Pastor Scott Andrews | January 29, 2023
There are many good reasons to study verse-by-verse through the Bible. For example, it allows us to take verses in their context – we looked at the verses that came before last week, and we’ll look at the verses that come after next week. It also forces us to cover everything, and not pick and choose the easy, make you feel good passages. Or what I determine are the practical verses – for when you change a diaper or change the oil this week. Rather, it makes us cover the difficult texts – the ones we might be tempted to skip – the ones we could never choose.
I say that to say, I don’t know how many of you read ahead – that is, the passage we’re about to cover. Like last week, we covered Revelation 14:1-5, so you know Revelation 14:6ff comes today. So, I don’t know how many of you have read the passage for this morning. If you did, you probably had a couple thoughts: first, yep, this is a passage most would skip, and second, I’m glad I’m not preaching today. You see, if you read ahead, you know this passage basically says, turn or burn. I don’t say that lightly. It is one of the clearest passages on the reality of eternal torment. It’s one of those passages that causes unbelievers to reject and even mock the faith and causes believers to squirm or even question the faith.
So, as we are about to read the passage, I have some questions for you: do you believe this is God’s Word, every word of it? Are you willing to believe and accept its teaching, even if it’s difficult – and rejected by both unbelievers and even some professing believers? Are you willing to allow the passage to do what it is intended to do – to motivate you to stay faithful to the gospel, whatever the cost, and move you to share the gospel, whatever the cost? You see, we find clearly today the fate of those who refuse to believe. And it’s not fun. Again, it’s a truth hard for us to accept, even more for unbelievers. Really, you believe this Dante’s Inferno stuff? So, buckle up and let’s read the text – Revelation 14:6-13.
It’s interesting, many people today mock the methods of yesterday – when hellfire and brimstone preachers tried to scare people into believing the gospel and surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Either bow the knee now, or later, but you will bow. Either believe and know the glories of heaven; or refuse to believe, and you will know the horrors of hell. I know, it seems cruel, mean, outdated – the stuff of legend or myth. Come on – you mean to tell me that God will punish people for eternity for sins committed in time? That hardly seems fair – I just can’t accept that. As if it is within our authority to reject those portions of Scripture that make us squirm, that we don’t like. Can I suggest it’s okay to not like eternal torment – especially since some we know and love will be there. But we dare not deny it.
Because it has caused some – perhaps even well-intentioned believers – to reinterpret the teaching – to try to soften its message. To make it more palatable, acceptable. To make it nicer. Some have wanted to teach universalism – that in the end, all will be saved. That’s the teaching of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. As nice as that may sound, that is clearly not what the Bible teaches. Others want to teach what is called annihilationism – what’s that? It’s the idea that when unbelievers are cast into hell, they are annihilated, consumed – that is, they cease to exist. Again, as nice as that sounds, that is not what the Bible teaches, especially in this text. So, we will accept God’s good and faithful word, and trust that all He does is good, just and right. Further, we will allow the text to accomplish its intended end – to motivate unbelievers to believe, and believers to remain faithful.
The outline of the text is quite simple as it follows the announcements of three angels – each building on what the previous angel said:
- The First Angel – Announcement to Repent and Believe the Gospel (6-7)
- The Second Angel – Announcement of the (future) Fall of Babylon (8)
- The Third Angel – Announcement of the Fate of Unbelievers (9-11)
- The Voice from Heaven – directed at us (12-13)
I told you last week Revelation 14 outlines nicely by the three times John says, And I saw – pointing to three different visions:
- Verse 1 – And I saw, and behold, the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mt. Zion. That was last week, a great picture, standing on Mt. Zion with Christ singing the song of the redeemed.
- Verse 6 – And I saw three angels announcing for all to hear – the truth of the gospel and the torment of those who don’t believe it.
- Verse 14 – And I saw, and behold, the Son of Man harvesting or judging the earth.
You see, with that chapter outline, John is drawing a sharp distinction/contrast between the fate of those who believe and those who don’t. Those who believe will stand with the Lamb at the end of time. Those who don’t will not stand but be tormented before the Lamb at the end of time.
So, let’s look at verses 6 and 7 to see the angel proclaiming the gospel. Some suggest it is one last opportunity to repent. We find another angel flying in midair. There are angels all over the book: myriads of angels, strong angels, archangels like Michael. In fact, Michael is the last angel mentioned, back in chapter 12. So when John says another angel, it’s just that – here comes another one. This angel, like the eagle in chapter 8, is flying in mid-heaven. That’s speaks of heaven not as the place of God’s dwelling but high in the air – perhaps above the atmosphere – high enough to be seen by all is the idea.
Verse 7 says he speaks with a loud voice, loud enough to be heard by all. Now, the angel proclaims an eternal gospel. You likely know the word literally means good news, and typically points to the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. Now, some point out there is no definite article, hence it reads an eternal gospel. But again, as the word is typically used of the work of Christ, we assume that’s what is meant here. It’s interesting that it’s an eternal gospel – and we remember Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and those who believe the gospel are eternally saved. It’s an eternal gospel, spanning from eternity past to eternity future. This is incredibly good news.
