A Mighty Angel
Chapter 10 may be conveniently seen as having two parts: verses 1-7 and 8-11. In the first part, a mighty angel comes and declares that the “mystery of God” will be fulfilled at the time appointed; in the second part, John receives the very small open [ed] scroll, whose contents relate the manner of fulfillment.
“And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud, and the rainbow upon his head and his face [was] like the sun and his feet [legs] like pillars of fire, and holding in his hand a very small scroll opened. And he set his foot the right [one] upon the sea, and the left [one] upon the earth, and he cried out in a great voice even as a lion roars.”
The “cloud” or nimbus, which is the vehicle of celestial spirits, indicates that the angel is not some holy cardinal or bishop, but a real angel. He comes from “heaven,” i.e., the Church; in his appearance, he resembles Christ as described in Chapter 1.
That “his face shines like the sun” means that he is illumined with divine knowledge concerning his message and mission; and that “his feet are like pillars of fire” symbolizes his zeal to deliver the message and carry out his task regarding “the earth” and “the sea”; for the servant of God must have both knowledge and zeal, as the proverb suggests,
“Without knowledge even zeal is not good; and he who acts hastily, blunders.” [Prv. 19:2]
The “descent of a cloud” symbolizes divine intervention: that “the angel is clothed with the cloud,” and that “he descends to the earth and sea,” together convey the idea that “he has been empowered to do God's will and work in the affairs of men.”
Being “clothed” with cloud, he himself is like a pillar of cloud, and his feet are “like pillars of fire”: this description alludes to the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, which guided and defended the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt; and it alludes to Isaiah 4:5, wherein God promised a cloud by day and fire by night “over all Mount Zion.”
The text clearly states the angel has the “rainbow UPON his head,” not over it, in the sense of “above.” The definite article refers to the emerald “rainbow” around the throne in 4:3; hence, the angel is wearing a “crown of emerald light,” which symbolizes his authority. The [color of] emerald symbolizes hope and the promise of peace; however, as the angel's message and the scroll's contents will make clear, peace will not come immediately, but very soon.
His stentorian roar befits his immense size; the reader receives the impression that the angel is quite able to carry out his task. That “he set one foot upon the sea and the other upon the earth” symbolizes superiority so great as to make victory a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the dominant idea of this Chapter's first part is that of POWER AND AUTHORITY.
The description of the angel matches in essentials the description of the “woman clothed with the sun” in 12:1. Let one thing be perfectly clear here: the angel and the “woman” are NOT the same entity.
However, since John used the same perfect participle not only in regard to the “woman” in Chapter 12, but also the TWO Witnesses in Chapter 11, it seems advisable to examine a few examples more of this symbolical term:
Above all, clothe yourselves with love... [Col. 3:14]
And a great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under the feet of her and upon the head of her a crown of twelve stars... [Apoc. 12:1]
And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. And so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. [Lk. 24:49]
Again, the physical symbolizes the spiritual, and I do not think I have to belabor the point [Note well the comma and two ands in Apoc. 12:1]. Now, the first three references pertain to the faithful, in general, but the last three pertain only to certain ones, in particular, even as Saint Paul wrote,
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the faith given us...” [Rom. 12:4-6]
The two witnesses are “clothed” with sackcloth, and the “sackcloth” indicates their essential message and mission: they will preach repentance and penance to mankind. The angel is “clothed” with the cloud, and the “cloud” indicates his message and mission: the “mystery of God” soon to be fulfilled.
As for the “woman” in Chapter 12, I will comment later. For the nonce, I point out that, as the angel is “clothed” with the cloud, so she is “clothed” with the “sun”; as the angel has the “rainbow” upon his head, so she wears the “crown of twelve stars” upon hers; and, as he stands “upon the sea and the earth,” i.e., with them under his feet, so she has the “moon under her feet.” “To clothe” means “to empower,” “to crown” means “to authorize.” Power and Authority are distinguishable but inseparable; each invariably implies the other.