John is drawing from Ezekiel 2:8-3:3 (an apocryphal, apocalyptic book “4 Ezra” (an “Apocryphal” not recognized or inspired as Scripture, “Apocalyptical” referring to end of days literature, that gives us insights to this type of genre and metaphors and their usage to a 1st century Jewish understanding) where Ezekiel sees a hand extending to him and God telling him to “listen to what I say to you,” and also from what Jeremiah experienced emotionally (Jer. 15:16; Rev. 5:1). It was a warning that sin is sweet but then becomes bitter as it ferments and works its way in us, corrupting and destroying, and it upsets us as God’s judgments precede over our will, poor choices, and willful disobedience. At first sin seems good and we get away with it; then, at some point, the party is over and we have a disease and are dying. Then, there is the eternal damnation thing looming over us, and as we utterly refuse His offer of salvation, His love and grace go unnoticed and unmet. God extends a dire warning to us to stay away from sin and seek Him. Conversely, this passage is also a call to heed God’s Word, to cling to His precepts which are sweet, and take them seriously, which can be bitter as we must allow His conviction to remove what is in His way of our growth and betterment, and point to His Worth and Glory. If not, there will be judgment from our own misdeeds accumulating and implementing their way back to us from their own harm as well as opening us up to God’s judgment (Num. 5:23-31; Prov. 5:3-4; 24:13-14; Rom. 1:18-32; Rev. 7:13-14).
- Take it and eat it. This refers to “grasping” as in taking food for our pleasure and nourishment. However, before we can be nourished, we have to obtain it, then eat and digest it. This applies to God’s Word as we have to get it, read it, understand it, and apply it (Psalm 119:103).
- Your stomach sour/bitter indicates that the contents of this scroll will also contain suffering and a message of judgment that the people will not like because when we will receive “bad news,” it will “sour” us (as in sadden us), from all of these events coming in chapter 11. This also refers to the taking in of His Word; as we do, His Word will come across our will and ideas and we will be challenged and convicted.
- Sweet as honey refers to God’s goodness, grace, and mercy, and that through His Word, both written and Spirit-led, we have “good news” from God’s promises and our communion with Him through which we receive His instructions and the knowledge of His nature inducing His grace, mercy, and goodness (Psalm 19:10; 119:103; Ezek. 2:3).
- Prophesy again refers to telling the people again, as Jeremiah, who kept prophesying even when his people ignored and rejected him. It refers to the sounding of the seventh trumpet in chapter 11. It also is a warning to John that his obedience may have a cost, and that he, too, will “sour” or suffer for the cause of Christ as he offers “sweetness,” or God’s forgiveness. The people he tells may reject the message as well as the messenger. People do not want or like to be convicted of their sins. They would rather choose between two sins that will destroy them rather than choose the right and good path that will bless them. They may even refuse to acknowledge another and better way. The application, as John demonstrated, is our call to heed God’s precepts and make them known to others, even though we may suffer for our obedience. However, whatever we endure, our reward will be far, far greater…sweet (Rev. 9:20).
- Many peoples refers to our allegiance to Christ. Christians are in Christ, and are a part of a greater Kingdom than one of race or nationality. This also refers to the “Abrahamic Promise” (Gen 12; 18:18; 22:18; Is. 60:1-5; Rev. 7:9-17; 11:9) which indicates that God’s purpose and plan is inclusive to all; there are no peoples that are not a part of His will and plan. His purpose will be accomplished and nothing can stop Him. His message is universal as it not only applies to Christians, but to all people of all time (Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 11:2).