I begin with a simple yet perhaps rhetorical question: What are you proclaiming from the pulpit every week? The answer should be obvious: The gospel of salvation through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death. His saving work should color and determine the content of any sermon. An Adventist preacher does not have any other option because at the very core of the biblical passage that summarizes our mission and message is the gospel, namely Revelation 14:6–13—the three angels’ messages. I am suggesting that the passage be interpreted from a Christological perspective.1
Message of the first angel
The three angels “represent those who receive the truth, and with power open the gospel to the world.”2 The exegetical foundation for this claim is found in Revelation 14:6–13. The first angel proclaims God’s eternal gospel to the human race at the close of the cosmic conflict (v. 6). The passage closes with the blessing of the Holy Spirit on those who have held the law of God and the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ’s saving work together (vv. 12, 13). The second angel proclaims the collapse of the false gospel of Babylon (v. 8), and at the heart of the third message is a wonderful reference to the Lamb of God (v. 10).
The angel does not describe the content of the gospel but calls it “an eternal gospel” (v. 6).3 There is no other eternal gospel than the one announcing to the world that salvation comes through Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:14). This gospel is introduced in Revelation 1:5, when John refers to Jesus as the One who “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood.”
The love of God was visibly manifested in the sacrificial death of Jesus. This soteriological language is conveyed throughout the book using the image of the Lamb that was slain. Heavenly beings proclaim that the Lamb is worthy of worship because “ ‘You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ ” (Rev. 5:9). It is Christ as the Lamb who was exalted to the throne of God (Rev. 22:3), who, as a Warrior, defeats the enemy through His sacrificial death (Rev. 17:14) and shares that victory with His people (Rev. 12:11). The figure of the Lamb is an expression of the sacrificial love of God through which we are redeemed.
The three messages are embedded in one message— the eternal gospel—which is powerful enough to save us and to bring the cosmic conflict to an end.
The proclamation of the gospel is followed by a call to the inhabitants of the earth to fear God (Rev. 14:7). The concept of the fear of God assumes that God is a transcendental and majestic Being who manifests Himself to humans engulfed in radiant and impenetrable light and who causes the earth to tremble (e.g., Exod. 19:16, 18, 19). This majestic Being, the Uncreated One, offers to humans, in an act of love, the privilege of His becoming their God (Deut. 4:20; 5:26, 27; 7:6). Those who acknowledge that He is a loving God show their fear of Him in submission to Him and His will. The first angel summons humans to choose this glorious God as their God.
The phrase give glory to God is used in the Bible to express sinners’ willingness to acknowledge that they are guilty as charged and that God is righteous in condemning them (Josh. 7:19; 1 Sam. 6:5; John 9:24; cf. Ps. 51:4). It is at times an expression of contrition and repentance that acknowledges the justice of God (Jer. 13:16; Rev. 11:13). The angel is inviting all, based on God’s work of redemption, to repent and admit that God is a loving and righteous God.
The call is urgent because the hour of God’s judgment is already here; the final judgment is in progress. In the Bible, the Day of Atonement was a type of the day of judgment. In Revelation 11:19, John is taken in vision into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary in anticipation of the antitypical day of atonement. Now in Revelation 14:7, we are told the prophetic moment, or “hour,” of the antitypical day of atonement has arrived. One must choose God and repent (cf. Dan. 8:14).
The angelic call invites sinners to worship the Creator (Rev. 14:7), echoing the language of the Sabbath commandment, the sign and seal of God’s sanctifying power. The Sabbath reminds humans of God the Creator and Redeemer and invites us to bow down before the One who created and who, through the Lamb, redeemed us. Worship is a bone of contention in the cosmic conflict, and humans are urged to worship God and not the fallen cherub and his allies (Rev. 14:9). At the time when the Creator and the Sabbath have been rejected or ignored, God insists that all should bow down before their Source of life.
Message of the second angel
The second angel announces the collapse of Babylon, a symbol of human independence from God and the search for self-preservation through human accomplishments (cf. Genesis 11). The descriptions of the intentions of both the fallen cherub and the king of ancient Babylon coincided—they both wanted to occupy the place of God on earth (Isa. 14:3–23)—but the literal Babylon collapsed. At the time of the end, the dragon will create a mystical Babylon through which he will attempt to occupy the place of God and receive worship that is due only to God. Babylon is constituted by a false trinity: the beast from the sea (Rev. 13:1)—apostate Christianity during the Middle Ages, the beast from the earth (v. 11)—apostate Protestantism as represented by America, and the dragon—Satan’s personal work through spiritualism.
