The Finished Mystery of God
July 22nd, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-22-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled; and that demands an explanation, for in the program the sermon is entitled, The Bittersweet Little Book. And that was the purpose in preparation in delivering this sermon today. But at the 8:15 o’clock hour, I was able to exegete and to expound just the first part of this tenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation and I never got to "the bittersweet little book" at all. The reason I have been in the last Sunday or two trying to speed up these sermons through the Revelation; I have been a year and seven months preaching in the Revelation. And I just am afraid we are all going to get too old to listen any further before I get done or the Lord is going to come, as one of these teenagers says, before I get through. So I thought I would speed it up and so purposed in the sermon this hour. But you just cannot begin to say even some of the things that ought to be said. So we won’t try it.
Now, I have had to rename the sermon because we are only going to take the first part of the tenth chapter of the Book of Revelation. We shall call it The Finished Mystery of God. The Finished Mystery of God – and following it, it will be an exposition of the first seven verses of the tenth chapter of the Revelation. And if you would like to follow it in the Bible, you can easily do so. Everything that is said will be an exposition of the Word here written on the sacred page:
And I saw another mighty angel come 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 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 when 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 forever 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 delay no longer:
But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets.
Now, this is read out of a passage that composes the longest interlude between those series of septenary judgments. All three of those series are built exactly alike. They are divided into four and into three – the series of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of the wrath of God. Then, those last three which are always separate and apart from the first four; those last three in all three series are divided into two and one. And between the two and the one, between the sixth and the seventh, the last, there is always an interlude; between the sixth and the seventh seals, the seventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation is an interlude; between the sixth and the seventh trump, between the sixth and the seventh bowls, the vials of wrath, Revelation 16:15 is an interlude. And in this series that we are following, the trumpets, between the sixth and the seventh trumpets, chapters 10 and through verse 14 of chapter 11, is an interlude. The briefest interlude is between the sixth and the seventh bowls of the wrath of God [Revelation 16:15]. And the longest interlude by far is this one between the sixth and the seventh trumpets [Revelation 10:1-11:14].
The interludes are written for the encouragement and the comfort and the assurance of God’s people in a dark and burning earth. You would think – you would think, from the progress and the development of evil that the ultimate king of this earth is Satan and that evil shall overflow it like a flood. But these interludes are to remind us that God is still sovereign and His people are still remembered and that the ultimate victory, belongs to us.
Now, we begin with this description in the tenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation:
I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow upon his head, and his face as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire,
He set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the earth, And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he cried, seven thunders uttered their voices,
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 forever and ever,that there should be delay no longer; But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he evangelized – as he declared – the glad tidings of triumph to His servants the prophets.
There is no sublimer apocalyptic vision imaginable, conceivable than this. The grandeur of that vision is beyond anything in all literature. For example, I copied out these two reactions as men have read this vision. Here is one.
The description of this angel has been admired by every classical scholar; abstracted from its spiritual meaning and considered merely as a literary production, it stands unrivaled by anything we meet with in all the pages of Grecian and Roman literature. There is no conception like that in majesty and dignity and glory in celestial wonder, like the picture of this herald angel in the tenth chapter of the Revelation.
Now, I have copied another one – I like things like this. This is one of the most eloquent tributes that you could imagine. This author took an alliterative description of the angel, and then this is what he said:
Be pleased to observe the aspect of this august personage. All of the brightness of the sun shines in his countenance, and all of the rage of fire burns in his feet. See his apparel. The clouds compose his robe and the drapery of the sky floats upon his shoulders. The rainbow forms his diadem and that which compasses the heaven with a glorious circle is the adornment of his head. Behold his attitude. One foot stands on the ocean, the other rests on the land. The wide extended earth and the world of water serve as pedestals for those mighty columns. Consider the action. His hand is lifted up to the height of the stars. He speaks and the regions of the firmament echo with the mighty accents as the midnight desert resounds with the lion’s roar. The artillery of the skies is discharged at the signal. A peal of sevenfold thunders spreads the alarm and prepares the universe to receive his orders. To finish all and give the highest grandeur as well as the utmost solemnity to the representation, he swears by Him that liveth forever and ever.
