And now note how comforting for such conditions is the revelation of the powerful Lord in this passage. It assures us once more that the Lord is possessor and that He is the only Lord of all, and that in reality all things are subjected unto Him. When it should seem different, nevertheless it is true that He only rules over all. He has His feet upon the earth and upon the sea, and all things are in subjection. Nothing happens against His will. And Satan and hell and the wicked world cannot stir if He does not will them to move: In the second place, it tells us that He rules as Judge, and that all these things are directly realized through Him. If it would seem to us that the kingdom is remoter than ever and that iniquity and trouble, yea, that the forces of hell prevail, never you fear, but fasten your eyes upon that mighty Lord with pillars of fire. And then you may know that war and famine and pestilence and tribulation come from Him alone. It tells you by the rainbow that in the midst of mighty judgments He will not forget His covenant, but through it all realize it. And finally, in the midst of these judgments and tribulation your hearts go out with longing for the end of it all. And then you know that the hour is near. Fasten your eye upon that mighty figure of the Judge with His feet upon all the world and with His right hand lifted to heaven, swearing by Him that liveth forever and ever that there shall be no more delay. “Behold, I come, and come quickly.” That above all is the message that comes to us from this revelation of the powerful Lord in the midst of judgments and tribulations. And therefore this vision ought, in the first place, to dispel all the fears and doubts and .anxieties of the people of God, no matter how things may develop. But, in the second place, it ought to strike terror in the hearts of those that still love iniquity and with the world indulge in their sin. It may seem as if His coming is far off. Long may seem the delay. Nevertheless He comes quickly. And the times in which we live declare more than ever that He sware by Him that liveth forever that there shall be no more delay.
8. 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.
9. 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 belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
10. 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 belly was bitter.
11. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
After all that was said in connection with the previous passage, this portion ought not to be difficult to understand in its purpose and significance. You will remember that in this entire chapter we have an interlude, a portion that has no immediate connection with the seven trumpets but that has been thrown in for a certain definite purpose. The first part of this chapter answered many of the questions that might arise in the hearts of the people of God in the midst of the judgments and tribulations that have already been revealed in the first part of the book and that are still to be shown as the seventh angel shall blow his trumpet. In that passage we are assured that Christ holds the reins, and that although many tribulations may come upon the people of God, He shall nevertheless come, and come quickly, and establish His everlasting kingdom forever. And therefore, that first part of the chapter was full of comfort for God’s people.
One part of that portion connects itself immediately with the passage we are now called to discuss. I refer, of course, to the little book that is in the hand of the angel that standeth upon the earth and upon the sea. That little book we have as yet not discussed. All that we have said about it is the unique occurrence of the voice of the seven thunders, which told us that in that form John might not receive the revelation of the mystery of the kingdom of God. But our present passage informs us in what form he may receive it, and how he must be a prophet in the midst of the world of the things that are still to be revealed. If the first part of the chapter was for the comfort of the people of God and fixed their eyes upon the mighty King of kings, this part is for their instruction and warns them beforehand what they must do with the revelation which John receives of the future. For in the hand of the angel there is a little book. That little book must not merely be read and copied by the true prophet, but it must be eaten. And only after it has thus been appropriated do we read that John is prepared to be a prophet and to prophesy again to many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
Again I must call your attention to the fact which I have mentioned more than once, namely, that the book of Revelation itself determines rather plainly whether anything is to be understood in the symbolical or in the literal sense of the word. Disregard of this truth has led many interpreters of the book into paths of error. And therefore we must maintain it and point to it whenever we have the opportunity. We cannot draw one line and say that all that is revealed in the book must be taken in the symbolical sense, for then we become guilty of allegorizing and spiritualizing in the wrong sense of the word. Nor can we say that all that is revealed in this book must be taken in the literal sense, for then we arrive at absurdities and impossibilities. But we must let the book itself decide whether anything is meant symbolically or literally. And that is also the case with our present passage. It is more than evident that this entire scene is not meant in the literal sense of the word. Then, if that were the case, we would have to assume that there was actually a book in the hand of the angel, printed in heaven, and that John actually, not in the vision, approached the angel, took that little book out of his hand, and swallowed it. Of course, that is both an impossibility and an absurdity. An impossibility it is, for John could not swallow a book. And if it is maintained that this is a miraculous swallowing of the book and that with God all things are possible, we add that it is also an absurdity. For books are not to be swallowed, but to be read. And one does not derive any benefit from swallowing a book, but from appropriating its contents by reading it. Hence, it needs no special indication to make us draw the conclusion immediately that here we have symbolism, and not reality, that John swallows the book in the vision, not apart from the vision. And the question before us is: what is the meaning of this symbolic scene?
