Sermon: A Bittersweet Message To Proclaim: Revelation 10

Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 2:1–3:15

“’Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.’ Moreover, he said to me, ‘Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.’ Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: ‘Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!’ It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days” (Ezekiel 2:1–3:15, ESV).

New Testament Reading: Revelation 10

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’ And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings’” (Revelation 10, ESV).

Introduction

I hope that by now you are growing accustom to the rhythm of the book of Revelation. The book is highly structured and it is repetitive. Both the structure and the repetition are meaningful. 

The repetition – the repeated, albeit varied, description of how things will be in the world in the age between Christ’s first and second comings – is meaningful in that it corresponds to the repetitive nature of human history. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. The book of Revelation portrays, through the symbol-laden visions shown to John recorded for us in chapters 6 through 8, how things will be in this world until Christ returns.

Two passages from the gospels, which record the direct teaching Christ, seem to sum up the overarching message of Revelation chapters 6 through 8.

The first has been cited many times already. It is in Matthew 24:6-8 that we hear Christ say to his disciples, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:6–8, ESV).

This truth, taught by Christ in a most direct way, has been portrayed repeatedly and via symbol in Revelation chapters 6 through 8. This age will be marked by nations rising against nations, wars, rumors of war, famines, and natural disasters. This will be the norm. Their presence does not necessarily signal the end, but rather reminds us that the end will eventually come. God, by his mercy, will restrain evil until then. He will refrain from pouring out full and final judgment until the appointed time. But we should expect an intensification of wickedness and calamity on earth as the day of the Lord draws near. As it is with birth pains, so will it be when it comes to wickedness and trials and tribulations in the world. We should expect intensification.

This is what Jesus taught directly, and this is what the visions of Revelation 6 through 8 symbolize.

The second passage that comes to mind from the teaching of Christ in the gospels is John chapters 16 and 17. I cannot read these chapters in their entirety, but listen to the words of Christ in 16:33 as he prepares his disciples for life in this world in the time between his first and second comings: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).

This is the other overarching message communicated in Revelation chapters 6-8: Those who belong to Christ will experience tribulation, but they are to be at peace in the world. Why are they to be at peace? Because Christ has overcome the world, and they belong to him. He has won the victory so that to die in Christ is to live – remember Revelation 6:9-11. His people are sealed so that they might be preserved in the midst of tribulation – remember Revelation 7:3-8. And because they are sealed those who belong to Christ are also protected from the torments of the evil one  – remember Revelation 9:4. And do not forget that Christ, because he has won the victory, is able to bring his people home to glory – remember the vision of Revelation 7:9-17.

God will keep his people in the midst of tribulation in and through Christ Jesus. Jesus said it directly. The visions of Revelation have symbolized it for us.

The book of Revelation also urges the Christian to be comforted by the bittersweet thought that God is active in pouring out partial and perpetual judgments upon his enemies even now, and that he will indeed judge his enemies fully and finally in the end.

Therefore, the repetition of Revelation 6 through 8 is intended to drive these three points home: One, there will be tribulation in the world until the Lord returns and even the people of God will experience it.  Two, God will preserve those who are his in Christ Jesus in midst of it.  Three, God is actively judging his enemies now in partial ways, but he will judge fully and finally in the end. This thought should be bittersweet to the Christian. Sweet in that it will be the day when God makes all things right and new. Bitter in that no Christian would ever celebrate at the thought of, even a personal enemy, coming under God’s judgment, but would rather mourn (Ezekiel 18:23). We should remember that the final judgment will produce, not celebration in heaven, but solemn silence (Revelation 8:1).

I have taken the time to review in this way for two reasons.

One, I want to exhort you to think deeply about these particular truths before we move on from them. It is not that we will move away from these concepts completely, but the focus does shift rather significantly beginning with chapter 12, which we will come to shortly.

Two, I have reviewed in this way so as to help us get our bearings before jumping into this new and distinct portion of the book of Revelation.

