Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Bitter-Sweet -- Revelation 10
by Rev. George van Popta
Date: October 5, 2003
Reading: Ezekiel 2:9-3:9; Psalm 29
Text: Revelation 10
Singing: Psalm 44:1,2; Psalm 79:3,5; Psalm 29; Hymn 8:13,14; Psalm 119:39,42
Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Sometimes people will tell you that they want to hear the sweet message of the gospel of God's saving love in Christ, but they do not like the bitter feeling that talk of judgment puts in the pit of their stomachs. Please, speak about salvation but not about condemnation! Please, speak about love but not about wrath!
The trouble is then you are speaking only half the word of God. Half the gospel. And a half gospel is no gospel at all. For the gospel must be proclaimed together with the command to repent and believe. And attached to the command to repent and believe is the promise of salvation to the believer, but also the warning of punishment to the one who rejects it.
The church must proclaim the complete message. The whole gospel. Also the warnings and judgments. Also the consequences of unbelief. Or it has nothing left to preach. And before long the pews will be empty.
A wise man once said that if you preach to women and children, you'll end up with a congregation of a few women and children. But if you preach to men, you will maintain a congregation of men, women and children.
Let us not be scared of a manly and vigorous gospel. Of lively preaching that says it like it is. That proclaims the sweet gospel of salvation through Christ, and the sweet blessings of faith and repentance, but also the bitter warning and consequences of unbelief and disobedience.
I proclaim to you the Word of God under this theme:
CHRIST COMMANDS THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH TO PREACH THE BITTER-SWEET WORD OF GOD
1. The commander; 2. The command; 3. The commanded.
2. The commander.
In this part of his vision, John has heard six of the seven angels blow their trumpets (8:6ff). Last week we heard about the judgment of God that came upon man when the sixth angel blew his trumpet. We would expect the seventh angel to blow his trumpet now, but there is an interlude. Ch. 10 and most of 11 form an interlude. The seventh angel blows his trumpet in 11:15ff.
In this interlude, John saw a mighty angel coming down from heaven. This mighty angel should be understood as none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. We need not wonder that he is call an angel. We only need remember that the word "angel" means messenger. Jesus Christ is the ultimate, greatest and final messenger from heaven.
When you read the description of this mighty angel John saw you will conclude that it is the Lord Jesus Christ. He was robed in a cloud. The background for that is Dan. 7:13 where Daniel, in a vision, sees the Messiah (the Lord Jesus) coming with the clouds. In the OT, God is often present in a cloud. There was the cloud of God's presence that filled the tabernacle. God came to his people at Mt. Sinai in a cloud. The coming and going of Christ is associated with clouds. When he ascended, a cloud took him from the disciples' view. He is going to return on the clouds of heaven. That the angel John sees is robed in a cloud leads us to see the angel as the Lord Jesus Christ.
His face was like the sun. When John first saw a vision of the exalted Christ (recorded in ch. 1), it says (in 1:16) that His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. Think of when Christ was transfigured into glory on the "Mt. of Transfiguration." Not only was he enveloped in a cloud, but his face shone like the sun.
John saw that His legs were like fiery pillars. In ch. 1 John saw that the feet of the exalted Christ were like bronze glowing in a furnace.
Finally, he had the rainbow (not a, but the rainbow) above his head. Remember from Rev. 4 that a rainbow encircled the throne upon which God sat. The rainbow, this rainbow, John saw was like a crown above the head of this mighty angel who was Christ.
In his hand the Lord held a little scroll. A scroll that he gave to John.
But before he gave the scroll to John, Christ placed one mighty foot on the dry land of the earth and the other on the sea. Christ, the Lion of Judah, let out a mighty roar. He is the Commander King and Judge of all of creation. The cosmic ruler who is sovereign over all created things.
When he roared, seven thunders echoed in response. The seven thunders. What are the seven thunders? So far in the Revelation we have heard of seven seals and seven trumpets. Later in the book we read about seven bowls of God's wrath. As the seven seals were opened and as the seven trumpets blew (and later, when the seven bowls are poured out), things happen. Mostly they describe the judgment of God upon the rebellious unbeliever. The seven thunders were about to make their entry here as a new series of judgments of God against the world.
These seven thunders are the voice of God. We should think of Psalm 29. Psalm 29 is a song about thunder. It describes the voice of God as thunder. Psalm 29 mentions the thundering voice of God seven times: the seven thunders of God.
