and often they also with whom they were found. But every copy of the Bible that we possess today proves how partial and ineffective all such endeavours were. Glory be to God that they were so!

II. THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN OF IT. "A little book open."

1. A book. The Bible is not the revelation itself, but the record of it. But without the record the revelation would not have availed us. Great scorn has been poured on the idea of "a book revelation," and an immense deal of poor wit has been expended upon the idea that God should have used such mean materials as books are made of as the vehicle of his revelation of himself. But the Bible is not the revelation, only its record; and it is reason for eternal gratitude that his revelation has been so given that it can be thus recorded. In what other way could the knowledge of God have been so well preserved or spread abroad? (Cf. on this ' The Eclipse of Faith,' by H. Rogers.)

2. Its seeming insignificance. It is "a little book." In these days of gold and guns, when wealth and armies are thought to be the great means of accomplishing everything, the spiritual force that lies hidden in "a little book" counts but for little. But what hath not God wrought by it? And we may be grateful that it is little, and not a ponderous library which it would need a lifetime even to know part of, but one small volume which can be read and reread and carried everywhere as we will. No doubt the littleness of the book here spoken of is intended to be in contrast with that vast volume told of in Revelation 5., which was written within and without, so complete, so full, was it. This tells of but "part of his ways;" that seems to have been the declaration of all his will. But it suggests the seeming insignificance, both in form and force, of that which we call the book of God, but whose insignificance is, indeed, only seeming, not real.

3. It is to be an open book. St. John saw it "open" in the hand of the angel. There have been and there are those who would have the Word of God closed, if not entirely, yet to large extent. They affirm it is not a book for the common people, but for the priests of the Church; and for centuries it was kept closed, and is even now looked upon with more or less of dislike. But, blessed be God, it is open, not to the eyes alone, but to the mind. For though it contains the profoundest truths that the intellect of man has ever studied, still it contains also those truths - and they are the most numerous and important - which the humblest and least instructed are able to receive and rejoice in. God hath caused the vision to be written and made "plain," so that the unlearned may learn, and the most simple comprehend.

III. THE VOICES FOR AND AGAINST IT. We read that the angel cried with a loud voice, and that the seven thunders uttered their voices. Now:

1. The angelic voice suggests:

(1) The startling effect of the Word of God upon mankind. The angel's voice was "as when a lion roareth." So did the Word of God affect men. See when at the Reformation it was first freely given to Europe. How it roused men's minds, awoke them from their lethargy, nation after nation heard the sound and broke away from the superstition and sins in which they had so long lived! And it is so still. "What must I do to be saved?" is the intense, the sometimes agonized cry, of men whom the lion-like, awful voice of the Word has aroused from their sin. The conviction of sin which the Holy Spirit produces through the Word is, often, to men "as when a lion roareth," arousing them indeed.

(2) The assured persuasion it gives concerning the mystery of this present life. The solemn oath of the angel (vers. 5-7) did but represent what the Word of God accomplishes. As he gave, so it gives, solemn assurance that what now is - so much of it so mournful, so full of mystery - is not ever to be, but shall have an end. Life is a mystery now, even in these comparatively calm days of ours; but what must it have appeared to the persecuted outraged Church of St. John's day? And were not we assured that what we now see is but part of God's ways, one link in the chain of his purposes, only a portion of his one great, wise, holy. and loving plan, how could we believe in him as either wise, holy, just, or loving? The mind. would rush to atheism, and the man to suicide; for what better could be done? But the Word of God, like the solemn oath of this strong angel, assures us of God that

"His purposes are ripening fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower."

2. The thunder voice. (Ver. 4.) The brutum fulmen, the full-voiced anger of him who uttered it. The question comes - Whence this voice of the seven thunders? It has, we think, been too hastily assumed that St. John is referring to the sevenfold voice of the thunder mentioned in Psalm 29. And, doubtless, in this book thunders are referred, to as coming forth from the throne of God (cf. Revelation 4:5). But the true interpretation is given, we think, in the strikingly parallel passages in Daniel 8:26 and Daniel 12:4-9, where that which the prophet is commanded to "seal up" is not what God shall do, but what his people's enemies shall do against him and them. And so here, we believe, the thunders tell of the wrathful response, the angry mutterings, of God's enemies against his truth. And thus regarded, they tell of the opposition the Word arouses in the world of the wicked. It has ever been so. In St. John's day; at the era of the Reformation, witness the cursed cruelties which the Roman Catholic Church in those days perpetrated in the Netherlands, in our own land, and wherever also she had power. And still those "dark places of the earth, which are full of the habitations of cruelty," are filled with rage when any real invasion of them is made by the messengers of the Word. Still Christ's Name is as a "sign to be spoken against." And it was fitting that these voices should not be written. The purpose of this book was to console and strengthen the Church, not to distress and alarm. Hence the Divine forces on the side of the Church and against her foes are what this book mainly reveals. It tells us, "The Lord is on our side; we will not fear what man can do unto us."

