The GOOD NEWS in the Three Angels’ Message

The GOOD NEWS in the Three Angels’ Message

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September 17, 2020

The title of this week’s lesson, “A Message Worth Sharing,” immediately caught my attention. Part of my personality is that I like to share things with others, and I definitely like to share something that is “worth it!” One assumes that a message “worth sharing” is actively passed along, is relevant, and speaks to one’s life. It was with this idea in my head that I approached this week’s text, found in Revelation 14:6–12. Although I examined various commentaries and academic books in relation to the text, I have to admit that I am more a practitioner than academician; thus, my reflection on the text examines more of the practical aspects of this topic.

If an angel appeared in the sky today, “flying directly overhead” (Rev. 14:6), how do you think people would respond? I can imagine such a sight would create quite a stir! Regardless of whom the angel represents in reality, this messenger would be noticed by the world, both by the appearance and the unusual message.

I do not know how often you hear about or discuss the Three Angels’ Message (3AM). Perhaps you believe that the 3AM belongs more in the realm of official evangelistic meetings or Bible studies. The 3AM is not a topic that Adventists generally talk about in personal conversations with fellow believers; it is fair to assume that this topic is discussed even less with people outside the church. The 3AM does not appear to be “viral” in our society today, even though that is exactly the picture that Revelation 4:16 is painting. If any message is proclaimed to every nation, tribe, language, and people (four terms used intentionally in the biblical text to symbolize thoroughness), it is clear that this message will be heard by E.V.E.R.Y.B.O.D.Y.

As I was searching through Google and YouTube to learn more about context in which the 3AM is discussed, I realized (much to my disappointment) that there are only a very few links related to the three angels’ proclamation of the Gospel. Most of the references to teaching or preaching on Revelation 14:6–12 are from within the Seventh-day Adventist Church¾or in opposition of her.

In 2015, a presentation was made by a retired evangelical pastor named Gary Inrig, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, at a conference run by Former Adventist Fellowship (FormerAdventist 2015). Inrig acknowledged that the 3AM message, as presented in Revelation 14, will simultaneously occur all around the world, that the message is related to an eternal Gospel, and that the message is to be proclaimed to those who dwell on earth. He then comments:

There is something intriguing about that phrase. This is the only time John uses the word “Gospel” in the book of Revelation. And it is not a “John word”. . . That’s Paul’s language . . . but the word means “Good News,” the announcement or the report of something, and this is a report that goes forth. I must say, that it is puzzling Gospel. It is interesting that as you read the Adventist statement, it talks about, he [the angel] has a Gospel of God’s love, but that’s not the message that comes. The message is not a Gospel of love. And the striking thing about it . . . the eternal Gospel doesn’t have any Gospel in it, if I can put it that way, because nothing is said about the cross or the work of Christ or His provision for sins. The message is, “Fear God, repent, and worship the One who made the heavens and the earth.” This is a natural theology that could go around the world, even apart from the message of Christ. I must confess I find that puzzling, and as I read through the commentators, they are equally puzzled. (Inrig 2015)

Such a statement made me sad. First, it indicates not only insufficient/shallow knowledge of the Bible, but also a misunderstanding of the Gospel. Secondly, if this idea was presented by non-believers or Christians who had never come in touch with Seventh-day Adventists, such confusion would perhaps be justifiable. However, this idea was shared among former Adventists, it is clear that there must have been a communication short circuit somewhere along their Adventist journey.

False Assumptions and Beliefs

One of the authors of the book If God Is Love shares childhood memories of the church he attended. In that church, God’s love was always emphasized but was accompanied by a graphically depicted threat of spending eternity in hell. He says, “Jesus and God were presented as partners in a mission to save the world. Jesus was the good cop, gentle and sympathetic, willing to take a bullet for us . . . God was the bad cop, standing in the background with His arms folded across His chest, glaring at us. As long as we responded to Jesus, God remained in the shadows. But should we resist . . . God would crack His knuckles and scowl” (Gulley and Mulholland 2004: 21).