1. The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. 2. The voice of the LORD is powerful; 3. the voice of the LORD is majestic. 4. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars... 5. The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning. 6. The voice of the LORD shakes the desert... 7. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare....
John heard the seven thunder-voices of God speak. He was about to write down what he heard and saw (like he did when he saw the seven seals opened and heard the seven trumpets). But as he was about to record this for us, God from heaven told him not to write it down; rather, to seal up what the seven thunders said.
Right after that, the Lord Jesus Christ raised his right hand to heaven and uttered an oath in the Name of God. Under oath he said that there would be no more delay. The seventh trumpet was about to blow. The seven thunders are sealed up. There will be no new series of judgments. The seven thunders will not be included in what is and what is to come. In ch. 1, the Lord Jesus told John to write about what would soon take place. About what is and about what will take place. John heard the seven thunders, but then God said: seal them up. He cuts his judgments short. God does that out of kindness and mercy to the church.
Although the judgements of the seven seals and the seven trumpets are, first of all, exactly that-judgments upon unrepentant man-they are also meant to call rebellious man to repentance. In many different ways the final judgment is pressing its way backward into this life already. God is letting rebellious man have a taste of the final judgment during this era as a wake up call, to give many opportunity to repent. But at some point God says, "OK, I've given rebellious man enough wake up calls."
The cutting short of the judgements is also mercy for the church. Although the judgments-the results of the opening of the seals and the blowing of the trumpets-comes down upon the heads of the unbeliever, and the church is under the protection of God, the church is not completely untouched by the results. And so God says: Seal up the seven thunders. And Christ says: There will be no more delay. Let the final trumpet blow.
As Lord Jesus said before his death on the cross, for the sake of the elect, the last days will be shortened. For your sake, Christ is pressing towards the end. He will shorten the days. Lessen the plagues. Hasten the day. Towards the last trumpet. Towards his coming again to take us to himself in glory.
And, said the Lord in v. 7, then the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to the prophets. A mystery is something you would never know if it had not been revealed to you. The context helps us to understand what the mystery Christ is speaking about is. It is that he is King of all creation. He, the suffering servant. The one who died on the cross. Who died in shame and disgrace. He rose, ascended to heaven, and is King of kings.
The mystery is that we, the church of Christ, will share in that great victory. Here the church may suffer in shame and disgrace, but we will rule with Christ. That's the great mystery. On the last day he will deliver the suffering church and vindicate the blood of the martyrs.
Moses spoke of that in his song recorded in Deut. 32. (We will sing part of that song when we sing Hy. 8.) God, through Moses, said: I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders." Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.
And so the Lord Jesus Christ, lifts his hand to heaven, and declares that he will deliver his suffering church and vindicate the blood of the martyrs.
2. The command.
John saw the Lord standing as the great king of creation, with a little scroll in his hand. The little scroll was open. A scroll that he, John, must take. In ch. 5 we first read about another scroll. A scroll in God's hand, sealed with seven seals. A scroll that only Christ could open. He took the scroll and opened it one seal at a time. We read about that in chs. 6-8:5-the opening of the seven seals. The opening of the seven-fold sealed scroll.
The scroll was like a will and testament. It described what God was going to do in history. What sort of blessed inheritance the church was going to receive, and what kind of disinheritance the unbeliever was going to get. As Christ opened the scroll, things began to happen in history. Plagues and judgments, punishments and warnings.
Christ took the big scroll from the hands of God. Only he was qualified to open the scroll and advance the intentions of God in history.
He, now, had a little scroll in his hand. John must take it.
There is a lot of discussion in the commentaries about the little scroll. Is it the same scroll as the one mentioned in ch. 5, no longer sealed but opened? Or is it a different one?
We need to conclude that it is a different scroll. It is very deliberately called a or the little scroll. That, alone, is conclusive.
And yet, when we read about a scroll in the hand of God, in ch. 5, and a little scroll in the hand of Christ in ch. 10, we cannot help but conclude that there will be similarity between the scroll and the little scroll. There will be common elements.
As the scroll of ch. 5 described the work that Christ would do in the world, so the little scroll describes what the church must do in the world. John, the last apostle, representing the church founded upon the teaching of the apostles, must eat the scroll.