["Contemplations and Meditations," p. 197, James Harvey, 1816]
Isn’t that magnificent? I do not know who that man was. I never heard of him. But I would love to hear that man preach. That is real eloquence.
Now, this mighty angel came down from heaven [Revelation 10:1], not so much as a point of departure as a description of his abode. He is a heavenly creature. And he comes down from heaven clothed with a cloud, a picture of the majesty and the dignity of his person. Around him burns in glory the shekinah of God. And a rainbow upon his head and his feet as pillars of fire. That is a picture of the judgment of God, the brazen, burning, brass pillars of fire and a picture of the mercy and the remembrance, the covenant-keeping Lord. This representative from the very throne of heaven has the power of judgment in the earth – "his feet as burning pillars of fire." But also the remembrance of mercy in the day of wrath and visitation – "and his face as it were the sun." How brilliant, how indescribable, iridescent, so glorious – a man could not look upon his face with unshaded, unsheltered eyes! – "and his face as it were the sun" [Revelation 10:1]. "And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth [Revelation 10:2],and sware by Him that liveth forever and ever . . . that there should be delay no longer" [Revelation 10:6], but that now the time has come when God shall take unto Himself all of His creation and shall reign over the earth [Revelation 10:2, 6].
Well, it is a magnificent portrayal; so much so that almost by unanimous consent scholars say that great angel is none other than a representation, a description of the Lord Christ Himself. Now, that may be true. This may be a description of Jesus. It may be a description of our glorious Lord. Nor would I have any quarrel with those who see in this angel a picture of our Savior.
I do not think that it is. I think that the descriptions here of this angel are altogether appropriate to a plenipotentiary – a full, ambassadorial representative of the Lord. It says here that his face shined as the sun [Revelation 10:1]. Now, you have in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in the first verse, a description of a like angel and another angel – could be the same one – who came down from heaven having great power; and the earth was lighted with his glory [Revelation 18:1]. So brilliant was his countenance that the whole earth shined in the glory of his presence. But you see very few people who would say that this angel in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation is a picture of the Lord. It says that he had a rainbow upon his head and his feet were pillars of fire [Revelation 10:1], and that in the name of Him that liveth forever and ever, he takes possession of all creation [Revelation 10:6]. Well, that can be true. That could be the Lord Christ Himself doing these things. But, it sounds like a representative of God. He swears by the Lord [Revelation 10:6]. Now, in the Book of Genesis because God could not swear by anybody greater than Himself, He swore by His own name [Genesis 22:16-17; Hebrews 6:13-14]. And that could be here. Maybe when He swears by Him that liveth forever and ever [Revelation 10:6], He is swearing by Himself. But it does not sound that way to me.
This angel appears all through the Book of the Revelation. In chapter 5, there is a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open this book, and loose the seals thereof?" [Revelation 5:2]. In the seventh chapter of the Revelation, there is that same mighty angel ascending out of the sun rising, having the seal of the living God [Revelation 7:2]. In the eighth chapter of the Revelation, there is that angel-priest who ministers at the altar of God and brings before God the remembrance of all of the prayers of God’s sainted children [Revelation 8:3-4]. And in the eighteenth chapter, that brilliant angel who lights the earth with the glory of his presence [Revelation 18:1]. And then this angel here [Revelation 10:1]; I would suppose they were all the same angel. But I would also think that he is some glorious creation of the Lord God who serves and ministers before the throne of heaven.
For example, Michael, the archangel is described as, his name means, "one like God." [Jude 1:9]. If you were to look upon the form and the figure and the glory of Michael, you would think, "I see God Himself." The brilliance, the marvel, the dignity, all the heavenly gifts that God Himself could create are in Michael who looks like God – "Michael, one as God." So to me, this is a representative of heaven and one of the most glorious. More than sixty times, besides the reference to the angels of the seven churches [Revelation 2:1-3:22] – more than sixty times are angels referred to in the Revelation, and every time it is a reference to their service to God.
