As in the earlier Seal-vision cycle, there is here an interlude between the sixth and seventh Trumpet-visions—the seventh trumpet does not sound until 11:15. As a literary and dramatic device, this serves to build suspense, but it also turns the attention of the audience away from the Judgment and back toward the worship of God (and Christ) in Heaven. Also, in the book of Revelation, the number seven symbolizes the holiness and perfection of God, even as the number six (coming just short of seven) reflects the limitation and imperfection of the created order, and of humankind in particular. Thus, from a thematic point of view, a clear demarcation between the first six visions and the seventh is entirely appropriate. However, technically, based on 11:14, it would seem that the author of the book regarded this interlude (10:1-11:14) as part of the sixth vision.
The core of this particular vision (vv. 1-7) features the presence of a “strong Messenger”—i.e. an especially powerful heavenly being, with distinctive attributes. His visual appearance is described in vv. 1-2a:
- “stepping down [vb. katabai/nw] out of the heaven”—perhaps indicating a shift in visionary locale, i.e. a descent to appear before the seer (John) on earth (as in 1:12-20); more likely, the spatial reference is part of the vision itself, as is the reference to earth in v. 2b.
- “having been cast about [i.e. clothed/robed] by a cloud”
- a brilliant halo (i@ri$, i.e. rainbow) upon his head (cf. 4:3)
- his face is “(bright) as the sun”
- his feet are as “pillars of fire”
These characteristics echo both the language of theophany (the manifestation of God [YHWH]) and christophany (the appearance of the exalted Jesus), which includes the traditional imagery surrounding the appearance of the “Son of Man” (Dan 7:13-14). The clouds and related meteorological phenomena are part of the traditional storm-theophany—i.e. manifestation/description of the sky/storm as deity, or personified as deity. For ancient Israelites, El-Yahweh shared many of these storm associations, which were visible when he became manifest to humankind, according to the Old Testament narrative and traditions (most famously in the Sinai theophany, Exod 19:9, 16; 24:15-26ff). Especially important, from an eschatological standpoint, is the cloud-imagery related to the “Son of Man” figure in Daniel 7, who was identified with the exalted Jesus in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (Mk 13:26-27; 14:62 par; Rev 1:7; cf. also Acts 7:55-56). The same cloud-imagery is specifically associated with the future return of Jesus (i.e. the Son of Man) in Acts 1:9-11 and 1 Thess 4:17.
Certain similarities with the vision of the exalted Jesus in 1:12ff have raised the possibility that the Messenger here in chapter 10 also represents an appearance of Christ. This, however, seems unlikely; the parallels are too general, and simply reflect the fact that descriptions of the exalted Jesus follow closely the traditional depiction of divine/heavenly beings.
Verse 2 establishes an important parallel with the vision-scene in chapter 5—the Messenger holds a scroll in his hand, just as the “One seated on the throne” holds the sealed scroll in his right hand (5:1). There is some question whether this is the same scroll (lit. paper roll, bibli/on, here bibliari/dion) from chapters 5ff. Almost certainly, it should be understood this way, based on the description of it here as “having been opened up” (vb. a)noi/gw, used 11 times in chaps. 5-6, beginning with 5:2). Moreover, it would present a visionary structure exactly parallel to that indicated at the very start of the book (1:1), referring to the revelation contained in the book as coming:
These verses describe the action of the great Messenger:
“And he set his foot (on) the giving (side) [i.e. his right foot] (down) upon the sea, and his well-named [i.e. left] (foot) upon the earth, and he cried (out) with a great voice, just as a lion (does when it) bellows. And when he cried (out), the seven thunders spoke (with) their (own) voices.” (v. 3)
Here again, we see evidence of the ancient storm-theophany. In the Semitic idiom, thunder is literally the voice (loq) of God, and this imagery is utilized in the great throne-vision (4:5; 6:1). The roaring of the storm is paralleled with the roar of the lion—a powerful animal figure used to represent both God (Amos 3:8; Hos 11:10) and his anointed representative (i.e. Messiah/Christ); on the latter, cf. Rev 5:5, and the underlying tradition from Gen 49:9 (see also Mic 5:8). The lion’s roar is especially associated with the divine Judgment in the Old Testament (Hos 5:14; 13:7-8; Jer 2:15; 4:7, etc; Zech 11:3).
