The last thing we see is the encouragement of John. This is a description of the revelation that John received. When it said in the first verse of this book that the revelation was given by Christ when “he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” this is a description of that very thing (at least in part). Here in our text John is receiving from the hand of the angel the book, taking it into himself, and then being the recipient of the promise that he will prophecy again, presumably the very book that he took and ingested. One thing is for sure, there is a special message for John here which tells us that God is particularly interested in encouraging His children and his preachers. Let us unpack this text though and see if we decipher some of the imagery of the text. We will outline it like this: John was told to take the book, John was told to eat the book, and John was told to share the book.
First, consider the direction for John to take the book. “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. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book.” Let us begin with the voice that was heard. Whose voice is speaking here? This is the same voice from verse four of this chapter that spoke from heaven to seal up the seven thunders. It is the voice of God. It is the voice of Christ. The same voice that said to keep the thunders secret directs John to take the book that was open. God has somethings that He does not want us to know yet but in His wisdom he wanted us to know what was in the book. The thunders were secret but the contents of the book were to be known. Benson stated that this is to “signify that its contents were not to be kept secret like those of the seven thunders, but revealed for the instruction, direction, encouragement, or warning of mankind….” It is God that wanted us to have this revelation. This therefore teaches us the simple truth; all revelation comes from God. All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (II Tim. 3:16). We have in our hands that which came from heaven. This book is in whole or in part what we have in our laps. It is thought, and I stand in agreement, that it is the same book that was sealed in heaven (Rev. 5:1). The book that was sealed and opened only by Christ is now brought down to earth in the declaration of the angel and is now given to John. And he has since given it to us. That is the true significance of our text saying that the book was open (twice in this chapter). It is open because it was previously sealed. It has been sealed since the days of Daniel but now it is known to us through John.
The human instrumentality is important too. God directed John to take the book that was open but it still took an act of obedience on the part of John to take the book. David said this: “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Ps. 27:8). God opens the revelation to man but man must respond. There is a divine directive then there is a human response. The same is true of ministry. We have a divine directive to go and preach but others will never hear if we like John do not respond. The voice speaks but we must hear. “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops” (Matt. 10:27). We like John cannot be idle hearers but doers of the word. John Gill rightly said of this text: “it was necessary that he should have a mission and a commission from heaven; and that he should have the open book of prophecy to prophesy out of; and that he should receive this from the angel’s hands, who had unloosed its seals, and opened it: and just so to ordinary prophesying, or preaching, it is necessary that men should have their commission from heaven, should be called of God, and sent by him; and that they should have the book of the Scriptures before them, and open to them, and speak according to these oracles, agreeably to the law and to the testimony, which are profitable for doctrine; and that they should also receive the Gospel, and the doctrines of it, with gifts, and a commission to preach it, from the Angel of the covenant, Jesus Christ, who has all power both in heaven and in earth….”
The second thing that we see is that John was told to eat the 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. 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.” Whatever is in the book was not to be kept secret as the thunders were; so John was take the book. Note, that the same voice, the voice of God and the voice of Christ, is speaking. Note also the boldness of John in taking the book. We like John can with holy boldness approach the Word of God. As such he took the book but was also commanded to eat the book. This makes John resemble two separate Old Testament prophets; Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Jeremiah wept over his persecution as the sole prophet of God and thus spoke: “O Lord, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke. Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts. I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation” (Jer. 15:15-17). The same elements in which John as the prophet experienced where in the text in Jeremiah. John was persecuted and exiled in Patmos for preaching the word of God but like Jeremiah was the subject of God’s revelation. He took the word and found sweetness in them and yet was filled with indignation. The word of God is never something to be taken lightly; it comes with its own set of sorrows when we handle the word of God. The other text that mirrors our text is the found in the book of Ezekiel. “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” (Ezekiel 3:1-3). Only the element of sweetness is found in Ezekiel but the important parallel is that which follows in Ezekiel. What follows is the mission for Ezekiel to preach the word and to be a watchmen and to warn both the wicked and the righteous. The same responsibility is given to John at the end of this chapter and to all who handle the word of God.