Now, please notice the angel preaches this gospel to those who live on the earth – it’s a little different phrasing, but likely the same meaning – to the earth dwellers from every nation, tribe, tongue and people. So get the picture – this angel, high enough to be seen by all, loud enough to be heard by all, preaches an eternal gospel to all. Why? Because the hour of His judgment has come. Verse 7 tells us the content of the message: Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.”
Now, because of the judgment that follows, some suggest this is only an announcement of pending judgment. You better fear God, because His judgment is coming, and that’s bad news for you. Maybe. But others suggest, with which I agree, this is a final call to repentance. One commentator called this, “an appeal for repentance and conversion to the God who created the heaven and earth in the context of impending judgment.” You see, everywhere the word gospel is used in the NT, it is in the context of the gracious offer of salvation. Of course, the death and resurrection of Christ are not mentioned, but it is assumed. If you are going to fear God, give Him glory and worship Him, it must come through the work of His Son.
So first, those who hear are called to fear God and give Him glory. Yes, this is in the context of judgment, but the fear of God is encouraged throughout Old and New Testaments. Not only that, in the next chapter (15:4), those who had been victorious over the beast, sing a new song, saying, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You.”
In chapter 16, with the coming of the bowl judgments, we read “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over the plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.” In chapter 19, at the marriage supper of the Lamb, a voice comes from heaven saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and great…Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come…”
So, even in this book to fear God and give Him glory is accomplished by those who are His servants, who know Him and are known by Him as part of the bride of the Lamb. And so, those still unbelievers are called to believe – to worship Him who is the Creator, who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of water.
Again, in chapter 15, those who follow Him will worship Him. Don’t miss the point. This angel flies through the mid-heaven, crying out with a loud voice, fear God and give Him glory – worship Him. We are supposed to see a contrast. Back in the previous chapter, the false prophet and the image of the beast were calling for all people everywhere to worship the beast. No, don’t do it, the angel says. Don’t fall for the invitation of the enemy of your souls – repent, turn from your sin – worship the only true God. It’s an invitation – perhaps the final call to come to faith in God through the work of His Son. Remember, in chapter 15, the bowl judgments are about to come, and with them, the wrath of God is finished. It’s a last call, for we see the hour of His judgment has come.
Listen to me – there will come a day, even if you don’t live through the tribulation – there will come a day when you will hear the last call to repent and believe. You say, I’ll believe before I die. How do you know that? Your life is a vapor – here one day, gone the next. Which is why the author of Hebrews says, today is the day of salvation. Meaning, it’s time – there is no time to delay. Repent, fear God which means just what it says – have a healthy, holy fear of God, who made everything there is. This is the way Paul often started his gospel presentations. In Acts 17, for example, talking to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, he said,
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Paul goes from the Creator and therefore, the One to whom we will give an account, to the One through whom God will judge the world – this One He proved was His divine Son by raising Him from the dead. And that Savior will also be Judge.
And therefore, glorify Him – that is, make much of Him and His infinite worth and divine attributes. Worship Him, for He alone is worthy of worship. You see, this is what humanity has not done. We have not worshipped the Creator, and Savior, and Judge. Paul said it this way in Romans 1:
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
I don’t want to jump ahead, but is it any wonder that God, who graciously created all things and made His glory known and even sent His Son to die for sinners, is angry that we, His creatures, have rejected Him and pursued gods of our own making. We neither honored Him, glorified Him, nor thanked Him. Most, in fact, have denied Him.
And so, if the wrath of God is coming, should we not with great passion, intensity and urgency call for people to believe the gospel? If we believe Christ is the only answer to our sin problem, if we believe the day of God’s wrath against unbelievers is coming, should we not plead with people to repent and believe the gospel? That’s what this angel is doing.
Because you see, there are two more angels to come. And the second one in verse 8 says, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” This is the first mention of Babylon in the book, but there will be many more to come. It likely isn’t speaking of Babylon on the Euphrates River, but speaks of all civilization, from the beginning of time, that has arrayed itself against God.
From the beginning way back in Genesis 11, all the people of the world were in one city with one language and decided to build a tower to heaven. What’s the big deal? By their silly, sinful work they were seeking to reach heaven, approach God, the God of their own making, in their own way. You remember the story, God came down and confused their languages so they could not finish the task and stay in their sinful rebellion.
Later we see that city become the capital of the Babylonian Empire, and under Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s Temple. Later, the Roman Empire did the same thing under General Titus, destroying Herod’s Temple. And so Babylon became a euphemism for Rome – Peter used it that way. It became a symbol for all of civilization which stands against God and His people. And so, their judgment is coming. John here speaks of its fall proleptically – that is, it will come. We will read about it in chapter 18. Babylon the great – an allusion to when Nebuchadnezzar walked out of his palace one day and looked over the grandeur of Babylon and said, is this not great Babylon that I have built? And unbelievers of all time look to themselves instead of God – and the puny works of their hands, is this not a great thing I have done. And shake their fist in the face of God Almighty, knowing not that judgment is coming.
