Sweet and Sour

In Revelation chapter ten, the apostle John sees a mighty angel coming down from heaven. In the hand of the angel was a little scroll that was already open. Let’s read the text to see what happens next:

“Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.” So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (10:8-11) .

Eating a scroll is certainly a peculiar event, but one that is significant to the biblical record. John ate a scroll which came from heaven by the hand of a great angel. The effects are twofold: sweet in the mouth and bitter in the stomach. And whatever all that means, it is certainly connected to the response John receives: “Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” Like the rest of the book of Revelation, the key to understanding this text is in the Bible itself. John is not the first to have such an amazing experience. In the Old Testament, Ezekiel also eats a scroll from God and even feels the same effects that John felt. In Ezekiel 2:9-10, Ezekiel sees a hand stretched out to him with a scroll in the hand. The hand opened the scroll and spread it out before Ezekiel. There was writing on the front, and on the back of the scroll. Ezekiel could see that it was filled with words of “lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” In 3:1-3, Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll and then go and speak to the house of Israel. When Ezekiel ate the scroll, he found it to be sweet like honey in his mouth. Now the time has come for Ezekiel to speak to Israel, a people who will not listen, who are “impudent and hardhearted” (3:7). As Ezekiel is taken away, he records that he “went in bitterness” (3:14). So, we can see that tasting the prophecies of God was found sweet to Ezekiel but knowing that he must declare these things to the rebellious house of Israel left him with a sour stomach. Remember that the things which appeared on the scroll were “lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” When a godly person reads the words of God, it is sweet to them, just as the psalmist said, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:10. The word can have no adverse effect on the faithful who fear the Lord and keep his commandments. It is a joy to experience his words of righteousness and justice! But when the words of God’s justice are to be given to a rebellious people, this will cause the stomach to become sour. The same words of God which are freeing to the godly, are condemning to the rebellious. To me, it is a pleasant theme that God is victorious over his enemies, but for the person who is his enemy, how is this consoling? So, Ezekiel’s task to declare the woes of God against the house of Israel leaves him with a sour stomach.

Jeremiah also spoke of the indignation found in his stomach after preaching to a people who turned against him in sore persecution. In Jeremiah 15:16, he records how he ate the words of God and found them to be “the joy and rejoicing” of his heart. The reason why the word of God was so sweet to him, he explains, is because he is “called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” However, he found that the same word which brought him joy was ridiculed by the mockers of Judah. This left Jeremiah in pain and indignation toward the unfaithful people.

Back in Revelation 10, John’s experience is very similar to Ezekiel’s, with little difference. One difference that might be notable is how the scroll in Ezekiel was closed when he first saw it, and it had to be opened and spread out by the hand that Ezekiel saw in the vision (Ezekiel 2:10). But the scroll that John saw was already opened sometime before John saw it (Revelation 10:2, 8). In this, God may be indicating that John is seeing the same things that Ezekiel had already seen in his visions. While I cannot be firm with such an interpretation, there is much alike between Ezekiel’s prophecies and John’s. Moreover, the theme of both books is the same, as Ezekiel wrote lamentations, mourning, and woe upon the rebellious old covenant house, so also is John’s task in the book of Revelation; that’s how I see it anyway.

John experiences the sweet taste of God’s message in his mouth, but this soon turns to sourness when he begins to digest all the implications of the message. While there is a happy ending to the book of Revelation, before it, must come woes, lamentations, mourning, doom, violence, devastation, and the loss of many souls. This is not an enjoyable message to speak. For John, an apostle and follower of Jesus Christ, an evangelist and a lover of souls, it is a sour message to his stomach, nonetheless, he has a burden of duty when he is told “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (10:11). John’s task in recording this revelation, which is mingled with both sweet and sour, was not over yet.

Article by Tanner Campbell.