Exposition

What do we have here beginning with 10:1 except another interlude. Do you remember that term? I used it before to describe the literary feature that we encountered near to the end of the seal cycle.

We were told at the beginning of the seal cycle that there were seven seals to be broken by the Lamb. John then proceeded to describe to us the breaking of the individual seals and the visions that followed – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 – and then something unexpected happened. We were led to anticipate the breaking of the 7th seal but instead the cycle was interrupted.

The interruption itself provided a sense of delay – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6… the final judgment is not yet. But the content of the interlude was most revealing. It was there in Revelation 7 that we were shown the 144,000 sealed on earth followed by a vision of all the redeemed in heaven – an innumerable multitude from every tongue tribe and nation. The interlude communicated delay – final judgment is not yet – and it is also stressed the principle that God will keep his people on earth in the midst of tribulation and bring them safely home to glory.

It is no surprise, then, that we find the same feature in the trumpet cycle which has mirrored the seal cycle in many ways. How many trumpets are to be blown? Seven trumpets. How many have been blown? Only six. And now we have an interruption. The seventh trumpet will not be blown util Revelation 11:15.

If you were guess based upon what you have seen so far in the book of Revelation, what do you think will be emphasized in this interlude? Wouldn’t you assume that we would again see an emphasis God’s preservation of his people?

That is indeed what we have. Look ahead to chapter 11 verse 1.

It is there that John is “given a measuring rod like a staff, and [is]… told, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there” (Revelation 11:1, ESV). The temple, the alter, and those who worship there are protected, while the court outside the temple is “given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2, ESV). I’ll explain the text when we get there. For now, recognize the obvious point that it has to do with the protection and preservation of those who worship God on the earth as they are surrounded by the wicked.

The same principle is communicated, but from a different vantage point, with the “two witnesses”, who are called “the two olive trees” in Revelation 11:3-13. They serve God faithfully. They are killed by the wicked. “But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them” (Revelation 11:11–12, ESV). I’ll explain the text when we get there. For now, recognize that this passage has to do with God’s ability to bring his servants safely home to glory.

So the interlude of chapter 11 mirrors the interlude of chapter 7. The same overarching principles are communicated in both texts but in a different way, and with a different emphasis.

You’ve noticed, no doubt, that I have said a lot about the chapters that come before our text by way of review, and I’ve looked forward to the chapter that comes after our text, but as of yet I have said nothing about the text that is before us today. Let’s get to it now.

Here in chapter 10 we encounter a vision wherein John is recommissioned to prophecy concerning God’s judgments, which to John is bittersweet.

Indeed, John has already been prophesying in the book of Revelation. He has already been bearing “witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Revelation 1:2, ESV). But here in 10:1 John is recommissioned as the chain of transmission that was verbally communicated in Revelation 1:1-3 is visually portrayed.

Do you remember then chain of transmission communicated in Revelation 1:1-3? “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1–3, ESV).

The prophesies of the book of Revelation come to us from God who gave them to Christ who gave them to his angel who gave them to John to reveal to the church. This chain of transmission was stated verbally in 1:1-3 but it has been symbolized progressively in the book of Revelation through the exchange of the scroll which was initially sealed with seven seals.

We have already witnessed the first step in the chain of transmission. Revelation 5:1: “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1, ESV). No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy to open the scroll with the exception of the Lamb who had been slain but was now alive. “He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (Revelation 5:7, ESV), and he began to break it’s seals.

Here we have a vision of the last stages of the chain of transmission as a mighty angel descends to give the little scroll, now opened, to John and God recommissions him to prophesy. The recommissioning at this point serves to highlight the fact that everything is about to intensify in the book and will have to do with the time of the end and the mysteries of God.

In 10:1 we read, “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire” (Revelation 10:1, ESV). Some argue that this must be Christ himself given the glorious way in which this angel is described and the similarities with other passages that describe the glory of God and Christ. It is better, I think, to understand this being to be a mighty angel who comes from God and Christ and therefore represents them in a most powerful way.

