The Bitter-Sweet Little Book
July 29th, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE SEVEN THUNDERS AND THE END OF TIME
AND THE BITTER-SWEET LITTLE BOOK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-29-62 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message from the tenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. And if you would like to take your Bible and turn to chapter 10, you can follow the message easily, for the sermon is an exposition of the tenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. It could be entitled The Seven Thunders and the End of Time and the Bitter-Sweet Little Book. Revelation chapter 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 therein are, 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 unto me again, 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 out of the angel’s hand, and 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 kings.
This is the same passage of the sermon last Sunday. And, having begun, we shall seek to finish an exposition of the chapter this Lord’s Day.
One of the most magnificent of all of the apocalyptic visions that mind could conceive of is this vision of this glorious angel clothed with a cloud; with a rainbow upon his head, his face as the sun shineth in its strength, his feet as blazing columns of fire. In his hand, a little book open with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. With his right hand raised to God in heaven, swearing that time shall come to an end in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, and his voice as a lion roaring [Revelation 10:1-3]. "And when he [had] cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write (what they said): and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not" [Revelation 10:4].
Now, you would think, from the way John speaks of "the seven thunders," that we were perfectly familiar with them. And we are, as to what they represent. In all of the references there, the definite article is used; "the" seven thunders. Not any seven thunders, but "the" seven thunders. And we have met them in the fourth chapter of the Revelation and the fifth verse, which is the first vision that John saw when he was raptured up to heaven. He saw the throne and the Lord God who sat upon the throne [Revelation 4:2]. Then he saw, out of the throne, a procession of lightnings, and thunderings, and voices [Revelation 4:5]. They’re not called seven there, but they are called seven here [Revelation 10:3-4] – representing the completion, and the fullness, and the plentitude of the judgments of God.
"The seven thunders," like "the seven lamps," "the seven spirits of God," "the seven seals," "the seven trumpets," "the seven bowls." Those seven represent the judgment, the intervention of God in all of His plentitude. And wherever – and it’s many times, several times, mentioned here in the Revelation – wherever those thunders are referred to, it represents the judgments of Almighty God, the intentions of God for this earth.
Now, when that great representative, that iridescent, incandescent, that burning, shining, flaming, incomparably glorious angel, when he uttered his voice so loud, so mighty, the whole creation of God trembled and shook. When he uttered his voice there came in answer to the word of that glorious angel, there came an answer: seven thunders [Revelation 10:3]. And these seven thunders are not just the crash of the concussion after the split lightning, but they are the voices of God. Those seven thunders represent the plan and the destiny that God has in His heart for the denouement and the judgment, God’s intervention in this earth.
And when those seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write down what the first one said, and the second said, and the third one said, and all seven of them. I was about to write it down. I heard a commandment out of heaven, a mandate from God saying, "Seal those things up, and write them not" [Revelation 10:4].
Now, may I point out to us, in that passage, one of the most important things for us to remember. And, ah! That the Lord will teach us to be humble, and to remember them. No man can discern fully the face of the future. There are forces that operate in history that we cannot know; they are known but to God.
There are many broad outlines that God hath revealed concerning the future. In many instances there are minutiae, there are infinite details, by which God will paint the course of history. But no man knows all of the answers. And no man can see all of the future. For there are some things that God hath hidden from our eyes. There are some of the most inexplicable questions – they are terrific – that come to my heart and rise in my mind as I study this Apocalypse. And as I try to see through the eyes of John the seer, I cannot find answers to them. And when I talk to learned scholars, who give their life to no other thing, they have no pastoral ministries, they have no administrative responsibilities, they give their minds, their hearts, their lives to no other thing than just to the study of these things in the Holy Word. When I ask them answers for these questions they have no idea what to say. And any answer that is given is almost, in itself apologetic.
These seven thunders – what they said was sealed up [Revelation 10:4]. God has not chosen to reveal to us all of the future. And there are many things in this Apocalypse, and there are many things in the program of God, many things in the development of history and of the future that we cannot know. We’ll never know them until the time comes for those things to come to pass.
