John does not identify this angel, although some speculate it is Gabriel primarily because the name Gabriel means “mighty one.” It is not necessary to make the connection to Gabriel, although there are certainly other parallels here to Daniel. Gabriel is mentioned twice in Daniel, both times he is delivering a message to Daniel from God, and twice in Luke where he is the angelic messenger who tells Mary that she is pregnant.
The physical description of this angel borrows from the imagery of a theophany. While this angel is not to be equated with God (or Christ), it is a messenger that has been in the very presence of God and the message that he brings is of primary importance.
- “Robed in a cloud.” A cloud is often associated with the presence of God. It is used as an image in Revelation as a description of heaven (11:12) and the place where “something like a son of man” sits before he comes as judge, a reference to Jesus Christ (14:14-16).
- “With a rainbow above his head.” Rainbows are also associated with the glory of God, although the two places in scripture where a rainbow is associated with God it is a description of his throne or location (Ezek 1:28, Rev 4:3).
- “His face was like the sun.” Christ was described as having a face shining like the sun in Rev 1:16, but this description is more like Daniel 10:6, where an angelic being is described similar to this one, as well as in passages when someone has been in the “presence of God.”
- “His legs were like fiery pillars.” This is literally “feet.” Most modern translations translate this as legs, since it is odd to describe feet as pillars. This may be an allusion to the two pillars that led Israel in the wilderness (Exod 13:21), but a better solution is seeing this as another allusion to angelic beings, as in Ezekiel 1:7.
The angel stands with one foot on land and one foot on the sea. This is important because the beasts in chapter 13 come from both the land and the sea – God is demonstrating his sovereignty over both. This also corresponds to the oath he makes in verse 6, swearing by both the land and the sea. Because of this, David Aune argues the angel is an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes (Revelation, 2:556-557).
The Colossus was a 105 foot tall bronze statue that was built about 280 B. C. It was placed in a promontory overlooking the harbor at Rhodes, and was known as one of the “seven wonders” of the ancient world. The statue was of Helios, a sun-god that was worshiped primarily in Rhodes. The image of a halo/rainbow and fire do evoke the memory of this well-known statue. It is possible that the statue had this right handed lifted towards heaven, as the angel in this passage does.
The Colossus was destroyed by an earthquake in 224 B. C. It broke off at the knees, and although it was looted for bronze, pieces were still visible during the first century. The fact that the Colossus was destroyed some 275 years prior to the writing of Revelation creates a problem for Aune’s argument the great wonder of the world influenced this description.
Nevertheless, the angel evokes memories of both Old Testament theophanies and an important Greco-Roman cultural icon. Perhaps this is why John describes this as he does so that the important message he will deliver resonates with both Jewish and Greek readers.