After the fourth trumpet an eagle soared across the sky to announce the first of three woes (Revelation 8:13). The second woe followed the fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:12). As readers we expect to hear the third woe after the sixth trumpet in order to transition to the seventh trumpet. Instead, the third woe does not appear until Revelation 11:14. Like the pause between the sixth and seventh seals (Revelation 7), the drama again pauses between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Revelation 10:1-11:13). The pauses have similar functions.
The “interlude” of Revelation 7–coming between the sixth (6:12-17) and the seventh seals (8:1-5)–answered the question who could stand in day when the wrath of God and the Lamb is poured out on the inhabitants of the earth? The answer is those whom God has sealed and when those whom God has sealed pass through the trials of life (particularly the martyrs) they stand before the throne of God in victory.
The “interlude” of Revelation 10:1-11:13–coming between the sixth (9:13-21) and the seventh trumpets (11:14-19)–affirms John’s prophetic call and blesses the faithful witness of the church. In other words, the drama of judgment pauses to again describe the condition of the church as it endures the consequences of Roman hostility and God’s judgment of Rome. More specifically, it describes the function of the church during this cataclysmic period of history, that is, to bear witness to gospel and proclaim God’s message.
The first half of the “interlude” or “pause” affirms John’s prophetic call. John stands in the tradition of the great prophets of the Hebrew Bible, especially–as several allusions confirm–Ezekiel and Daniel. The first half of Revelation 10 is modeled after Daniel while the second half of Revelation 10 follows the lead of Ezekiel. John appropriates the apocalyptic images and prophetic acts of these two prophets. In effect, this not only confirms John’s call, but it also says that his message participates in the tradition of those prophets, that is, apocalyptic messages of judgments against nations. John has been given the apocalypse of Jesus the Messiah that God’s people might know the end to which the empire will come in answer to their prayers for justice.
Revelation 10:1-7 reflects the apocalyptic and prophetic traditions of Daniel 10:5-6 and 12:4-7. Like Daniel, John sees a great or mighty angel(s) who appears for dramatic announcements. John sees an angel (1) robed in a cloud, (2) crowned with a rainbow, (3) a bright sun-like face, and (4) legs like fiery pillars. Each of these images are divine metaphors drawn from both apocalyptic literature and the Hebrew Bible. For example, the cloud and fiery pillars remind us of the divine presence in the wilderness during Israel’s wanderings. The rainbow was previously seen in the divine throne room (Revelation 4:3) and the bright face reminds us Roman images of their gods. The angel (messenger) brings a divine message dressed in the metaphors of a divine commission.
Further, the angel is holding a “little book” (biblaridion). What is this “little book”? As is clear from the rest of the chapter, it contains a prophetic message that John is to announce to the nations. But the difficult question is the relation of this “little book” to the “book” (biblios) whose seals the Lamb has opened. The book lies open and unsealed in the hand of the angel. It seems reasonable to connect the two without identifying them. In other words, it might be that the “little book” is part of the “book” though not necessarily the whole of it. Whatever the case, the angel brings the book as part of John’s prophetic commission and it stands in continuity with the book the Lamb opened if not part of it.
The appearance of the scroll in the hand of the angel may also mean that further warnings are issued through the seven thunders before the message of the book will be fully implemented. When the angel descended to earth, the angel shouted and the seven thunders roared. They are about to roll through the earth just as the trumpets. The angel may have appeared to release the thunders. But a “voice from heaven” shut down their revelation. God decides that the voice of the thunders will be sealed up; they will go unheard. John is forbidden to write them down. In effect, there will be no more warnings. The seals and the trumpets were sufficient warning.
If the purpose for sealing the thunders was unclear, the mighty angel clarifies so no one will misunderstand. The picture here is foreboding–the angel has one foot on the earth and one on the sea. The angel represents power over all chaos, over the whole planet. The angel then swears or declares an oath with the right hand raised to heaven (God). The God by whom the angel swears is the everlasting Creator of everything that exists and the language reminds us of Revelation 5:13. The whole creation worships the one who sits on the throne and the angel swears by the Creator.
The message is significant: “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”
The message is good news. What God “announced” to the prophets was, more literally, “gospeled” to them. It was a proclamation of good news. God has good news for the faithful witnesses who have struggled against the empire and refused to compromise. The announcement,then, is encouragement for the faithful; God has not forgotten their cry for justice.
The good news is the accomplishment of the mystery of God. The good news, over which the angels themselves rejoice, is that the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of God which is heralded when the seventh trumpet sounded (Revelation 11:15). The good news is that the faithful witness of the martyrs will be vindicated, and God will set things right. The empire will fail to destroy the people of God and the empire will collapse under the weight of its own sin. The mystery of God–what the martyrs wanted to see but was hidden from them–will be revealed when the martyrs are vindicated. There will be no more delay; judgment is coming.
Revelation 10:8-11 reflects the apocalyptic and prophetic traditions of Ezekiel 2:8-3:3. John is told to do what Ezekiel was told to do, that is, to eat the scroll. To eat the scroll is to digest the message of the book. It is to accept the commission to prophesy the message of the Apocalypse, or to declare the fulfillment of the mystery of God.
Like with Ezekiel, the book tastes sweet on the tongue but is bitter to the stomach. The commission is received with joy and hope but the message is a sour one. It is a message of woe, mourning, and judgment. It is good news for God’s faithful witnesses, but it is judgment for the inhabitants of the earth. But the message, as we will see in Revelation 11, contains a sour note even for the followers of the Lamb as many are yet to suffer for their witness.
The significance of eating the book is clear from the words of commission in Revelation 10:11: “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” John will speak a divine message regarding nations and kings, against empires and Caesars. God has heard the cries of the martyrs and now commissions John to speak the truth about empire. John stands in relation to the Roman empire just as Ezekiel stood in relation to Jerusalem–he is given a prophetic, even apocalyptic, message of judgment.
John eats the book, and therefore he “must prophesy.” John must proclaim the judgment given him. This is his prophetic call.