The Bitter-Sweet Little Book
July 29th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-29-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock message which is an exposition of the tenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. It could be entitled, The Seven Thunders and the End of the World and the Bitter-Sweet Little Book. If you would like to turn to the Revelation, and follow the message, you can easily do so for the message is an exposition of this tenth chapter. Revelation 10:
And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow 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 a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,
And cried with a loud voice, as a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.
And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by Him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven,
And the things that are therein, and the earth, and the things that are therein, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:
But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God is intended to be finished, as He hath evangelized to His servants the prophets.
And the voice which I heard from heaven spake again unto me, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.
And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy stomach bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
And I took the little book, I took it out of the angel’s hand, and I ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my stomach was bitter.
And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kindreds.
Delivering the message of God, written in that little book; one of the sublimest of all of the apocalyptic visions is this one of that heavenly angel, God’s representative. The name of Michael means "he is like God" – as God. This angel representative from heaven is as God – clothed with a cloud, a rainbow upon his head, his face in the brilliance of the burning sun, and his feet like pillars of fire [Revelation 10:1]. And he sets one foot on the sea and one foot on the land [Revelation 10:2], and in the name of the Lord God that lives forever, he claims all creation for the Almighty [Revelation 10:2, 6]. And he lifts his right hand to heaven, and swares by God who lives forever, that the delaying of the mystery of God is to be finished in the days of the sounding of the next trumpet [Revelation 10:5-7]. And he has in his hand a little book [Revelation 10:2]. And when John, who here for the first time becomes an actor in the drama, when John is commanded to eat it, he eats it up, and it is in his mouth as honey; it is in his stomach as gall [Revelation 10:8-10]. And the Lord says, "Having digested the Word of the Apocalypse, you are to deliver it to peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" [Revelation 10:11].
And when that angel who had in his hand the open little book, standing on the sea and on the land with his right hand lifted up to heaven – when he spoke mightily as a lion roareth [Revelation 10:2-3, 5], all the ends of God’s creation heard him. And the foundations of the earth reverberated at his announcement. When he spake, there were seven thunders that uttered their voices in reply [Revelation 10:3]. "And when these seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write what the first voice said and the second voice said, and all seven of them, I was about to write, and a voice from heaven said unto me, Seal up those things which are uttered, and write them not" [Revelation 10:4]. And John carried them to the grave. We do not know what those voices of God said.
Now, we know the type of a thing that was said, for the definite article in the introduction of these seven thunders is very explicit. They are not just seven thunders, they are "the" seven thunders [Revelation 10:4]. And in each instance in the Greek language, that definite article is very positive and very emphatic – "the seven thunders." They are not the reverberations of a crash of lightning, but they are the voices of the judgment of God. In the fourth chapter of the Revelation, the first vision that John saw was the great beautiful throne, and on it, the Almighty seated [Revelation 4:2]. Then he heard out of the throne the thunderings and the voices and saw the lightnings [Revelation 4:5]; that is, these are the judgment pronouncements of God. And several times in the Apocalypse, you will find those thunderings referred to, and always with reference to the judgment of the Almighty. And they are seven in number because they represent the plenitude, the fullness, the completion of the intervention of God in human history. They are not called seven here in the first vision, but they are called seven here in keeping with the characteristic number of the throne [Revelation 10:3-4]. There are seven lamps [Revelation 1:12], there are seven spirits of God [Revelation 5:6]; there are seven seals [Revelation 5:1], seven trumpets [Revelation 8:6], seven vials [Revelation 16:1], seven thunders [Revelation 10:3-4] – representing the whole magnitude, the fullness of the pronouncements of God.
So when those seven thunders responded to the voice of this mighty angelic representative of heaven, John was about to write them down. And as he was about to write, there came an interdiction from heaven: "Write them not, seal them up" [Revelation 10:4]. Now, what could that mean? Why mention it? If he is not going to write it down, why leave us in suspense? Why make us just wonder what these voices said? Well, to me, it has in it a profound lesson, a profound revelation that all of us who love God and who through His Book seek to peer into the future – that all of us ought to realize and always remember, there are great broad outlines of the future revealed by the Lord. All through the prophets, especially in the apostle Paul and finally, explicitly, in the seer John, there are great, vast outlines of the future that are revealed to us. But, there are also principles and agencies and forces that work in history that are unknown to us. They are known but to God. And that is why no man can with accuracy predict the future; because he does not know and he does not understand all of the forces that work behind these incidents that make up the annals and the chronicles and the story of humanity. Many of them are revealed. Many of them are plainly delineated here in the Bible. Many of the things that are to come to pass are explicitly said. But there are also things that we do not know, and we cannot understand, and we cannot accurately predict the future. These things are known but to God.
