Rev. 14:9 – And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, 11 and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (HCSB)
A third angel follows the other two and pronounces woe on those who worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their foreheads or hands. The consequences of rejecting God – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ, and the canon of scripture – are spelled out plainly. The one who embraces the beast will experience the consequences of his or her rebellion.
First, the beast worshiper will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, which is mixed full strength in the cup of His anger” (v. 10a). The Greek word for “cup,” poterion, is used 82 times in the New Testament (HCSB) and denotes a drinking vessel of any sort. Commonly, a cup is a small bowl made of pottery, wider and shallower than today’s tea cups. However, the wealthy enjoy their drinks in goblet-shaped cups of metal or glass. The cup used at the Last Supper likely is an earthenware bowl large enough for all to share.
Figuratively, however, throughout the Bible the word “cup” may describe a measure of blessings or wrath divinely allotted to people or nations:
- In Psalm 16:5, David calls the Lord “my portion and my cup of blessing.”
- In Psalm 116:12-13, the writer declares, “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.”
- But in Isaiah 51:17, the prophet warns, “Wake yourself, wake yourself up! Stand up, Jerusalem, you have drunk the cup of His fury from the hand of the Lord; you who have drunk the goblet to the dregs – the cup that causes people to stagger.”
- In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus agonizes over His impending suffering and death, He prays, “My Father! If it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).
- And moments later, after Peter cuts of the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus tells him, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” The cup Jesus endures, of course, is His sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross to secure our salvation, a most bitter cup as “the One who did not know sin [became] sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s also a cup Jesus endures “for the joy that lay before Him” because it results in our salvation (Heb. 12:2).
But now in Revelation the cup, which the Babylonians entice the world to drink, is turned into the cup of God’s wrath.
Tormented with fire and sulfur
Secondly, the beast worshiper will be “tormented with fire and sulfur in the sight of the holy angels and in the sight of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever” (vv. 10b – 11a). There is little doubt that this is a reference to the everlasting consequences of rejecting God. While those who cast their lot with the beast will lament Babylon’s fall, they also will discover that their torment is just beginning.
The language in this passage draws from two traditional images of God’s judgment. The first is the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in a rain of fire and sulfur (Gen. 19:24; Deut. 29:22; Luke 17:29). The second goes back to the ancient belief that in the valley of Hinnom (ge-himmon in Hebrew) near Jerusalem a fiery abyss – Gehenna – will open at the final judgment. There the godless who have died will suffer everlasting punishment (1 Enoch 90:26-27; 2 Apocalypse of Baruch 85:13ff; 4 Ezra 7:36; Matt. 5:22).
This occurs in the sight of the holy angels and under the watchful eye of Jesus. Angels often are the instruments of God’s wrath as well as obedient servants who deliver the faithful from danger and proclaim heavenly news to earthly recipients. Of course, evil angels do not share the same position or perspective as the holy angels, for they, like sinful humans, are destined for Gehenna, which was created for them (Matt. 25:41).
Perhaps more importantly, the sentence of damnation is carried out in front of the Lamb. It seems odd to us that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world now watches as the objects of His divine love are eternally separated from Him. Some reconcile this by contending that Jesus died only for the elect, not for all people. (A few go so far as to declare that God hates the non-elect and delights in their torment – a despicable and unbiblical doctrine). Others fine-tune the argument by saying that Jesus’ death was “sufficient” for all people but “effective” only for the elect. Still others believe that election is grounded in Jesus as the elect One, the unique seed of Abraham, and all who receive Him through faith constitute one covenant community connected by the cross. Then, of course, some say the elect simply are those whose faith is foreknown by God.
Our purpose here is not to rehash the longstanding debate between Calvinists and Arminians, or even to scratch the surface of the doctrine of divine election. (For an in-depth study of this topic, see Chosen and Free: The Doctrine of Divine Election.) It is, however, to make it clear that God does not delight in the torment of His adversaries. Rather, He allows them to be excluded from His kingdom by their own choice. And in their everlasting destruction they will become aware of His dominion and ultimately acknowledge it (Phil. 2:9-10).
