The Angelic Triads in Revelation

In the book of Revelation we find a triad of Strong Angels, and another triad of Other Angels. The purpose of this essay is to explore the Biblical background of these two sets, and thus fill out their meaning.

The first triad of angels we encounter in the Bible comes in Genesis 18-19. In Genesis 18, Abraham sees “three men” coming to visit him. He honors them and feeds them. Then he realizes that one of them is Yahweh, who has come to bless Abraham and to destroy Sodom. These two actions are correlative: The gift of a son to Abraham is accompanied by the destruction of Sodom. While Yahweh converses with Abraham, the two other angels (spirit angels) journey to Sodom. There they seal Lot and those with him, protecting them from the fire that is about to fall and destroy the city, but they blind the men of the city, sealing them to destruction.

The second triad of “messengers” we see are Moses, Aaron, and Hur in Exodus 17:12. When Amalek attacked Israel, Moses stood with his arms uplifted to pray. When his arms weakened, he sat on a stone and Aaron and Hur stood on either side of him to hold his hands up. Thus, we have a picture of Moses, the prophet, seated on a throne, a miniature mountain-top (cp. Genesis 28:11-18) with Aaron the priest and Hur of the kingly tribe of Judah supporting him on either side. More than this, we see God above, then Moses’ two prophetic hands reaching up to God, and then priest and king supporting the hands. The two hands form a double prophetic witness, which as we shall see correlates with the two olive trees in Zechariah 4.

This picture is presented to us again symbolically in the construction of the Temple of Solomon. The Temple was God’s throne. Positioned in front of it, on either side, were two free-standing pillars named Jachin and Boaz. One of these was called the “king’s pillar.” The other, by inference, was the priest’s. Since Boaz was David’s family name, we can be fairly certain that the king’s pillar was Boaz, while Jachin was the priest’s. Here again we have a picture of king and priest standing on either side of the throne of God, holding Him up as it were, and guarding His door. (See James B. Jordan, “Thoughts on Jachin and Boaz,” for a full explication of this matter.)

We find this picture a third time in Zechariah 4. Zechariah is shown a large lampstand with forty-nine lamps on it. These lamps are miraculously fed by two olive trees that stood behind it on either side. Two olive-laden branches from these trees pour forth oil into the seven bowls of the lampstand. Zechariah is told that these are the “anointing ones who are standing by the Master of all the earth.” These oil-bearing branches are the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and the two men that they anoint are Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the king. Now, if we push this picture back, theologically, we see that the Master of the earth is the Father, the trees and oil are the Spirit, and the priest and king are the Son, Jesus Christ, anointed and empowered by the Spirit. The immediate picture, though, is of God on His throne, the two olive trees next to him (and these are the olive cherubim of 1 Kings 6:23-27), the two prophets standing on either side of Him and slightly in front of Him, and the priest and king standing on either side of Him farther in front. Thus, once again we have God, the two arms of Moses, and then Aaron and Hur. We also have God and two cherubim-angels.

When we come to the book of Revelation, we find three Strong Angels. They are:

5:2 – the angel with the sealed book.

10:1 – the Angel clothed with a cloud.

18:21 – the angel with the large stone.

The central of these is clearly Jesus Himself, as the description in 10:1-3 makes clear. Moreover, the second Strong Angel is also called “Another,” and the Other Angels, as we shall see in a moment, are all Christ. The angel with the sealed book, clearly not Christ, stands as the guard of God’s throne, challenging anyone who would draw near. This is a preeminently priestly function, corresponding to the guarding duties of the priests of the Old Creation. The angel with the large stone, again not Christ, does the work of destroying Babylon by casting her like an upper millstone (“chariot stone,” n.b.) into the sea, a kingly work.

This triad of Strong Angels is matched by a triad of Other Angels. They are:

7:2 – the Angel with the seal to seal the saints from wrath.

8:3, 14:6 & 18 – the Angel with the fire of pentecost the eternal gospel.

18:1 – the Angel with authority and glorious light.

All three of these Angels are Jesus Christ. The first Other Angel is clearly Jesus because He has the seal of God and ascends from the sunrising (Malachi 4:2). The third Other Angel is clearly Christ because of His authority, glory, and light. The second Other Angel, called the Angel of Fire, initiates the day of pentecost by sending fire on the earth, and finishes the harvest of the pentecostal first-fruits Church just before ad 70 (8:3-5 & 14:18). This Angel is also the Other Angel who has the eternal gospel of 14:6. This identification is clearer if we consider the chiastic structure of 14:6-20, to wit:

A. Another Angel with eternal gospel.

B. A second angel who announces the fall of Babylon (false wine: Revelation 17).

C. A third angel who calls on men to flee the Beast (false bread: Genesis 41).

A’. The Son of Man, who reaps the wheat.

C’. An angel who calls on Christ to reap.

B’. An angel who harvests the grapes.

A”. Another Angel who calls on the angel to harvest.

Thus, Christ initiates and closes this section of seven “angels.”

These three Other Angels, which are one, are pictured as ascending, flying in midheaven, and then descending. Christ ascends to seal His saints in 7:2. He announces the gospel in midheaven in 14:6. He descends to destroy Babylon in 18:1.

The Other Angels correlate with the Strong Angels. The first strong angel holds the sealed book, which only Christ can open. then Christ, as Another Angel, seals the saints. These are two aspects, guarding and saving, of His priestly work.