IV. THE DIRECTIONS CONCERNING IT. As it was with the "little book" so must it be with the Word of God:

1. It must be received as from God. If we look upon the Bible as on "any other book," as on ordinary literature, we shall lack that reverential docile spirit which is necessary in order to receive its truths. The book was to be taken from the hand of the angel (ver. 8).

2. It must be taken into the soul This is the meaning of the strange command, "Take it, and eat it up." It is as when Jeremiah said, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them;" as when our Lord said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," etc. (John 6.). We are to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" its truths; make them part of our very self. So must it be with those who would know the power of God's Word.

3. When so taken, it will produce both sorrow and joy. The first taste will be pleasant. "In thy mouth sweet as honey." And it is so. It is not a joy that we have a revelation from God at all; that we are not left in the dark as to our whence and whither; that we are assured God is "our Father which art in heaven;" that our salvation is "without money and without price," for that Christ died for us? Yes; "sweeter also than honey and the honey comb" are these precious truths. But the after taste will cause distress and pain. Witness the Saviour's tears wept over lost souls, and the like tears shed still by those who know "the fellowship of his sufferings." That men should resist and reject such a Saviour; that we should so long have done so, and do not yet wholly receive him; - yes, this after taste hath pain.

4. When eaten, it qualifies for witness bearing for God. (Ver. 11.) This is the real qualification, this deep experimental knowledge of the power of God's Word. All else is as naught compared with this. Only such God ordains to be his prophets. Thus doth this "little book," though it meant not the Bible, tell of the Bible. - S. C.

The angel... sware... that there should be time no longer. This word of the angel is capable of being rendered, and has been rendered, in three different ways. Take it as meaning -

I. THE TIME IS NOT YET COME. It is easy to believe that the persecuted people of St. John's day, as often since, might have thought that the judgments which they witnessed and the distresses they endured could not but be the beginning of the end. Our Lord knew that they would think so, and hence (Matthew 24.) warned them that they should see and suffer much; but "the end" was "not yet." They had asked what should be the sign of his coming, and of "the end of the age." They were eagerly expecting it. At his ascension they asked the like question again. The apostolic Epistles are full of evidence that the second coming of our Lord was expected as near at hand. St. Paul wrote his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians to dispel this idea, or at any rate to moderate its effects. And when Jerusalem fell, and when the Roman empire fell, it was confidently believed that the end of all things was close at hand. And had we lived in those awful days, it is likely that we should have thought so too. And we know how calculations have been made as to the time of the end. The illustrious Bengel reckoned that it would be in 1836, and his mistake is on record as a warning to all who would make similar rash statements, though even yet the warning is neglected by some. But our Lord has told us that it is not for us "to know the times and the seasons" (Acts 1.), and all human calculations are therefore foredoomed to error. And it is well for us that we cannot know. "Ignorance is bliss" in regard to such a subject. Could we fix the date, those far off from it would harden themselves in their sin; those near at hand would become as the Thessalonians did, unfitted for their daily duty, and would not, as St. Paul bade them do, "mind their own business." And so in regard to what is to each one of us as the end of all things, the date of our death, we are kept in merciful ignorance of it. And to keep us therein God has so ordered our lives that there is no hour of it in which men may not die, and in which many do not die, and no hour of it in which they certainly know that they must and shall. Hence little children die, and young men and maidens, boys and girls, as well as the old and grey headed. Ruthless and cruel are seemingly not a few of the visitations of death, cutting down youth in the first freshness and bloom of life, often not sparing the bride and mother in the fulness of their joy, forcing the hot tears from the young husband and wife as they mourn hopelessly over the cradle that held the little one whose life was to them dearer than their own. Such things are. And to some they seem horrible and cruel. But it is in order that we all may be delivered from that paralysis of hope and energy which would come upon us, as it comes upon the convicted felon in the condemned cell, if we knew the actual moment when we must die, and could count off every hour that draws us on to the inevitable doom. Therefore is it well that we do not know the time or the season. And in regard to the end of the world, what mercy is there in the fact that the time is not yet, that "the master of the house" has not yet "risen up, and shut to the door"! For now many will enter who then will not be able. We are thankful that Christ has not yet "accomplished the number of his elect." And they who are his, how much they yet have to do to learn and to obtain before they are prepared to meet their Lord! "The bride has" not yet "made herself ready;" but she must and will, and that she may "the Bridegroom" tarries. Therefore, if this be the meaning of the angel's oath, that "the time is not yet," we rejoice in it both for ourselves and for myriads more.

