The Whole Counsel of God
A sermon on Revelation 10 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 5/29/2005
How do you respond when you share the Gospel – and your listener attacks you? Has that happened to you?
Biblically, how should you respond? Why?
Revelation chapter 10 is written to help us in such situations. Here, God gives John a vision displaying
Oh, how we need these lessons if we are to be the outward-oriented, evangelism-oriented, missions-minded church that God intends us to be!
For when you’re about to share the Gospel with someone, haven’t you thought,“This person might reject me! This person might slam the door in my face! This colleague might mock me in front of others in the office!”
So hear the Word of the Lord – and take it to heart.
Recall that the last time I spoke, we considered Revelation 8 and 9, the sounding of the first 6 trumpets of judgment. Through trumpets one through four, God’s enemies are harmed indirectly, as God sends judgment on the earth. After trumpets five and six, God sends judgment on His enemies directly.
Through these judgments, even those opposed to God must acknowledge His might and power. But acknowledgment does not imply repentance. Look at 9:20:
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent.
Nevertheless, God is glorified whether they repent or not. If they do not repent, God is glorified through His justice inflicted on these His enemies, in showing that every sin is paid for.
We also looked at the impact on God’s people of the judgment of His enemies. They respond, first of all, with silence (8:1), as they are overawed. Second, they respond with a deeper motivation to be engaged in evangelism, having taken to heart God’s holiness and righteousness. Finally, God’s people are humbled to the dust, seeing the extent of God’s undeserved mercy given to them – and thus they turn from their idols and embrace Him.
We come now to Chapter 7 – but not to the sounding of the 7th trumpet. Chapter 10 and the first part of Chapter 11 form an interlude between the soundings of the 6th and 7th trumpets. God hear shows John another perspective on the events of Chapters 8 and 9. Recall that we saw something similar in Chapters 6 and 7. John sees the Lamb open the first six seals, then there is an interlude: He hears of the sealing of the 144,000, and then sees a countless multitude praising God. Only after this does John see the Lamb open the seventh seal. We saw in that sermon that God includes that interlude to communicate an important message: God’s people may suffer temporally, but they are sealed; God is in control, protecting them, not letting them suffer from any evil attack, but using even the evil designs of evil men for His glory and their good.
Today, we hope to understand why God includes this interlude in Chapter 10 in John’s visions. And we will see that there is one central point: Our need to boldly proclaim the Word of God in its entirety.
We’ll look at this chapter under three headings:
The chapter opens with John seeing a mighty angel coming down out of heaven. John describes this angel with images that are used elsewhere of God the Father or Jesus Himself: His face is like the sun, he comes in the clouds, he has a rainbow around his head. Some argue that this is Jesus Himself; others, an archangel. In either case, this angel clearly appears as God’s representative, wielding God’s authority.
In his hand he holds a small book or scroll. This little scroll is the central feature of Chapter 10; all the other images relate to it. So it’s important for us to ask: What does it represent?
We’ve seen another scroll earlier in Chapters 5 and 6, and surely we would do well to think that this little scroll is related in some way to that larger one. Remember, in chapter 5, God Himself held the scroll in His hand, and no one on earth was worthy to take it out of His hand. But Jesus, the Lion and Lamb, was worthy; He came and took the scroll.
Recall that we said that scroll seemed to be the scroll of the history of redemption, God’s plan to bring a people to Himself and to judge His enemies. This smaller scroll in Chapter 10 seems to have similar content; Chapters 10 and 11 concern God’s judgment on His enemies, protection of His people even in the midst of suffering, and His ultimate triumph. Thus, this smaller scroll seems to be an incomplete version of that longer one.
But what purpose would that serve? Why even write a smaller, incomplete version if the long scroll exists?
Remember, only Jesus Himself could take the entire book; no one else was worthy to take it or even to look inside it (5:4). But John will take this little scroll.
Thus, the little scroll contains the part of the larger book revealed and entrusted to man. The little scroll includes all that man needs, all that he can handle, all that he is worthy to know in this life. What, then, does the little scroll represent? God’s revelation of Himself, of His plan of redemption to mankind. That is, the written Word of God, the Bible. The little scroll is the Bible.
Note also that the angel holding the scroll puts one foot on the sea and one on the dry land. Now, the angel isn’t standing like you or I might stand, with one foot in the surf and one foot on the sandy beach. He is straddling the sea and the land. He must be a very large angel!
But that’s not the point. The expression “sea and land” is used several places in the Bible for “all the earth”. For example, consider Haggai 2:6:
“Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.”
Thus, all the earth is under the authority of this angel – and, by implication, under the authority of the scroll he holds, the Bible, the Word of God. This scroll discusses God’s plan for all of God’s creation.
Thus, the scroll held in the hand of the angel with all authority shows that God has a plan. He has written that plan. He has revealed that plan to His servants: that is, to us.
In verse 3, the angel calls out “with a loud voice, like a lion roaring.” What does roaring picture?
Several times in the Old Testament God is said to roar, signifying His might, authority, and power. But in most cases, roaring is accompanied by His might being used to a particular end: to wreak vengeance on His enemies and to protect His people from harm. Joel 3:16 is an example:
The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel
In Amos 3:6-8, we see the same themes, this time also linking God’s roaring with His Word:
Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? 7 "For the Lord GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. 8 The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?"