Praise God we do not hear such a message in our churches! We do not believe in spending eternity in hell, and we have biblical evidence to support our beliefs. But then, let’s honestly answer this question: Did you grow up believing you were unworthy of God’s love, that you weren’t “good enough?” Were you ever taught that God’s favor must be earned and/or deserved? I grew up with the conviction that God is love; I never doubted that. However, part of my internal beliefs system told me that I needed to perform in such a way as to please God and earn His love. It was not until studying in the Seminary that I became aware of my false assumption about God’s love and was able to confess my sin of rejecting God’s unconditional love through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross.

Perhaps this has not been your experience. However, the recent Global Church Members Survey indicates that up to two thirds of the Seventh-day Adventist members may believe to one degree or another that God’s blessing is reserved for the remnant and only bestowed on the obedient (Adventist Archives, Statistics, and Research 2017–18). Perhaps, unintentionally, they may thus be living their life, exhibiting that God’s love is limited and conditional, offered to some and not to others, that God’s favor is to be deserved and comes as a reward, not a divine commitment.

With such assumptions (albeit hidden), it is impossible to present the 3AM without making it sound like a warning message of the remnants where one may not see the Gospel of God’s love; like a message that is often seasoned with the caution of arousing fear of God’s wrath and thereby receiving eternal torment. Thus, we have to make sure that we do not have hidden false assumptions (even assumptions that we are not aware of!) and be careful about how we communicate the 3AM. It is impossible to understand the Gospel of God’s love without a deeper knowledge of the biblical teaching.

The Gospel of God’s Love

Revelation is full of terrific scenes. If we look at the text through the lenses of false assumptions about God and His relationship with mankind, we can easily come to wrong conclusions about the purpose and use of the 3AM. Thanks to biblical scholars who have worked to put the book of Revelation in the proper context, we know that Revelation is in harmony with the rest of the Bible. As a matter of fact, Doukhan points out that this book is “more Hebrew than any other book of the New Testament. It contains more than 2,000 allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures” (Doukhan 2002: 10). Yes, Revelation is in harmony with the rest of the Scripture and cannot be fully understood if removed from the context of the overall message/teaching of the Scripture. The 3AM can serve as a “coded” summary of the beautiful teachings of God’s love throughout Scripture.

John wrote five New Testament books, including the Gospel of John, depicting details of Jesus’s substitutionary death that no other New Testament writer tells of. Revelation was not written too long after his other New Testament books; perhaps written in between some of his other books or even before he wrote other books.

In his writing, John emphasized God’s love like no other author of the Bible. The most frequently repeated words in the letter of First John are “is” (103 times), “God” (64 times), and “love” (46 times), i.e. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). In the Gospel of John, John repeatedly identifies himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7–20). He also acknowledged Jesus’s love for all (John 11:5; 13:1; 1 John 4:9–10; Rev 1:5).

We should also keep in mind the circumstances John was in before and when he received the Revelation from Christ. We know that Christians at the end of the first century were severely persecuted. “It is said that Roman emperor Domitian commanded that the apostle John be boiled to death in oil, but John only continued to preach from within the pot. Another time, John was forced to drink poison, but. . . it did not hurt him” (The Voice of the Martyrs, 2006). Only after these methods of execution failed was John imprisoned and left alone on Patmos.

There was a divine reason why Jesus waited until John had been tortured and imprisoned to deliver the Revelation message. This book was written as an encouragement to those who were in severe danger, in pain, and/or going through persecution. To say that the Gospel in Revelation 14 is not the Gospel of God’s love is a great misunderstanding. It would be the same as if we said, “Well, God stopped loving John and thus punished him through persecution and his imprisonment on Patmos.” We all know this is not true! Jesus allowed these circumstances to take place in the life of His “beloved” disciple; as a result, John was able to receive and capture His Revelation. With all that said, I can hardly imagine John using the word “eternal Gospel” without referring to God’s love. Evangelical theologian Dawn observes that despite the note of urgency and warning, the text of the three angels’ message “makes it clear that God’s love is supreme” (Dawn 2002: 165).