So this angel, as a representative of God, takes for God the earth, the sea, the whole creation. And he set his foot on the sea, and he set his foot on the land, and sware by God who liveth for ever that these things belong to God [Revelation 10:2, 6], and he now takes them and possesses them and he holds in his hand the title deed for their reclamation. Now, when he set his foot on the land and on the sea, that is a sign, that is a picture that God intends to take these things for Himself. That is what you mean by that picture, by that type. When a man sets his foot on something, that is a picture of possessing it. For example, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, God says to His people: "Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread that shall be yours,no man shall be able to stand before you: the Lord God shall lay the fear of you upon all of the people round about, and every place where ye shall tread upon, that shall be yours" [Deuteronomy 11:24, 25]. And that same thing was repeated in the first chapter of Joshua: As I said to Moses, My servant, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given you" [Joshua 1:3]. So when he set his foot down on the sea and on the earth, that stupendous personage from glory, it was a sign of his possessing these things for the Lord God [Revelation 10:2, 6]. One of the funniest things I ever heard down here at this church was at a banquet. And the emcee was talking about when he married. And he said, "When I married, I gathered my bride up into my arms and tenderly, lovingly, I carried her across the threshold, and thereupon she set her foot down." That meant possession – just like it is here.
Now, that angel who is possessing all creation for God, that angel swears that the time has come when there shall be no longer delay. "But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall sound, the mystery of God – in God’s elective purpose, it is the intention of God – you have a different construction there in Greek – that the mystery of God is intended to be finished." It is God’s predetermined, foreordained, elective purpose that in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be finished – "as he evangelized through His servants the prophets" [Revelation 10:7].
Now, that "mystery of God," the long delay of our Lord in taking the kingdom unto Himself and in establishing righteousness in the earth, the mystery of God in these thousands of years, in which sin and death run riot, there is no village and there is no hamlet without its grave diggers, and there is no human heart without its dark, black drop, and there is no life without its tears and its sorrows. And there is no home that ultimately does not dissolve and break up, and there is no family that does not stand to see and to watch it dissolve, every circle broken. There is no life that does not end in death. And the pages of history from the time of the first murder [Genesis 4:8] until this present hour is written in blood and in tears and in death. The mystery of the delay of God in taking the kingdom unto Himself and that is the most inexplicable mystery that mind ever faces: why the presence of evil? Why these thousands of years, God has allowed Satan to wrap his vicious, slimy, filthy cruel tentacles around human life and around this earth? And if God knows it, He is indifferent to it or else not able to cope with it, this mystery of the delay of God?
That mystery has brought more stumbling to the faith of God’s people than any other one experience in all life put together. The infidel and the atheist and the agnostic and the unbeliever rise and mock us. And God lets them mock and lets them live. The enemies of righteousness, and the enemies of all that we hold dear, rise and increase in power and spread their blood and their darkness over the face of the earth. And you wonder, "Where is God?" Our missionaries are slain. Our churches are burned to the ground. People in this earth by uncounted millions and millions are pressed, living in despair. And God just looks. He doesn’t intervene. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move. It just develops. And it develops and it develops and it goes on and on – the mystery of the delay of the Lord God!
But somewhere beyond the starry sky, there stands a herald angel with a trumpet in his hand, and by the decree of the Lord God Almighty, there is a day, there is a hour, there is a moment, there is an elected time when that angel shall sound, and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ – "In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be finished" [Revelation 10:7]. The forbearance and longsuffering of God shall end. God shall say to death, "This is your last victim." God shall say to Satan, "This is the last destruction." God shall say to evil, "This is your last breath." And God shall say to sin, "This is your last waste and damnation." Evil, broad as the River Euphrates, rolls to the vast, illimitable sea of corruption, and every departure from God is a tributary toward it. Every generation receives from the generation before these awful and terrible inheritances of the iniquity that has been committed before us. And they were ripe unto the harvest. And we pass it on to our children and our children’s children.
Is the flood tide to go on forever? Is sin to reign forever? Is death to reign forever? Is the grave to be filled forever? God says that there is a barrier, there is a boundary, there is a dike beyond which and over which the flood tides of iniquity shall not roll. And God says in the days of the sounding of the voice of this seventh angel, the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ [Revelation 11:15].
