If we glance over the rest of the book and notice what things John must still prophesy concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings, we soon surmise why indeed he was in need of this special preparation. For it is not a pleasing message, it is not a message of peace and gradual development which he brings. But it is a message of judgment and battle and destruction and vengeance. He speaks of the fate of the holy city and of the temple and of the two witnesses that are killed in the city and taken to heaven on account of the testimony which they give. He speaks of an awful conflict between the woman that brings forth the man-child and the dragon that attempts to destroy the child but fails. He speaks of the beast that comes out of the sea and the beast of the earth and the terrible things that they do in the earth. He speaks of the development and power of Antichrist and his war upon the people of God, of tribulation and oppression for the sake of the cause of Christ and His kingdom. He makes mention of Babylon, the great harlot, describes her greatness among the nations of the world, but also pictures her final destruction. He pictures the effect of the outpouring of the seven vials of wrath and of the complete drying up of the great river, so that the nations rise for war against Zion. He speaks of the binding, but also of the loosening, of the devil and of all that follows. And only after all this has happened, and all these terrible things have been predicted, it pictures the heavenly Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, and the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness shall dwell. In a word, the message which John the prophet must still bring is a tremendous, a terrible message. It is not a message that concerns but part of the world and of creation, but that is as wide in its significance as creation itself and that involves many peoples and nations and tongues, that involves with special mention kings; the great and powerful of the earth. It is, moreover, a message that is awful in its significance for all that do not really belong to the people of the kingdom, a message that does not speak of peace, but very definitely conveys the truth, “There is no peace for the wicked, saith my God,” No peace till the end of the world, no peace as long as Satan and his kingdom of darkness still exist and wage war against the kingdom of the Lord may be expected.
It is a message of judgment and affliction and tribulation and vengeance, a message of persecution and sacrifice even for the people of God, a message that will separate the spirits definitely. And only through all these things, awful and dark for the world, it finally appears as a message of joy for all that love the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And of that universal, tremendous, awful, but also joyous message John must be witness, a living witness, together with all the ministers, and finally together with all the church of God. And therefore he must be prepared; and not only he, but the minister and the church of God must be prepared. And the way of sound and thorough preparation is indicated in the rest of the text.
What must John do with the book? He tells us that he heard the same voice from heaven which he heard before. It is the voice that had spoken to him when he heard the voice of the seven thunders and when he was about to write down what they spoke. It is therefore a voice that directs him in this entire scene of preparation. First it warns him not to write down what the seven thunders spoke. These seven thunders, as I surmised, spoke very plainly. But John cannot become prepared truly by simply writing down what they said. He must not merely be informed as to the truth of the future, but something else must take place. And therefore this directing voice he now hears again. And it instructs him to approach the angel that stands upon the sea and upon the earth and that holds the little book in his left hand and to ask for the book. And as John does so, and asks the angel to give him the book, the latter instructs him further as to what he must do with it. The book is open, and therefore can simply be read. But he must not read the book, but must do something else with it. The book is open, and it contains the revelation of the future no doubt. And therefore. John might simply copy it and inform the church of its contents. But he must not copy it. No, he must do nothing less than take the book and eat it, swallow it, and thus make it part of himself.
Once more, in order, to understand this scene and its significance we must bear in mind that here we have the symbolical signification of the preparation of John and every true witness of Christ in the world as a prophet. John must be a prophet. He must be a living witness of the truth of God. He must bear the truth of God into the world and speak of tremendous things in which the church and the whole world, in which nations and kings, are involved. And the message he must bring is not one that will be sweet to the taste of the world, but one of woe and judgment. Hence, the message that he must deliver will meet with hatred and opposition in the world. And, of course, the same will be true of the prophet that bears this testimony. The bearer of this woeful message must not expect that all will accept the message unconditionally or stand for its contents. On the contrary, it will be contradicted and opposed. It will be opposed by the wicked world and the power of the Antichrist, that persecutes the church and that hates the truth and will speak of “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. It will be opposed, however, also by the church as it exists in the present dispensation. For many there are in that church that do not truly belong to Christ and His kingdom and that will hate and deny and oppose the message of tribulation and judgment. Also they will shout, “Peace, peace,” though there is no peace and though there cannot possibly be peace. Nay, still stronger: it will sometimes be opposed by the true people of God, who do not always see and understand that in this world the church militant must expect tribulation and judgment in order that the kingdom may come. And therefore it requires spiritual courage, the courage of faith, to be a prophet of this message. For in spite of all the opposition, the prophet, the bearer of this truth, must insist: “Not a message of peace can I bring, but a message of war and trouble unto the end of the world.” And in order that in spite of this opposition the prophet of this message may stand firm, he receives the command to take and eat the book of this prophecy.
We have a scene similar to this recorded in the book of Ezekiel, where the preparation of that prophet for his message is told us. In Ezekiel 2:8 to Ezekiel 3:3 we read: “But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee. And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe. 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 the 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.” From this passage it is plain: 1) That it speaks of Ezekiel’s preparation as a prophet. He must first eat the roll and fill his bowels with it; then he must go and speak to the house of Israel. 2) That he also must not bring a pleasant message, but a message of woe and mourning and lamentation, and therefore of judgment upon the house of Israel. 3) That the house of Israel is a rebellious and stiff-necked people, so that he must expect opposition and persecution when he comes with the message of woe over them. And naturally this is a reason that the prophet may become discouraged and afraid. 4) That for that very reason he must eat the book and fill his bowels with it, so that the message may become part of his very system.