The Gospel in the “Eternal Gospel” (Rev 14:6)

Inrig states, “The eternal Gospel doesn’t have any Gospel in it . . . because nothing is said about the cross or the work of Christ or His provision for sins.” How could this be? Could it be because this teaching is “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:11), “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14)? The message of the book of Revelation has been given to us to help distinguish good from evil; that, from where I stand, is very Good News!

James, the bother of Jesus, was compelled to address the problem of cheap grace; in his letter, he included the statement that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:17, 26). Later on, Martin Luther, blind to the context of James’s writing, categorized that statement as “there is no Gospel without works,” thereby labeling James’s letter as the “straw epistle.” On the other hand, when the apostle Paul addressed Judaist-like legalism, he reminded us that we are saved by grace through faith, “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works” (Eph. 2:8–9). Are the two in opposition? On the contrary! They complement each other, showing two sides of the same coin. In the same way, the Gospel in Revelation complements the Gospel set forth in the four Gospels and Paul’s epistles.

Jesus, as recorded by John in the book of Revelation, sends three angels to address a man-made religion that has been perfected to the point that God is no longer needed. He is encouraging true believers in an environment that appears to be very religious and spiritual on the surface, but where God is no longer taken into account (nor do people fear Him). Humans give glory to everybody but God, and God’s judgment and wrath are denied because God, after all, “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). In such a context, where it is almost impossible to distinguish good from evil, Jesus articulates the Gospel in a new, fresh way without denying a fraction of the one, true Gospel.

Is the 3AM in opposition to the Gospel? Absolutely not! It is conveying the one and only Gospel but in the context of man-made/self-made religion, spiritual pride, and human self-sufficiency. Perhaps we need more patience in explaining this text and more clarity in making the necessary connections. Ernhardt explains it like this:

The first angel has the everlasting Gospel. According to 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 the Gospel is the cross. So whenever we preach the cross, we preach the message of the first angel. The second angel tells us Babylon is falling. The king of Babylon thought he had earned his dominion while Daniel 4:32 tells us it was given to him. Babylon represents trusting ourselves and our own system of worship to save us, instead of keeping our eyes on Jesus who will save us. So when we preach salvation by grace instead of works we are preaching the message of the second angel. The third angel warns us against trusting in our own works to save us, and gives us the Sabbath as a sign that we rest our faith in Jesus and not in man or the works of man. (Erndhardt 2014)

Whenever justification by faith is preached, the third angel’s message is preached (see Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, April 1, 1890). One can clearly see that the “Eternal Gospel” of the 3AM is saturated with the Gospel.

Deciphering the 3AM

In the following few subsections, I would like to highlight the beauty and relevancy of the three angels’ message for us today, to show why this message should go viral as it addresses the burning needs of our society and provides direction for us believers.

Fear God (Rev 14:7a)

This call addresses our relationship with God (Stefanovic 2002: 443) and is easily misunderstood. In today’s society, “fear” is often synonymous with being afraid or scared. However, in this context, fearing God means loving Him with all of our heart, soul, and strength (Dt. 6:2, 5) and knowing that He loves us more than we can imagine (Doukhan 2002: 125). Fearing God, in biblical context, indicates an intimate relationship with God (Ps. 25:14; 33:18). Additionally, in 2 Tim. 1:7, we read: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (see also Rev 1:17; 2:10; 15:4). In other words, fearing God is not about us cowering in fear and respecting God’s authority from afar; on the contrary, it is an urgent call to trust God, to open our hearts to Him, allow Him to fill the dark corners of our soul with His light, and to expose ourselves to God’s presence enough to allow Him to transcend the influence of our social environment and transform our inner desires.

Give Him glory. . . (Rev 14:7b)

To give God glory goes against our sinful nature. We make Him our King when we are willing to admit our shortcomings and to repent (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15). We glorify Him when we give Him “weight in our thoughts and actions” (Doukhan 2002: 125), when we take Him seriously, and obey “His commandments” (Stefanovic 2002: 443). While this is easily said, and we may sincerely agree with the importance of doing all these things, they go against our innate pride.

