Revelation (Part 31): The Angel Messages
The battle of this age that we find in Revelation 14:6 through chapter 19 provides characterization and boundary through its separate sections arranged in chiasmus fashion:
1. Angel Message 1: Eternal Gospel (14:6–7)
2. Angel Message 2: Babylon Fallen (14:8)
3. Angel Message 3: Beast Followers Drink Wrath (14:9–11)
4. Dead in Christ Blessed (14:12–13)
5. Gathering of Good and Bad (14:14–20)
6. Singing the Song of Moses (15:1–4)
7. Wrath of God (15:5–16:21)
8. Fall of Prostitute Babylon (17:1–18:24)
9. Christ, the Word, Rides Forth (19:1–21)
At first review, the arrangement may seem unbalanced. The first three points are only a few verses long. They, of course, are tied by the chiasmus to the last three points which are chapters long. But the lopsided lengths should not discourage us to wonder whether this is indeed the correct arrangement. The matching points fit together impressively well. By the text characterization that the first points are simple messages, while the last points are full details of the messages, satisfactorily explains the size difference of the passages.
In this chiasmus, we will find that the first three and the last three points have significance particularly with the human-focused of the world. The significance of points four and six are directed to the God-focused. And then the central point—five—has equal significance to both the human-focused and the God-focused.
As we examine the first angel message in verses 6 and 7, it may at first appear confused to say the significance relates to the human-focused. After all, we learn immediately that the angel carries the eternal gospel message. We—the God-focused—hold that message dear. The angel’s message is to fear God, give him glory, and worship our Creator—all ideas that are held by the God-focused.
Before we continue, however, let’s examine these ideas to see how they are indeed held by the God-focused. Looking at them in reverse order, we certainly have no problem understanding that worshipping our Creator is something we Christians do. But a little clarification must be given to the second point about giving God glory. How exactly do we do that? The answer is in line with our function as image bearers. We reflect God. God is, in his essence, truth, goodness, and beauty. As we reflect God’s truth, goodness, and beauty in faith, hope, and love, we give him glory.
Some Christians have difficulty understanding how we fear God. Doesn’t fear connote dread? Do we—should we—dread God? Doesn’t John tell us in his first letter that perfect love drives out fear (I John 4:18)? But then Peter, in so many words, tells us, “Fear God!” (1 Peter 2:17).
Some people tell us that fearing God is merely fearing to disappoint him. But that does not appear to be the structure of the fear commands. Fear, I believe, does have to do with recognizing the ability of someone or something to destroy you based on will. We, as Christians, do and should fear God based on his ability to destroy us based on will. The comforting part in all of this is that we have such confidence in his will. He has shown us throughout his Word that he is love. His will is directed by love. As we come into relationship with him and grow in and toward his love, the dread of fear certainly moves away, replaced by the joy in love.
Think of two people in love. Sure there is would be fear of being apart from that person—breaking up with that person, but the more you know each other, grow in love, and have confidence in each other, your worry about breaking up moves further away although it would be a fearful thing. Recognizing the power of God and his unbending consistency of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty is a fearful thing. But as we embrace God in love, recognizing his love for us and his activity toward us based on his love, the fear, although capable of being understood, is driven away in practice.
But these three points are directed toward the human-focused. It is to them that the appeal to fear God is made because they (as Paul says in Romans 3:18) have no fear of God before their eyes. Further, the human-focused care only for themselves, and therefore the angel urges them to give glory to God because the judgment is coming—a judgment that will forever separate them from God. And finally, rather than worship creation itself (Romans 1:21-23), they are told to worship the Creator—the maker of creation.
The second angel message tells us that Babylon the Great has fallen. Notice first that this Babylon is described as having sexual immorality. This corresponds well to Babylon’s image in chapters 17 and 18 of the prostitute. But notice also that the angel’s message is not that Babylon will fall, but rather that Babylon HAS fallen. With the victory of Christ through his death and resurrection, God has been shown to be righteous (faithful to his covenant) and rightfully redeeming the his people to relationship. That was the death knell for Babylon and human exaltation.
The third angel message is that beast followers would experience the wrath of God. Notice the imagery. The mark or number or name of someone or some idea has to do with identification and belonging. More so, we see in the Gospels that identification is connected with taking something internally so that it sustains and fills us. Jesus told his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood, metaphorically saying to be filled and identified and one with him. The human-focused have identified with the beast. They have drunk the wine of the beast, being filled with it. The angel here says that those who have—who have drunk the evil—will “also drink the wine of God’s wrath.”
And for them will be no rest (14:11). God made us as image bearers who would be satisfied (at rest) only with his truth, goodness, and beauty. The human-focused constantly yearn for truth, goodness, and beauty, but look for it in themselves and not from God. They will never find it, and so they will never be at rest.
The fourth section of our chiasmus tells us that the dead in Christ will be blessed. Of course, there is blessing in our deaths because we are immediately in the presence of our Lord (Phil 1:23). But also note that verse 13 ends saying of the dead in Christ, “their works follow them.” Is this some confirmation of a works-based salvation? No. It has to do with the redeemed being redeemed—having the work of God and Christ in them. Look at the corresponding section of the chiasmus. Point 6 discusses the Song of Moses in Revelation 15:1-4. There we here these same redeemed singing, “Great and awe-inspiring are YOUR WORKS, Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are YOUR WAYS, King of the Nations. Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, for all the nations will come and worship before You because YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS have been revealed.” So the works begin with God and Christ. In them we are redeemed, so that we fear and glorify God. The works then are the result of Christ’s righteousness by which he made us righteous.
And since we are discussing this sixth point of the chiasmus, also note that the redeemed are pictured on the sea. Back in Revelation 4, the sea before the throne was an image of obstacle for unregenerate humankind to come to God. In Revelation 21:1 we are told that there is no more sea, meaning that there is no more hindrance to being with God. Here in Revelation 14, depicting our current age, we find the dead in Christ crossing the sea—crossing that which had been an obstacle—because of their redemption that Christ won.
The central section of our chiasmus is the gathering of the good and the bad. It is not a gathering scene at the end of the age. It is an activity that takes place in this age. As people’s lives are spent, they are forever sealed at the time of their physical deaths. The reaping goes on now—those redeemed are taken by the Lord; those of human-focus are forever lost to the wine press of the wrath of God.