In 10:2 we read, “He had a little scroll open in his hand…” (Revelation 10:2, ESV). We should not make too much out of the fact that before the “scroll” was simply called a “scroll”, but here it is called a “little scroll”. It is significant, I think, that the little scroll is said to be “open”. That is emphasized here in 10:2 and also in 10:8 where John is told to “the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel…” (Revelation 10:8, ESV). This is the scroll that was at first sealed but has been opened by Christ, given to the angel, who is hear seen giving it to John.

In 10:2 the angel is described as having “set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land…” (Revelation 10:2, ESV). This angel and the God who sent him has authority over land and sea. The scroll that he has will speak to God’s judgments over all that proceeds from land and sea – this will become important as the book of Revelation progresses.

In 10:3 we are told that the angel, “called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down” (Revelation 10:3–4, ESV).

How many cycles of seven are there in the book of Revelation. It is tempting to say “three” – the seals, trumpets and bowls – but really there are four if we include the thunders. They typically are not mentioned because the content of the seven thunders is not revealed, but rather hidden. John was commanded to “seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” This should remind us of Daniel’s experience when he, after receiving a vision, was told to “seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now’” (Daniel 8:26, ESV).

Commentators disagree over the meaning of the thunders being revealed to John and yet withheld from us.

Is this yet another way of God saying, “no more delay”? In other words, is this God saying that there will not be an ongoing recapitulation of cycles which communicate partial judgments – it’s time for the bowls of God full wrath to be poured out?

Or is this a way of communicating that, though the book of Revelation reveals much, it does not reveal all. There are some things about the time of the end which will remain mysterious to us and will only be known and understood as they happen. In other words, the book of Revelation advances what was revealed to Daniel, but the revelation is not exhaustive – somethings are left “sealed up”.

I prefer the second view, but it is not impossible to see that both might be correct. Perhaps both the end of delay and the ongoing presence mystery are meant to be communicated.

Look at verse 5: “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:5–7, ESV).

This great angel swears by God, who is the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all created things – heaven, earth, and sea – that there will be no more delay. The seventh trumpet will usher in a vision that signifies the consummation of all things – that is to say, the end. And what will be revealed in the bowl judgments will have only to do with the end – that is to say, the full and final outpouring of the wrath of God. No more delay.

And it will be in that day that “mystery of God [will] be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” The prophets certainly spoke concerning the time of the end. That it will come is certain. But there is much that we do not know. When will that day come? Only God knows. And what exactly will it be like? Only God knows.

In 10:8 John says, “Then the voice that I had heard from heaven (4:1; 10:4) spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey’” (Revelation 10:8–9, ESV).

Certainly we are to remember Ezekiel 2 and the prophets commissioning to preach to Israel concerning the impending doom that would come upon them. Ezekiel was to call that people to repentance. He too was given a scroll to eat. In other words, he was to internalize the message, take it to heart, and live by it himself, before preaching the message to the people. The message was to him was both sweet and bitter. Sweet in that it was the word of God and contained promises concerning the future. Bitter in that his message would largely be ignored and would result in judgment.

I verse 10 we read, “And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, ‘You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings’” (Revelation 10:10–11, ESV).

The message that John would to proclaim has to do, not with ethnic Israel, but with “many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” It is not hard to understand why his message is described as bittersweet. The message is bitter in that it has to do with the full and final judgment – the outputting of God’s wrath upon the ungodly. The message is sweet in that it describes the consummation of all of God’s plans, the day when all will be made right, and the ushering in of the new heavens and new earth.

Conclusion 

Are you ready for the Lord’s return?

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:32–37, ESV).

Is the thought of his return and all that will happen on that day bittersweet to you?

Are you diligent to pray for the salvation of those who do not know Christ and to speak of him as the Lord gives opportunity?

 

 

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