Rev. 14:6 – Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth — to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He spoke with a loud voice: “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (HCSB)
In Revelation 14, John sees three angels and records their unique messages. The first angel flies high overhead and proclaims the “eternal gospel” to the earth’s inhabitants. The second angel announces the fall of Babylon the Great. The third angel warns that those who worship and beast and receive his mark on their foreheads or hands will be severely punished. Finally, John hears a voice from heaven promising comfort to those who “die in the Lord from now on.”
This passage raises many challenging questions:
- What is the “eternal gospel?”
- Who or what is “Babylon the Great?”
- What does it mean to “drink the wine of God’s wrath?”
- Do verses 10-11 speak of temporal punishment on earth, or of everlasting torment in hell?
- What does the third angel mean when he says, “This demands the perseverance of the saints?”
- And who are the “dead who die in the Lord from now on?”
Let’s take a closer look.
I saw another angel
John begins this segment of Scripture with the words, “Then I saw another angel flying high overhead.” The last angels we encounter are the angel blowing the trumpet to announce the seventh trumpet judgment (Rev. 11:15), and the angels with Michael and the dragon battling each other in heaven (Rev. 12:7). While it would seem that this angel is of the same order as those in Revelation 11 and 12, some commenters argue that these messengers are human. They are, it is said, pastors, just like the angels/messengers of the seven churches (Rev. 1:20). While true angels are ministering spirits depicted as having wings, and while they desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel, they are not charged with proclaiming the message of salvation. That responsibility – and privilege – is given to redeemed people. Therefore, these commentators say, the angel symbolizes great evangelists of the church age.
The great speed with which they fly symbolizes their passion for sharing the gospel message. The air is “the church, the great congregation, the several congregations of the saints; in the midst of which these ministers will preach righteousness, salvation, loving kindness, and truth, as Christ has done before them; and from hence the word of the Lord will go forth to all parts of the world: they will preach the Gospel openly and publicly, with great freedom, boldness, and intrepidity, in the view of all men, not fearing the faces of any; and the Gospel ministered by them will have a swift, sudden, and universal spread; they themselves will run to and fro, and the Gospel will run and be glorified, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and multitudes will flock to Christ, who in that day will be alone exalted” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, Rev. 14:6, found in www.biblestudytools.com).
Others, however, contend that this angel is indeed a spirit being given the unique opportunity to stand in the place of men and proclaim the gospel. W.A. Criswell writes, “God raises up His witnesses when human lips are silent. At the triumphal entry of our Saviour into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees and the Scribes objected to the praise of the people, our Lord replied, ‘Verily, if these were silent the very stones would cry out.’ So in the days of the Apocalypse, when the witness of God’s servants is drowned in blood, there is an angel-messenger that stands in the sky, who thunders to the ends of the earth the almighty and eternal gospel message of the Son of God” (Expository Sermons on Revelation, Vol. 4, p. 150).
The angel in this passage flies high overhead. Other translations read “midair,” “mid heaven,” or “in the midst of heaven,” indicating that the angel is navigating the “first heaven” or earth’s atmosphere. In a similar fashion, an angel in Rev. 8:13 flies in “mid-heaven,” warning earth’s inhabitants of the final three trumpet judgments. The message of the angel in Revelation 14 is quite different, however. He proclaims “the eternal gospel” to every nation, tribe, language and people.
The eternal gospel
What is “the eternal gospel?” It would seem foolish to separate this from the euangelion, the “good news” of Jesus Christ: His eternal existence, incarnation, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension; His position today in heaven at the Father’s right hand; His imminent return in power and great glory; and His gracious offer of eternal life through faith. The gospel is eternal in that it is in the mind of the Father from the beginning; Jesus is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. The eternal gospel first touches human life at the moment of Adam’s fall as the promise of a coming seed is made and as God clothes the naked first family in the animal skins of the first atoning sacrifice.
The eternal gospel continues through God’s gracious sparing of Noah and his family in the days of the deluge; His promises to Abraham of land, a people, and blessings to all through his seed; His deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt; the shadows and types of the tabernacle and the sacrificial system; the throne upon which David sits, promised to a coming Redeemer; the saving of a faithful remnant despite the captivity of Israel and Judah; and the miraculous birth in Bethlehem of the Son of God.
Salvation always has been good news; it always has come at God’s initiative and Christ’s expense; it always has been given in grace and received by faith. Every drop of sacrificial blood from the Garden of Eden to Golgotha points to the Redeemer whose sinless life is poured out – no longer an atonement for sin, for atonement is a temporary covering – but as full payment for the sins of the world. No longer do sinful people take a spotless lamb and spill its blood, trusting in faith that the death of the innocent substitute has temporarily covered their sins; now they look in faith upon the Lamb of God, whose blood once and for all takes away their sin.
And there’s more. There is an everlasting covenant relationship with this Redeemer. We are His brothers and sisters, joint heirs of His kingdom. He writes our names down in heaven. He prepares a place for us in His Father’s house. And He will come for us one day. Our bodies will rise from the graves and be like His – immortal, incorruptible, glorious. Is this not the eternal gospel – the best possible news – that a holy God would love vile sinners so much that He would send His own Son to redeems us from the slave market of sin?
Some argue, however, that the angel’s message is not the good news at all. Rather, the angel cries, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. Worship the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (v. 7). This is a warning of coming judgment and it appears directed at the wicked of the earth.
But isn’t that the whole point of the gospel? Man is sinful and fallen, depraved, spiritually dead, blinded by Satan, bound by the evil one, without hope – without even a desire to turn from his wicked ways. But the gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit convinces the unbeliever of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-11), and the human heart is changed, enabled at last to receive Christ, break the fetters of sin, and be rescued from the kingdom of darkness. Grace and judgment are two sides of the same coin. God’s holiness demands death to the sinner, while His love compels Him to offer His own Son to pay our death penalty. Those who receive the gospel are the objects of His special grace, while those who reject it, as C.S. Lewis once said, have locked the doors of hell from the inside.
The fact that the eternal gospel is proclaimed to every nation, tribe, language, and people means God graciously excludes no one who receives His Son in faith. It also means that the objects of His judgment have no excuse for their rejection of their Creator. “The message of judgment is a significant element in this gospel. Verses 6–7 are significant, for they show us that all of these God-sent judgments on lost mankind are for the purpose of redemption” (R.J.D. Utley, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Vol. 12, Study Guide Commentary Series, Logos Bible Software).
Jurgen Roloff adds, “The inhabitants of the earth still have an opportunity to repent; they can still relinquish their idol worship of satanic power in order to turn toward the one true God who as Creator of the world is also the Lord of history. But will they take advantage of this opportunity?” (Revelation: A Continental Commentary, p. 175.)
Next: A second angel followed — Revelation 14:8