Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have seen their mandate and message as rooted in the urgent call of the three angels of Revelation 14:6–12, more familiarly known as the three angels’ messages. Sadly, the second angel’s message has not often been delivered as a relevant message for us but rather as one needing to be delivered to others. Our practice ignores our belief that the three angels’ messages should be a central platform in preparing all the people of God for the last days.
The Elijah message of Malachi 4:5, 6, the final appeal of the Old Testament and echoed in the New (Luke 1:17), warns the world and prepares a people for the great day of God and has been seen by Seventh-day Adventists to be fulfilled by both John the Baptist (Matt. 17:11–13) and the three angels’ messages. All three angels have a restoring, reforming message to ready God’s people for Jesus’ return (Rev. 14:14–20). They are God’s response to the beasts of Revelation 13—the “present truth” needed and delivered by those enduring these end-time events. As a preparatory message, how does the second angel’s message have relevance for all the people of God?
Overview of the three angels’ messages
An amazing progression of focus and teaching characterizes the three angels’ messages. The messages move from the everlasting gospel to the commandments of God, from grace to law. They move from a message of mercy to the announcement of an impending executive judgement. They move from a message filled with hope to a solemn warning to those who would be murderers of God’s people. They begin with the worship of the Creator and then focus on those who worship the beast. They contrast the rest that the Creator gives to those who worship Him with the experience of the beast worshipers who receive no rest (Rev. 14:11). The picture that emerges is one of a panorama of acceptance and rejection, of salvation and damnation.
It is easy to see the good news in the “everlasting gospel” (v. 6), the good news that Jesus came to live, die, and be resurrected as our Savior.1 The first angel expands on this good news by reminding us that Jesus is our Creator, due our worship, and a judgment is announced that confirms those who are trusting in the everlasting gospel. Rewards can then be given accordingly. The first angel’s message further includes the good news that we can reverence God and give God glory by our choices, worship, and lifestyle, all of which are elements that can be readily shared, indeed must be shared, within our community and with others.
Often, as deliverers of these messages, we see our role to be the proclaimer of the three angels’ messages rather than the ones who are called to live them. However, in each of the three angels’ messages, the focus remains on everyone. From the first angel we learn that “every nation” (v. 6) gets to hear the gospel. The second angel attests that “all nations” (v. 8) who have heard of Babylon’s deceptions also hear of God’s merciful response. The third angel is similarly all-inclusive, focusing on God’s judgment for anyone and everyone (vv. 9, 11). We cannot exclude ourselves from these preparatory messages. How does the second angel’s message fulfill its role as a preparatory message for the saints?
Significance of “Babylon”
Revelation 14:8 comprises the first time “Babylon” is introduced in the book of Revelation.2 But it is only in the later chapters of Revelation that we learn about the all-encompassing identity of Babylon.3 In the first use of the word, John intends to point the early Christians to Daniel’s time, when Babylon ruled the world and the false religion of Babylon dominated the people of God.4 The book of Daniel begins with Yahweh apparently losing the war against Babylon’s gods. Yahweh allowed the temple to be destroyed and the people of God to be taken off to Babylon as captives. The vessels of the temple were placed within the Babylonian temple of Bel and Marduk, emphasizing Yahweh’s apparent defeat and shame (Dan. 1:1, 2).
The Babylon of Daniel’s day offers false worship, deifies the king, and expects the worship of an image “60 cubits by 6 cubits” (Dan. 3:1). Babylon’s philosophy is “bend or burn”: failure to worship as Babylon requires is punishable by death. Babylon is the epitome of all that sin represents. Satan’s government can be seen.5 Sin has matured to the point where Satan will kill all those who are opposed to his will and his right to rule.
Babylon includes more than false worship and an illicit union of church and state.6 It also has a false way of salvation, teaching that, through the works of one’s hands, one makes appeasement to God. The Babylonian gods save through a mixture of human effort and atonement. Babylon has therefore counterfeited the whole of the first angel’s message. Both their gospel and their law are counterfeits.
Exploring Babylon’s multiple falls
The angel announces to John that “ ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen’ ” (Rev. 14:8, NKJV). The repetition encourages all the saints. The certainty of Babylon’s fall is definitely good news for them. God’s people have long hoped for the fall of their enemy, symbolized in Babylon. When the enemy falls, the people of God are free. In Daniel’s time, the people had expected deliverance after their 70 years of captivity, expecting that the fall of Babylon would see them returning home. So the fall of Babylon was a time of great rejoicing.7 Just as the fall of ancient Babylon was a God-ordained certainty (Isa. 21:9) for the Israelites of Daniel’s day, so will the fall of end-time Babylon be a certainty for God’s end-time people.
God’s present people need to hear that the fall of Babylon means that they, too, can go home. Our heavenly home awaits us. The “kings of the east” (Rev. 16:12) that cause the fall of Babylon during the sixth plague make it possible for us to go home. King Cyrus8 came from the east to defeat Babylon. So our King Jesus, our Christ and our Cyrus, comes from the east to deliver us. The final fall of Babylon means we are fully free and can go home.
Often we have looked at Babylon’s fall as simply being moral. It is clear that God’s people in Babylon are called out so as not to be morally corrupted by her sins (Rev. 18:4). However, those sins lead to Babylon’s fall and destruction. In Revelation 18, we see the destiny of Babylon: “she will be consumed by fire” (v. 8), “your doom has come” (v. 10), “has been brought to ruin” (v. 19), and “thrown down, never to be found again” (v. 21, NIV). Our conquering King does more than put a stop to the monstrous depravities of Babylon or mete out justice—our King comes to deliver His people. Our King comes to defeat Babylon so that He can take us home “together” (1 Thess. 4:17). As Jon Paulien states, “In Revelation God sends his end-time Cyrus to dry out the end-time Euphrates to deliver God’s end-time Israel from end-time Babylon so that they can live in a new Jerusalem.”9
The message of the fall of Babylon contains wonderful news also for those who are prisoners within Babylon. This is a message of mercy. Clearly this message reveals that the door of mercy is still open—that one’s location does not determine one’s destiny. The love of Jesus in the hearts of those who are called “my people” (Rev. 18:4) within Babylon is more important to God than their badges and labels. How urgently does the heart of God plead that His love should reach even those within Babylon to help them realize that they are not where He wants them to be? How important it is for the people of God to sound like God as they learn to utter these words with compassion.
