Revelation 10’s mighty angel impresses by his acrobatic skills. He is able to straddle both land and sea, like Christ himself, who walks on the Sea of Galilee without sinking (Matthew 14:22–33; Mark 6:45–52; John 6:16–21). In this dramatic wood engraving of the scene, from a nineteenth-century illustrated Bible, the delicate poise of the angel’s feet contrasts with his muscular, colossal upper body. ‘Colossal’ is an appropriate adjective, for this engraving, in common with several nineteenth-century depictions of this angel, consciously mirrors the Colossus of Rhodes. The rays emanating from his head recall the sun-god Helios, whose statue straddled the entrance to Rhodes harbour. That wonder of the ancient world, re-imagined by Martin Heemskerk in his widely-known engraving of 1570, serves as an appropriate model for John’s solar-faced angel.
This engraving also shows the influence of Benjamin West’s A Mighty Angel Standeth upon the Land and upon the Sea (c.1797). Yet, in contrast to West’s painting, where the angel treads turbulent waters, the sea in this engraving is as calm as a millpond. The book of Revelation, like the Bible as a whole, views the sea as a place of danger, evil, and chaos, from which the beast emerges (Revelation 13:1–8). John’s location on the island of Patmos added a further dimension, since the surrounding waters of the Aegean were dominated by Rome, the beast’s current incarnation. The engraver visualizes the effects of the angel’s descent. Like the ‘sea of glass, like crystal’ that John previously saw in heaven (4:6), this sea has now been subdued. It has lost its ability to threaten, as heaven’s herald announces to the earth that ‘there should be no more delay’ (10:6). The roaring of the lion (10:3) has tamed the turbulent waters. The scene is set for Revelation’s climax, when the sea will be no more (21:1).
Boxall, Ian. 2015. ‘The Mighty Angel with the Little Scroll: British Perspectives on the Reception History of Revelation 10’, in The Book of Revelation: Currents in British Research on the Apocalypse, ed. by Garrick V. Allen et al (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck), pp. 245–63
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.”