Christ as the third Other Angel descends to destroy Babylon, and the third strong angel casts Babylon into the sea. This reflects His kingly work.

In the center is His prophetic work, which precedes, undergirds, and anoints the other two aspects of His work. As the Strong Angel of 10:1-11, He utters the seven thunders, swears an oath to God, and gives a little book of prophecy to John. As the second Other Angel, the Angel of Fire, He sends the Spirit at Pentecost and proclaims the eternal gospel in midheaven.

Thus, the order in Revelation is priestly, prophetic, and kingly; Aaron, Moses, and Hur; Jachin, Yahweh, and Boaz; Joshua the priest, the two olive branches of the prophets, and Zerubbabel the king.

The central Angel in this sequence is the Other Strong Angel of chapter 10. He is in action throughout all eleven verses of this chapter, by far the largest revelation of any of these angels. Moreover, He is central in the entire structure; to wit:

A. Strong angel, 5:2

B. Ascending Other Angel, 7:2

C. Fire Other Angel, 8:3

D. Other Strong Angel, 10:1-11

C’. Midheaven Other Angel, 14:6, who is

C”. Fire Other Angel, 14:18

B’. Descending Other Angel, 18:1

A’. Strong angel, 18:21

Additionally, the centrality of the Other Strong Angel is seen in that He manifests basically all the characteristics that are distributed to the others:

A. Like the first strong angel, He has a book (10:2).

B. Like the Ascending Other Angel, He orders that something be sealed up (10:4).

C. Like the Fire Other Angel, He has legs that stream pentecostal fire from heaven to earth (10:1).

C’. Like the second revelation of the Fire Other Angel, His head and face are positioned in midheaven (10:1).

C”. Like the third revelation of the Fire Other Angel, He calls for the end (10:6).

B’. Like the Descending Other Angel, He is illumined with glory, descends to the earth, and announces the end (10:1).

A’. Like the third strong angel, he has power over land and sea, to cast Babylon from the first to the second (10:2).

Jerusalem-Babylon is called Sodom in Revelation 11:8. Thus, we are also called back to the triad of angels who visited Abraham. The two spirit angels sealed Lot (compare the first strong angel) and then Sodom was cast into the sea (the Dead Sea) (compare the last strong angel). Meanwhile, these events were (prophetically) explained to Abraham by Yahweh (compare the second Strong Angel and second Other Angel). The fact that the coming of a son for Abraham and the destruction of Sodom are correlative events (the dual work of the one Divine Redeemer-Avenger) is just one more indication that the destructive events of Revelation are an aspect of the first coming of Christ, not an event to take place at the end of the world.

It remains to note how these two triads of angels help us understand the deep-structure of Revelation. From what we have seen, the seals are priestly, because the sealed book is held by the priestly strong angel and the first Other Angel seals the saints before the seventh seal is broken. The trumpets are prophetic, initiated and ended by the pentecostal Fire Angel, with revelation of the second Strong Angel at the center, the Angel with the little book who sets up the two prophetic witnesses of Revelation 11 and who provides the prophetic explanations of chapters 12-14. The libation-bowls are kingly, as the glorious third Other Angel descends to destroy Babylon and the third strong angel actually casts her down.

In terms of this structure, then, we see the seals as ox-like (bovine), sacrificial, and thus the Lamb is central here. The trumpets are eagle-like (aquiline), prophetic, and thus the One who flies in midheaven is an Eagle in 8:13. Finally, the libation-bowls are lion-like (leonine), kingly, for they climax with the marriage to the Bride in Revelation 19-22 (and in the Bible the Psalms and Canticles stress that marriage is to the King).

Since these are three faces of the cherubim, this model is incomplete. Where is the man-face? We find it in chapter 1, initiating the seven letters of chapters 2-3. There the new churches are addressed, which supersede the Old Creation. The three animal faces, which Adam named in the garden and which accompany us all through the Old Testament, are gone; the man face remains. The rest of Revelation shows the destruction of the Old Creation by Christ, as His three animal faces destroy the false ox, eagle, and lion of Babylon, False Prophet, and Beast.

In this way, we have teased out a second way to outline Revelation, superimposed (overlappingly) on our seven-fold outline from Leviticus 23, to wit:

Man (1-3)

Sabbath or Lord’s Day (1)

Passover (2-3)

Ox or Lamb (4-7)

First-fruits (4-5)

Pentecost:

law (6-7), given on Pentecost at Sinai

fire (8:1-5)

Eagle (8-14)

Trumpets (8:6–13:18)

Lion (15-22)

Atonement:

sacrifice (14-15)

banishment (16-18) (scapegoat)

Tabernacles:

nations called (19-20)

dwelling with God (21-22)

We can go one step farther and link this outline more explicitly with the revelation of the angels, taking note of the fact that the description of the central Angel is taken from the description of the Man of chapter 1, and applied to the Bride of chapters 21-22; to wit:

Man A. Man, ch. 1

Ox B. Strong angel, 5:2

C. Ascending Other Angel, 7:2

Eagle D. Fire Other Angel, 8:3

A’. Other Strong Angel, 10:1-11

D’. Fire Other Angel, 14:6 & 18

Lion C’. Descending Other Angel, 18:1

B’. Strong angel, 18:21

Bride A’. Bride, ch. 21-22

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared at Biblical Horizons