To determine this we must first of all answer the question: what is the meaning of the little book itself? What is this little book in the hand of the angel, which is swallowed by John? And then we wish to say at the outset that we do not agree with those interpreters who maintain that this book is the same as the one mentioned in chapter five, verse one, namely, as the book with its seven seals. In support of this contention we mention, in the first place, that this is a little book. The book with its seven seals was simply a book. In the second place, we must remember that the book with its seven seals was closed and sealed. This book, as it is expressly mentioned, was open. In the third place, as we have stated, that book was not merely a copy of the decree of God with a view to the bringing of the kingdom, but it was the symbol of the decree itself. When that book is opened, and seal after seal is loosed, the decree of God is realized. It cannot be maintained that this book is given to John in order that he should swallow it. And finally, the book of the seven seals is the property and can be the possession only of the Lamb that was slain. As we noticed in that connection, there was not one that was worthy to open the book and to receive it out of the hand of Him that sitteth upon the throne. Only the Lamb could take it and break the seals. And therefore, it is simply out of the question that this could be the same book. For here it, is offered to John, and he thoroughly appropriates the same.
But although this is true, it must also be maintained that this little book stands closely related to that book of the seven seals. In the first place, this might be surmised because also this book is found in the hand of the mighty angel, who, as we have explained, is no one else than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the Lamb that was slain. And in. the second place, we notice that when John eats this little book, the effect of it is that he must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. That other book decided the fate of the peoples and nations and tongues and kings. It was the decree itself regarding them, and that with a view to the bringing of the kingdom of God. This little book makes John a prophet with regard to many peoples and nations and tongues and kings. The conclusion is that this little book reveals to John something from the book with its seven seals. It is a copy, a partial copy, of that book,—a copy in human form, so that John and the church can understand it. And it is a partial copy, in the first place, because the full decree of God is infinite and cannot be completely revealed. Many things that are in the book of the seven seals naturally must remain a mystery to us. But partial it is also, in the second place, because much that is contained in the book of the seven seals has already been revealed to John at this stage. And therefore we would say that this little book, open in the hand of the angel, is the symbol of all that John still has to prophesy. He did prophesy already in the preceding portion. All that he has prophesied thus far has been revealed and has already been discussed by us. But according to verse eleven, he must prophesy again. Still more is to be revealed to John and to the church. Of still more John is to be witness in the midst of the world. And this entire book is the symbol of all that John still must witness in regard to the future of the kingdom of God. And the scene that is pictured to us in the words of our passage shows how John must become prepared to be a prophet to the utmost: a prophet who not merely reveals things, who not merely informs the church and the world of some things with regard to the future, but who himself can be a living witness in the midst of a wicked world.
That this special preparation on the part of John was necessary at this stage will become evident if we consider briefly what this book contains. What is its message? What are the tidings it brings to the church and concerning the world? As we shall understand, this little book contains the message of the seventh trumpet. Six seals had already been opened, and six trumpets had already been blown before it is deemed necessary that John receives this special preparation. All these six seals and six trumpets revealed the process of history with a view to the completion of the kingdom of God. They revealed that the kingdom would come and be completely realized, on the one hand, by the preaching of the gospel to all nations, but on the other hand, also by means of the judgments of war and famine and pestilence and various visitations upon the world and upon the physical universe. One more trumpet is to be blown. And then, as the mighty angel has sworn, the mystery of God shall have been fulfilled. What is to be revealed to John in the future, therefore, is the process of things with a view to their consummation. How shall the kingdom come, and what will be the course of history that will destroy the power and the kingdom of darkness and establish the glorious kingdom of God and His Christ? Shall it be a gradual victory of the power of the gospel? Shall the influence of the gospel gradually spread, so that at the end, at the time of the close of history, all nations shall have embraced the Christ at His coming? How shall these things be? It is to those questions that in the succeeding chapters John receives the answer. It is of these truths that he must prophesy also in the future in the midst of the world. And it is for the prophesying of these things that a special preparation is required and symbolically pictured in the words of our passage.