The Mighty Angel ~ Revelation 10:1-3 ~ Bible Apocalypse
The Mighty Angel ~ Revelation 10:1-3
“Then I saw another mighty angel descending out of heaven, clothed with a cloud and having a rainbow for an aura. His face was as bright as the sun, and his legs were like pillars of fire. He had in his left hand a small scroll that had been opened. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a great voice like a roaring lion….” Revelation 10:1-3
As with almost every other symbol of the Apocalypse the question of the identity of this particular angel has left the commentators hopelessly divided. The adjective “mighty” is the same word used to describe the “strong” angel who appeared to John just prior to the opening of the Seven Seals. This fact has led some expositors to conclude that the same angel appears in both visions. Although this is a logical conclusion, and is quite in harmony with the flow of the visions, it is supported only by circumstantial evidence. This does not, of course, mean that this conclusion is incorrect. It does, however, mean that we need to consider other options before reaching any final conclusions.
A few of the commentators, such as G. R. Beasley-Murray, base their identification of this Mighty Angel on the assumption that the word “mighty” is used in this passage in a nominal sense, rather than as an adjective. Since the Archangel Gabriel’s name means “strong warrior of God”, and since Gabriel is considered to be a special messenger to the Prophets, these gentlemen conclude that this angel can be none other than Gabriel. Here again, the evidence is entirely circumstantial and inconclusive.
About half of the commentators insist that this Mighty Angel is not really an angel at all, but rather a Theophanic manifestation of the “angel of the Lord.” According to this view this “angel” is not a created angel at all, but rather “the Son of God Himself, before His incarnation.” His glorious appearance here befits both His mission and His message, which is directed to the entire earth. Like the previous suggestions, this idea is also supported entirely by circumstantial evidence.
J.A. Seiss correctly insists that the term angel indicates “office” rather than “nature”, and can be applied to anyone. He then insists, quite incorrectly, that the attire of this Mighty Angel corresponds exactly to that of the Son of Man described in an earlier vision. In his eagerness to substantiate his conclusion, Seiss overlooks at least seven distinct differences between the two visions.
This seems to be a trait of those commentators who insist that this particular appearance is a theophany. C. L. Larkin, for instance, argues that no other angel is so described in the Scriptures. In so doing Larkin overlooks a passage from the final visions of Daniel in which an angel is described in terms far more spectacular than those employed by John.
“Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed with linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz; His body also was like the beryl, and his face like the appearance of lightening, and his eyes like lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet in color like to polished bronze, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” Daniel 10:5, 6.
Actually this particular passage is a real thorn in the side to those who advocate a Theophanic interpretation, for it is clearly describing an angelic messenger. Although the vision is obviously unbroken, and the text is a continuous narrative, the Scofield commentators were so seriously troubled by this kind of language being applied to a mere angel, that they attempted to explain the clear language of the text away. This soon led them to the dubious and unsupportable conclusion that this part of Daniel’s vision is actually four separate visions, two of which are Theophanies and two of which are of angels. Such a radical division of the text is unacceptable, no matter whom the interpreter is. It is especially distressing to find it among those who pride themselves on “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Of all the attempts to identify the Mighty Angel of this vision, the last suggestion is the least acceptable for several reasons. First, and most important, is the language of the text itself. This creature is called an angel, without any modification or enhancement of the meaning of the word. This is never true of the appearances of the Son of Man in the Apocalypse. Even some of the ultra-dispensationalists realize this fact.
“Notice please, that this being is titled a “mighty angel” whereas the Lord is set in the Book of Revelation under figures that are unmistakably His (5:6). Do not be surprised as we see God clothing His special emissaries with unique qualities.”
George Eldon Ladd agrees with the previous comment offered by William Orr, and adds two good reasons of his own for rejecting the idea that this Mighty Angel is the Messiah. The first is that the Prophet does not worship this Mighty Angel. This important observation is accompanied by a second objection that compliments it well – namely that the Messiah could not have uttered the oath delivered by this angel. All of these are weighty objections, and have led some of the advocates of this view, such as Donald Barnhouse, to hedge their bets a little.
“It is probably safest to say that we cannot be sure whether this mighty messenger is Christ or only an angelic being.”
Although Dr. Barnhouse’s capitulation is probably the most telling argument we could offer against this theory, there are strong and logical reasons for rejecting the idea entirely. The first of these is dispensational in nature, and I must say that I am surprised that it has not occurred to the authors we have cited. Since the time of the Incarnation Christ has had His own body – resurrected and glorified it is true – but uniquely and indisputably His. He does not leave this body to assume some angelic form associated exclusively with certain Old Testament manifestations. To assert that He does is dispensational folly, and totally distorts the New Testament teaching concerning the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
The second consideration is interpretive, and concerns the continuity of John’s Revelation. Christ is already present in the visions. He is the opener of the Seventh Seal, the source of the vision we are now considering. To place Him elsewhere, or to insist that He is playing a dual role in these visions is both illogical and uncalled for, and seriously disturbs the continuity of the narrative.
We have presented these arguments at some length because over half of the commentators subscribe to an interpretation that is simply not supportable on any level – be it logical, textual, or doctrinal. To have passed over this interpretative anomaly without drawing it to the reader’s attention would be both a disservice to the reader and inconsistent with our purpose in these commentaries.
The authors personal opinion is that this Mighty Angel is simply another in a long line of special messengers. His appearance, his posture, his accouterments, and his message, like all the symbols of the Apocalypse, are directed toward the Revelation of prophetic truths. In our opinion his identity is relatively unimportant, and would add nothing to the truths contained in the vision. Otherwise the Prophet would not have omitted this detail. Having made this final point let us move on to the consideration of the symbols themselves.