revelation 14 (2) … three cameos


Rev 14 (2)

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”

Three cameos introduced by three angels follow the vision of the 144,000. Each in its own way calls for repentance.

The first is the worldwide proclamation of the eternal gospel to the nations or as John describes them, ‘those who dwell upon the earth’. This is John’s way of describing the unregenerate; they live for this world. All nations hear, just as the gospel has to be proclaimed to all nations before the end comes (Matt 24:14). The angelic proclamation is not how we think of the gospel. The angel proclaims, ‘“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’. The language as with much of the language of Revelation is more OT in tone. The message is a call to repentance and faith (fear God and give him glory) as his judgement has come. In fact his judgement has not yet come but treating it as present makes it more immediate. Ancient Rome believed she ruled the land and sea but she was wrong. God rules it for he created it; he alone has proprietorial rights. The song of the saints in Ch 15 seems to be an expanded version of the angelic announcement. We read,

Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come. and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

God’s great acts of salvation among his people are a reason to turn to him.

The second angel announces the fall of Babylon. It is a warning about love for an idolatrous world. The name Babylon occurs six times in the book. It is a human number. Frequently John introduces an actor in advance. Here Babylon is introduced before the full account of her demise in Ch 17,18. It is not literal Babylon that is in view; Babylon the OT city by this stage was no more than a small village. But Babylon has many incarnations. In the first century Rome was no doubt a template for Babylon. However, ultimately Babylon is more than any one city she is a symbol of human society in opposition to God just as the new Jerusalem is a symbol for the church as a society in submission to God. She is the anti-city, a parody of the New Jerusalem. Here the collapse of Babylon is announced. It is proclaimed in the past tense although it describes a future event. This emphasises the certainty of the event.

The fall of Babylon is the collapse of apostate civilisation. Proud Babylon (Babylon the Great) is no more, just like the original city. Later it is clear she collapses because her leaders Nero-like turn in on her but ultimately her judgement is from God because she has ‘made all nations drink of the passions/wrath of her adulteries.’ (Isa 21;9; Jer 50;2; 51;7, 8). Babylon and Rome are not in the final view great cultures but great courtesans full of adulteries and infinite cruelties. Later we discover what these adulteries involve;; they are often spiritual adulteries, idolatries. Babylon is the ultimate harlot and her adulteries include all the ways she intoxicates and seduces the hearts and minds of men away from God. And involved in her beguiling is a ruthless determination that erupts into wrath when questioned or resisted. The announcement of her collapse (again preempted) should drive the nations to repentance but cause God’s people to rejoice.

The final angel reveals what is perhaps the most chilling vision in the book.

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

In Ch 13 we saw the power of the beast to command worship and allegiance. In one sense the beast has been active throughout history. Again and again the state has called for obedience that if refused results in imprisonment or death. John’s focus however is on the final and most fearful manifestation of the beast. If the beast is denied loyalty his vengeance is swift and his wrath great. Like Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon he insists on the worship of his subjects. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, the kingdom of the beast is world-wide. The whole earth must worship the beast or face the consequences.

However, the first angel has made it clear that only God should be worshipped. Now the third angel states that failure to worship God and choosing to worship of the beast will give rise to far greater wrath than that of the beast and far greater punishment than the death of the body. As Jesus says,

Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matt 10:28)

If the city of the beast makes men drink of the wine of the wrath of her adulteries then here is another wine that men will drink. It is the wine of divine wrath (Jer 25:15,16). It is not cut or diluted wine but wine of ‘full strength’ . Wine was cut to make it palatable but there is nothing palatable about divine fury. The wine of his wrath poured into the cup of his anger Ps 75:8). This wine will make men stagger and fall. Drink from Babylon’s cup and you will drink from the cup of divine wrath.

Two issues arise that tend to disturb minds cosseted by never having faced persecution and compromised by the values of our age.

Firstly, judgement is evidently eternal. Somehave tried to back pedal from the implications of the imagery by arguing that it is the smoke that is forever not the suffering; like the smoke from a ravished city (Matt 18:8,9; 19:3; Isa 34:10). The belief is called annihilationism but however attractive the notion, biblically it doesn’t stack up. Without even considering other Scriptures we can see how annihilationism draws the teeth of the present image. The whole point of the image is to paint a horrific picture. It is a severe warning for believers and others; don’t be tempted by idolatry, don’t worship the beast. Do not receive his mark and give him your allegiance. Whatever he may do to you worship him and God will do much worse to you if you do. Idolatry is the worst of all sins and will result in punishment far worse than our worst nightmare; it will bring everlasting pain and torment. The picture is of a sulphurous eternally consuming lake of fire (19:20, 20:10,14,15. 21:18 Cf. Isa 34:10). The stakes are enormously high. Disregard the eternal gospel and endure the eternal burnings. Worship the beast and wail forever (2 Thess 1:6-9; Roms 2:3-9).

All things being equal who will defy the beast more strenuously; the annihilationist or the believer in eternal punishment? Who will endure? The fear of God must be greater than the fear of man (Matt 10:28). In eternity life becomes in the fullest sense eternal life and judgement becomes in the fullest sense eternal judgement.

Secondly, the eternal suffering is in the presence of the angels and the lamb. This is not a picture of sadistic gloating. It is most probably a picture of the heavenly court ensuring that the sentence is carried out and justice has taken place (Dan 7:9-12). It is another way of stressing Christ’s absolute victory over his enemies. John writes,

he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

John is a realist. Believers will require to patiently endure (the last of seven uses of the term in the book). Faith and obedience will require a Spirit given courage. Intensified persecution means many, perhaps most, will be martyred. The dragon is a devouring lion. For the martyred church there is a special blessing; not only do they find rest but their heroic resistance to death will receive its reward (2:23; Matt 16:27; 2 Cor 5:10; Roms 2:6-11). God’s justice is always just (Jer 17:10; Jas 2:13; Roms 2:). Indeed rest is the appropriate reward for their labours. This is the second of seven beatitudes (all the others are addressed the church indicating the church is in view here). John writes,

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”

However, while martyrs are no doubt the main focus we shouldn’t limit the blessing to martyrs for John doesn’t limit it. It is true of all who die in the Lord. Indeed all who die in the Lord are in one sense martyrs (witnesses). In life they have learned to die to self and live for Christ. The ‘amen’ of the Spirit to the voice from heaven further affirms the future of those who die in Christ.

John is painting the alternatives in ever increasing stark contrast. The issues at stake are high.

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