The permanence of the unbeliever’s fate is punctuated in John’s words, “[A]nd the smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever” (v. 11a). This should not be twisted to mean that only the fires of hell are eternal while the wicked are annihilated. Jesus describes hell as a place where the unbeliever’s “worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Further, the same Greek words used to describe eternal life are employed in the depiction of eternal damnation. Rebellion against an eternal God who offers us eternal life has eternal consequences. In Jesus’ account of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham all are conscious and self-aware after their deaths – in Abraham’s case, hundreds of years after his passing. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the spirits of Moses and Elijah appear. And in Rev. 20:10, we are told, “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
No rest day or night
Third, the beast worshiper will find there is “no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name” (v. 11b). While those who die in the Lord will “rest from their labors” (v. 13), there will never be a respite from God’s wrath for the wicked. W.A. Criswell writes, “Their suffering is in deepest contrast to the martyrdom of God’s servants who, for example, are burned at the stake. For just a moment the Christian suffers agony; then there is the glory when God gives him the crown of life. But these who worship the beast and his image and give their hearts to the defilement of this earth are tormented forever and ever, with no final reward but damnation” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 151).
J.F. Walvoord and R.B Zuck add, “The doctrine of eternal punishment, though unpopular with liberal scholars and difficult to accept, is nevertheless clearly taught in the Bible. Jesus and the Apostle John say more on this subject than does all the rest of the Bible” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 14:9-12, Logos Bible Software).
The idea that there is no rest in hell is almost impossible for the mortal mind to grasp. Even the insomniac sleeps some of the time, and the sleep-deprived cannot stay awake indefinitely. Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old science fair participant, evidently set a world record in 1965 by staying awake for 264 hours, or about 11 days. Meanwhile, subjects of carefully monitored research have stayed awake for eight to 10 days. None of them suffered serious medical, neurological, physiological, or psychiatric problems, although all of them showed progressive and significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception, and other higher mental processes. (“How Long Can Humans Stay Awake?” found in scientificamerican.com, March 25, 2002).
But John likely is not equating rest with sleep, for there is no biblical evidence of sleep in heaven or hell. Rather, the apostle seems to be getting at the idea of cessation. God, for example, rests from His work of creation on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2). He gives us the Sabbath as a day of rest, in which we cease from our labors (Ex. 31:15). Even the land is to be given rest every seventh year (Lev. 25:4). The Lord promises Israel rest from her enemies and from desert wanderings in the land of Canaan (Deut. 3:20). The exiles returning from captivity in Babylon are assured of rest (Jer. 46:27). The Lord tells David that his son will be a man of rest, meaning the nation will be free from the terrors of its enemies (1 Chron. 22:9). The national rest for Israel, however, is short-lived because of unbelief and disobedience (Heb. 3:7 – 4:10).
While the Old Testament doctrine of rest lies largely in the sphere of promise, it is fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament. Through faith in Jesus, believers enter into His rest (Heb. 12:22-24). In fact, He beckons those who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest (Matt. 11:28-30). “To all who come to him he gives rest, rest that is relief, release and satisfaction to the soul … those who have entered into the rest of faith, by casting anchor within the veil where Christ has gone, know that the final state of rest is secure” (J.G.S.S. Thompson, The New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Edition).
So what does all this mean to the wicked, who will find no rest in hell? It means that true rest – the end of sin and its consequences – is to be found only in Christ. Those who reject Him have chosen an eternity without Him – a dark and endless journey completely void of rest, or even the hope of such. They will stumble forever beneath the weight of remorse and regret, unable and even unwilling to seek repentance because in hell it is not possible.
A stark contrast
John intends the reader to see the contrast between those in verse 11, who find no rest day or night, and those in verse 13, who rest from their labors. The apostle Paul casts a similar vision for persecuted believers in Thessalonica: “It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, since it is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and [to reward] with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. [This will take place] at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength in that day when He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thess. 1:5-10).
One final note: John offers hope. In fact, he prefers it. The door of grace is yet open, for he writes, “If anyone worships the beast …” This is a clear warning to those who choose to worship the beast, but it’s also a reminder that salvation is still within reach for those who take Christ’s nail-scarred hand into their own.
Next: This demands the perseverance of the saints – Revelation 14:12