These things then that work so tragically against us and that we do not understand and seemingly cannot cope with, God says that for His people there is ableness and power and strength and direction. And these things that are so oppressive as we face them, God says in an explicable mysterious way, these things are for the development of our souls. They are for the strengthening of our lives. They are to grow great spirits and great hearts and great men! And many times in ways and in battles and in challenges and in losses that we don’t understand, some day God shall say, "See, all of these things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" [Romans 8:28]. So God would say, we are not to lose heart, and we are not to be discouraged, and we are not to be beat down, and we are not to give up, and we are not to be as though the battle belongs to our enemy and the victory belongs to these who oppose God and blaspheme us. But God says behind all the smoke and the dark and the tragedy and the hurt of these awful hours, there is a sovereign will. And when God’s people give themselves to Him, our hands, our hearts, our lives, God says these things lead to an ultimate and a final victory, the mystery of God.
Why God chooses that it be wrought in tears, why God chooses it be wrought in conflict, why God chooses it be wrought in death, I cannot understand. It belongs to the mystery of God. But these things were not only created by Christ; these things of this whole vast world around us were created for Christ [Colossians 1:1-6]. And the history of the world ultimately and finally moves to that great consummation, when God’s people shall reign with their Lord in the earth [2 Timothy 2:12]. That is why I say these interludes are written in the Holy Apocalypse lest you be discouraged, lest in the mystery of the impenetrable permissive will of God, lest in these darknesses in these conflicts, lest you think we have lost the battle, we have lost the war. No. There is God’s sovereign grace extended in remembrance even to us. And the Lord has been pleased to give the kingdom to His children [Luke 12:32].
Ah, what a blessedness! In the days of the voice of the seventh angel . . . the mystery of God, darkness, death, judgment, sorrow, heartache, all shall be cast out [Revelation 10:7]. Even Satan shall be bound in the abyss for a thousand years [Revelation 20:1-3] and then cast into the lake of fire for ever [Revelation 20:10, 14]. There is a great day coming, a great new world coming. There is a marvelous, heavenly, benedictory gift of God in the offing.
But you look at the text solemnly now for the moment and then we must stop. This is the thing that God has "evangelized" to His servants the prophets [Revelation 10:5-7]. Always in the message of the prophet – always there were the good tidings announced – always. The prophet might see storm, and the prophet might see furor, and the prophet might see battle and blood and conflict – and he did. Just read the prophets and it is filled with woe and lamentations and heartache. But, the prophet always saw the glorious day a-dawning. His faith saw the floodlight of glory on the everlasting hills. That is why John uses the word "evangelized" – preached the good tidings – to His servants the prophets [Revelation 10:7]. Beyond what we might encounter, beyond what we experience, beyond what we might face in this life – always there was the incomparable victory that lay beyond.
Now, the second thing. These things are not now – not now. We live in the days of the delay. We live in the day of the tears and the heartache and the strife and the conflict. These are our days of suffering and sorrow. Now, God says that that delay, that delay is to be accepted by us now as a part of the mystery of God. I cannot explain it, but the Scriptures are very faithful to point it out to us, the delay in this ultimate victory of God.
Now, you look, just as rapidly as we can for a moment. Look at this. When the Lord closed His apocalyptic sermon in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, He closed it with a parable. And the parable is about a servant who said in his evil heart: "My lord delayeth his coming. He is not going to come. We are not going to see him. My lord delayeth his coming" [Matthew 24:48]. Then in the thirty-sixth verse of that same chapter: "But of that day and hour knoweth man know, not the angels of heaven, only God" [Matthew 24:36]. Then in the parable, I had you read in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, all of those virgins slumbered and slept. It was so long, it was so long. All of them slumbered and slept. The wise, the foolish, all of them slumbered and slept [Matthew 25:5]. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, "For the Son of Man, for the Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost" [Luke 19:10]. Then He spake this parable unto them because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear [Luke 19:11] – that God was going to intervene right now, and this thing was going to happen immediately! Then He told this parable of a nobleman who went away to a far country to receive the kingdom for himself [Luke 19:12-27]. You and find it again in Peter. In 2 Peter and the [third] chapter: "And there shall come in the last days scoffers . . . saying, where is the promise of His coming? Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" [2 Peter 3:3, 4]. That long delay and finally, don’t even look for a victory at all.
