Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for June 10, 2023.
Editor’s note: To accompany the Sabbath school lesson's focus this quarter on the three angels’ messages, Spectrum is publishing “Adventist Identity and the Three Angels’ Messages,” a serialized in-depth focus on Revelation by Sigve Tonstad.
The messages of all the three angels fit the pattern of God’s reaction to demonic action, and the message of the third angel is no exception. It, too, is profoundly cognizant of the other side and its legacy of horror. We can delineate the respective roles of the two sides by putting the action in the active voice so as no longer to veil the agent behind the action. He (the Dragon) “will torture them with fire and sulfur . . . in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Rev. 14:10). This means that “the holy angels” and “the Lamb” are not the perpetrators of the torture taking place as though they, too, like the demonic side, inflict torture on human beings. They are there as witnesses, horrified witnesses.
Why, then, does the third angel call it “the wine of God’s wrath” that is now “poured unmixed into the cup of his anger” (14:10). “God’s wrath”? “His anger”? The genitive constructs have God as their subject, but they must be probed for meanings that are distinct from the meanings they have when the “wrath” and the “anger” belong to someone other than God. The fallen Babylon is at fault for making “all nations drink of the wrath of her fornication” [ek tou oinou tou thymou tēs porneias autēs] (14:8; 18:3). It is a mistake to assume that the valence and character of Babylon’s wine are the same as God’s, that Babylon’s wrath is the same as God’s, or that the golden cup of Babylon is the same as God’s cup (17:4). And yet there must be a point to the similarity: Babylon’s crime is also Babylon’s punishment. To say that God acts in a revealing and permissive role is a step in the right direction, but it is not precise enough. God’s revealing action is evident in every exposé of demonic activity, and the reality of permission cannot be denied. And yet, before permission is given, God subjects the opposing side to restraint.
Three sets of texts set the tone for how to understand the meaning of God’s wrath. None of these texts have been given the attention they deserve.
First, as noted, the sealing takes place on the eve of “the epiphany of Satan.” In that setting, John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining [kpatountas] the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree” (7:1). The verb is kpateō, with the meaning to “hold back, restrain, seize, or take control” (BDAG 4387). The same verb is used of the mighty angel that “seized [ekratēsen] the dragon” at the beginning of the thousand years (20:2). In both instances, God restrains the side that is hostile to God.
Second, when “the sixth angel blew his trumpet,” John hears a voice telling the trumpet angel, “Release [lyson] the four angels who are bound [dedemenous] at the great river Euphrates.” Next, “the four angels were released [elythēsan]” (9:13-15). The verbs of interest here are lyō, with the meaning “to undo something that is used to tie up or constrain something, to set free, loose, or untie” (BDAG 4639), and deō, with the meaning “to confine a person or thing by various kinds of restraints, to bind, or to tie” (BDAG 1804). Here, the good angels that until this point have bound the bad angels are now told to release them! This seems shocking, to a point, but it is also revelatory. God lets go of restraint with the result that evil becomes fully manifest. This happens in the trumpet sequence (9:13-21), and it happens more fully when—again at “the great river Euphrates”—we have “the epiphany of Satan” taking place at “the Battle of Armageddon” (16:12-16).
Third, the three telling verbs explained above all appear in connection with the binding and release of Satan at the beginning and end of the millennium (20:1-7). John says that the mighty angel “seized/restrained [ekratēsen]” Satan, and the angel “bound [edēsen] him” (20:2). Restraint of the opposing side is not in doubt in this text. And then, again shockingly, the reader is told that after the thousand years, Satan “must be released [lythēnai] for a little while” (20:3). And he is! “When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released [lythēsetai] from his prison” (20:7).
These instances of restraint, binding, and release have a revelatory tenor. The God who restrains is also the God who reveals, and the revelation is fully manifest when God lets go of restraint (9:13-15; 20:3, 7). Things get worse at that point, as they must, because evil operates without restraint, whether in the scene at “the great river Euphrates” in the trumpet sequence (9:13-21), in the scene—again at “the great river Euphrates”—in the bowl sequence (16:12-16), or when Satan is bound and released before and after the millennium (20:1-7). In these details lies the secret to the meaning of “God’s wrath”: evil becomes fully manifest when God lets go of restraint. As the third angel puts it, those at the receiving end of unrestrained demonic action “have no rest [anapausin] day or night” (14:11). Rest, however, is precisely what God offers those who suffer and those who are enslaved, whether suffering in the theological darkness from the smoke rising “like the smoke of a great furnace” in the fifth trumpet (9:2) or enslaved in the Iron Furnace of imperial Egypt before God set them free (Deut. 4:20). “But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest [anapausētai, LXX] as well as you” (Deut. 5:15).
Notes & References:
 R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol II, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920).
 In these verses, the action described is in the active voice, and the acting subject is named: the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.
Previously in this series:
The Third Angel’s Message: Part 1 (May 31, 2023).
The Second Angel’s Message: Part 2 (May 24, 2023).
The Second Angel’s Message: Part 1 (May 17, 2023).
The First Angel’s Message: Part 3 (May 10, 2023).
The First Angel’s Message: Part 2 (April 26, 2023).
The First Angel’s Message: Part 1 (April 20, 2023).
The Second Rule of Revelation: Pay Attention to Old Testament Usage (April 12, 2023).
The First Rule of Revelation: Be a Re-Reader (April 5, 2023).
Adventist Identity and the Three Angels’ Messages: Part 1 (March 29, 2023).
Sigve Tonstad is an assistant professor in the School of Medicine and research professor in the School of Religion at Loma Lind University. Born and raised in Norway, he completed a BA in theology at Middle East College in Lebanon and Andrews University (1974), his MD from Loma Linda University (1979), an MA in biblical studies at LLU (1990), and a PhD in New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews (2005).
Title image: from The Grapes of Wrath (film), 1940 (public domain).