There are literally thousands of questions about these days that are yet to come to which I can find no answer at all. And as I have asked some of them to scholars who have no pastoral duties, they have no administrative responsibilities, they give their lives to no other thing than just to study the Word of God – I asked some of these scholars some of these questions, and they have no idea how to answer. There are thousands of questions about the dead and the life that is to come that I cannot understand. There are a thousand questions about the millennium that I cannot understand. There are another thousand questions about the eternity that is yet to come that I cannot understand. I do not see them. I cannot grasp them. They are beyond my comprehension. I have no answer to them. But that also is in the will of God.
Paul said that "We see through a glass, darkly" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. We can see the shape of things, the broad outline of things, but there are many things that we do not know. And we shall never know them until the day and the hour comes that they are fulfilled. That is why all of us, however much we may study and however much we may seek to know and to understand, that is why always there should be about us a profound humility. God hath kept many things secret in His own counsel and in His own wisdom. And some things He has revealed that we can see in great, broad gesture. But there are many things, many things in these studies that are known but to God. And had God willed that we know them, He would have written them. But there are some things God in His counsel has kept hidden. And these things we wait for that day and that hour when they are fulfilled. So the mandate from heaven: "I was about to write the voices of the judgment of God, and the Lord said, Seal them up, and write them not" [Revelation 10:4]. Even Daniel, who was God’s loved, favorite prophet – even Daniel said, "Lord, I hear Thy voice and I hear the word and I see the vision, but I do not understand what the words mean, and I do not understand the vision. Lord, what does it mean?" And God said to Daniel, "Go thy way, Daniel,Thou shalt rest, and at the end of the day thou shalt stand in thy place" [Daniel 12:9, 13]. And it will not be until then that it is clear, made known. For now it is sealed up. Many things that Daniel sealed up in un-understanding, many things are revealed to us today. But there are many areas in which, like Daniel, we stand wondering what the vision means, wondering what the Word referred to. And we can never know, not ultimately, until the day when these things come to pass.
Now, the angel lifted up his hand, and swore by God in heaven . . . that there should be chronos no longer [Revelation 10:5-6]. Time is a creation of God. Like the world of matter, like the world of life, so time is a creation of God. To God, there is not any such thing as time. That’s just for us. God looks upon all of the ages as a present. He can look on it there. He can see it here. He can see it there. He can see it there. He can see the end from the beginning. And all of it is in constant review before the Lord God. Not to us who are creatures. For we see things happen a day at a time, a moment and day as we turn the corner of each successive hour. And we divide time into millenniums. Here is a thousand years. And we divide it into centuries; here is a hundred. And we divide it into years. This is three hundred sixty-five days. And we divide it into twenty-four hours; and then into an hour. Then into sixty seconds and sixty minutes. We divide time. It is the creation of God. This is for man. It refers to man’s day and man’s hour.
But there is coming, says this angel, with his hand lifted up to heaven, there is coming an inevitable and final moment when man’s day shall end – when time shall be no longer, when delay of the mystery of God shall cease and we enter that great ultimate final consummation and ultimately into the eternity of the ages of the eternities of God [Revelation 10:5-7]. Ah, such things as God says to the human soul, that we shall live through those eons and through those eternities, brings a man to his knees, humbles him as he faces the great, ultimate day of the Almighty, through which some day we shall live, and in which some day we shall stand [1 John 4:17].
"And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me saying again, Go, take the little book – take the little book, eat it, then prophesy – declare its message to the people" [Revelation 10:8, 9, 11]. Now, we are going to speak of this Bitter-Sweet Little Book. First of all, to me – to me, and there are very few, if any, who believe like this, but to me – I recognize that little book. The first vision of the Apocalypse – after the days of the churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22], when John is raptured up to heaven, the first vision that he saw was the throne of God and the Almighty seated [Revelation 4:1-2]. And on that throne, he saw in the hand of God a biblion – a biblion. Now, you have it translated here, "a book" – a book [Revelation 5:1]. Therefore, when you get to the tenth chapter, and have it translated here little book [Revelation 10:2], why, you suppose – and practically all of the students and scholars do the same thing, they suppose that here is another little book. Here is one and then here is another one. There are two little books. Well, I do not think so, for the same Greek word is used to describe both of them – though in the fifth chapter, you have it translated "book" [Revelation 5:1], and in the tenth chapter you have it translated "little book" [Revelation 10:2]. But the words are the same to describe both of them. The Greek word for book is biblos. Bible comes from it – biblos. And a diminutive little book is biblion, or biblaridion. And in the tenth chapter, this little book is called biblaridion [Revelation 10:2, 9, 10] but it is also called biblion [Revelation 10:8]. And that is the same word that is used to describe the book in the fifth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 5:1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. So to me, they are the same book – a little book. And in the hand of the Lord God, in the first vision that John saw, there laid that little book.