McDonald lists 24 different categories in which one could be prideful (including the areas of spirituality, knowledge, power, or appearance). Should you read the whole list, be prepared to hold your breath, as it will likely get under your skin as it did to me. “Most people are pretty humble in most categories and just prideful in one or two . . . Pride is one of the most destructive and heinous sins you can commit . . . Unhealthy pride happens when we do or say things for the purpose of people praising ourself or for making ourself feel good. . . Pride wants ourself to be praised, get glory, be worshiped and be highly talked about . . .” (McDonald n.d.)

This is an extremely important process, however, as it sets us in the right place when God takes an action and the hour of His judgment has come. Often, we want to use our power to fight injustice, discrimination, racism, abuse, and other ongoing forms of evil that bring pain as they pass from generation to generation. There is nothing wrong with this! However, we cannot get rid of all these problems on our own. Judgment is not in our hands, and by giving God the glory, we acknowledge our dependence on Him in matters of handling lawlessness, injustice, violence, abuse, misuse of power, corruption, etc. To give Him glory means we do not allow our pride to take matters in our own hands and pass judgment, as difficult as it may be.

Worship Him. . . (Rev 14:7c)

Worshiping God aligns with fearing and glorifying Him; it appeals to intensify the depth of our relationship with God. Worshiping Him is the most intimate expression of our love to “the God that gave us life” (Doukhan 2002: 126). To genuinely worship God means to become one with Him. The connection between the act of worship and the Creator is not accidental. First, it refers back to the original purpose of creating humans¾to be in perfect harmony with our loving God and his creation¾and second, it reminds us of the special Sabbath time set apart at the end of creation as the culmination of God’s purpose with humans. This reference is crucial for us who are living in times of overload, busyness, and stress, where there is often no time or energy for receiving and giving love. Sabbath serves as a strategic stop to slow down, recharge lost energy, renew broken relationships, remove lack of communication, and heal wounded hearts, while worshiping God.

Fallen, fallen is Babylon. . . (Rev 14:8)

After all the “efforts to make the nations drunk with her own immoral wine” (Wright 2011: 130), Babylon is finally fallen. “The disciples of Babel, intoxicated by her wine, have lost all sense of reality. They have been fooled. Babel masqueraded as the city of God and they fell for it” (Doukhan 2002: 124). We are surrounded by religion in all forms, many with teachings that are irresistibly tempting. While these may make sense to the bright elite of the world, it is impossible to prevent the inevitable consequences of departing from God. It is this departure that will bring the earth to destruction.

The message of the Apocalypse strikes at the heart of hypocritical and superficial religions that fail to inspire an awe of God precisely because they have no concept of the fear of God. People may invoke God’s name, build temples and cathedrals to His glory, and debate theology about Him, but the human heart remains closed, crippled by its own lies and crimes . . . (Doukhan 2002: 125)

There is no way one can detect this by mere intellectual probing and/or by common sense. The only way to avoid confusion and disappointment is to follow the eternal Gospel and, in response to accepting the Good News, “fear God,” “give Him glory,” and “worship Him.” There is a reason for the old saying, “pride comes before a fall.” “The fall of Babylon should warn each of us of the downfall that our own pride can cause” (Doukhan 2002: 128).

Wine of God’s wrath. . . (Rev 14:9-12)

The words used in the third angel’s message describing God’s anger are unusually strong words. Wrath, anger, and fire are used all at once only in four other instances in the Bible: Psalm 78:21; Lamentations 4:11; Ezekiel 22:20; and Nahum 1:6. If we add the fourth term, “sulfur,” and the type of punishment, “tormented,” we see such a scenario occurs only in Revelation 14:10. One may wonder, how does the Good News of the Gospel connect with drinking the wine of this kind of God’s wrath?

If a loving and merciful God - who sent Jesus to die for us and demonstrated beyond doubts His intention is to save and not to condemn - gets so angry, there must be a reason for it.