II. THERE SHALL BE NO MORE TIME. And this we believe is the meaning here - that there shall be no longer delay, postponement, no more weary waiting, no longer any lingering of the accomplishment of God's purposes. So regarded, it was for the. Church of St. John's day a blessed sursum corda, a cordial and good cheer, helping them to endure patiently and to hope on more and more. The "mystery of God" shall soon "be finished," so soon that, as we say "we are come" to any city when we see its towers and spires rising before us, although we may yet be some considerable distance from its gates; so, because the time is so short, we may say it is over, the waiting time is past - it exists "no longer." And thus:

1. The Christian may comfort himself. True, the age drags out its weary length, but each individual life is short, and generally long before even that short life is done the recompenses of God, the earnest and pledge of the yet larger recompenses of eternity, are given. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promises" - how often we have gratefully to confess that! Yes; they are so given, even here and now, that the believer is constrained to own, "Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life." Tares are undoubtedly amongst the wheat, to its sore detriment and harm, but they are not always to be there; it is a mystery that they are there at all; we would like to go and pull them up, but we cannot; but the harvest draws on, and then the trouble will all be over. But:

2. The enemies of God should be afraid. The avenging gods - so the old pagan world believed - have their feet shod with wool. Men hear not their silent approach, and they may be upon them, they often are, in a moment. The sinner never knows how near God's judgment upon his sin may be. Of many the angel hath sworn that there shall be time no longer; the judgment of God shall fall. In a moment, in bright noonday, when the sky is without a cloud, unseen and unheard, the last link that binds the mass of snow and ice to the mountain side is severed, and the avalanche rushes down into the depths below. Do not the events of every day prove, now on this sinner against God's laws, and now on that, that God hath sworn concerning them, "there should be time no longer"?

III. ALL TIME SHALL CEASE. Thus also our text may be understood. "Time" and "duration" are not synonymous terms - the latter includes eternity as well as time; but time and eternity, notwithstanding their common quality of duration, are contrasted in Scripture as being of essentially different natures. Time means the present condition of things; eternity, that condition which belongs to the age to come. "The things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal." Time is of the age that now is; eternity, of the age that is to come. Thus understood, it is not difficult to believe that time - this age - shall cease. The Bible speaks of "ages." The word is commonly rendered "world," but its true meaning is "age." Thus it speaks of "ages of ages," "this age," "the age to come." And every branch of science tells of different "ages." Geology speaks of them and marks them off one from another by different names. History, biology, philology, all speak in similar way. All tell of ages when the condition of things was altogether different from what we see now, and how one age has succeeded and prepared for another. Therefore that there should be a passing away of the present age to which time belongs, and that it should be followed by one in which time, as we understand it, should be no more, is affirmed, not only by the Bible, but by manifold other evidence beside. And not only shall there be succession, but advance. There have been ages in which we can trace no form of life. These have been succeeded by others which have had life, but only in its lower forms. These again by others possessing higher forms, and at length the highest of all, that of man. And in harmony with all this the Bible bids us look on to an infinitely better condition of things than now we know of, in the age or world to come, whereof the sacred writers speak. Here "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain even until now;" but there "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption," etc. (Romans 8.). The inscrutable problem of this present life, "the mystery of God," as it is termed in ver. 7, shall "be finished," and there shall be "a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." And the means whereby all this shall be brought about, not only the Bible, but scientific research also, reveal with startling clearness. The Bible says that the angels of God "shall gather out of his kingdom all things that do offend, and them that work iniquity." Science says that in the progress of the ages the fittest alone survive. All that are incapable of the higher life that is to be disappear and perish, and the fit and worthy alone remain. Such is the solemn "Amen" of science to the teachings of the Word of God. And are there not like facts visible even now amidst mankind? Growth and advancement in races, tribes, nations, families, and individuals, the records and observation of human life, are full of such happy facts; but, on the other hand, there are the mournful facts amid the same subjects, of degeneracy, decay, and death. Character determines these things, and the Bible says the same. Oh, how, then, does all this appeal to every soul! For what am I preparing myself? Must I be doomed to die because I am not fit for the better life that is to be when time shall be no longer? or - and God grant it may be so! - am I by virtue of my living union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself "the Life," destined for glory, honour, and immortality with him in the Eternal? That this may be so is why our pulpits and sermons are forever re-echoing with the appeal, "Come to Christ." The Bible and experience alike attest that it is through living faith, carrying along with it, as such faith ever does, the surrender of the will, the heart, to him, that we become vitally grafted into him, and so in his life - the eternal, the blessed, the glorious - do forever share. For he said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." - S.C.

