Who is the Mighty Angel in Revelation 10?

Colossus_of_RhodesJohn 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 Colossus-of-Rhodes-footoath 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.

Living in the Light of the Book of Revelation

In a 1993 interview for The Door, Tony Campolo said:

“Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that take the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”

Marvin Pate concludes his introduction to Four Views on Revelation with these words, distancing himself from both the overly zealous Dispensational interpreter of Revelation who finds cryptic references to Obama’s Health Care mandate or the events of 9/11 in the metaphors of the seals, trumpets or bowls. He also wants to avoid a totally non-eschatological view of the book, since the author of Revelation really does claim to be writing about a future, eschatological age.

armageddon-comicAs I am preparing to teach a three week intensive course on Daniel and Revelation, I resonate deeply with what Campolo says. I think many students think a class on Revelation will be provide a kind of “end times outline of future events” complete with Clarence Larkin charts and graphs. While I am committed to a belief in the future return of Christ (including a rapture and a tribulation), the sort of thing that passes for “prophetic studies” are quite embarrassing. If anyone was expecting that sort of weirdness in my class, I think they will disappointed.

I usually joke at the beginning of the class the title of the class ought to have been “An Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period.” That is the class I would really like to teach, although not many undergraduates would opt for an elective with that particular title. But Daniel and Revelation must be read for what they are, examples of apocalyptic literature from the Second Temple Period! Revelation is a book  that has a “sense of the immediate return of Christ” and an “urgency of faith.” But also call their readers to challenge their culture, and “come out of Babylon.” Both Daniel and Revelation urge their readers to social responsibility that goes beyond even what Campolo had in mind.

tribulation-mapRevelation is about God transforming the world, beginning with his faithful in the world and culminating with his Son’s glorious return in the future.  In order to live out the theology of the book of Revelation, we must constantly be engaged with the world, evaluating and reforming it. The seven churches were not called to found monasteries, but to constantly be on their guard against any corruption of their faith while they continue to interact with their culture. This struggle will eventually end when Christ returns, but for now, it is difficult, and even deadly.

Nor were the seven churches in Revelation called to create complicated charts mapping out future events. There is a great deal of prophecy fulfilled in the life of Jesus. But no one suggested people could have used the Old Testament Prophets to write a life of Christ 50 years before he was born! Prophecy was fulfilled in literally, but in remarkable and surprising ways. What makes us think the Book of Revelation could yield a “tribulation map” warning people of the times and dates of various judgments?

The warnings in Revelation are against complacency and compromise.  What will happen in the future is certain, but our calling now is to live properly in the shadow of the Second Coming, whether it happens in our lifetime or not.

Listening to Revelation

It is important to remember the oral nature of our texts in the New Testament, Harry Maier (Apocalypse Recalled, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) emphasizes the “performance” of the text as a vital component of how to understand Revelation. While it is certain the ancient world was an oral culture, it is not clear if an early church service was a “performance” in quite the way Maier and others describe it.  I am left with the impression the reader in a congregation is more like an interpretive artist who breathes some life into the text as they read.  In terms of Greek-oratormodern literary theory it is often thought that a piece of literature is not complete without the reader encountering the author in the text. By making the text a performance, a third party enters into the interpretation of a text, the actor. The actor/reader takes the text from the page and “interprets” it for the listener.  This whole process is said to “create meaning.”

I recently read an interpretation of the lyrics of the songwriter Bob Dylan written by the literary critic Christopher Ricks.  Ricks makes the point that one cannot simply read lyrics and receive the full impact of the text, one must hear them performed in order to get the “full effect” and intention of the writer.  In a similar way, Maier is saying we must learn to “hear” the script of Revelation as it was “heard” in the first century, as oral performance. This is an interesting goal, but it seems nearly impossible to do when reading the text – how can we know what elements of the text are intended as rhetorical without having experienced a first century “reading”?

If this performance aspect of Revelation is critically important, it seems as though we can never fully appreciate the book since we can never “hear” it performed as John intended it.  On the other hand, perhaps Meier would not care for the original intention of the author, since it is the “recalling” of the Apocalypse which is so important to him.

Maier attempts to tease out some of the rhetorical elements of Revelation which indicate a possible “oral performance.”  These include repetitive elements (the list of the twelve tribes, for example).  An aspect of repetition which can be overlooked is the typical supplementation of the third (or last) in a series.  Maier’s example is the three woes, where the third “woe” is the fall of Babylon.  Maier considers these as performance, the text does not “mean,” it “does.”

While if find the use of rhetoric very valuable for working out some of the details of the Apocalypse and these devices are certainly aspects which imply an “oral” reading, I am less impressed by the implication these rhetorical devices will raise the interpreter above the “apocalyptic time-line” interpretations.  It seems to me that a commentator can recognize all the rhetorical elements of the book and still read Revelation as having a future aspect. Even if Revelation is a performance meant to “be heard not analyzed,” it does not follow that the performance necessarily has nothing to say about the future.

