Sweet and Sour

By Pamela Lewis

A Reading from Revelation 10:1-11  

1 And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, 3 he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land
raised his right hand to heaven
6 and swore by him who lives for ever and ever,
who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will be no more delay, 7 but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets.”

8 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.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10 So 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.

11 Then they said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”


It is no mild-mannered greeting card angel whom John sees at the start of this chapter. It is, in the late and noted theologian and Presbyterian minister Eugene Peterson’s description of angels, one of the “vast, fiery, sea-striding creatures, with hell in their nostrils and heaven in their eyes.” Robed in a cloud, with a rainbow on his head, and a face like the sun, this angel has many of God’s powerful attributes. Even the shouts of this angel call to mind various parts of the Old Testament where God’s voice is likened to that of a roaring lion, as well as to Christ’s final cry when he died on the cross. But with his right foot placed in the sea and his left on the land, this mighty angel’s purpose is clear: to announce the final judgments on the entire creation, not just a limited portion of it as did the seals and trumpet judgments.

Most mysterious and significant, however, is the little scroll which the angel holds in his hand, which some scholars believe corresponds to the book the Lamb opened in chapter five of Revelation, or even to the gospel itself. Very similar to when the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of being told to eat a scroll filled with judgments against the nation of Israel, John is told by the angel to take and eat the little scroll he holds, whose taste is initially sweet in the evangelist’s mouth, but turns sour in his stomach. Among the many forceful images in Revelation, this one should stand out for Christians, as it signifies the importance of consuming and assimilating God’s Word so that it becomes a part of our lives. God’s Word is sweet to believers, but they must also experience the sour taste in their stomachs because of God’s imminent judgment.

Within the strong atmosphere of urgency imparted by the angel’s declaration, “There will be no more delay!”, the Old Testament prophets exhort the New Testament apostles by telling John to “prophesy again” to all nations and peoples, and to continue the work of proclaiming the gospel until God’s plan for the world is fulfilled. We, too, must take and eat the little scroll.

Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New YorkerEpiscopal Journal, and The Living Church.

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Church of the Holy Family, Chapel Hill, N.C.
La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico  


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