Revelation 10: The little book that is sweet and bitter
Many years ago, Christianity Today shared a remarkable true story about a drug-store security guard in Washington, D.C. Louie D. Hairston always kept a small copy of the New Testament in his breast pocket for reading in his spare time.
One day, a masked bandit intent on robbing the store lunged at Hairston with a foot-long butcher knife. The little book, however, absorbed what otherwise would have been a fatal thrust. In the struggle, the assailant was slain.
Hairston said he would have been killed except for that little Bible in his pocket. The knife had gone through its pages and front and back hardcovers, but he was saved.
Hairston also said there was a police officer who was shot in the same town and spared from a bullet piercing his heart by the Bible that he had in his pocket.
“I’ve never forgotten that,” said Hairston.
Revelation 10 says the Apostle John saw a mighty angel (likely an archangel) come down from Heaven. In verses 1-2, it says this angel was clothed with a cloud. A rainbow was around his head. His feet were like pillars of fire, and a “small scroll” was opened in his hand. Some translations say a “little book.”
In a symbolic gesture of total conquest, this angel placed one foot on the sea and the other on land. Then he raised his hand to Heaven and swore by God that there would be no further delay. God’s plan of the ages would be finished with the seventh trumpet.
Ed Hinson, in Revelation: Unlocking the Future, notes:
“Angels play a prominent role in the Apocalypse. They are mentioned sixty-six times. They are involved in serving, worshiping, and praising God, announcing messages, delivering judgments, and battling evil forces … These angelic beings are the servants of God Almighty.”
In his classic work, Angels, Dr. Billy Graham wrote:
“Just as millions of angels participated in the dazzling show when the morning stars sang together at creation, so will the innumerable hosts of heaven help bring to pass God’s prophetic declarations throughout time and into eternity.”
Some have speculated this magnificent angel might be the archangel, Michael. An archangel has a much higher standing than other angels and is chosen for the more critical tasks in God’s service. They possess considerably more authority and power. John Walvoord, in his commentary, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, says:
“In chapter 12, Michael the archangel is mentioned by name as contending against Satan and the wicked angels and casting them out of Heaven. Some have concluded that the conclusion in chapter 10 must be a reference to Michael as the chief of all angels. Though the angel is presented as one having great majesty and power, there is no clear evidence that his function or his person is more than that of a created angel to whom has been entrusted great authority.”
After this impressive angel made his appearance and uttered his splendid message of hope and assurance, John said this happened:
“Then the voice from Heaven spoke to me again: ‘Go and take the open scroll from 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 small scroll. ‘Yes, take it and eat it,’ he said. ‘It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!’ So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach.
“Then I was told, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.’”
It needs to be understood that this “little book” or “little scroll” is not the same as the one described in Revelation 5. Only Christ was allowed to take the scroll with seven seals. Hinson says the designation of the Greek word, biblaridion, “distinguishes this scroll from the one in chapter 5,” whereas the scroll in chapter 5 is designated biblion. “This is not the title deed to the universe. Rather it is a smaller document that John is now told to eat,” writes Hinson.
The voice from heaven instructs John to take the small book and consume it. In doing so, he will undoubtedly find it sweet to the taste but bitter to the stomach.
M.R. De Haan in his work, Revelation, provides perhaps one the simplest and most succinct explanations of this text:
“Many and varied have been the interpretations of this passage. I believe, however, that we will find the explanation simple if we remember what the little book is. It is the book which contains the glad news of creation’s coming deliverance but also the doom of the wicked. Ezekiel 2, I believe, will aid us in interpreting the passage correctly. Ezekiel is commanded to preach to the nation of Israel the Word of the Lord. This word, as in every other instance, was a two-edged sword. It was both a message of salvation and a message of damnation. The Gospel sword always has these two edges, a fact which is too often forgotten. We are told today not to preach judgment, hellfire, and brimstone but, rather, the love of God, his mercy, and his goodness. The people of Isaiah’s day made a similar request. They said:
“Prophesy unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isaiah 30:10).
[How strange people who are not in a right relationship with God and living in sin would rather hear lies than the truth. But this is how it is.]
“God is love, but he is also justice. He is merciful, but He is also righteous. He loves the sinner, but He hates sin. The Gospel is pleasant to the saint but a terrible prediction of judgment to the unbeliever. The message is both bitter and sweet — bitter when we realize it increases the damnation of the unbeliever who hears the Gospel but deliberately rejects it. The Word of God not only promises Heaven to the believer but threatens Hell to the unbeliever. It is a two-edged sword. It cuts two ways. It is both sweet and bitter.
“That is undoubtedly the meaning here when John eats the little book. [Figuratively speaking] It is sweet in the mouth and bitter in the belly. Ezekiel 2, referring to the same book, declares:
‘Son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not join them in their rebellion. Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.’ Then I looked and saw a hand reaching out to me. It held a scroll, which he unrolled. And I saw that both sides were covered with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of doom’ (Ezekiel 2:8-10).
“John’s responsibility, as well as Ezekiel’s, was tremendous, and no less important is the responsibility of every preacher whom God calls to preach the Gospel. His duty is not to preach what he likes or what the people like, but he must preach what God commands him to preach. That includes the message of salvation to those who believe and judgment to those who reject it – the sweet message of hope and the bitter message of condemnation and judgment.”
There is one final truth here, which is of the utmost importance.
Perhaps the saddest mistake anyone can make is to have the truth in their head, never moving it to the heart where it has a bearing on their life.
Countless are those who find the teaching of the second coming of Christ sweet and attractive and a matter of much curiosity and interest. However, when they consider it deeply and discover God’s great program makes demands and requirements, calling for a change of heart, mind, and direction in life, it becomes quite bitter and they shrink from committing to Christ.
H.A. Ironside has beautifully stated the principle:
“If one professes to hold the second coming of Christ, and yet lives like the world, it but evidences the fact that, whatever he may hold mentally, the truth of the Lord’s coming does not hold him.”
Only when the Word of God is willingly taken, placed in the breast pocket nearest the heart sweetened and humbled by God’s grace, can one ever be saved. Otherwise, it is the bitterness of the blade and bullets of spiritual ruin and death.
We mustn’t ever forget that.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.