The angel John sees descending from heaven in Revelation 10 is a new character in the story (‘another mighty angel’). Yet he is also surprisingly familiar. His sun-like face and legs like pillars of fire recall the Son of Man in Revelation’s opening vision (feet ‘like burnished bronze’, face ‘like the sun shining at full strength’; 1:15–16). His lion-like voice evokes Christ the slaughtered Lamb, who is also ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah’ (5:5). For this reason, many patristic and medieval commentators interpreted this passage as of Jesus. An alternative possibility is this mighty angel is not Christ himself, but Christ’s own angel, acting as his messenger and mediator.
This image from the fourteenth-century Cloisters Apocalypse, one of many Anglo-Norman illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts produced in England and France from the mid-thirteenth century onwards, explores the ambiguity. The angel, standing at centre, dominates the page. A red cross is visible in his halo, a clear symbol of Christ. Yet, unlike images of Jesus elsewhere in Cloisters (e.g. fol. 6r, depicting Revelation 5:7–14, or fol. 38r, illustrating Revelation 22:10–21), or the bearded angel of Revelation 10 in the earlier Abingdon Apocalypse (c.1270–75; British Library Add. MS 42555, fol. 27v), he is unshaven. He is both like Christ, and unlike Christ.
The angel’s role as mediator between heaven and earth, between Christ and John, is also effectively conveyed by his posture. His raised right hand, by which he swears ‘by him who lives for ever and ever’ (10:6), is positioned in parallel to the cloud extending heavenwards. With his left hand, he offers the little book or ‘little scroll’ to the human John. Thus all three stages in the chain of revelation—God/Christ, his angel, his servant John (1:1)—are presented visually. Christ has delivered his revelation through his angelic mediator. His earthly prophet can now proclaim its bitter-sweet message.
10 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring; when he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5And the angel whom I saw standing on sea and land lifted up his right hand to heaven 6and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there should be no more delay, 7but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God, as he announced to his servants the prophets, should be fulfilled.
8 Then the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”