Skip to content

The First Angel’s Message: Part 2


Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for April 29, 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.

As noted previously, almost all terms, phrases, and sentences in Revelation are echoes of or allusions to similar terms or passages in the Old Testament. This is also the case for the “eternally valid good message” of the first angel. Bauckham has shown that Psalm 96 is the most likely background text for the angel’s resounding affirmation.[1]

O sing to the LORD a new song;

   sing to the LORD, all the earth.

Sing to the LORD, bless his name;

   tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

   his marvelous works among all the peoples.

For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;

   he is to be revered above all gods.                                                                                                        

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,

   but the LORD made the heavens . . .

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;

   bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Worship the LORD in holy splendor;

   tremble before him, all the earth.

Then shall all the trees of the forest

   sing for joy before the LORD;

for he is coming,

   for he is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness,

   and the peoples with his truth. (Psa. 96:1-13)

Many of the elements of the first angel’s message can be traced to this text. It is a new song, not in the sense of a message heard but of a message renewed because it has been forgotten or contradicted. It is proclaimed as God’s reaction to the dragon’s action, and the dragon’s action, revealed in the sea beast in the preceding chapter, pictured a beast that “opened its mouth to utter slander against God, slandering his Name and his dwelling” (Rev. 13:6). In Revelation’s sounding chamber, therefore, we hear competing voices, one voice slandering God and—shockingly—persuading “the inhabitants of the earth” to worship it rather than God (13:8). What could be more fitting, therefore, to discover that God’s reaction rebuts the demonic slander by allusions to an Old Testament hymn. To counter the slander, the first angel calls on “those who live on the earth” to “speak well of God” or, as in other translations, “to give him glory” (14:7). Here, too, the Psalmist’s voice echoes in the background:

Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among all the peoples (Psa. 96:3).

Aware that there are false gods—and false pictures of God—the angel urges “those who live on the earth” to “worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7). The Psalmist complements the angel’s voice.       

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,

but the LORD made the heavens (Psa. 96:5).  

This sets up the contrast between gods who did not create “the heavens” (Psa. 96:5) or “the heaven and the earth, the sea and the springs of water,” as the first angel puts it (Rev. 14:7). “Gods” who did not create anything cannot be God, of course, whether they be Roman emperors, Roman deities, or the Adversary in the cosmic conflict. God, to be God, must be the Creator. The God of the first angel is God in that sense and ontologically distinct from all other beings. While Psalm 96 remains in view, the angel’s wording on this point comes straight from the fourth commandment in Exodus, the commandment concerning the Sabbath.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exod. 20:8-11; see also Gen. 2:1-3)

Allusions, as noted, are verbal shorthand. We find that kind of verbal economy in the angel’s message, but the parallel is by Revelation’s standard greater than usual.

Exodus: “the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.

First angel: “worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

While the last element in the angel’s message is more specific than in the Sabbath commandment, they are verbatim parallels until that point. Both have four entries and the same cadence. The call of the first angel is thus a call to worship the Creator and to return to a relationship of which the Sabbath is the sign. Given the pattern of action and reaction, a pattern where “the dragon acts and God reacts,”[2] we have the distinct possibility not only of a false god but also of a deceitful sign. 

This is not all. The contrast implied in the first angel’s message is not only the contrast between the God who is the Creator and gods that are not. In the preceding trumpet sequence, the world is struck by calamity after calamity that are the work of demonic powers. In the third trumpet, there is specific mention of “the springs of water” (Rev. 8:10-11). “The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.” The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter (Rev. 8:10-11). The illustrator of the Anglo-French Douce Apocalypse (Oxford University, Bodleian, date 1265-70) ably captures the demonic character of the poison spread about in the world.

When we hear the first angel’s message with this text in mind, the pattern of conflict and contrast, and of action and reaction, becomes more striking. As contrast, the demonic side destroys “the springs of water”; indeed, it poisons them to make erstwhile life-giving water lethal to its consumer. God, on the other hand, is the one who created these life-giving “springs of water” (Rev. 14:7). The contrast, now, is thus not only the contrast between the One who created and one who did not. It is also the contrast between the One who created “the springs of water” and the one who destroys them! Theology and ecology can both be in view, and the contrast now drawn goes beyond ontological distinctions. It is possible to conceive of a Creator who is not worthy of worship, as the Gnostic (heretic) Marcion thought in the second century, but God, in the message of the first angel, is a caring, life-giving, and healing God and not only a powerful Creator. Mention of “the springs of water” has an endearing tenor, suggesting nurture and sustenance—in contrast to forces bent on destroying “the springs of water.”

“Worship him,” says the first angel in the translation of the NRSV, “the One who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7). The echo of the fourth commandment will not leave behind the occasion at which it was spoken or the tenor of the first commandment. Walter Brueggemann begins his wonderful book about the Sabbath with the first commandment, not the fourth. He, too, like the first angel in Revelation, posits a contrast between God and the false gods to which the angel’s message reacts.  

The first commandment is the declaration that the God of the exodus is unlike all the gods the slaves have known heretofore. This God is not to be confused with or thought parallel to the insatiable gods of imperial productivity. This God is subsequently revealed as a God of mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness who is committed to covenantal relationships of fidelity (see Exod. 34:6-7). At the taproot of this divine commitment to relationship (covenant) rather than commodity (bricks) is the capacity and willingness of this God to rest.[3]

Worship will be a good thing if it entails worship of a good God. Brueggemann characterizes the gods of Egypt as “confiscatory gods” and Pharaoh as “a hard-nosed production manager.”[4] His perception of the Sabbath has the tenor of the messages of the three angels. We have a God who creates and commits, as in the first angel’s message (Rev. 14:7); a giving God unlike the acquisitive gods of fallen “Babylon,” as the second angel will say (14:8); and a God who rests and offers rest, as in the proclamation of the third angel, in striking contrast to gods that offer its devotees “no rest, day or night” (14:11). We have a contrast between this giving God and the gods of Egypt in Old Testament times and the gods of the Roman Empire at the time of Revelation and, as the second angel is about to say, a contrast to Babylon.


Notes & References:

[1] Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993), 286-287.

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

[3] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of NOW (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2017), 5.

[4] Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance, 3.

Previously in this series:

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: 1st Angel with the Everlasting Gospel from The Cloisters Apocalypse, c. 1330 (public domain).

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.