Paul spake of that in the thirteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter when he said, "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" [1 Corinthians 13:12]. There are a thousand questions, for example, about the dead that I cannot understand and do not know. There are a thousand other questions about the life that is yet to come that I cannot comprehend, I don’t know. There is another thousand questions about the millennium that I cannot understand, I cannot know. There are a thousand questions about that great and eternal eternity that is yet to come that I cannot understand, and I do not know. There are things about the judgment of the condemned, there are things about the nature of hell, ah! There are ten thousand times ten thousand questions that I cannot know. I cannot find an answer. We see through a glass darkly.
We can see the great outline of the future; we can read the promises of God regarding these ages that are yet to come. There are many, many things about them God hath sealed up. Even Daniel, beloved of the Lord, when Daniel said, "Lord, I hear what You say, but I do not understand what it means." God said to His prophet Daniel, "You go thy way, and in time you will stand in your place at the end of the age. But until then, these things are sealed up" [Daniel 12:9, 13].
Many of the things that were sealed to Daniel have been unveiled to us in the Book of the Revelation, but not all. Therefore, may I say to us, as we study and as we read and as we bow humbly before God that He will open our minds, let us also remember that there are many, many things that we will never know or fully understand until we come to the end of the way. There are forces in history that work both in our lives, and in the lives of all of those around us, that we cannot comprehend.
Now, we speak of the swearing of this angel by God that liveth in heaven, that chronos shall be no longer. We are very familiar with that word chronos, chronos, chronos, chronology, chronicle, chronometer; it’s the Greek word for time. And when it is used here by this angel, he lifts his right hand to God in heaven and swears by Him that liveth forever and ever that chronos, time, shall be no longer [Revelation 10:5-6]. That word chronos there refers to man’s day. We are a creation of God, and time is also a creation of God. Both of them are creations of God. There’s not any time to God; yesterday, today, and the forever is seen by God as an ever present. He can look at it here, or He can look at it there, He can look at it there, He can look at it there. He sees the end from the beginning; it is all an open page before God.
We see things happen day after day, and we call it time. And we divide time into millenniums, thousands of years; and we divide time into centuries, a hundred years; and we divide times into years, a year; and we divide the year into days, three hundred sixty-five; and we divide the days into hours, twenty-four; and we divide the hours into minutes, sixty; and we divide the minutes into seconds, sixty. But that’s a man’s doings. Time is a creation of God, and it is a man that lives in time. And man’s day, man’s opportunity, is now – time.
But there is coming an end to time. There’s coming an end to God’s delay of judgment upon this evil and wicked world. There is coming a time, in the days of the voice of that seventh trumpet, the seventh angel that sounds, when the mystery of God’s delay shall come to an end and when time, when man’s day, shall be no longer [Revelation 11:15]. And we reach toward that great consummation of the end of the age, beyond which lies the eternity of the eternities of the eternity of God.
Oh! The immensity, the immensity, of these tremendous things!
I wish I had time, and I don’t know what to do. I prepare these things and then have an opportunity to speak of them, and it just kills my soul. Just like you had a child, you gave birth to a child, and you take him out and throw him in a well. Well, that’s the way I do when I prepare these sermons. And they’re my children, and I’ve given birth to them, and then when time comes for me to exhibit them, why, I just throw them in the well. I don’t have time to present them.
Ah, this tremendous conception. I have here, out of my reading; I have here the conversion of two tremendous, tremendous ministers of Christ, preachers of the gospel, the incomparable evangelist, Stephen Goulet, and the incomparable Scots preacher, Thomas Chalmers. I have copied here, from their own words, how they were converted. And they were converted, they were converted having come face to face with these conceptions of eternity. O Lord! O Lord! Just thinking, just the realization, just that vast illimitable thing that faces a man – a sinner man, a lost man, a dying man, a mortal man – facing an eternity. O God! O God! Now we’re going to omit it, for I must come to this bittersweet little book. Last week, I got up to that little book and then had to quit. I’m not going to do that today. We’re going to speak of this bittersweet little book.