Babylon is the dragon’s attempt to unify apostate Christianity through miraculous events that will aid his endeavor to legitimize his claim to be of divine origin. Babylon offers to the world her corrupted gospel, called her “wine” (Rev. 14:8). Jesus gave wine to His disciples as a symbol of His sacrificial death (Matt. 26:27, 28), and now Babylon offers to humans her own wine—or a way of salvation through submission to the fallen cherub. In these last days, the dragon will change in many ways the religious, political, philosophical, and economic map of the world through the performance of miracles that will persuade many that he is, indeed, God. We should anticipate radical changes in the world, whose magnitude is difficult to imagine.
The mystical Babylon is still unfolding. The three demonic spirits coming out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet will go to the world to unite them for the battle of the day of the Lord (Rev. 16:13, 14). Meanwhile the messages of the three angels are going to the world to prepare us for the coming of the Lord. The two movements will polarize the earth in faithfulness to the Lamb or to the dragon. But the victory of the Lamb, the true gospel, is assured, and Babylon will fall to rise no more (Rev. 16:19; 17:14; 19:20).
Message of the third angel
The message of the third angel is God’s last appeal, in the form of a warning, to the dwellers of the earth to choose the side of the Lamb in the cosmic conflict. It is about loyalties and ultimate commitments. While the dragon announces that those who will not worship him and who reject the name and the mark of the beast will be exterminated (Rev. 13:15–17), the third angel announces that those who take the side of the dragon will face God’s wrath in the final judgment (Rev. 14:9–11).
Loyalty to the dragon and his allies requires taking the name and the mark of the beast. The wicked will identify themselves with the character and aspirations of the false trinity. Loyalty expresses itself in actions that manifest the nature of the object of loyalty. Appropriating the name and the mark of the beast means that they belong to and supposedly are going to be protected by the dragon. By submitting to the authority of the false trinity, God’s will is irrelevant for the wicked.
The mark of the beast is the counterfeit of God’s seal, the Sabbath. Sunday becomes the symbol of the authority of the dragon over those who follow him—his authority to change God’s law—and that facilitates worshiping him. We worship the Creator on the seventh-day Sabbath, and at the close of the cosmic conflict, the wicked worship the creature through their obedience to Sunday.
The third angel announces that those loyal to the dragon will experience the wrath of God (cf. Rev. 6:16, 17). Then the angel proceeds to explain what God’s wrath is like using the language of wine and of fire and brimstone. According to the angel, divine wrath is like wine that has not been mixed with water but whose intoxicating power has been increased through the addition of certain spices. The point of the metaphor is that God’s eschatological wrath will not be mixed with mercy—there will not be room for repentance. The wicked will fall and will not rise again.
The second metaphor is taken from the experience of a person who has been directly exposed to burning sulfur. The wrath of God is compared to the intense pain that a person feels when burning sulfur falls on their skin; it is extremely painful. There is a second point to this metaphor, namely, that what is burned perishes forever. The wrath of God will result in the eternal death of the wicked.
The intensity of the pain of the wicked in the final judgment is described as a torment—a pain over which the person has no control and that each person will experience over a period of unspecified time (Rev. 14:11). This most painful experience occurs before “the angels and the Lamb.” Scholars have suggested different ways of interpreting this phrase, overlooking the obvious one. The imagery is taken from the coming of Christ with His angels at the parousia. It is the language of a Christophany used here to indicate that Christ will appear to the wicked during the final judgment. They will stand before the Lamb that was slain! They will be looking at the cross of Jesus where God’s magnificent love was revealed to the cosmos and rejected by them.
This is the best and only evidence that God brings to His cosmic court of law to demonstrate that the fallen angel was wrong and that He is unquestionably a loving and righteous God. In the presence of the Lamb, the wicked see themselves as they really are, miserable sinners with a deep sense of guilt, realizing that they will be eternally separated from this most loving God. The realization of such eternal separation is indeed most painful; a torment. On the cross, Jesus experienced the excruciating pain of separation from the Father so that no one else would have to experience it. However, the wicked disregarded the saving blood of the Lamb that was slain, and they will be tormented by the love they chose to ignore. Paradoxically, the love of God, constituting the joy of the unfallen worlds and awakening the deepest gratitude within the hearts of those redeemed by the Lamb, is a torment for the wicked and Satan and his demons.
The cosmic conflict closes peacefully with the universal recognition and declaration that God is a God of love—the persuasive power of the sacrifice of the Lamb defeats the forces of evil. John anticipated this moment when he wrote: “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’ ” (Rev. 5:13).
The three messages are embedded in one message—the eternal gospel—which is powerful enough to save us and to bring the cosmic conflict to an end. Perhaps it would be good to ask again, what are you taking to the pulpit next week? Take the Lamb!
- An expansion of this article will appear in “The Closing of the Cosmic Conflict: Role of the Three Angels’ Messages,” to be published in Artur Stele, ed., The Word: Searching, Living, Teaching, vol. 2 (2021). It includes bibliographical references.
- Ellen G. White, The Truth About Angels (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1996), 247.
- Scripture is from the 1995 edition of the New American Standard Bible.