9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”
10Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. 11And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)
Take the scroll … and eat it (v. 9)
John once again hears a voice from heaven, instructing him to approach the mighty angel, take the scroll from his hand and eat it. The scroll, he is told, “will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth” (v. 9).
To understand this command, it may be helpful to note that Ezekiel receives a similar charge from the Lord (Eze. 2:9 – 3:4). Having eaten the opened scroll, the prophet finds it “sweet as honey in my mouth.” He then is commanded to speak God’s word to the house of Israel. In a similar fashion, Jeremiah, in a prayer for vengeance against his persecutors, declares, “Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I am called by Your name, Lord God of Hosts” (Jer. 15:16).
There are times when God’s Word is compared to food – to bread (Matt. 4:4), milk (1 Peter 2:2), meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2), and honey (Ps. 119:103). Ezekiel, Jeremiah and John know first-hand the necessity of consuming God’s Word before they can share it with others. The voice from heaven tells John to eat the little scroll so that he may effectively “prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (v. 11). The prophet, the preacher, the teacher, the disciple – all must do more than parrot the scriptures; they must internalize them and make them a part of their very lives. Remember that even apostates like Balaam can bless Israel, and Christ-denying high priests like Caiaphas can sometimes foretell the future accurately (John 11:49-52). If the Lord can empower servants like Samson to slay his enemies with the jawbone of a donkey – and rebuke false prophets like Balaam with the voice of a donkey – He can allow even rank unbelievers to accurately echo His words and accomplish His purposes. It is those who “eat” the scriptures and internalize them, however, who make the most enduring witnesses for the Lord.
So John eats the little scroll and finds it sweet as honey in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. There is much sweetness in the Word of God – stories of grace, mercy, love, sacrifice, forgiveness, redemption, resurrection, reward, restoration, and eternal life. But there also is the bitter reality that wicked people will deny their Creator, reject their Savior, and resist the Holy Spirit. For them, there is emptiness in life and outer darkness beyond the grave. This bitter-sweet nature of God’s Word permeates the scriptures. Consider the prophet Isaiah, who sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. But then he looks at himself and declares, “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5). The prophet is then told to deliver a message of judgment to the southern kingdom of Judah. But even after defeat and exile, the Lord will restore His people, return them to their homeland, and deliver through them the promised Messiah who will establish His everlasting kingdom on earth. Sweetness – and bitterness – in God’s Word.
It’s also important to note that the bitterness John feels in his stomach may be connected, not only with the harsh reality of man’s sin and God’s judgment, but to the persecution of the saints who faithfully endure brutal opposition from unbelieving Jews, pagan idol worshipers, and self-deluded Roman emperors. Nero alone uses Christians as human torches to light his gardens; sews them into the skins of animals so they are devoured by wild beasts, and crucifies them for sport. The apostle Paul warns that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). For many of us living in modern free societies, this means nothing more severe than an occasional snicker, or being passed over for promotion for some peculiar devotion that can’t be explained in corporate terms. But for thousands in John’s day, and millions since then, the reality of brutal persecution is borne in the physical and emotional scars of imprisonment, torture and death for those who “did not love their lives in the face of death” (Rev. 12:11).
Warren Wiersbe writes, “God will not thrust His Word into our mouths and force us to receive it. He hands it to us and we must take it. Nor can He change the effects the Word will have in our lives: there will be both sorrow and joy, bitterness and sweetness. God’s Word contains sweet promises and assurances, but it also contains bitter warnings and prophecies of judgment. The Christian bears witness of both life and death (2 Cor. 2:14–17). The faithful minister will declare all of God’s counsel (Acts 20:27). He will not dilute the message of God simply to please his listeners (2 Tim. 4:1–5)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 10:1).
Next: You must prophesy again