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The First Angel’s Message: Part 1


Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for April 22, 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 the three angels in Revelation 14 are not proclaimed in a vacuum (Rev. 14:6–12). Two sides are in contention, each side seeking to persuade “the inhabitants of the earth” to believe its claims and to reject the claims of the other side. David Barr’s perception of the immediate context of the messages is striking and to the point. “One of the most shocking things about this third story is that God is no longer the main actor,” he says. “The dragon acts and God reacts.”[1] The pattern of (demonic) action and (divine) reaction applies to the entire book, but it may be more evident in the middle of the book. In the account of the sea beast (13:1–10) and the earth beast (13:11–18), we have demonic action (“the dragon acts”). It is followed by the messages of the three angels describing God’s reaction (“God reacts”) (14:6–12). “This is the dragon’s story,” Barr says of this section.[2] His observation highlights the activity of the side that is hostile to God in the story, and it helps readers recognize that God’s reaction is a corrective and a contrast to the opposing side.

The First Angel

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternally valid good message (euangelion aiōnion) to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people, saying in a loud voice, “Be in awe of God and speak well of him, for his hour has come—the critical moment (hē hōra tēs kriseōs autou)—and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water (Rev. 14:6–7, translation mine).

Conflict and contrast apply to details that seem incidental to the casual reader, and the details abound. The angel “flying in midheaven” (14:6) contrasts with the eagle or vulture “flying in midheaven” in the trumpet sequence (8:13). We have three angelic messengers speaking for God (14:6–11), and we have three predatory birds drawing attention to ominous realities orchestrated by the evil side. These messengers say, “How awful! How awful! How awful!”—they are not bearers of good news (8:13; 9:12; 11:14). In both cases, the audience is global, with messages affecting “every nation and tribe and language and people” (14:6; 8:13).

And then, right after leaving the gate, so to speak, or right after takeoff, we are reminded of the need to question even our most ingrained assumptions. The first angel takes flight to bring good news (euangelisai) in the form of an eternally valid good message (euangelion aiōnion). For this term, translations tend to use the word “gospel” as “the everlasting gospel” (KJV, NKJV), “the gospel of eternity” (NJB), “an eternal gospel” (NRS), or “eternal good news" (CEB). This is not wrong from the point of view of the lexical meaning of euangelion, but it carries the risk that we will hear the word with the accumulated meaning it has to us rather than the meaning it has in Revelation.

Hans K. LaRondelle takes the route of ingrained, accumulated meaning, saying that “the adjective ‘eternal’ (Gr. aiōnios) applied to ‘gospel’ in Rev 14:6 carries special meaning. It affirms that the end-time gospel is the unchanged gospel of the apostles and Jesus. The end-time gospel is not a different gospel, but the gospel as set forth by Paul in his letters to the Romans and to other churches.”[3] This assertion confronts at least three caveats. First, the angel in Revelation proclaims euangelion aiōnion. The expression lacks the definite article, a distinction that sets it apart from nearly all other instances where the word euangelion is used in the New Testament. This comes with the implication that this “gospel” had no mental antecedent in the mind of the writer, had not been defined by previous occurrences in other writings, and is to be defined by its background and context in Revelation. Second, the claim that it is “the gospel as set forth by Paul in his letters to the Romans and to other churches”[4] makes assumptions that are subject to further objections. John’s omission of the article suggests that his term may not be “the gospel” as Protestants understand it. Worse yet, the notion that it is “the gospel as set forth by Paul in his letters to the Romans and other churches” will have less force and explanatory power when we acknowledge that the content of that gospel—“the gospel set forth by Paul”—is no longer the fixed point assumed by LaRondelle.[5] Third, and I say this tongue-in-cheek, this means that the first angel is not Martin Luther proclaiming the Protestant gospel of justification by faith alone. Unlike the doctrinal structure of that gospel, Revelation has a story that must be understood on its own terms. I say it this way because I have heard LaRondelle explain what he means in person, and I have heard his view repeated by many who were taught by him.

The first angel in John’s vision proclaims euangelion aiōnion in reaction to entrenched misrepresentations of God. We have noted that the expression lacks the definite article. With this feature in mind, R. H. Charles wrote that euangelion “here is not to be translated as though it were to euangelion,” “the gospel.” Instead, he said, its character is defined by its own immediate context.[6] J. Massyngberde Ford states a similar view with even greater force. “This passage should not be translated as if the Gospel were meant. . . . One might ask whether the gospel has influenced Revelation or vice versa.”[7] In the most exhaustive and analytical commentary on Revelation to date, David Aune says that “the noun euangelion, ‘message,’ occurs only here in Revelation, though it occurs frequently in the NT.” He contends for a distinctive usage because of the absence of the definite article. “An eternal message” helps preserve Revelation’s distinctive use, and “an eternal gospel” can be used if it comes with awareness of the book’s distinctive.[8] Crucially, the first angel’s mission must be understood within the pattern of action and reaction described earlier.   


Notes & References:

[1] David L. Barr, Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 1998), 102.

[2] Barr, Tales of the End, 102.

[3] Hans K. LaRondelle, The End-Time Prophecies of the Bible (Sarasota, Fl.: First Impressions, 1997), 330. 

[4] LaRondelle, The End-Time Prophecies, 330.

[5] Sigve K. Tonstad, “‘πίστις Χριστοῦ: Reading Paul in A New Paradigm,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 40 (2002), 37-59.

[6] R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol II, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920), 12.

[7] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 236.

[8] David E. Aune, Revelation. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52B (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 825. 

Previously in this series:

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: An Angel with the Eternal Gospel, about 1255–1260. Unknown artist/maker (NoC-US).

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