EAT THIS BOOK
VS 1 – From the beginning of chapter 4 through the end of chapter 9 John has watched the visions unfold from his position in heaven. Now he is back on earth. An angel, “another angel, a mighty one” comes directly from the presence of God, and arrives on a mission of crucial significance for the persecuted church. The angel comes wrapped in the signs of God’s mercy, the rainbow of the covenant with Noah (Gen 9:13) and the cloud and pillar of fire that led the Israelites out of slavery (Ex 13:21).
VS 2 – As the angel descends to earth, he plants his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, symbolizing his authority over the earth in its entirety, and the all-embracing scope of the message of God. God is not concerned only with a minority of believers, but sends out a call of salvation to the whole earth. Judgment may not have evoked repentance, but now comes a message of salvation to all.
VS 3-4 – The voice of the angel calls forth a response from the seven thunders. John is about to write what the seven thunders said when a voice from heaven tells him not to. Presumably this is another series of judgments like the seals and the trumpets. As they affected first a quarter and then a third of the earth, the thunders might well be supposed to affect half of creation.
VS 5-6 – The angel raises his right hand to heaven and solemnly swears that the period of delay is over. In Daniel one of the angels asked, “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?” (Dan 12:6). The martyrs in Rev 6:10 asked, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” The answer of the mighty angel is, “There will be no more delay!”
The announcement of no further delay would come as welcome news. From this point onward, nothing stands in the way of the final dramatic period of human history. From this point forward restraint is to be removed. The forces of God and Satan will meet in final confrontation. The appointed delay is over, and the period of the end is irrevocably set into motion.
It is worth noting that the angel describes God as the One who lives forever and ever. It is especially appropriate in the context of impending martyrdom. Soon many believers in the Asian churches will be called upon to sacrifice their lives out of faithfulness to Christ. Only a God who lives beyond the threat of death can promise them life after the sword has taken its toll.
VS 7 – Within that period of time to be introduced by the seventh trumpet blast the mystery of God will be brought to completion. With the sounding of the seventh trumpet that which God purposed in creation and made possible through the blood of the Lamb will be brought to its fulfillment. That this purpose is in fact the kingdom of God is clearly seen in Rev 11:15, where following the seventh trumpet the heavenly voices proclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Down through the centuries the church has prayed, “Your kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Taking his stand between the sixth and seventh trumpets, John declares, “There will be no more delay: the time is now!”
From this point on, the Apocalypse becomes a multidimensional presentation of the final triumph of God over evil. John unveils the evil forces that operate behind the scenes of history. As persecution and martyrdom precede the seventh trumpet, the overthrow and destruction of the persecutors will follow it.
VS 8-11 – The scroll in the hand of the angel lies open. The angel repeats the command of the voice from heaven – “Take the scroll” – and supplies the additional instruction, “Eat it.” We are reminded of the Psalmist’s words, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103). A statement in Jeremiah is similar, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer 15:16).
The sweet scroll that turns the stomach sour is a message for the church. Before the final triumph believers are going to pass through a formidable ordeal. The little scroll unveils the lot of the faithful in those last days of fierce Satanic opposition. It tells of the two witnesses who, when they have finished their testimony, are destroyed by the beast out of the Abyss. Like the crucified Lord their dead bodies are exposed for public contempt. The people of God as they faithfully bear their witness to the world are not delivered from martyrdom and death, but through martyrdom and death to a glorious resurrection. The prospect of no further delay in the fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes is sweet indeed. That it will involve a bitter prelude is hard to swallow.
* * * * *
It is both difficult and dangerous to tell the truth. People who tell the truth not infrequently get killed. The word used in the first Christian century for telling the truth about God in a given situation, martus, has come into our language as “martyr,” the person who loses his life telling the truth.
John and the people to whom he is pastor are being prepared for the work of witness, the daily conversational use of words in the service of the gospel. The strong angel who has descended from heaven stands before him and presents him with a book. John is told not only to take the open book but to eat it. Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of your life. Witnesses first become what they then say.
Every witness experiences the polarity of sweetness and bitterness. The word is sweet when it is received from God; it is bitter when it is rejected by others. Biblical witnesses were motivated by the promised sweetness of the word, but they were also warned of the bitterness of rejection. It is a great message to taste: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28) – but it is a difficult message to stomach: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col 3:5-6).
Difficult or not, it must be done. Successful or not, it must be done. The book is, after all, open and open at great cost – it was only the slain lamb who was found capable of opening it. And so there is a command: “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Rev. 10:11). Witness is not an option. The Lord’s Table is testimony of that.