Eating the Book
As we have already shown, there were two important events that occurred at the end of the second woe. The first was the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1452-1455. The second, in 1453, was the fall of Constantinople, which flooded Europe with Greek-speaking refugees and churchmen carrying Greek copies of the Scriptures. Both of these factors opened up the “little book” to the common people and thereby changed the course of history.
On Land and Sea
There were also two other historical events that protected the Gospel and allowed the Scriptures to continue to spread among the common people. In Rev. 10:2 we read,
2 and he [the “strong angel”] had in his hand a little book which was open. And he placed his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.
Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (Oct. 31, 1517) and England’s Act of Supremacy (1534) were evidences of the angelic foot being planted upon the land—first on the European mainland and then in England. These events secured the success of the Protestant Reformation by which the little book was opened to the common people.
Yet these events did not go uncontested by the Roman Church. For all his trouble, going through six wives, Henry VIII of England ended up with just one son, Edward VI, who ruled almost seven years (1547-1553). He died at the age of 16 and was succeeded by Mary, his older sister whose mother was Catherine of Aragon.
Mary was a Roman Catholic, and in 1554 she married Philip of Spain, who was also Catholic. Mary attempted to force England back under the Roman yoke, and, as usual, she promoted burning Protestants at the stake. The Encyclopedia of World History, page 285 says,
“About 300 are said to have been burned during this persecution.”
But Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne of England in 1558, and she secured England as a Protestant country by repealing all of the Catholic laws that Mary had enacted earlier. This was the angel’s foot being placed firmly on the land.
Yet there would be one more important attempt thirty years later to bring England back under the Roman yoke.
In 1587 Philip II of Spain began to build a huge armada of ships in order to invade England and force it back under the yoke of Rome. This Spanish Armada of 130 ships set sail for England on July 12, 1588. However, more than half of these ships were destroyed by the English and by storms in the North Sea. The strong angel had put his foot down on the sea. This changed the course of history and kept the Bible an open book that has blessed the lives of millions among the hungry people during the famine of hearing the Word.
Eating the Little Book
For the sake of continuity, we will skip past the seven thunders for now and go directly to Rev. 10:8-10, where John says more about the little book:
8 And the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, saying, Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land. 9 And I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, Take it and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey. 10 And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
This describes the people in the time of the Reformation who were to “eat” (read) the newly-opened Bible. It was sweet in their mouths, but gave them spiritual heartburn. When they were persecuted by the Roman Church for reading it, it was bitter in their stomachs.
This is quite similar to the experience of the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel 2 speaks of the prophet’s call to preach to a rebellious house of Israel. God says in Ezekiel 2:8-10,
8 Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you. 9 Then I looked, behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it. 10 When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back; and written on it were lamentations, mourning, and woe.
And so the prophet was told to open his mouth to preach from the scroll, or book. Then the text continues in the next chapter. Ezekiel 3:1-3 says,
1 Then He said to me, Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. 3 And He said to me, Son of man, feed your stomach, and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you. Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth.
So here we see that Ezekiel was told to “eat” the scroll (book) in order that he might know what to preach to the rebellious house of Israel. One must eat the word of God in order to know the message, because we are what we eat. More than that, we are what we assimilate. Many have read the Bible without truly assimilating its meaning. So when we read Scripture, we must understand it in order to become the living word. To assimilate (or digest) the word is to understand it and incorporate it into our being.
The word of God is sweet to eat, but when we open our mouths to teach rebellious people, the word becomes bitter in our stomachs. Hence, when Ezekiel went to preach the word that He had “eaten,” he “went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the Lord was strong on me” (Ezekiel3:14).
Ezekiel was sent to rebellious Israel. John was sent to the rebellious Church of the future that was yet to emerge after his death. What Ezekiel discovered long ago is the same thing that the people of the Reformation discovered after they began to understand the little book that had been opened to them. It was sweet in their mouths, but bitter in their stomachs. Why? Did the word cause indigestion? No. Rather, it brought persecution from the rebellious Roman Church that had banned the reading of the word apart from the explanation of a priest who could interpret the word according to church traditions.
The rebellious Church had rebelled against God by substituting their own traditions for the true word of God. They were guilty of the same thing that the Jewish priests had done with the Old Testament during the time of Christ. Mark 7:6-9 says,
6 And He [Jesus] said to them, Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 7 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the traditions of men. 9 He was also saying to them, You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 29:13, where, 700 years earlier, the prophet had pointed out this problem. In Jesus’ day the Jewish Talmudic teachings had re-interpreted the divine law to suit their carnal minds; and later, the Church re-interpreted the New Testament to suit their own carnal minds. In both cases, it was more than a re-interpretation—it was often a case of blatantly overruling the word itself. Jesus said in Mark 7:13, “thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down.”
This was the problem that God began to overcome in the 1400’s, when He opened the word to the people.
The last verse of Revelation 10 tells us the purpose of God’s open book. It is to preach the word. Rev. 10:11 says,
11 And they said to me, “You must prophecy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”
This differs from Ezekiel only in the scope of preaching the word. Ezekiel was specifically sent only to the house of Israel that was already in captivity in Assyria (Ezekiel 3:4-7). These ten tribes of Israel had rebelled against God and refused His law, replacing God’s law with “the statutes of Omri” (Micah6:16). For this reason, God had sent them into captivity.
John, on the other hand, represents the overcomers who are sent to present the word of God to “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.” John is the one who took the book and ate it, but he did this on behalf of all the overcomers—particularly on behalf of the generation living after the little book was opened in 1452. In this way, he represented primarily a future generation to whom the prophecy would be most applicable.
And indeed, once the book was opened, and the stage was set in the 1450’s, Columbus opened the way to the New World in 1492. Exploration was accompanied by the beginnings of missionary activity from the Roman Church as well as the Protestant churches.