Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” – Revelation 10:1-11
The last few passages have focused on the seven angels of the apocalypse. This passage sees the arrival of the seventh angel from heaven. In trying to describe this angel the author is once again trying to describe the indescribable. The angel is robed in a cloud, has a rainbow above his head, a face like the sun, legs like pillars of fire, and roaring like a lion. This angel “lands” with one foot on land and one foot in the sea. This description, like others so far in revelation, is oddly reminiscent of Ezekiel’s visions.
I don’t want to sound blasphemous or discount the miraculous and metaphysical, but this description sounds like the arrival of an extraterrestrial entity from outer space. On one level angels are extraterrestrial entities from “outer space”, or at least another space, the spiritual realm that is separated in some way from direct contact with secular world in which we live. The earth is also separated from space by what we refer to as the atmosphere which is a frontier of sorts between the earth and space.
It seems to me there are a few reasons why these descriptions seem so reminiscent of future technology and space travelers: 1) I have watched too many science fiction movies; 2) I am completely misunderstanding or misinterpreting what is being said here; 3) the author is describing something that is outside of his native realm or experience; or 4) there is some connection between what we think of as “extraterrestrials” and at least some of the biblical accounts of angels and celestial beings. Let’s take these one at a time.
I am a big science fiction genre fan. I think the reason I like these kind of movies is that they provide a glimpse of what could be an interesting and incredible future of space travel and exploration. I am convinced that if I had been born in the 1800’s I would have signed up for an expedition to explore parts of the earth that were at that time unexplored like the antarctic. I am not sure where this interest and drive comes from, but it is perhaps derived from a mixture of curiosity, love of nature and adventure, a passion for paths less taken. In some ways this blog, and my multi-year exploration of water references in the bible, is an expedition to explore the “water park” that is the bible.
As an untrained theologian the possibility that I am simply lost in a side channel here cannot be discounted. Although I prayerfully consider each of these passages I may not be listening carefully enough to the Holy Spirit. I am confident that at some point God will clarify this for me if I am in fact earnestly seeking the truth. I am sure there will be many examples as I go back and review some of the earlier parts of the journey where my knowledge and spiritual maturity might lead to different conclusions and interpretations. I am sure the same holds with this passage.
Although the first two contribute it is the third possibility I think is really interesting – the author is describing something that is outside of his native realm or experience. The analogy that comes to mind for me is that of aquatic organism like a fish that spends their whole lives in a different realm and medium than us land dwellers. If a fish were to look toward events on land they would undoubtedly have a difficult time interpreting, understanding, and describing them. Even something as simple and straightforward as walking on two legs would undoubtedly seem confusing, fantastic, and “other worldly”. The fish might struggle to find the words to describe this action of moving across the land. Where are their fins? Why is their movement so jerky and chaotic? What are those long appendages sticking out of their bodies? How do they breath? The spiritual realm in which these angel reside is equally foreign to us earthbound cave dwellers, some amount of confusion and difficulty describing it should be expected.
The fourth possibility is the really heretical one. Is there a chance that some of the celestial beings described here, and at other points in the bible, are in fact what have been described by others and elsewhere as “extraterrestrial aliens” and the spacecrafts that they travel in to reach earth. This idea is not new and has been invoked to explain everything from the statues on Easter Island to the pyramids at Giza, Egypt. Let me be clear here – God is at the center of my understanding of our existence and it is through God that truth and understanding will come. I am not saying that the bible is a work of fiction and these difficult descriptions are science fiction stories. I am merely wondering if there is some connection between our societal stories, biblical accounts of confusing celestial beings, and the way we perceive and understand the spiritual realm. This is deep water to be sure and I humbly submit this idea to God for correction.
The remainder of the passage describes a scroll and a revelation given by “the seven thunders” that the author is given that is not to be shared in writing, “in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” Apparently, there will be a revealing of at least some of the mysteries here. The passage then ends with this odd command to eat the scroll. It is sweet in the author’s mouth but turns sour in his stomach. I am not sure what to make of this. Perhaps it is an allusion to the “digestibility” of the spiritual realm while we are inhabiting our earthly bodies. I do not know.
The angel in this passage has one foot on land and one in the sea. He has one foot in the spiritual and one foot in the secular. It is this spanning of the two realms that allow the author to see something that is both awesome and confusing.
Prayer: God give us eyes to see and understanding of things that are part of the spiritual realm.