Setting aside the doctrinal significance of the eating of the book let us apply the text practically in regards to where we are for were are taking the same book and we are to do the same thing with it. We did not take the book in the same way that John did as a matter of special revelation but we take it nonetheless in terms of receiving it as the word of God. We are heirs of the apostles and prophets when we are built upon their foundation. But we are not simply supposed to take the book; we like John are to eat. It is our daily bread; it is our manna. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The text in Ezekiel went on to explain the meaning of our text when God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears” (Ezek. 3:10). The hearing of the ears is the taking of the word. The receiving in the heart is the eating of the word. So it is at our salvation when we both confess with our mouth and believe in our heart (Rom. 10:9, 10). We are to always be both hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1 and 2). We are to hide the word of God in our hearts (Ps. 119:11). If we are to be disciples of Christ we are to do so with all our hearts. We are to take it and ingest and make it wholly a part of who we are. We are what we feed upon. That is why we have such an anemic and malnourished Christianity today. Ellicott stated this of our text, “he made himself so familiar with them that they were no longer a code of laws, but a constant instinct, a second nature to him. Thus preeminently should he be familiar with his Master’s words and heart, saturated with his Master’s principles, who is to be a witness and a prophet for his Lord.”
The word of God affects us in two ways when we take it unto ourselves. It is sweetness to us and it is bitterness to us. Benson commented thus: “The knowledge of future things was, at first, pleasant, but the sad contents of the little book afterward filled his soul with sorrow. As this prophecy was to reveal the providences of God during the period of the seventh trumpet, in which, as there was a revelation of great opposition to true religion, and persecution of the faithful professors of it, so was there also a revelation of divine protection during the time of trial, and of a sure accomplishment of the promises concerning the glorious and happy state of the church in the end. The consideration of such a dispensation of Providence might well occasion a mixture of joy and grief in the apostle’s mind, as it must do in the minds of all who understand and reflect upon it.” I praise God for the sweetness of God’s word and the promises that it contains. It is in our mouth as sweet as honey. There is an existential fulfillment to Christianity. As we eat at the Lords table we eat in hope of His coming (I Cor. 11:26). The manna that was eaten in the wilderness was as sweet as honey (Ex. 16:31). The manna was God’s provision in this world. So there is sweetness to the Word that sustains us. “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). When it is spoken of God in verse 9 it is the sweetness that sustains. Bitterness would be there “but” it would be sweetness in our mouths. How often have you and I found the sweet taste of God’s promise enough to get us through the bitterness of life.
There is also bitterness in handling the word of God. It would be bitterness in the belly. Matthew Henry commented, “Most men feel pleasure in looking into future events, and all good men like to receive a word from God. But when this book of prophecy was thoroughly digested by the apostle, the contents would be bitter; there were things so awful and terrible, such grievous persecutions of the people of God, such desolations in the earth, that the foresight and foreknowledge of them would be painful to his mind. Let us seek to be taught by Christ, and to obey his orders; daily meditating on his word, that it may nourish our souls; and then declaring it according to our several stations. The sweetness of such contemplations will often be mingled with bitterness, while we compare the Scriptures with the state of the world and the church, or even with that of our own hearts.” Our text said that as soon as John ate it become bitterness in his belly. So the word of God through His spirit searches our inward parts and shows us all the ugliness of our sin and the ugliness of humanity (Prov. 20:27). But it is the bitter medicine that heals: “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly (Prov. 20:30). Bitterness is a good thing in that sense. To the hungry every bitter thing is sweet. Some would serve their own belly (I Cor. 6:13, Phil. 3:19). They do not want to feel anything uncomforting. When I think about the dual sweetness and bitterness of the word of God, I am brought back to the existential experience of the Lord’s Table where we take the bread. We take the bread in hope of His coming (the sweetness of the promises) but we also take it to show His death till that day comes. The symbols of Christianity are symbols of death and brokenness and bitterness but they are sweet to the taste. These are the paradoxes of Christianity; death brings life, out of bitterness comes sweetness. The same book that will thunder in judgment in days to come is the same book that we draw our courage and strength from now. The same book the judges our sin is the same book the cures it.
Finally John was told not only to take the book and to eat the book but John was told to share the book. “And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.” This is the same voice of God speaking. There was only one purpose for John in being there to take the book and that was for him to share it. That is what he did when he shared the revelation with us. John was experienced with this. He was given bread by Jesus once, along with the rest of the disciples, for the sole purpose of giving it to the multitude. So again the fourfold promise is given, the number of the earth. The message was to be heard by many people, languages, nations, and even kings. So it has been preached in all the world. We are part of that now as well. We have continued to pass the bread and bid others to take and eat and share (Matt. 28:18-20). There is a “must” in our text. If we are to follow Christ we must share the gospel. Necessity is laid upon us (I Cor. 9:16). But we cannot fulfill the must” of our text unless we ingest and the word and get it in our hearts. Until the word is in our heart we are ineffective witnesses. As Dostoevsky said, “Great thoughts come not from great intellect but from great feelings.” We cannot share the word until we truly care about the word. We need more than intellectual accent to be used of God.