Now this is one of the central conceptions of the Apocalypse, this little book. And that angel had in his hand a little book open:
And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth on the sea and the earth.
And I went [unto the angel], and said, Give it to me. And when I took it from his hand, the angel said, Take it, and eat it up;
Isn’t that funny how language is? Eat it up; eat it down. A house burns up; a house burns down. Eat it up; eat it down. The Greek always says down; eat it down. A house burns down. Eat it down. Eat it up. And he did. And it was in his mouth sweet as honey, and it was in his stomach bitter as gall [Revelation 10:10]. Now, that little book, I have come across that little book before, but you wouldn’t know it because of the translation here in the Bible. This great, tremendous Apocalypse opens with this scene in heaven, and on the right hand of Him that sat on the throne was, and you have it translated "a book" [Revelation 5:1] and over here you have it translated "little book" [Revelation 10:2]. Well, the same word is used to refer to both of them.
In Revelation 5:1, "I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a biblion." Now, these words: biblos is the Greek word for "book," Bible comes from it. Biblos, book. And then, biblion is a diminutive, "little book." Biblaridion is another Greek diminutive of the same thing. Now, in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, there is, in the right hand of Him who sits upon the throne, there is a biblion, a little book. In the eighth verse of the tenth chapter of the Revelation, the same word is used to refer to this book that lies in the hand of the angel, biblion [Revelation 10:8].
Elsewhere in the tenth chapter, the Greek word biblaridion, which is the same thing, is used to refer to this little book [Revelation 10:9, 10]. But the same word, I am pointing out to you, the same word that describes the little book in the hand of Almighty God is the same and identical word used here to describe the little book in the hand of the angel. So, to me, they are the same. And I may be the only one in the world that believes that, but to me, they are the same.
And I’ll tell you another reason why I think they are the same. In the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, that little book is sealed. It is sealed with seven seals [Revelation 5:1]. It is really sealed! It is bound. Its contents are hidden. Now, in the tenth chapter of the Revelation, that little book is pronouncedly and emphatically open. "And he had in his hand a little book open [Revelation 10:2]." And in the eighth verse, "Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel" [Revelation 10:8]. And that "open" is very emphatic, ta biblion ta eneogmenon, the little book, the one which is open – emphatic.
Now, another reason why I think they’re the same little book: here, in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, it lies on the hand of God sealed, sealed with seven seals [Revelation 5:1]. Then in the Revelation – we’ve already been through that, that part of it – then the first seal is broken, the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth [Revelation 6:1-12]. And the seventh, and at the opening of the seventh seal, all of the book is open to view [Revelation 8:1]. And that’s exactly what you have here. You have the little book altogether open to view, and it lies in the hand of the angel [Revelation 10:2].
Now, when we studied that little book, we said that that little book is the title deed to God’s universe: God’s people, God’s creation, God’s earth, God’s stars, God’s everything. And the sealing of that little book is a sign of the forfeiture of the inheritance, for God made it for Adam. It is a sign of the forfeiture of our inheritance and a usurper possesses it! Satan’s got it. The devil took it! [2 Corinthians 4:4]. And the breaking of those seals is a sign of the redemption of God’s inheritance, and the casting out of the usurper, and the returning of the forfeited inheritance to Adam, for whom God made it [Revelation 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 8:1].
So, when the angel stands on the sea and on the earth, he does so claiming God’s inheritance for us [Revelation 10:1-2]. And the title deed to that inheritance, that angel holds in his hand. And the opening of those seven seals, in its revelation, is the story of how God shall cast out the usurper and how God shall bring it back to Adam [Revelation 6:1-17, 8:1-13]. And the revelation of that is what you see here in the Book of the Revelation. So, it is the same little book. And when the angel holds it in his hand, it is the title deed to God’s creation, to God’s universe. It is a book of redemption; of buying back [Revelation 10:1-11].
