Who is the Angel in Revelation 10:1-4?

Mighty Angel, 17th centuryThe mighty angel in Revelation 10 alludes to several passages in the Old Testament which describe angelic beings.

John does not name this angelic being, although some speculate the angel is Gabriel, primarily because the name Gabriel means “mighty one” (גִּבּוֹר gibbôr; Charles 1:258-259). It is not necessary to make the connection to Gabriel, although there are certainly parallels in Revelation 10 to Daniel. Gabriel is mentioned twice in Daniel, both times he is delivering a message to Daniel from God. Gabriel also appears twice in Luke in a similar role, announcing to Mary she is pregnant.

The physical description of this angel evokes a theophany from the Hebrew Bible.

The angel is “robed in a cloud.” A cloud is often associated with the glory of God. The image of a cloud appears 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). In Exodus 14:19 the angel of God traveled in front and behind Israel’s army along with a “pillar of cloud.” When Solomon installed the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple, the place was filled with a cloud, representing the glory of God (1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chron 5:14). Ezekiel sees this cloud depart the Temple before the Temple is destroyed (Ezek 10:4-5). At the transfiguration Jesus is covered in a bright cloud (Matt 17:5).

Angelic beings clothed in a cloud are rare in apocalyptic literature. In 3 Enoch God’s glory is associated with clouds. For example, “the clouds that encircle the throne of glory” (3 Enoch 22C.4) and describing the throne room, “those who say “Blessed” are encircled by bright clouds” (34:2). In Fourth Ezra’s Eagle vision, the “spread his wings over all the earth, and all the winds of heaven blew upon him, and the clouds were gathered about him” (4 Ezra 11.2). In the Testament of Abraham 15 (A) the angel Michael demonstrates his power to Abraham by enveloping him in a cloud. In Mark 16:5 the angel who greeted the women at the empty tomb were wrapped in white robes

The angel has a “rainbow above his head.” Like a cloud, 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. Aune takes ἶρις is a halo of light (2:557). The image is drawn from Ezekiel’s throne room vision in which he sees something “like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him” (Ezek 1:28). Revelation 4:3 alluded to Ezekiel’s vision, “a rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.”

The angel’s face is “like the sun.” Revelation 1:6 described as having a face shining like the sun, a possible allusion to the angelic being in Daniel 10:6, although the angelic being in Daniel has a face like lightening and his eyes were like flaming torches. Both Moses (Exod 34:30) and Jesus are described as having radiant faces; at the Transfiguration Jesus’s face “shone like the sun” (Matt 17:2)

“His legs were like fiery pillars.” This is literally feet (πούς). Most modern translations translate the word as legs since it is odd to describe feet as pillars. Aune gives several examples of feet for legs in contemporary Greek (Revelation, 2:548-549). The cherubim in Ezekiel 1:7 have straight legs like “burnished bronze.”

The angel is standing with one foot on land and one foot on the sea. This is important because the beasts in Revelation 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.

Colossus of Rhodes

David Aune suggests this angelic being has some similarity to the Colossus of Rhodes (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 (which is an island, 420 square miles, with three city states named after the three sons of Helios.)

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 the Colossus was destroyed some 275 years prior to the writing of Revelation creates a problem for Aune’s suggestion the great wonder of the world influenced this description.

Rather than the Colossus of Rhodes, the image of a mighty angel is drawn from Old Testament descriptions of God’s glory, his throne room and other mighty angels. In fact, as Greg Beale suggests, “may be more than an angel” and that John’s use of this imagery “christological, if not divine” (Revelation, 522, 524). The description of the mighty angel in Revelation 10 reads the mighty angels in the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus.

 

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