This is what we see in Revelation 10: as God’s representative roars, His servant must prophesy against God’s enemies, and in favor of God’s people.
After the angel roars, a strange event occurs. Look at verses 3b-4:
When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4 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."
What’s going on here? If John couldn’t write what the thunders said, why does he write that they said anything?
Once again, the Old Testament gives us some clues. Thunder is used similarly to roaring, as a picture of God’s judgment. For example, consider 1 Samuel 2:10:
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.
So the thunders seem to be prophecy of judgment against God’s enemies. But in a book filled with prophecies of judgment, why should God prevent John from writing these?
As we noted earlier, the little scroll is central to this chapter. Remember, the little scroll is incomplete. Only the big scroll is complete. The book in Jesus’ hand is complete; the book He reveals to His people, the Bible, contains all we need for life and godliness, but is not a complete description of God’s secret counsel, of His plan of redemption and justice. He does not reveal everything to us.
Thus, the words spoken by the thunders represent the difference between God’s Word revealed to mankind in the Bible, and His entire plan. The thunders speak of God’s judgment, but God has decided that we don’t need to know all the details of His judgment of unbelievers. Only God knows all. And He keeps some knowledge to Himself
After the thunders sound, what does the angel say? Skip ahead to verses 6b-7:
there would be no more delay, 7 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.
The mystery of God! Now that, again, sounds pretty strange. If we can’t know what the thunders say, we surely can’t know what mystery of God is! Or can we?
The angel says that mystery of God was announced to the prophets. Hmm. So maybe we do know it.
When we understand the Greek word translated “announced” we see that we do indeed know this mystery. This verb is the word from which we get our word, “evangelize.” It means, “to preach the Gospel” or “to proclaim God’s plan of redemption.” Because there is no single English verb that captures this idea, translating is difficult. This paraphrase of the verse captures the idea:
“The mystery of God will be fulfilled, just as God proclaimed in revealing His plan of redemption to His servants the prophets.”
So the “mystery of God” is the same as “God’s plan of redemption.”
At this point you might be shaking your head, wonder, “How can this be so? We know the major points about God’s plan of redemption. Isn’t a mystery something you don’t know?”
In Agatha Christie novels, that’s what “mystery” means. A crime takes place and neither the reader nor Poirot knows who committed it.
But that is not the way the word “mystery” is used in Scripture. One prominent Greek lexicon (dictionary) says this word means, “Something formerly unknown but now revealed.” Thus, “mystery” in Scripture is not something unknown; rather, it is something we could never know apart from God’s revelation.
Consider Colossians 1:25-26. Paul says,
I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
The mystery that is now revealed! Furthermore, note that Paul identifies the word of God with the mystery. Paul sees his main task as making that mystery now revealed, that word, fully known to all the church.
This brings us back to Revelation 10. We’ve seen that the little scroll is the written word of God. In Colossians 1, Paul links the word of God with the mystery of God. It is thus logical to conclude that the mystery of God is indeed what is revealed in the Bible, in God’s written word – that is, in the terms of Revelation 10, in the little scroll. The little scroll is the Gospel in all its fullness.
Do note: The entire word of God is the Gospel in all its fullness. To preach the good news is to preach God’s plan of redemption as revealed historically and propositionally and symbolically and poetically throughout time in the Bible. The entire Bible is the Gospel. And we are to proclaim it in its entirety.
And it will all be fulfilled! When the 7th trumpet sounds – as we will see next week – the plan of redemption will be complete. History will be over. There will be no more delay. The Word will be fulfilled. God ‘s kingdom will come.
One last point under this heading. Look at the beginning of verse 6. The angel swears by the One:
“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”
Swearing by the One who lives forever is an allusion to Old Testament passages where God wreaks vengeance on His enemies and saves His people (Deuteronomy 32:36-43, Daniel 12:7). We’ve already noted those themes in other Old Testament allusions.
But why does the angel swear by the One who “created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it”? What is the importance of this statement?
Look at Exodus 20:11. In Exodus 20:2-17 God speaks the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. In verses 8-10, He commands them to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. In verse 11, He explains why:
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Do you hear the way Revelation 10:6 echoes Exodus 20:11? The very words the angel uses in His oath draw attention to the Sabbath commandment. And what does His oath concern? The fulfillment of the plan of redemption, yes. But also, the fulfillment of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath always was a picture of God’s people resting in Him for all eternity. The Sabbath always was a foreshadowing of the delight of God’s people in Him, with God providing for their every need. When the angel swears that there will be no more delay, he is saying, “The eternal Sabbath – the promise pictured on every seventh day, every day of rest in history - is at long last fulfilled! There is now eternal rest in God’s presence for God’s people.”
Verses 8-11 picture our need to be faithful to the Word. In verse 8, the voice from heaven commands John to take the scroll from the angel. John does so. His taking the scroll symbolizes his agreeing to proclaim God’s word. This is emphasized in verse 11, when he is told,
"You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."
