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The Third Angel’s Message: Part 1


Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for June 3, 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.

And another angel, a third, followed them, calling out in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark (charagma) on his or her forehead or on his or her hand, he or she will drink the wine of God’s wrath (ek tou oinou tou thymou tou theou), poured unmixed into the cup of his anger (en tō potēriō tēs orgēs autou), and they will be tortured with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torture goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name. (Rev. 14:9-11)

The challenges of this text become less if we keep in mind the pattern of demonic action (“the dragon acts”) and divine reaction (“God reacts”).[1] I will put the third angel’s message in my grid, too, but leave some elements in the column of reaction empty.

Prior Action Re-Action
#1.  It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, (13:16). #1.  “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark (charagma) on his or her forehead or on his or her hand” (14:9)
#2.  and it was commissioned to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak (13:15) #2.  he or she will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger (14:10)
#3.  it performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all (13:13)  
#4.  and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed (13:15)  
#5.  so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name (13:17)  

First, the dragon intends to inscribe his “mark” on humanity, “both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave” (13:16). No exceptions are allowed; personal convictions to the contrary are not respected. Second, the element of imitation, often overlooked, reaches new heights. To give breath to an entity previously inanimate echoes God’s act at creation, when God fashioned a human being from the dust of the earth and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). With it comes the ability to speak, but it will be speech of the kind the serpent displayed in Genesis, and John has already said that the lamb-like beast from the earth “speaks like a serpent” (Rev. 13:15; Gen. 3:1).[2] Third, imitation with the intent of deceiving continues in the disclosure that the false side “performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all” (Rev. 13:13). This recalls the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-39).[3] Now, shockingly, the meaning is reversed! In the Old Testament, the God who answered by fire was the true God. Here, it is the false side that makes fire come down from heaven! Fourth, the false side shows its hand by acting coercively: it causes “those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev. 13:15). The murderous character of the instigator now stands revealed. Fifth, economic elimination precedes physical annihilation, as in the disclosure that “no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark” (13:17). Such a scenario has a conspicuous antecedent in what was done to the Jews during World War II. In Norway, one month before the first deportation of Norwegian Jews to Auschwitz in 1942, all their earthly belongings were confiscated by the Nazi-run criminal government, with the owners watching aghast as government agents meticulously recorded every item and its assumed value.

There is not much good to say about the sequence of events on the side of action except that it is deceptive, demonic, coercive, and climactic.

My grid at this point fails to reflect the moving parts in the picture. Indeed, this is one place where the re-reader perspective is urgently needed—and with it, the symphonic perception mentioned in a previous installment of this series. The third angel speaks in no uncertain terms about the opponent causing all “to be marked” (13:16; 14:9), but this leaves out a huge chunk of the interaction taking place. Just as the evil side strives to ensure that all are “marked,” God orchestrates a conspicuous intervention to make sure that all are “sealed” (7:1-3)! We would not know this if we only paid attention to what the third angel is saying explicitly. Re-reader awareness is needed. In the text, the sealing takes place many chapters earlier than marking even though they are intimately related (7:1-3; 13:13-17).

We may even have to put aside the pattern of demonic action and divine re-action for a moment. Once we have mastered the close relationship between the sealing and the marking—seeing that they are related from the point of view of theme—how are they related with respect to timing? A pattern of action and reaction will assume that the action necessarily precedes the reaction. Here, the temporal relation between the two blurs. Who makes the first move? Is the sealing God’s re-action to the marking instigated by the demonic side? Are they simultaneous? Or, reversing the pattern, is the sealing a pre-action, God setting a process in motion in advance of the other side, acting preemptively?