The significance of these “thunders” is indicated in verse 4:
“And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, and (then) I heard a voice out of the heaven saying (to me), ‘You must seal the (thing)s which the seven thunders spoke, and you shall not write them’.”
The description of these voices as “thunder”, along with the number seven, shows that they are closely connected to the voice of God Himself. However, the reflexive pronoun (e(autw=n) in verse 3, indicates that they are not precisely identical with God’s voice—i.e. they speak with their (own) voices. Nevertheless, they accurately reflect God’s voice, much as the “seven spirits” before the throne represent God’s very eyes (5:6, cf. Zech 4:10). According to the ancient religious consciousness and mode of expression, the personification of divine attributes was extremely common; whether, or the extent to which, the “seven spirits” and “seven thunders” are to be understood as independent beings in their own right, is extremely hard to determine. These passages should not be used to establish a precise Theology (properly speaking) for the New Testament.
The proximity of the thunders to God’s own voice is confirmed by the command to seal the things they spoke—here, as in chaps. 5-6, the seal (sfragi/$) implies that something is kept hidden and undisclosed (i.e. the contents of the scroll are not to be read). This suggests something of the numinous and awesome (divine) character of these voices. Whether the seer understood what the thunders spoke is beside the point, though it may be that there is a similarity with what Paul relates in 2 Cor 12:4. The underlying idea and imagery finds an interesting, though faint, parallel in the ancient Canaanite “Baal Epic”, in which the storm deity (personification of the storm) Baal Haddu addresses his sister Anat (through a messenger), part of a refrain that runs through the text:
“For a message I have, and will tell you,
A word and I will recount to you,
The word of tree and the whisper of stone,
The converse of Heaven with Earth,
Of Deeps with Stars,
I understand the lightning which the Heavens do not know,
The word people do not know,
And earth’s masses do not understand.”
(translation, with some modification, by Mark S. Smith in Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, Society of Biblical Literature and Scholars Press )
The action of the Messenger continues in verses 5-7, as he stands astride the surface of the earth—one foot on the sea, the other on the land. The symbolic majesty of the scene is enhanced as the Messenger proceeds to swear an oath, marked by the raising of his right hand to heaven (v. 5b). The ancient practice of swearing by oath is quite foreign to us today, though modern society retains a faint vestige of it in courts of law and certain other official settings. The ancient (religious/magical) sense and significance of the practice is indicated by the verb o)mnu/w, which, in its fundamental sense and earliest usage, refers to making (or holding) something firm through contact with a sacred object. In the setting of public affairs, including the delivering of message, giving testimony, etc, it can mean confirming the truth of what a person says. That is the basic meaning here. By raising his hand to heaven, the Messenger is affirming the truth of what he says through symbolic/ritual contact with Heaven itself (cf. Matt 23:22). Moreover, he utters his message through the name/authority of God Himself (“…in/by the [One] living into the Ages of the Ages [i.e. forever]”). The oath is presented in the manner of an ancient religious/theological formula, one which may be traced all the way back to the Abraham narratives in Genesis (cf. Gen 19:18-20), presenting God [YHWH-El] as the one true Deity and Creator. The more immediate reference here clearly is to Daniel 12:7.
The message itself, preceded by such solemn grandeur, follows in vv. 6b-7:
“there will not yet be (any more) time [xro/no$]; but (rather), in the days of the voice of the seventh Messenger, when he shall be about to sound the trumpet, even (then it is that) the secret of God is completed [e)tele/sqh], (even) as He gave the good message (of it) to His slaves the Foretellers.”
These verses, and those which follow here (vv. 8-11), are vital for a proper understanding of the structure of the visionary narrative in the book, as well as the time-frame that is involved. For this reason, I feel that it is worth devoting a separate note to a careful study of them—this will be done in the next daily note.