To take the scroll is to proclaim it. God’s Word must go forth.
But the word of God is not something that John simply takes and then passes along, like an airport novel you read through quickly and then give to someone else at the office. No. The word must “dwell in him richly”, as Paul says (Colossians 3:16). He must feed on the word of God, get his nourishment from it. As Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3 when he was tempted by Satan,
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
So John eats the scroll. He feeds on the Word of God. He gets the Word inside Him, and is nourished by it.
How does he respond to this meal? The angel tells him it will be sweet to his taste. We should expect him to say that because of verses like Psalm 19:10:
[The law of the Lord is] sweeter than honey, than the drippings of the honeycomb.
But in Revelation, the word is not only sweet to taste. It also makes John’s stomach bitter. Why?
In Ezekiel 2 and 3, we see a similar event. Ezekiel is told to go to nation of rebels. They are impudent and stubborn. They are a rebellious house. And Ezekiel is to proclaim the entire word faithfully, including words of lamentation, mourning, and woe. Why? To convert people? No. Quite the contrary. God tells him:
6 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. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. (Ezekiel 2:6-7)
Then Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll. And he does. And it is sweet.
Is there bitterness for Ezekiel? The bitterness comes from the reaction of his people to his proclamation of the Word. They don’t listen. They refuse to hear. They become like briers and thorns, like scorpions to Ezekiel. The Word is sweet to the man or woman of God. But the proclamation of the Word often results in rejection. In anger. In mocking. And that can lead to a bitterness in us.
Yet John – and Ezekiel before him – is told to eat the scroll! Feed on it! Be faithful to it! Do not be dismayed by the reaction of others! Be faithful to the Word!
How, then, might we summarize the message of this chapter?
There are aspects of God’s judgment and plan that we do not know. We do not have to know everything! But God has entrusted to us what we do need to know: His message, His Word, His Gospel. We are to proclaim it faithfully, fully, boldly. As Paul says to the Ephesian elders, we are to proclaim the whole counsel of God.
How will people respond? Praise God, those who were appointed to eternal life will believe (Act 13:48). But often, we will be rejected, mocked, ridiculed, or persecuted. We will eventually see judgment come on some to whom we preach. But the mystery of God will be fulfilled. The eternal Sabbath will be ushered in. God’s people will find their final, true rest in Him. All those who love Him, all who love His word and fully proclaim it, will rejoice in Him for all eternity.
What lessons can we draw from this chapter? We’ll consider one for the church, and one for us as individuals:
For the church:
In some churches, people only want to hear what they perceive as sweet in the Word. And they tend to gather around themselves preachers who only give that to them:
But Ezekiel and John eat all of the scroll.
No! They are told to eat the scroll, and they eat all of it.
We must do the same. As Paul says to Timothy,
The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 NIV
But Paul tells Timothy not to be like that. Timothy is to preach the Word “in season and out of season”, whether it is popular or not. Why? Because:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16, emphasis added.
That’s why this church is committed to expository preaching. That’s why in the last year and a half we have preached through 2 Corinthians, then Genesis, and now Revelation. When we finish Revelation, we will begin another Old Testament book.
Some might think, “Coty, wouldn’t it be better to look at the people in the church, decide what you think they need to hear, and preach on that? Wouldn’t that do a better job of meeting their needs?”
I acknowledge that there are special moments when it is important to preach on a particular topic. Had I been in the country on September 16, 2001, I probably would have left off my sermon series and preached on God’s sovereignty over the evil acts of evil men. That was a special moment in the life of this country that needed to be addressed.
But there is a real danger and temptation in thinking that I, the preacher, can know exactly what my congregation most needs to hear every week. The danger is that I will hit again and again on my favorite themes – and never preach the whole counsel of God. God knows what people need, not I.
John ate the entire little scroll. We must commit to teaching the entire word of God.
I will occasionally preach on a special topic. But my commitment is this: 80 to 90 percent of my sermons will be part of expository, book-length studies. In this way, I will proclaim
And then, having made this commitment, we must have a long-term view, trusting that God will superintend the teaching of His living and active Word, and that as we patiently wait, He will mature and edify this congregation to the glory of His Name.
A church well-taught in the whole counsel of God is a mighty force for His glory.
But Revelation 10 has implications not only for preachers, and not only for you as voting members of this congregation! You too must eat the Word! You too must live on it! You too must live it out, and proclaim it with your life!
Not many of you will be preachers – though I hope and expect that some of you will be. But all of you have a responsibility to proclaim His Word to those around you: to your family, to your neighbors, to your friends, to your colleagues.
As I asked at beginning: How will you react when you share the Gospel and are attacked? How will you react when you are scorned? How will you react when you are hurt?
There is a bitterness that comes from proclaiming the Word. You will be rejected. God has told you.
But you cannot let that rejection affect your witness!
Feast on the Word and delight in its sweetness. Live up to your responsibility. Proclaim the Word. Love the Word. And so fulfill Philippians 2:15-16, becoming:
children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out [and hold onto] the word of life
Will you feed on the Word?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 5/29/05. Greg Beale’s The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1999) was helpful, particularly with the Old Testament allusions.
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