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.
Rev. 11:7 – When they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them. 8Their dead bodies will lie in the public square of the great city, which is called, prophetically, Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9And representatives from the people, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb. 10Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who live on the earth. (HCSB)
The beast will conquer them and kill them
But the witnesses’ time is limited. John notes that when they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them (v. 7). The two witnesses – these two lampstands and olive trees – do not speak the word of the Lord or perform miracles indefinitely. The Lord ordains a time for them to speak and a time to suffer.
It is always this way with God’s witnesses. They are sent for a time, and until that time is fulfilled, no one can shut their mouths or do them harm. Noah preaches for 120 years and God protects him from the wicked, who no doubt mock and threaten him. Elijah prophesies against Ahab and Jezebel, and they cannot silence him until they are dead and the Lord calls His prophet into heaven. Stephen preaches a profound message of judgment and hope, and not even the ambitious young Pharisee Saul can close his mouth until the last word is spoken.
Rev. 10:1 – Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like fiery pillars, 2and he had a little scroll opened in his hand. He put his right foot on the sea, his left on the land, 3and he cried out with a loud voice like a roaring lion. When he cried out, the seven thunders spoke with their voices. 4And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down!”
5Then the angel that I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6He swore an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will no longer be an interval of time, 7but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he will blow his trumpet, then God’s hidden plan will be completed, as He announced to His servants the prophets.”
8Now the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “God, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
9So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take and eat it; it will be bitter in your stomach, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”
10Then I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I ate it, my stomach became bitter. 11And I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” (HCSB)
There will no longer be an interval of time (vv. 6-7)
The angel standing with one foot on land and one in the sea now raises his right hand to heaven and swears an oath by the One who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: “There will no longer be an interval of time, but in the days of the sound of the seventh angel, when he will blow his trumpet, then God’s hidden plan will be completed, as he announced to His servants the prophets” (vv. 5-7).
Rev. 8:12 – The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day was without light, and the night as well. 13I looked, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid-heaven, saying in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth, because of the remaining trumpet blasts that the three angels are about to sound!” (HCSB)
Like the previous trumpet judgments, the fourth affects natural objects, in this case the sun, moon and stars, resulting in diminished light on the earth. The final three trumpet judgments, which we will begin to address in the next lesson, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this judgment, John notes that “a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened.” He then reports seeing an eagle fly in “mid-heaven,” pronouncing woes on the earth’s inhabitants, who are about to experience more severe judgment when the fifth, sixth and seventh trumpets are sounded.
How can “a third” of the sun, moon and stars be stricken? Are a third of the stars destroyed, or is the brightness of these celestial bodies dimmed? What’s so bad about this judgment? What’s the significance of an “eagle” who speaks? Where is “mid-heaven?” And why does the eagle give advance warning of the coming woes? Let’s take a closer look.
The fourth angel blew his trumpet
As we noted previously, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In the case of the trumpet judgments, the sound of the shofar alerts us that God is moving righteously in judgment, extending His mercy a little while longer for those who will repent, destroying the wicked, rewarding His people, and preparing the created order for new heavens and a new earth.
It’s also important to keep in mind that God’s judgment falls only after His calls to repentance go unheeded. The flood in Noah’s day comes 120 years after Noah begins building the ark and warning the earth’s wicked about God’s coming wrath. The idolatrous residents of Canaan are destroyed to make room for the Israelites only after their measure of sin is full; God waits patiently for nearly half a millennium for them to set aside their idolatry until it is clear to all that they will not. And Christ graciously delays His return so that people have ample opportunity to turn to Him in faith (2 Peter 3:8-9). Unbelievers who stand before the Lord in final judgment will not be able to say they didn’t have time to repent – or to offer up any other excuses (Rom. 1:20).
A third of the sun was struck
John writes that “a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day was without light, and the night as well.” There are some similarities between the fourth trumpet judgment and the sixth seal judgment in Rev. 6:12-14. In both cases, the sun, moon and stars are affected. But in the sixth seal judgment, it appears the darkening of the entire sun is due to an earthquake that perhaps is connected to a volcano, which in turn spews ash far into the atmosphere. The moon appears to turn blood red, perhaps for the same reason. And the stars of heaven fall to earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind. This could be a description of meteors. But as we read about the fourth trumpet judgment, it seems the Lord touches these celestial objects directly, reducing light in the daytime and the night by one-third.
Some commentators take this judgment literally, likening it to the plague of darkness that falls upon Egypt in the days of Moses. Others understand these words symbolically to be “either the guides and governors of the church, or of the state, who are placed in higher orbs than the people, and are to dispense light and benign influences to them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 8:7-13).
Regardless of whether John’s words are to be taken literally or figuratively, darkness in scripture often is a sign of God’s judgment. In Exodus 10, God sends “thick darkness” throughout Egypt for three days in the ninth plague. In Isaiah 13 the Lord tells of a day when He will bring disaster on the world: “Indeed, the stars of the sky and its constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shine” (Isa. 13:10). In Isaiah 34, at the judgment of the nations, “All the heavenly bodies will dissolve. The skies will roll up like a scroll, and their stars will all wither as leaves wither on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree” (Isa. 34:4).
In Ezekiel 32, the Lord tells the king of Egypt, “When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars. I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light” (Eze. 32:7). In Joel 2, we are told that the day of the Lord is coming, “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and dense overcast…. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars cease their shining…. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:2, 10, 31). In Amos 5 we read that the Day of the Lord “will be darkness and not light…. Won’t the Day of the Lord be darkness rather than light, even gloom without any brightness in it” (Amos 5:18, 20). And in Mark 13:24-25 Jesus warns us that just before His return, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the celestial powers will be shaken.”