Well, every generation has kind of felt this is the time when God will intervene. When Eve gave birth to Cain [Genesis 4:1], practically all of your expositors will say that she thought the great promise that the Seed of the woman would bruise Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15], she thought it come to pass when that boy came, when that little baby Cain was born. When John the Baptist preached the gospel, he said, "I am introducing you to Christ, the One following me, who shall lay the axe at the root of the tree, and whose fan shall divide the chaff from the grain" [Matthew 3:10], he thought it would be in his day. Certainly the apostles thought it would be in their day. And in the great Reformation, those men thought it would be in their day. And we look in an expectancy toward heaven and think, well it will be in our day. We don’t know. There is a mystery in the purpose of God that is unfathomable to us – the delay. But you can be assured of this: first, that God intends a great thing for His people. And the trial of it, and the heartache of it, and the tears of it, and the death of it, God hath purposed for the good of His people. And the second thing, don’t you ever be persuaded that the battle belongs to our enemy. The victory belongs to us. That is why they sing so: "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto the Lord our God, And we shall reign on the earth, to Him be glory and dominion and power for ever and forever" [Revelation 1:5, 6]. That is what John said when he evangelized, he spake the good tidings to His servants the prophets [Revelation 10:7]. And any true minister of the gospel who preaches today is an echo of that ultimate and final victory. Gird up your loins, lift up your faces. Take a new hold of what God hath assigned us to do, for God’s Spirit in triumph marches before us.
Now, while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you give his heart unto Jesus. Somebody you put your life with us in the fellowship of the church. While we sing this invitation hymn, you come and stand by me. "Preacher, today, today, I give my heart to God. I give my hand to you. This is a public committal of my life in faith and in trust to the Lord." A family you to come into the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word and lead the way, make it this morning. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE FINISHED MYSTERY OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. An interlude between six and seven in each of the septenary series
1. Between sixth and seventh seal – Revelation 7
2. Between sixth and seventh vial, the briefest – Revelation 16:13-16
3. Between sixth and seventh trumpet, the longest – Revelation 10:1-11:13
B. Written for encouragement of God’s people in a dark and burning earth – remind us God is still sovereign
II. The herald angel
A. One of the most sublime apocalyptic visions – grandeur beyond anything in all literature
1. Two reactions as men have read this vision
B. Heavenly creature
1. Clothed with a cloud – picture of majesty and dignity
2. Rainbow upon his head and feet as pillars of fire – picture of mercy and remembrance of God, and the judgment of God
3. Face as the sun – so glorious a man could not look upon his face
C. Such a magnificent portrayal, many say it is Christ Himself
1. Similar description in Revelation 18 is not Christ
2. This is a full, ambassadorial representative of the Lord
3. He appears all through Revelation (Revelation 5, 7, 8, 18)
4. More than sixty times angels are referred to in Revelation, and every time it is a reference to their service to God
D. Takes for God the earth, sea, the whole creation
1. Set his foot on the land and sea – sign, picture that God intends to take these things for Himself(Deuteronomy 11:24-25, Joshua 1:3)
III. The mystery of God
A. Angel swears there will no longer be delay(Revelation 10:7)
1. It is God’s foreordained elective purpose that in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel the mystery of God will be finished
B. The "mystery of God" is the long delay of our Lord in taking the kingdom unto Himself and establishing righteousness in the earth
1. Why the presence of evil?
C. But there is a day, an elected time when the angel shall sound and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord(Revelation 10:7)
1. We are not to lose heart – there is power and strength for God’s people (Romans 8:28)
IV. Concerning that consummation
A. It is in itself the true gospel
1. Prophets may see the storm and furor, but also saw the glorious dawn
B. Will only come after long delay – we live in the days of that delay
1. Scriptures faithful to point out the delay in the ultimate victory of God (Matthew 24:36, 48, Luke 19:10-11, 2 Peter 3:4)
2. Every generation has felt this is the time God will intervene(Matthew 3:10)
a. We can be sure that God intends a great thing for His people
b. We can be sure the victory belongs to us (Revelation 1:5-7)