Bitter Sweet.

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” Revelation 10:8-11 ESV

From the moment John was transported to the throne room of God in chapter one, he has experienced a virtual assault on his senses. The sights and sounds have come at him in relentless succession. He has repeatedly stated, “And then I saw” or “then I heard” as yet another heavenly insight has been revealed to him. But in this chapter, John will be required to use his sense of taste for the first time. The little scroll or book he saw in the hand of the mighty angel now comes into play. If you recall, verse two revealed that the diminutive scroll was open. It was not sealed like the first scroll. And while John has been commanded to seal up what the seven thunders said and not to reveal the content of their messages, the same will not be true of the scroll. In fact, he hears a voice from heaven commanding him to take the scroll from the angel’s hand and eat it.

“Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” – Revelation 10:9 ESV

This is a new experience for John. Rather than acting as a spectator, silently taking dictation and soaking in all that is being revealed to him, he becomes an active participant. And this scene is reminiscent of one found in the book of Ezekiel.

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. – Ezekiel 3:1-4 ESV

Like Ezekiel, John is told to consume the scroll and then divulge its contents. And also like Ezekiel, John would find the contents of the scroll to be as sweet as honey. But he is warned that it will not set well with him. It will upset his stomach. John will find the words pleasant, because they come from God. But their ultimate outcome will leave him in discomfort. Perhaps the imagery of an upset stomach conveys the idea of John needing to vomit up its content, spewing it out in an uncontrollable, reflexive manner. He will not be able to keep it inside. The message contained in the scroll is intended to be dispersed abroad so that others can know it.

“You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” – Revelation 10:11 ESV

The mighty angel had come from heaven, carrying a small scroll in his hand. That scroll contained a message from God and John was commanded to consume that message. In the Bible, the word of God is often referred to as sweet. Consider Psalm 19:9-11:

the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

But while God’s Word is sweet to consume, it can be difficult to hear at times. If we meditate on its content and consider what its truths say to us about our lives, we can find it convicting, or to put it another way, bitter to the taste. Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). Sometimes, we can find what God has to say difficult to hear. And as a prophet for God, John was going to discover the bitterness that comes with speaking the truth of God and finding no one willing to listen. And he would not be alone. All of the prophets of God had experienced that disappointing realization. They willingly proclaimed God’s revealed will only to find the people unwilling to hear and heed what they had to say. In fact, God had warned Ezekiel that the people to whom he would speak, would refuse to listen

“But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” – Ezekiel 3:7 ESV

John, like Ezekiel, had an obligation to share what he had been “fed” by God. He was not to keep it to himself. The content, while sweet going down, because it came from God, John would find impossible to keep down. And it would be anything but sweet to those who heard it from John’s lips. But John had a God-ordained obligation to share what he had been given. And as God had told Ezekiel, John was to warn the world of what was to come.

“…if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” – Ezekiel 3:19 ESV

The book of Revelation is a book that is sweet to some and bitter to others. Some read its content and find their faith in God stirred and enhanced. Others read it and come away questioning the love of God and wondering how He could perpetrate such heinous acts against His own creation. And still others write it off as nothing but fantasy and nonsense. But John’s job was to tell. He is not told to convince or convict. That is the role of the Word of God with the help of the Spirit of God.

We are never told the exact content of the scroll. It could be that it contained the rest of the message revealed in the remaining pages of John’s book. Some have conjectured that it was the Word of God in its entirety. But whatever it was, John found it sweet to the taste. It contained the grace and mercy of God. It revealed the divine will of God. Because it was from God, it was deliciously received by the servant of God. But to those apart from God, it would be repugnant. The Word of God is full of difficult-to-digest statements about sin and God’s judgment. It contains words of warning and calls to repentance. It is intended to reprove sinful men. But there will always be those who reject what God has to say. Jesus told His disciples, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me (Luke 10:16 ESV). We have already seen that, even the judgments of God, were insufficient to turn the hearts of the people to God. His punishment for their sin made them desire death, but not Him. Their pain and agony, brought on them by the sovereign hand of God, drove them to consider suicide, but not to consider turning to God. 

John was eventually going to write down all that he saw and heard. Even that which he had tasted. We find it all in the book of Revelation. And over the centuries, millions upon millions of people have read its content. Some have been driven to the cross by what they have read. They have been convicted and called to turn to the offer of forgiveness made available through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. Yet, others have heard the warnings found in John’s book and, while intrigued by its message, have remained unmoved, refusing its call to “keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:4 ESV). And yet, the apostle John, like the prophet Ezekiel, is given the responsibility to take what he has heard and to share it with any an all.

“Thus says the Lord God. ‘He who will hear, let him hear; and he who will refuse to hear, let him refuse, for they are a rebellious house’” – Ezekiel 3:27 ESV

John will not be held accountable for the response of his audience. They will be free to do with the message of God as they see fit. And many who hear it will rebel against it. Others will simply ignore it or write it off as unimportant or non-applicable to them. But there will be some who hear and who heed the warnings found in God’s Word. They will repent and return to the Lord in humble submission to His will and in gratitude to His gracious offer of salvation from the judgment to come.

The scroll was small, but the message it contained was massive in terms of its importance. The remainder of the book of Revelation will reveal all that is yet to take place before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The stage has been set. The grand play that tells the story of man’s existence is coming to a close. The final act is about to begin and as it unfolds, God will still be offering those who are willing to hear, one last chance to heed His call to repent and return.


English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.