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The Third Angel’s Message: Part 3


Sabbath school commentary for discussion alongside the Adult Bible Study Guide for June 17, 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.

Traditional interpretations of many of Revelation’s descriptions of God’s wrath ascribe to God the action of the demonic side. Such readings make Revelation promote precisely the theology the book is commissioned to correct. No text has been used to effect harm in this regard as much as the third angel’s message. “Here, however, the Lamb dominates, controlling and executing the demise of the enemies of God,” says Christopher A. Frilingos of the scene described by the angel. The demonic side is absent, the pattern of action and reaction lost, and God (or Lamb and the holy angels) left as the only one at work in the world. “As if to confirm the truth of the Lamb’s manly bearing, the creature’s posture goes unmentioned in this episode; and the gash in the Lamb’s body, so apparent earlier, disappears from view,” says Frilingos.[1] This belief makes the third angel’s message the go-to text par excellence for the Christian belief that at the end, God will burn people alive—indeed, that God will torture those who are lost forever. Seventh-day Adventists have been reticent shareholders in this view, too, saying with others that God will torture people at the end, but it will not be forever. In commenting that “the gash in the Lamb’s body . . . disappears from view” in the third angel’s message, Fringlingos says no more than what most readers do.

1.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (21:2). 2.  When the thousand years are ended

In the foregoing weeks, I have introduced evidence to the contrary, seeking to disabuse readers of the thought that God, no less than Satan, has torture in his armamentarium. Let it be stated clearly: Satan tortures. God does not. It is a telling, crucial, and irreducible contrast. And “the gash in the Lamb’s body”—it does not disappear from view! At the point when the third angel falls silent, John offers a clarifying comment of a kind that occurs more than once in the book (13:10, 18; 14:12; 17:9). His comment—a call to attention in a time of crisis—is the text that more than any other has informed Adventist identity and sense of calling. It is a great text, worthy of the impact it has had on Adventist self-understanding, even if it should turn out that we have yet to understand it fully. “Here”—as a maxim, declaration, and immovable foundation—“is the believers’ perseverance, those who keep the commandments of God as revealed by the faithfulness of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).[2]

The faithfulness of Jesus! Another word is equally telling—the testimony of Jesus (12:17; 19:10; see also 1:2, 9; 6:9). What is it? To what do these terms refer? If we could find a focal image for it, what would it be? Revelation knows the answer. These terms recall the impasse in the heavenly council over the scroll that no one could open, the excruciating predicament that led John to weep and weep profusely (5:1-4). The impasse was broken by the faithfulness of Jesus or, as its synonym, by the testimony of Jesus.

And I saw
    in the middle of the throne,
    [in the middle of] the four living creatures,
    and in the middle of the twenty-four elders
a lamb standing
    as though it had been killed with violence,
having seven horns and seven eyes (5:6).

This image counts the most, “a lamb standing as though it had been killed with violence” (5:6). No text defines the faithfulness of Jesus or the testimony of Jesus as clearly as the impasse-breaking scene in the heavenly council. The third angel does not make the gash in the Lamb’s body disappear. On the contrary, these messages have the gash in the Lamb’s body as the focus of attention.[3] The Seventh-day Adventist Church made a good choice when it made these texts the cornerstone of its identity and self-understanding. The choice will look even better if the church were to rethink their meaning, especially the meaning of the faithfulness of Jesus.

Notes & References:

[1] Christopher A. Frilingos, Spectacles of Empire: Monsters, Martyrs, and the Book of Revelation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 81.

[2] See Sigve K. Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation: The Theological Function of Pistis Christou in the Cosmic Narratives of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2006), 159-194.

[3] Tonstad, Revelation, 209.

Previously in this series:

The Third Angel’s Message: Part 2 (June 6, 2023).

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: Illustration excerpt from The Trinity Apocalypse, c. 1250 AD (Trinity College, Cambridge, UK), which shows the demonic figures producing the wine of wrath and a rising tide of blood and mayhem outside the city.

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