Ages before, the prophet Ezekiel had to eat a scroll. When Ezekiel was call to serve as a preacher and prophet of the Word of God, then God gave him a scroll to eat. An opened scroll. On the scroll were written words of lament, mourning and woe. God told Ezekiel to eat the scroll with these words of God written on it, and then to speak God's word to the people of God. To call the rebellious people to repentance.
When Ezekiel ate the scroll, it was sweet in his mouth. The Word of God is sweet. (Psa 119:103) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psa 19:10) They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. The Word of God, the good news of salvation-it is sweet. How sad that so many reject the sweet Word of God. That was Ezekiel's burden. The Word of God is sweet, but so many, because of their sin, had no taste for it.
That's the OT background to the command that comes to John. John must eat the scroll in the hands of Christ.
It is an open scroll. Not sealed like the one Christ took from the hand of God, but open. It is open for us. We can easily read the Word of God. There is nothing hidden. We must eat it. Let it become part of us. Digest it. Meditate on it. That's what it means to eat the Word.
Do we have a taste for? Is it sweet in our mouths?
3. The commanded.
It was John who had to eat the little scroll. As God commissioned Ezekiel to preach the Word, so He commissioned John. But, as I said, John was the last apostle. He is the last of the apostles of Christ to teach the church. The church had to pick up the task. Had to take the scroll. The scroll was like a baton passed from Christ to the apostles, and then to us. If we want to be a truly apostolic church, founded on the teachings of the apostles, then we must take up the scroll and eat it.
The little scroll represents the task of the church (as the large scroll represented the task of Christ). We must digest the word, let it become part of us, and then preach the word.
The Lord said that the scroll would be sweet in John's mouth but sour, bitter, in his stomach. When he ate it, it tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth, but his stomach turned sour.
The Word of God is sweet. The Word of God is gospel, good news. When the church preaches, it announces good news. That's the sweetness. But as it announces good news, it also warns. It warns the hearer that there will be judgment for the unbeliever.That's the bitterness in the stomach.
This judgment begins in the church. 1 Peter 4:17 -- For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? It will be bitter for those who are complacent and guilty of unbelief-whether inside or outside the church. Sweet and bitter are the two sides of the gospel: it is sweet for the believer and bitter for the unbeliever.
The church proclaims the universal claims of Christ, That Christ is King and Judge of all creation. He stands, as it were, with one foot on the dry land and another on the sea. He is the cosmic Ruler.
That is sweet news for the one who acknowledges the claims of Christ, but it will be bitter for the one who does not. What is it for you?
Not only does the church proclaim Christ as the Ruler of all creation, but also as the Ruler of all history. The Lord Jesus Christ is pushing history towards its final conclusion. So eager is he to get to the end of it all that he promises there will be no more delay. One whole cycle of judgment, the cycle of the seven thunders, is sealed up, and Christ says under oath: There will be no more delay. For the sake of the elect, the last days are cut short. His last words to us were, "Behold, I am coming soon."
That is sweet news for the one awaiting him. Sweet news for the one making ready for him. But it will be bitter for the one who lives unto himself and does not make ready for the coming of Christ. What is it for you?
The church proclaims that the mystery of God will be accomplished. The mystery that the prophets of old had proclaimed. The mystery that God saved his people and destroyed his enemy by the suffering and death of his One and Only Son on the cross. That people are saved from the wrath of God and condemnation by the cross of Christ. That's the mystery of God. That is sweet to the believer. To the one who looks to Christ. But it will be bitter for the one who rejects Christ and his cross.
This is the Christ the church must proclaim. To its members. To its youth. To the world. To many peoples, nations, languages and kings. It's a sweet message, but it can cause bitterness too. Not because it is bitter in itself. The bitterness is caused by rejection of the gospel.
Let us, as church, take up our task in the world. Let us take up the scroll from the hand of Christ. Let us eat it, digest it, letting the word of Christ become part of us. Let it become who and what we are. Let it motivate us.
Let us live and preach the Word of God in the world. The Word that proclaims the Christ who died for sinners. Who arose and is now the Ruler of all creation. Who is coming again soon in glory.
Many will embrace the word of God. For them it is sweet. Sadly, many will reject it. For them it is a bitter business.
What is it for you? Bitter, or sweet?
The Rev. George Van Popta is presently pastor of Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where he is serving for the second time. With wife Dora he has five children and an increasing number of grandchildren. Besides his regular work, he enjoys biking and writing hymns.