If in the light of this Old Testament passage we turn once more to the text we are discussing, all will be plain. The revelation of the future, the message which John must bring, may not remain outside of him, so that he indeed is acquainted with its contents but for the rest is not influenced by it. That would have been the case had he merely quoted what the seven thunders spoke. He would have understood what the future would be, but it would not have controlled him. That would also have been the case had he merely read the little book or copied it. Its contents would still have remained outside of him and would not have influenced his heart and mind and entire life; but he would not have been a true prophet, a living witness, that would stand for the truth in the midst of the world and that would uphold its testimony in spite of opposition and suffering and tribulation. And then he would easily have been silenced by the world of sin and by the hatred against the truth. And therefore the truth must be thoroughly appropriated by the prophet. John must eat the book. He must digest it. He must fill his bowels with it. He must take it into his very system. It must become part of his flesh and blood, of his soul and spirit. It must transform him, change him, make a different man of him, and so strengthen him to bear the testimony which he must give in the midst of the world. Or to speak in terms of reality, John must assimilate the contents of this prophecy unto himself. He must understand it, labor with it, believe it, be convinced of its truth and also of the supreme significance of that truth. He must love it and embrace it. Nay, still stronger: the truth of this prophecy must take hold, of him. He must first take it to himself and eat it, appropriate it by faith. And after he has thus assimilated the contents of the book, he must come under its power and influence, so that the truth. of this prophecy so impresses and dominates him that he can never believe anything else, that he can never say anything else, that he must speak about it, and that he can never be silenced, but boldly testify of all that it reveals in opposition to the world of wickedness and in spite of all it might do to silence the testimony of the prophet.
This is the meaning of the entire passage. This is the meaning of the passage for John himself. However, this was not merely revealed for John, so that the passage would have no significance for us at the present time. On the contrary, in the broader sense of the word the church of Christ is the prophet, the living witness of the name of Christ and of His truth in the midst of the world. And in that broader sense, the passage undoubtedly contains a lesson for us all. It teaches us what we must do with the testimony of the Word of God in general, but especially with the testimony of the book of Revelation. We can study the book and listen to its interpretation from more than one point of view, and also from more than one motive. Perhaps we find some intellectual enjoyment in its interpretation. Perhaps we find our curiosity somewhat satisfied. Perhaps, however, we do not appropriate it at all. But all this is not sufficient, and that for the simple reason that the message of the book also demands a positive stand. This is always the case with the testimony of the Word of God. But it is such especially with respect to the book we are now discussing. The question is whether you believe all these things. When that book speaks of the development of the world of sin and iniquity, how it will fight to the last against Christ and His kingdom, the question is: do you actually take these things to be the truth? When the book speaks of the apostate church and pictures that it will ultimately have an alliance with Antichrist, the question is: do you believe that it will be thus? When the book speaks of wars and judgments and tribulations, will you accept that through them all Christ brings His kingdom and that His kingdom will not and cannot come in any other way? If so, the book of this prophecy will determine your stand over against the world. You cannot understand and believe and love the truth of this book and at the same time cry along with the false philosophy of the world. And if the world continues to deny the truth and to trample under foot the blood of Christ and in spite of it maintains that the glorious kingdom of blessing and righteousness will come and dawn upon the world by gradual development, then you will oppose that world, condemn it uncompromisingly, because it stands against the Christless philosophy of the world and testifies of woe and mourning and lamentation. But then, you understand, it is not sufficient merely to listen to the sound of this book. Then you must eat it, appropriate it. It must become part of your entire system and control your life, so that you know of only one life, the life of the kingdom of God.
At first sight we would probably think that it was strange that this little book had such an effect upon John. The angel that gives him the book warns him that it will be sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his belly. And thus John actually experiences the effect of his eating of the book. This phenomenon is generally explained by the different parts of the contents of the book. True, thus interpreters have it, the little book speaks of woe and mourning and lamentation, of bitter things. But it also speaks of joy and peace and everlasting life, of the new heavens and the new earth, of the heavenly Jerusalem that cometh down to stay forever. In a word, the contents of the book are bitter, but also sweet. Thus John experiences it. The book tastes sweet to his mouth, as sweet as honey. But afterwards he realizes the bitter element; it is bitter in his belly. Yet this interpretation does not satisfy, for various reasons. If that was the truth, then John naturally would taste both the bitter and the sweet from the beginning. If the contents of the book are the cause of it all, then there is no reason to believe that he would taste only the sweet in his mouth and only the bitter in his belly; but then he would notice both elements from the very start. And if it is argued that it is very well possible that one follows the other, I should think that the bitter element would naturally come first. For not the heavenly Jerusalem and the kingdom of peace are first in the experience of the Christian, but the tribulations and judgments are first while the heavenly Jerusalem follows them.
And therefore it seems to us that a different explanation must be preferred. Nlow it is an obvious fact that the Word of God is more than once presented in Scripture as being sweet to the mouth of the believers. The psalmist sings of this in Ps. 119:103, when he says: “How sweet are thy words unto my taste; yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” And again, in Ps. 19:10 the ordinances of Jehovah are spoken of as “sweeter than honey and the dropping of the honeycomb.”