(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.
What an unusual and fascinating event! John eats this scroll which came from heaven by the hand of a great angel. The affects 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 affects 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 scroll on the front and on the back, and Ezekiel could see that it was filled with words of “lamentations, and mourning, and woe.” In Ezekiel 3:1-3, Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll and then to 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 feeling bitter. 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. For the same words of God which are freeing to the godly, are the same words which are damning 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 they name, O LORD God of hosts.” However, he had 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 now in Revelation 10, John’s experience is very similar to Ezekiel’s, with little differences. 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 which Ezekiel saw in the vision (Ezekiel 2:10). But the scroll that John saw had been opened sometime before John saw it (Revelation 10:2, 8). This may be indicative that John is seeing the same things which 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 a rebellious Judah, so also is John’s task in the book of Revelation.
John experiences the sweet taste of God’s message in his mouth; but this soon turns to bitterness when he begins to digest all the implications of the message. While there is a happy ending in the book of Revelation, before it must come woes, lamentations, mourning, doom, violence, devastation, and the loss of so 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 in his stomach, nonetheless he has a burden of duty when he is told “thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” Your task, John, which is mingled with both sweet and sour, is not over yet.
(11) And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
The following message of the little scroll, which John must deliver, involves “many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” It is evident that land and sea (10:2, 5) is involved in this judgment of the first century and the old covenant people. See for examples: Matthew 24:30; Acts 2:5, 9-11; Revelation 1:7; 11:2; 13:1, 7; 18:3, 9-11; 19:19-21; 20:11-15.