The consolation of an assured end having been given, the holy seer, and in him the Church in all ages, becomes prepared to receive tidings that shall prove "bitter" and painful. The final victory is assured. The word is "sweet as honey" in the mouth of him who receives it, which reception is represented by the figure of "eating the little book." It is sweet, for it is impossible to be an agent of God for any work without a certain pleasurableness. But the sweetness is temporary. So is it a pleasant thing to receive a message from the Lord, but it may be a very painful thing to communicate it to men. The reception of "the little book," whatever that book may mean, is a preparation to prophesying "again concerning many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." The words which follow are mingled words of sadness and comfort - comfort for the Church in her obedience; sadness for the ungodly, rebellious, and opposing nations. In the symbol before us there seems to shine out from the midst of many teachings one respecting the prophetic office itself. For a moment attention is directed to the seer himself and his own states. Thus have we set forth the prophetic office - the honourableness of its calling; the painfulness of its duties. Nothing is said as to the twofold character of the message - "the little book" - but only the twofold effect upon the seer. Our thoughts, then, are upon him.

I. THE HOLY OFFICE OF PROPHET IS THE MOST HONOURABLE AND EXALTED AMONGST MEN. To speak for God, as his agent; to declare his message; to receive the Word from his lips, by his inspiration; to be entrusted with his Word to men - be it a word of condemnation, of warning, of promise, of mercy, or hope - is a most sacred, hallowed burden. To speak to men in God's Name is higher than to speak for kings. The "ambassador for Christ" stands at the head of diplomatic agents. How holy, how awful, how responsible, his office! The calling to such office cannot but have its sweetness to the faithful servant.

II. OF ALL OFFICES THIS, WHEN RIGHTLY COMPREHENDED, IS THE MOST PAINFUL. To deal with words of judgment and threatening; to speak of sin; to warn of punishment; to have close alliance with righteousness amongst men who reject it; to he burdened with spiritual care; to stand in antagonism to prevalent sentiment, and strive to raise men to altitudes of goodness; - cannot but be a burden too heavy to be borne were the prophet unaided. He is in error who views the calling to the prophetic office too lightly; he is also in error who thinks triflingly of the painfulness of its responsibilities. - R. G.

And the voice which I heard from heaven, etc. The "little book," or roll, here might be fairly taken to illustrate God's redemptive truth, or the gospel. The following thoughts are suggested.

I. THIS GOSPEL IS BROUGHT TO MAN FROM HEAVEN. "The voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go, and take the little book." Redemptive truth is a special revelation to man sent by God from heaven, Men could never have reached the redemptive idea by the study of nature or by philosophic research; or, were the human mind to traverse through the whole world of natural science and to search into every part, it would never discover this "little book." The way in which alienated humanity can be brought into a loving sympathy with God transcends human discovery. "Ear hath not heard, eye hath not seen." Divine messengers brought this "little book" to man, and Christ embodied it.

II. THIS GOSPEL IS TO BE APPROPRIATED BY MAN. "And he said, Take it, and eat it up." The object of the gospel is not merely to enlighten the mind, to stimulate inquiry, or to excite emotions, but to be appropriated as food, to satisfy the hunger and to invigorate the faculties of the soul. "The Word must become flesh," it must course through every vein, beat in every pulse, and strengthen every fibre of our being. It is the bread of life that came down from heaven, the fruit of the tree of life. The spirit of this "little book" must become the inspiring and the regnant spirit of our being.

III. THIS GOSPEL HAS A TWOFOLD EFFECT OF MAN. "It shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey." It is both sweet and bitter. In its disclosures of infinite love and promises of future blessedness it is indeed "sweet," but in its convictions of sin, reproofs, and denunciations it is indeed "bitter." It produces in the soul sorrow and joys, sighs and songs, and its bitterness will remain as long as one particle of depravity continues in the heart. The experience of a Christly man is a very mixed experience during his life on earth; yonder it is all sweetness.

IV. THIS GOSPEL, APPROPRIATED, QUALIFIES MAN FOR HIS MISSION. "And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." Prophesying, or indoctrinating men with Divine ideas, is the grand mission of every man; but this mission can only be realized after the teacher himself has appropriated the Divine Word. When he has it in him, not merely as an idea or a theory, but as a living power, then he will be able to "prophesy" with regard to "peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." - D. T.

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