1 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:
2 And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,
3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.
5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,
6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:
7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. (Revelation 10:1-7)
One of the odd bits of imagery in this chapter is the glorious angel who sets his right food on the sea and his left foot on the land. This angel holds the little book that John ends up taking and eating.
The detail about the angel standing one food on sea and one on land is repeated three times, in verses 2, 5, and 8, which is a little clue that it holds meaning that must be understood.
I had previously thought that the angel standing on both the sea and the land represented the sovereignty of God over the whole earth (and many other commentators think similarly), but this time that interpretation didn’t quite satisfy me. Why should God’s sovereignty be represented by an angel standing on sea and land holding a book and not an angel sitting on a throne? There has to be something different going on here.
So what does it mean when an angel has one foot in the sea and the other on land and he holds a book? It seems like he stands right on a transition point between sea and land, a point of change. (In real life, the transition point between sea and land is a bit indefinite because of tides and wave action and so forth, but in John’s vision, the transition point is so stationary that the angel can straddle it like a line.)
So I think we are to ponder what makes the difference between one condition represented by the sea and another condition represented by the dry land. How are they different? Sea is fluid and fluctuating and unstable. Land is solid and permanent and stable. So perhaps the sea symbolizes chaos and disorder, while land represents order and firmness and security.
Perhaps the angel standing between sea and land represents a point of change between chaos and order, between instability and steadfastness. The book he holds in his hand is held right over the dividing line, representing the thing that makes the bridge between the two. The book is the thing that will allow people to escape the chaos and come to order and certainty and security in their lives, which, based on the events of the previous chapter, have devolved into awful anarchy, insecurity, and warlord-ism.
What is this book? It is eaten by John, and it is essentially his witness and testimony to the world about the gospel. So the witness and testimony is the thing that can help move individuals and peoples from chaos and anarchy into order and a firm foundation to stand on. That will take faith for people to accept in a time of chaos, but this is shown us so that we can know it is true.
I also think this is an important principle for our lives today. If we feel our lives falling into chaos, we can take a look at how well we are living according to our testimony of the truth. If we can live by our testimony, we will find firm ground and a firm foundation in Christ. Then we’ll be better able to sort out the chaos and impose order in our lives. We'll be able to live with certainty even in the middle of upheaval.
Let’s move on to what else happens in this block of verses. In v3-4, the angel who straddles the transition point between sea and land cries with a loud voice, and seven thunders utter their voices, and the things said are forbidden that John should write them.
This leads to the question, what did they say? And further, why go to the trouble of telling us this happened if we are not to be told with the angel and thunders said?
There’s a very simple answer, one that will sound like a cop-out at first, but it is true and there is something we can learn from it that will actually give us hope. Answer: Those things are MYSTERIES. We are not told what they are in this vision in order to emphasize their mysterious nature. It even tells us in v7 “the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.”
Further, we are to know that the things not told us here are mysteries of God. We can know they are of God because they are spoken by an angel and seven thunders. (Thunders are also from heaven, and might be symbolic of heavenly voices of authority, possibly general authorities).
However, even though the things said are mysteries to us now, we can find hope in the implication that ultimately these mysteries will be made manifest in their time, as is represented by the fact that the angel cries with a loud voice and the seven thunders… well,, they thunder, and thunder is pretty noisy and public. Of course, the thing about mysteries of God is that no matter how public they happen to become, only the spiritually prepared understand them and obey their instructions.
I think it also has to be mentioned that this stuff with the angel and the thunders is in direct contrast to the chaos happening at the same time among the wicked, as shown in Revelation 9 in the latter half. This all happens after the sixth angel sounds his trumpet within the seventh seal. I think this is showing us that even though the righteous are greatly afflicted by the wickedness in the world, they will have compensatory blessings of great revelations from heaven to help them through their difficulties, revelations so great they were not to be written by John at that time. This gives us much to look forward to and prepare for.
In verse 5-7, the angel swears there will be time no longer and when the seventh angel sounds the mystery of God as declared by the prophets will be finished. Now, for the longest time I thought that oath about there being time no longer meant that all measurement of time was to be done away with and eternity was to begin at that point. However, this time I realized it was more likely an announcement about the probationary period before the second coming--that the end was getting very close and there was hardly any time left for the wicked to repent. To use a vastly inadequate analogy, it reminds me of the five minute warning my mom gave before the TV had to go off. But unlike that five minute warning, this is a message of extreme urgency with each individual's prospects in eternity at stake. Everyone has to repent because the day of grace is coming very quickly to an end.
It so happens that the terms by which the angel swears also encapsulate reasons and justification for the oath. The angel swears by God who lives for ever and ever, and by God who created everything in earth, sea, and heaven. To swear by God as one who lives forever should remind us He has an eternal perspective, and He can see when evil is ripe for destruction. So when He says time is almost up, He means it. To swear by God as the creator of all should remind us He also has the ability to destroy what He created. So when time is up, the wicked will be destroyed, and He has full power to do that.
This is all good news for the righteous because it means vindication and reward quickly approaches too.
There are times when I kind of wish I could redo the chapter breaks in Revelation to better group the things that happen together. I would put the contents of Revelation 10 right on the back of Revelation 9 to make it clearer that 10 is not an unrelated interlude, but is happening concurrently with the madness at the end of 9. I think we are meant to see a contrast between what happens among the wicked versus what happens among the righteous all the way up to the second coming. It truly will be “the best of times and the worst of times,” to borrow words from Dickens.