PMT 2014-006 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Jesus face aglowIn Rev. 10:1 John records the appearance of a strong angel: “And I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.” This appears to be Christ himself.

All commentators agree that Christ appears under a variety of symbols in Revelation, including gigantic Christophany (1:13-16), redeeming lamb (5:6; 14:1), glorious Son of Man (14:14-15), and conquering warrior (19:11-16). This opens the possibility that he could also appear in angelic form and that John is reporting what he sees without interpreting it.

His appearing in Scripture as an angel is not without precedent. The famous “Angel of the Lord” passages in the OT are pre-incarnate appearances of Christ. And the book of Revelation bears a most definite OT cast, suggesting the appropriateness of such a prominent OT figure. Elsewhere in Revelation Jesus appears angelomorphically: in the “son of man” vision in 14:14-15 and (probably) in 20:1-2 where an angel binds Satan (which is Christ’s work). Furthermore, presenting him in angelic form would fit the context, in that he comes with a message in his hand (angelos means “messenger”). That John falls down to worship an angel elsewhere in Rev (19:10; 22:8), suggests that he has already seen Christ as an angel in Rev.

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But what evidence do we have for this angel in Rev. 10 portraying Christ? Chapter 10 links to Christ’s appearance in chapter 1 in significant ways involving the cloud imagery (1:7; cp. 10:1a) and the several Son of Man features (1:13-15; cp. 10:1b).

First, this angel is clothed with a cloud. In Scripture one clothed with clouds is always either God or Christ. More directly, though, in Revelation clouds are first mentioned in Rev. 1:7. That verse directly associates them with Christ in his judgment-coming against Israel — which is the overarching theme of Revelation. Interestingly, immediately after the strong angel vision in Rev. 10 we read John’s clearest pronouncement of the temple’s judgment (Rev. 11:1-2).

Second, the rainbow which is upon his head echoes the throne vision of God in Rev. 4, which is not only John’s only other reference to a rainbow but the only other use of the term in the NT: “there was rainbow around the throne” (4:3). Unlike in 4:3, the definite article appears in 10:1 before “rainbow” (iris) which  is probably the article of previous reference, reminding us of the rainbow in 4:3. Here the rainbow from God’s throne now covers Christ “to signify that Christ has taken over the reins of the Father’s plan” (Beale 528).

Third, his face was like the sun is very close to the phraseology in 1:16 which is the first appearance of the sun shining in Revelation and serves as a clear indication of the Son of Man’s deity. Furthermore, the language in 10:1 is identical to the transfiguration statement where Jesus’s divine glory shines through his mortal veil (Mt 17:2). Paul’s own blinding vision of Christ reminds us of this picture, as well (Acts 26:13; 2Co 4:6). These helioprospoic (face-as-sun) references all appear to refer to divinity.

Fourth, John sees his feet like pillars of fire. This is similar in effect to Rev. 1, where we read: “His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace” (Rev. 1:15). In that fire pictures judgment twenty-four times in Revelation, it surely connotes judgment here. In the letter to Thyatira, the imagery of Christ from chapter one is applied; he mentions the “eyes like a flame of fire” and feet “like burnished bronze” (Rev. 2:18) which had been “caused to glow in a furnace” (Rev. 1:15).

Fifth, later in Rev. 10:3 the angel speaks as when a lion roars. The lion’s roar is often (but not always) a metaphor for God’s call (Jer 25:30; Hos 11:10; Joel 3:16; Am 1:2; 3:8). This reminds us of the “Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5). But, of course, Revelation also associates the lion with one of the four living creatures (4:7) — and even the beast (13:2). The beast is out the question, however, for obvious reasons. This would leave the possibility that this “mighty angel” could be either: (1) One of the four living creatures (but they seem always to be designated as “living creatures” elsewhere). Or (2) another of God’s angels, since they can be associated with lion features (4:7). Still, the other lines of evidence quite suggestively point to Christ.

In Rev. 1:11 and 19 the Son of Man commissions John to speak to the Seven Churches. Here, he commissions him to prophesy to “many people and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev. 10:11).

But there is more to this angelomorphic appearance of Christ. And I will touch on that in my next blog article. In the meantime, I recommend that you buy your wife some of my CDs and books for her Christmas present next year. My motto is: shop early; shop often; buy much.

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  1. Patricia Watkins January 13, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    I’ve been waiting for someone to touch on the rainbow imagery in Rev. 4 & 10. A year ago I caught what could well be the parallel for why this is included in John’s vision. And you’re right, it makes sense that this is Christ appearing as the strong angel.

    The context of Isaiah 54:9 speaks of a judgement on God’s people that is “as the waters of Noah” going over the earth. Without actually identifying this judgement as the 70 AD Jerusalem cataclysm, it goes on to describe what could only be New Jerusalem, established afterwards in righteousness by God Himself. If this judgement is described as a never-to-be-repeated-again episode in Isaiah 54:9, and is compared to Noah’s flood, (something with equally catastrophic and all-encompassing effects), then I can see why a rainbow is an apt symbol just at this particular point in John’s vision. It’s just prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

    God defined His purpose for the rainbow in Genesis 9:11-17 – a covenant with mankind that when He looks at the rainbow set in the cloud, He will remember His promise never to repeat this type of overwhelming judgement again. Jerusalem’s siege, it’s unparalleled tribulation and subsequent destruction will never be duplicated again. His vengeance for the blood of His Son and the slain prophets and saints was poured out on that generation, and needs no repetition. It’s the rainbow’s unspoken reminder to us.

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