1, 2. “I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud; and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand an open book: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth.”] He signifies that that mighty angel who, he says, descended from heaven, clothed with a cloud, is our Lord, as we have above narrated.
“His face was as it were the sun.”] That is, with respect to the resurrection.
“Upon his head was a rainbow.”] He points to the judgment which is executed by Him, or shall be.
“An open book.”] A revelation of works in the future judgment, or the Apocalypse which John received.
“His feet,”] as we have said above, are the apostles. For that both things in sea and land are trodden under foot by Him, signifies that all things are placed under His feet. Moreover, he calls Him an angel, that is, a messenger, to wit, of the Father; for He is called the Messenger of great counsel. He says also that He cried with a loud voice. The great voice is to tell the words of the Omnipotent God of heaven to men, and to bear witness that after penitence is closed there will be no hope subsequently.
3. “Seven thunders uttered their voices.”] The seven thunders uttering their voices signify the Holy Spirit of sevenfold power, who through the prophets announced all things to come, and by His voice John gave his testimony in the world; but because he says that he was about to write the things which the thunders had uttered, that is, whatever things had been obscure in the announcements of the Old Testament; he is forbidden to write them, but he was charged to leave them sealed, because he is an apostle, nor was it fitting that the grace of the subsequent stage should be given in the first. “The time,” says he, “is at hand.” 2286 For the apostles, by powers, by signs, by portents, and by mighty works, have overcome unbelief. After them there is now given to the same completed Churches the comfort of having the prophetic Scriptures subsequently interpreted, for I said that after the apostles there would be interpreting prophets.
For the apostle says: “And he placed in the Church indeed, first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers,” 2287 and the rest. And in another place he says: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge.” 2288 And he says: “Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoureth her head.” 2289 And when he says, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge,” he is not speaking in respect of the Catholic prophecy of things unheard and unknown, but of things both announced and known. But let them judge whether or not the interpretation is consistent with the testimonies of the prophetic utterance. 2290 It is plain, therefore, that to John, armed as he was with superior virtue, this was not necessary, although the body of Christ, which is the Church, adorned with His members, ought to respond to its position.
10. “I took the book from the hand of the angel, and ate it up.”] To take the book and eat it up, is, when exhibition of a thing is made to one, to commit it to memory.
“And it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”] To be sweet in the mouth is the reward of the preaching of the speaker, and is most pleasant to the hearers; but it is most bitter both to those that announce it, and to those that persevere in its commandments through suffering.
11. “And He says unto me, Thou must again prophesy to the peoples, and to the tongues, and to the nations, and to many kings.”] He says this, because when John said these things he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the labour of the mines by Cæsar Domitian. There, therefore, he saw the Apocalypse; and when grown old, he thought that he should at length receive his quittance by suffering, Domitian being killed, all his judgments were discharged. And John being dismissed from the mines, thus subsequently delivered the same Apocalypse which he had received from God. This, therefore, is what He says: Thou must again prophesy to all nations, because thou seest the crowds of Antichrist rise up; and against them other crowds shall stand, and they shall fall by the sword on the one side and on the other.
[Some excuse for Tertullians lapse is found in the prevailing uncertainty about the withdrawal of prophetic gifts.]
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