Now the difference is it that in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, that little book was sealed with seven seals [Revelation 5:1]. It was completely sealed. There was a seal, and there was a seal, and there was a seal, and every part of that book was sealed, and all of it was sealed. It was sealed with seven seals. Now, the book in the angel’s hand is open – and in that Greek as well as here in the English, that open is very emphatic. "And he had in his hand a little book open" [Revelation 10:2]. Then in the eighth verse, he said, "You go take the little book which is open" [Revelation 10:8]. And the Greeks can certainly emphasize a thing when they want to emphasize it. Here is the way it is in Greek – to biblion to eneogmenon, "the little book, the one which is open" [Revelation 10:8]. It is very emphatic.
Well, I take it from that – that there is also a reference to what has been before – that little book that lay in the hand of God was sealed with seven seals [Revelation 5:1], and now in the tenth chapter, of the Revelation, all seven of those seals have been broken. And the whole little book is open – the same little book [Revelation 10:2]. Now, that little book in the hand of God sealed represented a forfeited inheritance [Revelation 5:1]. And the breaking of those seals represented the redemption of that inheritance and the casting out of the interloper, the usurper, that old dragon, Satan [Revelation 10:2], that took it away from God’s man, Adam [2 Corinthians 4:4], for whom God created these things [Genesis 1:26]. Now, as each seal is open you have the story of how God cast out the usurper and the interloper and the intruder and how God redeems it back to man – going to give it to us. We shall reign with our Lord, fellow heirs, kings and priests in the earth [2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 1:6]. And the story of that is that each seal is broken. This is the way God’s going to do it, and this is the way, and this is the way, and this is the way, and this is the way, until finally, the little book is open [Revelation 10:2], and you can see the whole broad outline of how God is going to redeem this lost creation back to man. Now, to me, that is the little book. So this little book that is now open, the seals are all broken and it is a recounting – it is a revelation, it is an apocalypse, it is an unveiling of how God will redeem. How He is going to do it – redeem this lost creation and give it back to the these, to us for whom God made it [Genesis 1:26].
Now, the angel gives that little book to John. And the angel says to him, "Take it, and eat it up" [Revelation 10:9]. Now, that is a very plain and simple thing that you will find in the Word of the Lord. To eat it up it is to assimilate it and to digest it and to get it in your soul. And Jeremiah was commanded, "O Lord, Thou knowest,Thy words were found, and I did eat them" [Jeremiah 15:15, 16]. Another reference, and I will just refer to it, is in Ezekiel, the last of chapter 2 and the first of chapter 3: "Open thy mouth," said the Lord to Ezekiel, "and eat that I give thee. And when I looked, behold, a hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book laid there; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written lamentations, and mourning, and woe" [Ezekiel 2:8-10]. And the Lord said: "Son of Man,eat this book – eat this scroll, then go speak,So I opened my mouth,And I ate the scroll; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey" [Ezekiel 3:1-3]. But it was filled with lamentations and mourning and woe [Ezekiel 2:10]. We are to experience and then testify. We are to study and to meditate and to learn, and then we are to preach. We are to consume God’s Word and then prophesy. John, eat this book [Revelation 10:9], then "prophesy before the peoples, and the nations, and the tongues, and the kings of the earth" [Revelation 10:11]. So John did that. He took the Word of God, he took the revelation of the Almighty, and he ate it, and it was in his mouth sweet like honey, and in his stomach, it was bitter like gall [Revelation 10:10].
And that contains one of the profoundest truths to be found in the Word of God. The Apocalypse itself, the unveiling itself, the peering into the future itself, the broad outlines of what God is going to do itself, is just like that. The sweetness of this little book, this apocalypse, this unveiling, this redemptive program of God – the sweetness of that little book can be easily verified and seen in the great mass of apocalyptic literature that has grown up around it. There are simply libraries, libraries, volumes and volumes and volumes of writings, illuminations, and interpretations about God’s Revelation. It is a magnificent thing and full of interest, and has charmed the hearts of men ever since it was disclosed. But, there is no student of the Word of God, and there is no scholar who has ever sought to understand these prophetic messages, but that learns in them and sees in them all the violence of the storm that is coming. And I have come to believe that any true prophet who studies and who reads the future is that kind of a man. He sees the awful hand of judgment that is written against us. And that is why the apocalyptic message that we might be warned and that we might be saved.
