Hyunsok John Doh, PhD, is a professor of New Testament studies at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.

In chapters 12–14, the book of Revelation presents a spiritual conflict between two powers: Michael against the dragon. Escalating with the appearances of the sea beast and the earth beast in chapter 13, the conflict climaxes with the three angels’ messages (Rev. 13:11–18; 14:6–13). This article focuses on how the battle between Michael and the dragon and the three angels’ messages are related.

Two corresponding but opposing agendas

Revelation 13 is an expansion of the part of Revelation 12 that paints the great conflict between Satan, depicted as a dragon, and God’s people, depicted as a pure woman. In the thirteenth chapter, the dragon employs two beasts: the first is from the sea; the second, from the earth. Both beasts persecute God’s people. A comparison of the three angels’ messages with the activities of the earth beast will show that these messages oppose the acts of the earth beast.

What are those acts? The first promotes worship of the sea beast. The second focuses on firmly establishing the rule of the sea beast and does so by making its image, giving breath to that image, and giving it the power to speak. The third act forces people to receive the mark of the beast.

On the other hand, the three angels’ messages can be summarized this way: the first promotes true worship (“worship the Creator”); the second proclaims the impending fall of the metaphorical/spiritual Babylon (“Babylon is fallen”); and the third warns against receiving the mark of the beast (“if you receive it, you will be tormented”).

The efforts of the earth beast will be met by the voices of the three angels, who oppose the activities of the earth beast and warn the inhabitants of the earth not to follow it. While the earth beast coaxes or forces people to worship the sea beast, the first angel warns the people not to worship it but to worship the Creator God. While the former tries to establish Babylon more firmly by making an image of it, the second angel warns the people that Babylon is fallen. While the earth beast enforces the mark of the beast, even with the threat of a death decree, the third angel tells people not to receive the mark. The angel deters them from receiving the mark by threatening them with a coming torment of fire and sulfur.

In short, the three angels’ messages are the Lamb’s response to the dragon’s agenda. The angels do not proclaim their messages in a vacuum but in the context of the beasts’ activities on Earth.

The three angels’ messages are reactive

The three angels proclaim their messages in line with prophetic tradition. Prophets of old did not speak in a vacuum either. They spoke concerning the bad spiritual conditions of their times. When God’s people were obedient, He did not speak to them much through the prophets. But when the people did not follow God, He raised up prophets who urged them to return to the Lord. The three angels are doing the same thing.

In the third angel’s message, the earth beast attempts to coerce people to receive the mark of allegiance to the sea beast. The same word mark is employed by the third angel, who warns the people not to receive it. The beast is not reacting to the message of the angel; the angel, however, is reacting to the beast’s actions.

Meanwhile, the second angel reacts to the concerted effort of the earth beast to establish the rule of Babylon more firmly, which it does by making an image of the beast from the sea. This image making harkens back to the image made on the Plain of Dura by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3). When called to worship the image, the three Hebrews stood firmly in their faith, and the king’s intention was thwarted. With a message that points to the proverbial fall of the image (Dan. 3:28, 29), the second angel reacts to the beast from the earth.

The first angel’s message directly conflicts with the agenda of the beast from the earth, which is to coerce the people's worship of the sea beast, symbolized by the dragon. The angel reacts to the persuasive, coercive efforts of the earth beast. The earth beast’s campaign for the dragon power is, initially, more subtle than the sea beast’s violence. It deceives the people into worshiping the sea beast. Eventually, the earth beast will be involved in violence when it issues a death decree for those refusing to receive the mark.

In short, the three angels’ messages do not initiate the end-time conditions brought about by the earth beast; instead, they react to those conditions.

Proclaiming with power

The Millerite Adventists (1831–1844) found their mission in the first angel’s message when they proclaimed the nearness of the Second Coming, which was expected in 1843 and then in 1844. That, of course, turned out to be wrong, but the Seventh-day Adventist Church—which years later arose from the Millerites—seeing their mistakes, saw the correct meaning of the three angels’ messages. They came to realize that in 1844, Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary began the process of judgment, and they started to comprehend how the third angel’s message was connected to the seventh-day Sabbath.

That nineteenth-century proclamation was only a microcosm of a grander development in the future. But Seventh-day Adventists today believe that this universal and macrocosm proclamation should continue.1 They anticipate the climactic global development in the unfolding of history when the earth beast will use more power to accomplish its plans. Meanwhile, human messengers can proactively proclaim these warnings.

Of course, the more visible and audible campaigns for the worship of the sea beast are not yet here. However, a more serious conflict will be seen when the earth beast puts all its energy into promoting an agenda for establishing an everlasting kingdom, as King Nebuchadnezzar did many centuries ago.

Despite the reactive nature of the messages, Adventists have been using the messages proactively for a long time. When the story develops fully, as prophesied, the messages’ reactive nature will surface more visibly. The reactions will become more intensive, and the proclamation, more powerful as predicted in Revelation 18, where the fall of Babylon is proclaimed in a loud voice.

Responding to truth

The three angels’ messages are Heaven’s response to the beasts’ activities on Earth. While the angels’ messages and the earth beast compete against each other, the coercive messages from the earth beast will be accepted more easily by the population because of the permeating intoxication of the wine of Babylon and its fornication with worldly power, including its extreme reliance or dependence on force.

In contrast, the heavenly messages can be accepted only in the minds and hearts of people who are pursuing truth. Some will accept only what they have already loved. But those who respond positively to the three angels’ messages will hear the truth given in the power of the Holy Spirit and receive it in the depth of their hearts. In Revelation, Jesus repeatedly invites the reader to be attentive: “ ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ ” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22, NIV). Many people will accept these messages and become the three angels’ messengers themselves, and they will invite others to give ear to their words. The three angels’ messages need to be proclaimed with more power and wisdom as we seek personally and corporately the Spirit’s outpouring, for He alone will enable us to share these messages with the world.

  1. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 197: “The third angel’s message, embracing the messages of the first and the second angels, is the message for this time.”

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Hyunsok John Doh, PhD, is a professor of New Testament studies at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.

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