Now, I’ve said that that little book, as it’s seals were broken, that little book has in it the story: every seal, as this seal is open, this tells how God’s going to do this much of it; and the second seal, that much of it; until all seven seals reveals in broad outline the entire story of how God is going to redeem this whole creation, and give it to us [Revelation 6:1-17, 8:1-13], and make us kings and priests, and we shall reign over it unto the glory of Christ [Revelation 5:9-11].
Now, the story of that is this Apocalypse. So when the little book is taken, and when it is eaten up [Revelation 10:9], why, the angel says to John, that means that you are to tell the people, the peoples, and the nations, and the tongues, and the kings of the earth what God hath said. So, he takes this little book, which is the revelation of God’s purposes and God’s will, he takes this little book, and he eats it up [Revelation 10:10].
Now, we haven’t time to mention that, but in the prophet Jeremiah, the fifteenth [chapter], he says, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them" [Jeremiah 15:16]. And then, in the last part of the second chapter of Ezekiel and the first part of the third chapter of Ezekiel, there’s almost this same thing word for word, "He ate the word of God and it was in his mouth sweet as honey, but there were written therein on the frontside and the backside lamentations, and mourning, and woe" [Ezekiel 2:9-10; 3:1-3]. So, to eat up the book is to assimilate it, to take it into your souls. And that’s the way God’s prophet is to do, to eat and to proclaim, to assimilate and to prophesy; first to experience, then to proclaim. "And it was in his mouth sweet as honey, and in his stomach bitter as gall" [Revelation 10:10].
That is a picture of all true prophetic, pastoral, ecclesiastical, homiletical, preacher experience. The word of God, first as an apocalypse, is sweet as honey and bitter as gall. The word of the Apocalypse, the sweetness of the little book is testified to by the vast mass of literature that is written about it – volumes and libraries about this Apocalypse, the interest of it, the sweetness of it, the glory of it. But there is no man who has ever studied it, there’s no man who has ever assimilated that truth, but that knows the woe, and the lamentation, and the sorrow of that coming storm of Almighty God! It is sweet to know that God has spoken and God is intervening, but, oh, the terror of the judgments of God upon the wicked! That is the experience of every student of Apocalypse who studies that little book.
It is also the personal experience of every true prophet of the Lord. When Isaiah, in the sixth chapter of his book, saw the Lord high and lifted up [Isaiah 6:1] – think of the glory of that vision – then he looked at himself, "Woe is me" [Isaiah 6:5]. Then when he heard the message, it was so tragic and so terrible, Isaiah cried, "O Lord, how long, how long, how long, the waste and the destruction of God’s people?" And God said, "It is going to last until there is a great forsaking in the land and the people are carried away" [Isaiah 6:11-12].
Ah, to hear the voice of God, how glorious! But, oh, the tragedy of it is experience – the judgment of God upon the earth. And that’s the same and identical thing with regard to the gospel. Ah, how sweet is the gospel! This is the good news of God’s triumph over Satan, the forgiveness of our sin, the delivering of our souls, the redemption of our inheritance, the good news, the glad tidings that Jesus is our Lord and king. Oh, glory to His name! But, but, it has in it an awful judgment. As Paul described his ministry, we are the savor of life unto life unto them that believe, but, oh, we are the savor of death unto death to those who disobey and refuse [2 Corinthians 2:15-16].
As God says, even God, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live; oh, turn ye; for why would you die?" [Ezekiel 33:11]. It is both sweet as honey and bitter as gall [Revelation 10:9-10]; the deliverance of God in the glory of His power, the awful storm of the wrath and judgment of God upon those who refuse His overtures of grace.
Oh, it hurts my heart just to summarize, but just so we see the truth – and may God bless our hearts as we listen to Him
Now we sing our song of appeal, and while we sing this song, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you put his life in the fellowship of the church while we sing this song. Make it this morning. Make it now. Come, you. And the Lord bless you in your coming. This is God’s deliverance, our blessed Jesus. It is also God’s judgment, if we turn our face and hide our souls from the love and mercy that can save us. Come, while we stand and while we sing.