Revelation as Worship

Image result for Angels worshiping in heaven

Despite the fact the book has a great deal to say about coming events, Revelation is not a roadmap of the future.  It is, rather, an exhortation for today.  It is possible that people living in the tribulation will pick up the book of Revelation and see the things spoken of being fulfilled in their lives, but the people living at that time will be under a delusion (2 Thess. 2:11).  It is unlikely that those under the judgment of God will have the spiritual insight to believe what the book teaches (see Rev 6:12-17).   Revelation was intended to be read by the church living in the shadow of the Second Coming bearing up under persecution for their belief in Jesus, in order to encourage them to be strong and endure until the end.  As such, the book is an excellent conclusion to the Jewish-Christian literature in the NT.

I am convinced that the main theme of Revelation is worship.  The fact that God is worthy of our worship appears many times in the book.  There are several scenes of heavenly worship around the throne of God (Rev 5:13, 7:11-12).  The reason for God’s worthiness is that he is the creator (Rev 4:11)  It is evident that since God is the creator of all things, he is sovereign over them and can use them in what ever way he chooses.  In Rev 10:6 the elements of nature that God is declared to be creator of are the elements of creation that are used to judge in the book.

God is also described as a just judge who will avenge the wrongs done to his people.  Even this can be seen as a sub-theme of worship.  Rev 16:5, for example, describes an angel worshiping God as the one who is “just in all his judgments.”  In Rev 18:20, the saints are to rejoice because God has judged the Great Whore of Babylon.

Bibliography: M. Eugene Boring,“The Theology of Revelation, ‘The Lord Our God the Almighty Reigns,’” Interpretation 40 (July 1986), 261.

Revelation as Subversive Literature

In his book Apocalypse Recalled (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), Harry Maier advocates taking Revelation as a “subversive piece of memory work” in order to avoid falling into the trap of extremism. The apocalyptic genre, Maier argues, looks at the present by looking back at what has already happened rather than forward to an escapist future.

revelation-bibleHe says western, post-modern culture has become, like Nietzsche’s cows, blissfully ignorant.  We no longer need to remember anything because information is so freely available.  The post-modern world, according to Maier, is a post-God world of fragmentation (24-25).  American culture tries to be “real” but it is in fact Hollywood simulation.  Maier cites Jean Baudrillard’s criticism of modern culture as well as Umberto Eco critique in Travels in Hyper-Reality. Christianity has bought into this fake culture and most Christians are comfortable in the secular culture of the West.

For Maier, several reactions are possible with respect to reading Revelation.  We could hunker down and await the rescue of the Coming Jesus who will judge this world and reward the faithful few.  On the other extreme is the Social-gospel model of working with culture to create a more Christ-like culture.  The problem with the old-style Social-Gospel is that few if any government agencies care what Christian organizations advise these days. The days of a “transformational” relationship between Christ and Culture are gone, according to Maier, all which is left for the church is to “trouble culture,” which is what John does in the book of Revelation.

In order to “trouble the world” with Revelation, Maier says we ought to read the book “as a Laodicean” By this he means we ought to read Revelation as if we were members of the church at Laodicea, rather than one of the other churches.  He argues the seventh of the letters to the churches is climactic, and therefore the most important. In order to make his point he must make the brief line in the letter to Sardis about a few without soiled clothes a “praise” (although Mounce considers Sardis under the strongest condemnation, Revelation, 109). Perhaps Maier’s point concerning Laodicea as most like the modern church should stand, despite his structure of the seven churches. The church at Laodicea thought it was rich, but it was in fact poor (spiritually thinking),

I find it somewhat ironic Maier agrees with many on the “radical edge” in describing the present church as Laodicea, since many early dispensationalists thought the seven churches told the “history of Christianity” climaxing in the apostasy of Laodicea.  Many of the writers Maier scolded for reading Revelation as a roadmap to the future also read the book through the lens of Laodicea!

Perhaps this is my criticism of the “reading as a Laodicean” image Maier invokes: all seven of the churches struggle with integration of faith and culture, with Laodicea being the most spectacular of the failures.  To me to limit the “lens” to this last church is to ignore the positive value of some of the churches, as well as the warnings given to them.  All seven of the churches ought to be the grid through which we read the rest of the book, not simply Laodicea.  But then again, when it comes down to the application of this image, Maier does invoke all seven of the churches, so he himself does not read the book solely “as a Laodicean!”

Revelation and Empire

Despite the fact the book of Revelation is usually mined for what it has to say about future events, it is not a “roadmap for the future.” It is, rather, an exhortation written to very real churches to encourage them to live a different kind of life in the shadow of the Second Coming. This life means enduring persecution for their belief in Jesus and their non-belief in an imperial system that was becoming increasingly hostile to that faith.