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:1-3)

R. H. Charles’s view of this scenario is perceptive and without parallel. “The sealing is to secure the servants of God against the attacks of demonic powers coming into the open manifestation,” he says. This suggests a proactive, anticipatory intervention, predicated on superb battlefield intelligence. “The Satanic host is about to make its final struggle for the mastery of the world,” he notes. This captures the other side well, placing the sealing as an intervention in relation to the ever-worsening manifestations of evil that have been building in the seven seals up to that point (6:1-17). The climax is now imminent. “And so just on the eve of this epiphany of Satan, God seals His servants on their foreheads to show that they are His own possession, and that no embodied (or disembodied) spirit of the wicked one can do them hurt.”[4]

Epiphany of Satan! What a conception! And what a term! Epiphany is normally a term reserved for God, the rare occurrence when God manifests himself or is seen. Here, the term applies to Satan, claiming that he is about to make an appearance, god-like. In these dire circumstances, God does not sit by idly. “The sealing of the faithful secures them—not against physical evil, but—against the demonic world which is now coming into actual manifestation,” Charles says.[5] Humans are in need of protection, and protection is provided (7:1-3). Whether marked or sealed, it carries the imprint of the respective sides in the cosmic conflict. “In its deepest sense, this sealing means the outward manifestation of character. . . . Character must ultimately attain to manifestation and finality,” Charles writes.[6] This works if “the seal” and “the mark” represent the deepest characteristics of the respective sides (7:1-3; 14:1; 22:4 [for the seal]; 13:13-17; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4 [for the mark]). It is therefore descriptively meaningful to call this showdown a “confrontation of signs.”[7]

If there is pre-action (divine), action (demonic), and re-action (divine), the grid presented above shows its limitations. This is so much the case that I had to leave several rubrics empty given Revelation’s effort to unmask Babylon; as the second angel makes clear (14:8; 17:1-18:24), it is essential to make the right call with respect to what is attributable to God and what represents the opposing side. It would be calamitous, would it not, if we were to ascribe to God what the cosmic opponent is doing? This part is not straightforward because most of the described actions are in the passive voice, and the passive voice veils the acting subject. The difference between the verbal voices is so marked and the distinction so important that I will add an example:

Active voice: The boy threw the stone.

Passive voice: The stone was thrown.

The difference is readily apparent. The active voice gives us an agent (“the boy”): the identity of the one who threw the stone is known. What happens to “the boy” in the passive voice? He disappears! There is an action but no acting subject. An acting subject must be inferred—someone must have thrown the stone—but the passive voice does not tell us who it was.

And yet it should not be difficult to know who is doing what in Revelation. Indeed, clarity on such crucial matters should be expected. We read that those who receive the mark “will be tortured with fire and sulfur” (14:10). Careful readers have already witnessed scenes of torture earlier in the text (9:5). It happens in relation to the fifth trumpet (9:1-11). We are told of a star that “had fallen from heaven to earth” (Rev. 9:1; cf. Isa. 14:12-15). Next, a series of metamorphoses takes place. The fallen start opens “the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft” (Rev. 9:2). This darkness is theological more than physical and ecological, and this is only the beginning. The darkness bizarrely transforms into locusts, and the locusts morph into scorpions (9:1-4). What follows, next, is torture (9:5). And look—the demonic horde directs its ire at “those who do not have the seal of God” (9:4). This brings to mind the sealing described earlier. Torture is now writ large: “They were commissioned to torture (basanisthĕsontai) them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them” (9:4-6).

The entity doing this has demonic characteristics, and its action reeks with demonic cruelty. From this text, we know who is doing the torture as well as who are tortured. The fallen star and his scorpionic minions are torturing human beings, and the ones tortured are “those who do not have the seal of God” (9:4). Moreover, as the third angel will put it, those who are tortured “have no rest, day or night” (14:11). This, too, is evident from the horror that the fallen star inflicts in the trumpet sequence: “They seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them” (9:6). All of this is consonant with the cloud of smoke rising “like the smoke of a great furnace,” the hell-hole that is the home of the fallen star (9:2). This detail, like the smoking gun in the story, is not lost on the observant eye of the third angel: “the smoke of their torture goes up forever and ever” (14:11). No one will ever forget the horrors that the demonic monstrosity inflicted on its followers.


Notes & References:

[1] Barr, Tales of the End, 102.

[2] Tonstad, Revelation, 194-195.

[3] Tonstad, Revelation, 194.

[4] Charles, Revelation, I:205-206.

[5] Charles, Revelation, I:243.

[6] Charles, Revelation, I:206, 243.

[7] Tonstad, The Lost Meaning of the Seventh Day, 459-495.

Previously in this series:

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: Douce Apocalypse, c. 1265–70 (public domain).

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