By the end of Revelation 9 (on Wednesday), we’d figured out that the taste of judgement God was giving his rebellious world wasn’t working. Yesterday, we saw that the time is short – there’s nothing left to happen before God’s plan comes to completion.
Except for one thing. It’s not enough for the scroll of judgements to be opened (Rev 6). Someone has to explain why these judgements are taking place. Who will that be?
10:8-11 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
Is this the same scroll we read about back in chapter 5? (The one that only the Lamb could open.) Maybe, although a slightly different word is used for “scroll.” If it is the same, then it doesn’t just contain the chapter six “seal” judgements, but the whole plan of God. And it seems that breaking the seals ushers in judgement, but eating it results in the eater being able to interpret those judgements to the world.
Now you might think that eating a scroll is a bit weird, but… OK, it is. But it isn’t the first digested tract of the Bible. Ezekiel also has to eat a scroll:
Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:3 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.
Ezekiel’s scroll is described very similarly to the one in Revelation: it was written on both sides (full of judgement!), both Ezekiel and John were told to eat it, and both thought it tasted sweet.
But there’s one difference. John’s scroll still tastes sweet. After all, it’s God’s word:
Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
But John’s scroll turns bitter in his stomach. What’s that about? The martyrdom and suffering of a prophet? Or the bitterness of God’s word for those who don’t repent? Or both?
Either way, John is commissioned to “prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.” The “again” suggests this isn’t a new message, but a reiteration of what we’ve heard so far. (It also makes a nice summary of chapter 12 onwards, which features a lot of nations and kings. So maybe ch 12 to the end of Revelation is the content of John’s message? I think so.)
Here, John functions as a representative of the whole church. Just as Ezekiel was commissioned to explain God’s judgement to a rebellious Israel, so the church is now sent to do likewise to a rebellious world. To bring them the message written on that scroll: to explain why the world is how it is (why it’s under God’s judgement). And to tell them that God has provided a way out.
We’re called to burp the contents of God’s scroll to the world. That’s the essence of mission.*
To think about
What does the scroll-eating imagery, and its taste, tell us about the church’s mission?
How is the proclamation of the gospel message both an act of grace and an act of judgement?
Why is judgement without interpretation insufficient as revelation?
Bonus question: does this commission of the church – to explain God’s judgement on the world – sound dangerous? You bet. Lucky God’s going to protect us – although it won’t be all plain sailing. That’s the subject of chapter 11, with which we begin next week.
* My new goal in life is for a missional blogger to repost that line as an inspirational quote.