One of the most overwhelming figures in Scripture is the giant angel that John encounters in Revelation 10. Between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgements, after witnessing the death of 1/3 of the earth but while waiting for the ministry of the two witnesses, John’s vision is interrupted by a figure with no parallel in the Bible.
This angel descends from heaven, and lands with one foot in the water and one foot on the land. He towers over the earth, and raises a hand up into the heavens. His feet are on fire, and he wears a rainbow like a crown of glory.
He has divine characteristics. For example, he is clothed in the clouds—an idiom which in the Old Testament is reserved for God himself (Psalm 97:2; Job 38:9). He is holding the scroll in his hand, which back in Revelation 5, only Jesus was worthy to open.
Yet the angel is not divine. He too is a created being, and he swears his allegiance to the one who made him (Revelation 10:6). Perhaps he is the angel of the Lord, or some other angelic leader revealed for the first time in Scripture. We don’t know who exactly he is—John never did ask him for his ID.
But this angel had some instructions for John. He told John that the prophecies of the Old Testament were about to be fulfilled before John’s eyes. With the final trumpet comes the final unveiling of all prophecy, just as God “had preached to his servants the prophets.”
He then told John to take the scroll—which by now had been shrunk—and John was to follow Ezekiel’s example and eat it. The Old Testament often used the concept of eating something as an idiom to mean “really think about it,” similar to how we say “let me digest that.” But if John was hoping the angel was idiomatic, he was disappointed. The imposing figure compelled John to physically eat the book.
John in turn found that it was sweet in his mouth, and bitter in his stomach.
Then the voice form heaven sounded to John again, and sent him on his way to finish recording the prophecy.
What are we to make of this sweet scroll given by an angel dressed in a rainbow?
Frist, that Scripture is sweet to the one receives it. John, like Ezekiel, found that the message of the scroll was rewarding and pleasing. The message of God’s wrath poured out on earth has a certain saccharine appeal to those who are forgiven by it. God’s plan to avenge the wrongly murdered includes the knowledge of how he will also rescue the godly from his judgement.
This is why Jeremiah wrote, “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
But this truth comes with a corollary: Scripture is bitter, because it promises justice. God may save his church, but he will also open up the pit of hell. Angels will blow the trumpets, but demons will attack the world. It is sweet that Jesus’ blood cries for forgiveness, and it is sour that Abel’s blood cries for vengeance. Both cries will be answered by God.
We pray that God’s kingdom would come, and we pray that God would avenge the death of martyrs. How sweet it will be when those prayers are answered! But justice is likewise sour because anyone with a even a semblance of empathy must recoil at loss of life incurred in the Day of the Lord.
Third, evangelists must own both of these truths. For John to continue prophesying to the “nations, languages, and kings” (10:11) he has to internalize the bitter-sweet truths or the scroll. How sweet it is for people to turn to Christ and be saved, but how bitter it is for them to reject the truth.
The angel who towered over the earth also bent down to deliver God’s word. What an image—the word from heaven delivered to those below, who can eat it and then deliver it to the world.
The evangelist must really believe in the joy that comes at forgiveness, and the terrible truths of hell must leave us feeling sick. If you are unmoved at these truths, its can only be because you have not digested the truths of this scroll.