So, the call for them to come out of Babylon is a call of amazing mercy and grace. They are called to go to a better place and serve a better gospel than a gospel limited by a belief in an everburning hell. They, too, can go home because Babylon’s fall does not need to include them. They can be free from the deceiving experiences and false promises of Babylon. This message of freedom and deliverance for those listening and responding continues the wonderful good news of the first angel. I often wish that we could have the pathos of Jesus in calling people into the light of the everlasting gospel that they might see that the everlasting gospel teaches that God achieves a complete solution to sin.
So often people who are locked into confusion have been told that the Cross is so small that God can only quarantine sin, sinners, and Satan in hell. This hell, they are taught, goes on eternally. How wonderful is the good news that Jesus is mightier than they had ever thought. Jesus has come to deal with sin fully and finally. They can now believe the promise, given to Adam, that Satan’s head will be crushed (Gen. 3:15). This is God’s sovereign plan. The message we have to share with Babylon about the everlasting gospel is a bigger concept of God’s love and what Jesus did by His life and death. This bigger gospel teaches that sin has an end and that Jesus’ victory over sin is final and conclusive.
The fall of end-time Babylon is tied directly to the plagues in Revelation 16:12–16. The physical fall of ancient Babylon echoes through the drying up of the Euphrates, thus further reassuring God’s end-time people that end-time Babylon will meet the same fate as her predecessor. Jesus alone defeats Babylon (vv. 15,16), and His war is on behalf of the saints. The fall of Babylon is Armageddon. As Hans LaRondelle states, “Armageddon and the destruction of universal Babylon are therefore identical.”10 Jesus comes to deliver the proclaimers of these three messages and those who have left Babylon. Thus, the preaching of Jesus’ return is integral to the second angel’s message. Jesus’ return is a message full of hope, anticipated by the saints for millennia (Rev. 22:20). This message means that we can all go home to be with Jesus forever.
The second angel’s message is largely a future message. We are still waiting for “all nations” to be deceived.11 The long process of this moral fall is climaxed, like in the case of literal Babylon (Dan. 5:26–28), in an utter eschatological destruction of spiritual Babylon. For this ultimate deliverance we must wait until Babylon’s guilt is complete and God’s mercy is exhausted (Rev. 18:5–8). The end of the systems that would kill God’s people is greeted by a resounding cry of Hallelujah (Rev. 19:1). Sin’s reign on earth is over for the saints. They are on their way home. No wonder the celebration dwarfs any previous celebration on planet Earth. These additional thoughts do not contradict what we have always taught on the moral fall of Babylon, but rather they expand them and show that Revelation 14:8 is more than a moral fall. The fall of Babylon is a message that Jesus is coming soon. As such this message prepares the people of God for that “ ‘great and dreadful day of the Lord’ ” (Mal. 4:5, NKJV). It is hope that purifies (1 John 3:3), and it is the return of Jesus that reminds us what persons we ought to be (2 Pet. 3:11). The good news of Jesus’ return is a preparatory message for all people.
The second angel tells of a system that has actively tried to hide the gospel and all that Jesus has done for us. The second angel announces that Babylon’s works and salvation are fallen while God’s people are destined to go home. Each of these three messages of Revelation 14 is indeed a love message that comes from the heart of God not only to warn the wicked but to prepare the people of God for what lies ahead. As messages of mercy, they are good news. If we can but reframe our focus, we can see the true heart of God and His purposes in having these messages delivered to everyone. They are timely, true, and still our message and mandate. As preparatory messages for God’s people, they help us see things from God’s perspective. They can be summed up quite succinctly: God hates sin, and Jesus wins so that we can go home together.
1 For a textual comparison of Revelation’s gospel with Paul’s gospel, see P. Richard Choi, “Paul and Revelation 14,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 20, no. 2 (2009): 223–243.
2 For an extensive study of the typological implications of Revelation’s use of “Babylon” and its fall, see Hans K. LaRondelle, Chariots of Salvation: The Biblical Drama of Armageddon (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1987), 82–107.
3 See the work of Edwin E. Reynolds, “The Sodom/Egypt/Babylon Motif in the Book of Revelation” (PhD diss., Andrews University, 1994).
4 For example, Richard Bauckham writes that the allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation are meant to “recall the Old Testament context, which thereby becomes part of the meaning the Apocalypse conveys, and to build up, sometimes by a network of allusion to the same Old Testament passage in various parts of the Apocalypse, an interpretation of whole passages of Old Testament prophecy.” The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993), xi.
5 The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary reminds us that “the prophet Isaiah identifies Lucifer as the invisible king of Babylon (see on Isa. 14:4, 12–14).” Francis D. Nichol, ed., vol. 7 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1957), 829.
6 Ibid., 831.
7 “The description of the collapse of end-time Babylon in Revelation is based on the fall of ancient Babylon.” Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2002), 447.
8 Cyrus and Christ both mean “anointed one.”
9 John Paulien, What the Bible Says About the End-Time (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1994), 135.
10 LaRondelle, Chariots of Salvation, 100.
11 To see the author’s perspective on this being a future message, see Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), 389, 390.