And I have no brief for idiocy, and I have no brief for fanaticism, and I have no brief for these fringed lunatics. But I do say to you that as I have looked at them and I have seen developments in this world, there are many, many, many, of those men who tell us of the awful judgments that come upon a people who close their eyes, and who blind their hearts, and who veil their souls, and who refuse to see. Ah, of the judgments of God upon a people that turn aside from their infinite liberties and their marvelous God-given blessings. To have it is sweet; sweet as honey. To possess these things is heavenly. It is like sugar. But, there are in those things, those prophetic warnings of disaster to a people who turn aside and who forget. And that is exactly what is written here in the prophet; all the blessings of God, how sweet they are but oh, the warnings of judgment! And to a people who refuse the admonition, it is as bitter as gall [Revelation 10:10]. Well, I have just said that any true prophet is like that. Any true prophet is like that.
These, these men of God who are delineated here in the Bible, these men of God, they all were that way. There came to the – there came to the prophet Isaiah the incomparable message, the marvelous message. He saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1]. It was glorious. And in the glory and in the might of that marvelous, marvelous revelation, he began to look at himself and he cried, "Woe is me, woe is me!" [Isaiah 6:5]. Then he listened to the message that God told him to deliver [Isaiah 6:9-10]. And when he listened to it, when he listened to it, it was filled with warning and with judgment. Except these people awake and except they turn, they will be destroyed. And he describes the destruction. And Isaiah says, "How long, O Lord, how long, how long?" And the Lord said, "Until the whole thing be destroyed, until it all be taken away, until the Lord have removed men out of His sight" [Isaiah 6:11-12]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing?
You will find another instance of it in the 2 Kings, in the twenty-second [chapter]. There is this finding of the book of God in the house of the Lord [2 Kings 22:8]. And when the king heard the words of the book and saw the threatened judgments, he rent his clothes [2 Kings 22:11], and he wept before God, and inquired of the Lord, "O how great is Thy wrath and the judgment of God that is filled against us" [2 Kings 22:13]. You see, it is sweet, the blessing. Oh, but it is bitter the apocalyptic judgments! And that is the way with our people, and our preaching, and our nation and our appeal, and our souls today. Every message of hope and of glory, every message of liberty and of God’s presence, every message of salvation and goodness, every promised remembrance from heaven, these things are sweet beyond compare. But the prophet, but the true man of God, but the man who understands, can always see back of the sweetness and the blessedness and the gloriousness. He can see back of it always – that threatened judgment if we forget, if we deny, if we veil our hearts, if we close our eyes, if we cease to guard and to keep, these things always are taken away. And in their stead, the judgments of God fall upon us. That’s why we need the prophet. That’s why we need the true preacher. That’s why we need the man who can see and he can discern. And he takes these things that are sweet and dear that God hath given us, and he warns us. And he warns us lest they slip out of our hands, lest we lose them, lest they perish from the earth. It is always the same.
And now, may I describe that same and identical truth in the hope we have in Jesus. Sweet as honey, and it is – sweet as honey [Revelation 10:9-10]. Why, just the delineation, just the outline of God’s triumph is enough to comfort a man in deepest lamentation and woe. Some day in Christ, Satan defeated. Some day in Jesus, the Lord God shall triumph. Some day, no more darkness, and sin, and misery, and oppression, and death. Some day in Jesus, our ultimate and final triumph. And we love our Lord. And He forgave our sins [Colossians 1:14]. And He died for us on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And we seek to reflect the goodness and mercy of God to a yielded Christian. It is sweet as honey [Revelation 10:10]. But, oh, oh, oh – that is why God’s children weep sometimes when they pray. That’s why a sainted family will sometime lament over the dereliction and the prodigality and the waywardness of a son or a daughter. And that’s why the church sometimes gives itself in prayerful fasting and intercession before God. O Lord, the blessings of Christ mediated to us are sweet, sweet as sugar – sweet as honey. But O God, the judgment of its refusal is bitter, bitter as gall. How marvelous to be a Christian. How terrible to face an eternity without hope and without God. That’s what the apostle Paul referred to when he said we are the savor of life unto life, to those that believe; we are also the savor of death unto death to those who refuse [2 Corinthians 2:15-16]; sweet and bitter, and the true prophet of God.