The first three trumpet judgments impact a third of the land and waters, but the fourth judgment affects the entire world. Why? “Because it gets to the very source of the earth’s life and energy, the sun. With one third less sunlight on the earth, there will be one third less energy available to support the life systems of man and nature…. Think of the vast changes in temperatures that will occur and how these will affect human health and food growth. It is possible that this particular judgment is temporary, for the fourth bowl judgment will reverse it, and the sun’s power will be intensified (Rev. 16:8–9)” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 8:7).
Even more, under the cloak of darkness, human depravity no doubt will thrive. As Jesus reminds us, “For everyone who practices wicked things hates the light and avoids it, so that his deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:20). It will take the blinding light of Christ’s return to finally drive out all darkness.
One additional thought: The precise impact of this judgment on the sun, moon and stars isn’t clear. The text says that a third of the day was without light, and the night as well. If the days are made shorter, the nights should be longer, but that does not appear to be what is happening. Likely, the celestial bodies are smitten in such a way as to diminish their light-giving – or in the case of the moon, light-reflecting – qualities.
Next: I heard an eagle – Rev. 8:12-13
Rev. 4:2-3 — Immediately I was in the Spirit, and there in heaven a throne was set. One was seated on the throne, and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne (HCSB).
The words “throne” or “thrones” are used 13 times in Revelation 4 and more than 40 times throughout the book. Eleven times in this chapter we are told of a single throne upon which “One” sits. This One “lives forever and ever” and is the “Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming” (vv. 8-9).
A throne signifies authority but it does not necessarily tell us the magnitude or quality of that authority. Throughout scripture we see rulers who are good or evil, strong or weak, benevolent or malevolent. It is not the throne that makes the ruler good or evil; it is the ruler who makes the throne such. In the case of John’s vision, we are assured that the One seated on the throne is the Creator and sovereign Ruler of the universe. He is “worthy to receive glory and honor and power” (v. 11). And He is freely and lovingly worshiped by angelic creatures and humans alike, not fearfully deified like pagan gods.
Warren Wiersbe writes, “No matter what may happen on earth, God is on His throne and is in complete control. Various teachers interpret Revelation in different ways, but all agree that John is emphasizing the glory and sovereignty of God. What an encouragement that would be to the suffering saints of John’s day and of every age in history” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 4:1).
We are told in verse 3 that the One seated on the throne looks like “jasper and carnelian stone.” Surrounding the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. John’s description is similar to that of Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-6) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:26-28). In Isaiah, we are told of the seraphim, the six-winged angelic beings who appear to be the same as John’s “living creatures.” The Lord is on His throne, high and lifted up. In Ezekiel, we see a throne like sapphire and are given a sketchy description of the Lord who is enthroned in brightness and glory. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel are overwhelmed. Isaiah declares, “Woe is me, for I am ruined” (Isa. 6:5), while Ezekiel falls face down at the appearance of the Lord’s blazing glory.
Interestingly, John does not tell us his reaction to this vision of the throne room, although after His initial encounter with Jesus in Revelation 1 he falls at His feet “like a dead man” (Rev. 1:17). It appears that earthly human encounters with God – whether by vision or personal appearance – often are terrifying experiences, while scenes of angels and the redeemed in heaven show worshipful reverence but an uncanny lack of fear. Maybe this is because God’s holiness exposes our sinfulness – the fallen nature of mankind that ultimately is overcome by the blood of the Lamb and is absent in the throne room of heaven.
We should be clear that the One seated on the throne is God the Father. Jesus, the Lamb, approaches the throne in chapter 5, and the Holy Spirit, depicted as “the seven spirits [or seven-fold spirit] of God” is before the throne in chapter 4. How can John describe God? Like Isaiah and Ezekiel – and later like the apostle Paul – John finds the glory of God difficult to capture in words. So he tells us the One seated on the throne is like jasper, a precious, clear stone. He’s also like carnelian, a translucent red gem. The clearness of the jasper may represent the holiness of God, while the red of the carnelian perhaps depicts His wrath or His provision for sin in the shed blood of His Son. The Lord is robed in light, according to Ps. 104:2 and 1 Tim. 6:16. Imagine the radiance of His glory shining in clarity and color. The jasper and carnelian (or sardius) are stones on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17-21).
Around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. This is a full circle, not merely an arc, for in heaven all things are complete and our line of vision is not impeded by the horizon. The rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant with Noah never again to destroy the earth by a flood (Gen. 9:11-17). The Lord will, however, bring fire upon the earth to purge it of sin and usher in new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). This is God’s new covenant with us. Through the finished work of Christ, the penalty, power and presence of sin are ultimately done away with, and the innocence of creation is restored.
But why the emerald (green) radiance of the rainbow? “Here … the predominating color among the prismatic colors is green, the most refreshing of colors to look upon, and so symbolizing God’s consolatory promises in Christ to His people amidst judgments on His foes…. As the rainbow was first reflected on the waters of the world’s ruin, and continues to be seen only when a cloud is brought over the earth, so another deluge, namely, of fire, shall precede the new heavens and earth…. The heavenly bow speaks of the shipwreck of the world through sin: it speaks also of calm and sunshine after the storm” (R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, D. Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 4:3, Logos Research Systems).
Next: An overview of Rev. 4:4-11