Every Thought Captive

Bitter and Sweet

Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

Revelation 10:8-11

I am struck by the engagement with the senses the text elicits. The idea of chewing on a scroll makes me cringe a little bit. If you have ever eaten something you were not expecting to, you know the surprised feeling I am talking about. And that combined with the chewing motion on a piece of paper, gives you the sensation that after the initial shock, you really have to work hard to eat a scroll. As John is relaying this vision to us, we are meant to see ourselves in the story. We are meant to imagine what it tasted like, what it smelled like, and what the experience would have been like. The metaphor is meant to elicit a response.

As Pastor Mark explained on Sunday, our response is to the sweetness and the bitterness of fully giving ourselves over to the Word of God. I think one reason God has us meditating on the sweetness and bitterness of the scroll, of the prophecy coming true, and of God’s Word, is because we are tempted to either overemphasize the sweetness or bitterness of the Word. However, here we have a picture of both of those sensations happening together. The prophecy here is sweet, because it shows God’s enduring love of His children and His patience in judgment. The prophecy is bitter, because we see God’s wrath is too much for the world to endure, and those who are called to God’s purposes will experience trials in this life. The sweetness of the scroll is made sweeter in light of the bitterness. Yet for now, in the interlude, we are meant to hold them both in tension. We remember the One who held the sweetness of grace and the bitterness of truth in tension throughout His earthly life, culminating in His death on the cross.

And how does the chapter end, after we are meant to chew the truth of the scroll and to ingest it into our bodies? It ends with a recommissioning of the prophet. As we fully digest the sweetness of knowing God, and the bitterness of being called to serve Him in a fallen world, John is sent out again to do the work of the Kingdom coming. We can easily remember Jesus’ words to His disciples just before ascending to heaven:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20

As we are commissioned, let’s remember that what we have been commissioned to is not easy. The bitterness that comes is bitter for a reason. Having conversations about spirituality in a world that can sometimes not seem to care that much about deeper things can feel exhausting, intimidating, and isolating. And, as we do so, we may be putting our reputation at risk simply because of the name of Jesus. And yet, we can carry with us the bitterness and the sweetness at the same time. Bitter because of the struggle and sweet because Jesus is with us in it. Bitter because of the potential for mockery and sweet because of the confidence we have going with God.

About the Author

Photograph of Sam Leopold

Sam Leopold

Assistant Pastor of Missions

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Sam is the Assistant Pastor of Missions at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. He previously served as an overseas missionary in Rome, Italy, with Agape Italia and helped launch student movements across the country. He completed his theological education at Reformed Theological Seminary in New York City and pastoral ministry training at Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s City to City training program. Sam and his wife Kimberly have three daughters: Eloise, Evelyn, and Emory.