And I tell you, if I had one in – if I had one indictment against the modern pulpit, it is this: the preacher will always preach about the love of God, and he always preaches about the love of Jesus, and he always preaches about things that are fine and nice and things that are sweet and good. But oh, there has dropped out of the modern pulpit that awful sound of warning. We do not have the prophet and his message any longer. You do not ever hear the threatenings of God and the voice of the judgment of God. We need it. For one is as true as the other. How wonderful to be a Christian. How grand to be a Christian – wonderful for the child, wonderful for the home, blessed for the life, God’s richest benediction upon a nation and a country and a people – loving God. How wonderful.
Oh, how tragic, says the true prophet, how tragic when men turn away from the blessings of heaven and give themselves to these things that destroy the soul and destroy the life of the people! Both of them ought to be together. In my mouth, sweet as honey, but as I saw the threatenings of it, bitter as gall [Revelation 10:9-10]. "And the Lord said, Now go prophesy unto the people and the nations and the tongues and the kings the whole counsel of God" [Revelation 10:11]. Our people ought to be warned; God help me to warn. Our people ought to be encouraged; God help me to encourage. Our people ought to be made conversant with all that God says; God help us to declare the whole counsel of the Lord.
Now, that is our appeal to your soul this morning. To receive humbly, earnestly, prayerfully, the blessedness of God is unalloyed preciousness. It is an incomparable benediction. It is taking the gifts of God and receiving them for nothing. Free. God’s choicest gifts you don’t buy. The best things in life are free. Just take it in. And when we do, when we do, all of the rich remembrances of heaven are ours for the having – forgiveness of our sins, the saving of our soul, the blessing of our lives, God’s inheritance, ours. But to turn them down, to cast them aside, to trod them under foot, to refuse them, to say, nay – oh, how much we lose! For ourselves, for our children, for our families, for our people, how much – how much we lose. And that’s why this earnest and prayerful and blessed and God help us, this all-significant, all-important invitation.
This day, give your heart to the Lord, do it. Do it. "Preacher, here is my family, all of us are coming. Pastor, these are my children, we are coming." Or one somebody you, " I am coming. Here I stand. I give you my hand. The best I know how, as God shall enable me, I give my heart and my life to God. Here I am and here I come." In this balcony round, there is a stairway at the front and at the back, and on either side. Come. And on this lower floor into the aisle closest to you, step into that aisle, down to the front, "Preacher, here I am and here I come, and I make it now. Count me, count me with those who look in faith to God. And here I am. Here I am." Make it now while we stand and while we sing.
THE BITTERSWEET LITTLE BOOK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Between sixth and seventh trumpets(Revelation 10:1-11:14)
B. Incomparably glorious angel-representative from heaven
1. One foot on the sea, one on the earth – claiming all creation for God
2. Has in his hand a little book
a. John commanded to eat it, and proclaim the message to the world
3. Voice for whole earth to hear, as a lion – the answering seven thunders
II. The seven thunders(Revelation 10:3)
A. Definite article – "the" seven thunders(Revelation 4:5)
B. John was going to write down their responses to the mighty angel, but was interdicted from heaven to "seal them up" (Revelation 10:4)
1. There are vast outlines of the future that are revealed to us, but there are also principles and forces that work that are unknown to us
2. Many things we do not know, and will not until they are fulfilled (1 Corinthians 13:12, Daniel 12:9, 12)
III. "Time no longer" (Revelation 10:6)
A. Angel swore by God that there should be chronos no longer
1. Time is a creation of God
B. Presented so solemnly here – the end of time, the beginning of eternity
IV. The bittersweet little book(Revelation 10:8)
A. A little book sealed in Revelation 5:1, same word here – biblion(Revelation 5:1-9, 10:2, 8-10)
B. The little book in 5:1 was sealed with seven seals
1. Now it is open(Revelation 10:2, 8)
2. Sealed book a sign of our forfeited inheritance
3. The breaking of the seals – the casting out of the usurper, the record of God’s way of redemption
C. John is told to "eat it up" (Revelation 10:9)
1. To eat it up is to assimilate it, digest it, get it in your soul(Jeremiah 15:15-16, Ezekiel 2:8-10, 3:1-10)
2. We are to experience, then testify; study, then preach
D. It was sweet and bitter(Revelation 10:9)
1. Apocalyptic things have interest, charm – but anyone who studies sees the awful hand of judgment written against us
2. The prophetic experience – joy in hearing the voice of God, then sorrow in deliverance of the message (Isaiah 6:1, 5, 11-13, 2 Kings 22:13)
3. The gospel is the savor of life unto life, death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)