View_of_ancient_PergamonThere are many examples of this in Revelation, but I will offer one from the letter to Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17). In Rev 2:13 the church is commended for not renouncing their faith even though one faithful witness was put to death.  The city is described as the place where Satan has his throne (v. 13) and “where Satan lives” (v. 14).

There are several suggestions for what is meant by “Satan’s Throne” (in fact, David Aune lists eight major possibilities). The Temple of Zeus Soter overlooked the city, and this throne was well known in the ancient world. On the other hand, this may refer to the Imperial cult represented by two temples to Emperors Augustus and (later) to Trajan.

In support of this view, it is observed that the term “throne” is used as an “official seat or chair of state” in the New Testament, Pergamum was the center of Satan’s activities in the province of Asia much the way Rome becomes the center for Satan’s activities in the west. The Temple of Augustus in Pergamum was built in 29 B.C., and was the first of the imperial cults in Asia Minor.  In TJob 3:5b pagan temples are called “the temple of Satan.”

Even though the imperial cult is strong in their city, the church of Pergamum remains true to the Lord’s name, even to the point of death. Nothing is known from scripture about the martyr Antipas, which is a shortened form of Antipater.  The title given him is “faithful witness,” title given to Jesus in Revelation 1. Eventually Pergamum will become known for several important martyrs.  The fact that the city was the center of the imperial cult would make the Christian refusal to accept the cult a serious crime.

There is a principle running through several of the letters in Rev 2-3 that the witnessing church will be a persecuted church (Beale, Revelation, 427).  Since the church has had a reputation for being a strong witness in the community, the church has had to face persecution, perhaps in the form of financial hardship and other social complications; but more importantly, members of their community have been killed for their faith.

Apple-CapitalismLet me draw this back to the application of Revelation to the present church. How should the modern church “resist” the culture of this world? In western, “first world” countries this would look different than in some parts of Africa or Asia where the church is illegal and being persecuted for their faith. It is possible that the lack of persecution in the west is an indication that we have embraced culture and are no longer “faithful witnesses” like Antipas?

How would this “resist the culture” theology play out in modern American Christianity? It seems to me evangelicals have seized on some social issues and ignored others. Recently, resisting and protesting changes in same-sex marriage laws are the only place it appears Christians resist culture–but what about rampant consumerism or American exceptionalism? How do we adopt Revelation’s theology of resistance on a wider range of issues?

Should We Read Revelation Literally?

How is it even possible to approach the book of Revelation a literal hermeneutic? The presence of such bizarre symbolic language seems to preclude the possibility of reading the book literally. The presence of highly figurative language does not preclude the possibility of literal meaning. “The prophecies predict literal events, though the descriptions do not portray the events literally” (Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 369).

To take an example from modern language, a news reporter might attempt to describe a speech by the President as well done, something which exceeded all expectations, etc. To do this, he says “The president ‘hit one out of the park.’” Most Americans will understand perfectly well what the phrase means, hitting a home run is “ultimate success,” a literal event, although it is described in a metaphor, symbolic language.

Really? That’s It?

To use a simple example in Revelation, chapter 12 describes a red dragon which persecutes the child of a woman. The dragon is clearly Satan, an image which is fairly obvious from the context (and interpreted for us by John in 12:9). Is Satan really a big red dragon? Probably not, but the image suggests things about Satan which are in fact true.

The function of a metaphor highlights certain aspects about a “great red dragon” which are true about Satan, but not everything about the dragon is true of Satan.  The difficult problem for the reader is sorting out what John intended to highlight and hide when he chose that metaphor.

When Revelation refers to something with straightforward language, we ought to take the words at face value. For example, Revelation 2-3 refer to seven churches, the ought to be read as real churches rather than epochs of church history.

Literal interpretation of Revelation does not deny figures of speech in the book. When the Bible says “like a…” it is clear that a figure of speech is being employed and that we should try to understand what the author meant by that figure. In each of the following examples, there is a metaphor / word picture which is interpreted for us by the text. Revelation 1:20 refers to seven stars and seven lampstands. The plain interpretation of these verses is that the stars are the angels of the seven churches and the lampstands are the churches themselves.

There are a few examples which are more difficult to know how far to press the “literal” meaning. For example, is the temple in chapter 11 a literal temple in Jerusalem, or a “spiritual temple,” such as the Church? When chapter 16 describes a great battle in Armageddon, should we understand the location as the literal valley of Megiddo?

The problem for readers of Revelation will always be entering into the metaphorical world of John.  The more we understand that world, the better we can answer questions about how his metaphors originally functioned.

What are other potential examples of “clear” or “unclear” imagery in Revelation? Are there elements of the book we simply cannot understand at this point in history? If so, how does “all Scripture is profitable” apply to Revelation’s more difficult elements?

if-You-Should