And this evil civilization causes those within her to drink the wine of the passion of her immoralities. That’s what we’ve done in our rebellion. Certainly, that has reference to sexual immorality, but like last week, it also refers to their spiritual adultery in worshiping other gods. And they will fall – fallen, fallen, is … fill in the city, the empire, the nation whose God is not the Lord.
Bringing us to the third angel in verses 9-11. As I said earlier, each message builds on the previous one. The first angel preached the gospel and issued an invitation to repent and worship the true God. The second angel says, after all, civilization is coming to a close – it will fall. And the third angel now says, if you don’t, if you instead worship the beast, you will pay the price.
These are most challenging verses – ones many want to ignore, forget, change or deny. But if we answered in the affirmative that we believe this is God’s Word – all of it – and it is trustworthy and we submit ourselves to it, believing it is good – then we must accept it, even if it is hard.
In verse 9, the angel declares the identity of those to receive God’s deserved wrath: “if anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives the mark on his forehead or his hand…” This goes back to chapter 13 where we learned about the unholy trinity – the dragon who is Satan, the coming Antichrist and the False Prophet. The Antichrist will be evil incarnate, and the False Prophet will point the world to him – to worship the beast, to receive his mark. Again, we don’t really know how literally to take this – we do know there is an Antichrist coming, and he will set himself up to be worshiped. He will blaspheme the true God and persecute His followers.
So, those who do so and receive his mark are identified in verse 9. Now, I suppose we should ask the question, so this judgment and consequent punishment to come, is only for those alive at the tribulation and worship the beast, receive his mark? Not so fast. Chapter 20 will say, anyone who is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Many NT authors talk about hell and eternal punishment – but none more so than Jesus. He often talked about gathering the chaff and burning it, about casting unbelievers out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Matthew 25:46, He said after separating the sheep from the goats, believers from unbelievers, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Interesting wording – eternal punishment, just like eternal life. That doesn’t seem to leave room for annihilationism or universalism.
Having identified those to receive God’s just judgment, the angel talks about the wrath to come in verse 10. Having worshiped the beast, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger. This is both a clear and horrible picture of the deserved wrath to come. They will drink of the wine of the wrath of God. Don’t miss the connection – because they drank the wine of the immoralities and idolatries of evil civilization – they will now drink of the cup of God’s wrath.
This wine of His wrath is mixed in full strength in the cup of His holy anger. You see, back then, you often mixed wine with water – one to one or even two to one – to stretch it, dilute it. You only drank unmixed wine to get drunk. But here, this wine is in full strength – unmixed – so as to vent His full, unmixed, unmitigated, deserved wrath. They will experience the full unmixed measure of His righteous anger.
Do you remember when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” What cup? Most agree, it was the cup of God’s wrath against sin. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against sinners so we don’t have to. He bore our sin and received our just penalty – He died our death, bearing our deserved wrath. He drank the cup so we don’t have to. It’s why He sweat great drops of blood, knowing what cup He was about to drink.
In verse 11, the angel talks about the duration of the torment to come. Notice, the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. Jesus called it eternal punishment. Perhaps being too explicit, it’s not the burning of their remains, but the smoke of their torment. So you don’t miss it, the angel says, they have no rest day and night – that is, those who worshiped the beast and took his mark – as opposed to believing in Jesus and receiving the name of the Father and the Lamb on their foreheads. I understand this is hard to take. But this is what God’s Word says, and God does all things right and just. If eternal punishment does anything, it communicates to us the nature of our rebellion against a holy God.
Which leads us to our last point and conclusion – the voice from heaven – in verses 12-13. John interjects in verse 12, this is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. His point, there will be increasing pressure to leave the faith – to join the throngs worshiping false gods, ultimately worshiping the beast. And so, he encourages us, persevere. Keep the commandments of God and your faith in Jesus. Don’t desert, don’t abdicate, don’t deconstruct, don’t walk away. Yes, it’s going to get harder, but he reminds us, judgment is coming, and we want to be found followers of Christ.
Verse 13, And I heard a voice from heaven, saying “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” You may die a martyr’s death, but you will be blessed if you die in the Lord. The implication is, you will not be blessed if you die outside the Lord.
And the Holy Spirit speaks – only the first of two times in the entire book – “Yes, so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” Notice the contrast with unbelievers in verse 11, who have no rest day or night for eternity. But you, follower of Jesus, will rest from you labor – that is, following Christ in the midst of opposition. When it costs you. It doesn’t mean, of course, there will be no labor in heaven – it means we can rest from the labor of persecution. Because, our deeds will follow us. It’s not that deeds save us – rather our deeds of following Christ, even when it’s costly, demonstrate that we know Christ.
I said this is one of two times the Spirit speaks in the book. The last time is in chapter 22 – right near the end, when the Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the one who is thirsty come, let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. The Spirit and the bride say come. Who is the bride? It’s us – followers of Jesus. And so if you are here today, not yet a believer, the Holy Spirit issues an invitation; the bride, that is we, the church, believers, say come. Come and drink of the waters of life. Believe the gospel – believe that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so you don’t have to.