When a schoolteacher assigns after-school detention to a pupil who has not done his homework, there is no necessary link between the offense and the punishment. This is clear from the fact that the same punishment might be used for different and unrelated offenses. But God’s world is created in such a way that a built-in cause-and-effect relationship exists between sin and God’s response to it. (Spilbury 2002: 112)

God’s anger is not arbitrary; it is not that He did not sleep well the night before or the He has run out of patience. Also, the reasons for His coming anger were described at different points in history and recorded in the Bible. Therefore, this anger should come as no surprise.

God’s judgment is just, thorough, and complete. Wright rightfully points out that God’s anger is good news “for those who have lived in a world of horror, torture, and squalor. God is going to sort it all out!” (Wright 2011: 131). Moreover, the good news is that all of this will happen as part of a plan, carefully prepared by a loving God, who will terminate the fallen evil world forever. It is good news that those who fear God, i.e., love the Lord and trust Him, do not have to be afraid of the judgment day because their cases have been already solved (i.e., during the pre-Advent judgment); they can joyfully expect Jesus’s second coming. It is good news that God does not desire to torture fallen humans forever and let “the saints” watch from a distance. Doukhan notes that “the Apocalypse is not referring here to an eternal hell . . . the expression ‘for ever and ever’ hints less to an eternal duration than to a definite ending” (Doukhan 2002: 129).

It is also good news that the terrifying process discussed above will be overshadowed by “a new heavens and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). The glory of God will be in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-11) and will give it light (Rev. 21:23), for God “will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).

Thus, the saints are encouraged to endure (Rev. 14:12). One may understand that John was anxiously eager “to prevent any of Jesus’s followers being sucked down into that dark whirlpool of wrath. Their part is to be patient, obedient and faithful, knowing that death itself has been defeated . . .” (Wright 2011: 131). We have a lot to look forward. For me, the 3AM message makes sense only in the context of God’s amazing love. His integrity is unsurpassable and insurmountable.

I sincerely believe the 3AM should never be used as a threat to those who have other beliefs or do not fully understand the picture Jesus revealed to John. Let’s share it with others as a compass, while following Christ in the last days, as the secret to harmony with God while living in extreme times. Let’s not reduce ourselves to preaching the 3AM in the spirit of condemnation, but rather use it as an encouragement in a time of trouble and confusion. Is it possible that the 3AM reflects on God’s love in such a way that is worth sharing? Does this important message deserve more attention? Absolutely! Let’s recover the 3AM, help others to recover from the damaging impact of misunderstanding the 3AM, and help those seeking God to understand the “solid food” of the Gospel.

Let’s go viral, shall we?

 

Bibliography

Adventist Archives, Statistics, and Research, Global Church Member Survey, Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 2018.

Marva J. Dawn, Joy in Our Weakness: A Gift of Hope from the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002).

Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Revelation: The Apocalypse Through Hebrew Eyes (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002).

William Erndhardt, “Are We Still Preaching the Three Angels’ Message?,” in Sabbath School Net (2014), https://ssnet.org/blog/still-preaching-three-angels-message/.

“Revelation 14–The Three Angels,” FormerAdventist, published in 2015, YouTube video, https://youtu.be/SQ4UjKRyK5k.

Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, If God Is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious World (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 2004).

Ronald McDonald, “What Unhealthy Pride Looks Like,” Saddleback Leather Co, September 16, 2020. https://saddlebackleather.com/signs-of-pride.

Paul Spilsbury, The Throne, the Lamb, & the Dragon (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002).

Ranko Stefanovic, Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Berrien Springs MI: Andrews University Press, 2002).

The Voice of the Martyrs, “Boiled in Oil But Remains Alive,” The Voice of the Martyrs, September 16, 2020. https://www.persecutionblog.com/2006/09/boiled_in_oil_b.html.

N. T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone (United Kingdom: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).

 

Petr Činčala is director of the Institute of Church Ministry and director of the Doctor of Missiology Program at Andrews University.

Photo by Julian Hanslmaier on Unsplash

 

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