"God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay."
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth"- Revelation ch14 v13.
I want to offer some thoughts on the messages proclaimed by the three angels of Revelation ch14.
I'm going to be asking the question; what's the meaning of these proclamations?
The first thing we need to do is to take note of the context.
At first glance, this chapter seems to be the sequel of the account of the Beast in ch13.
But the story of the Beast is really an interruption.
It's part of the "flashback" sequence, beginning in ch12, which breaks into the narrative to explain the background of the Beast and its "war on the
In the main storyline of Revelation, ch14 follows on from the account of the "seven trumpets" which stretches from ch6 to ch11.
That explains the otherwise puzzling phrase "another angel", which introduces the first angel in this chapter.
These three angels follow on directly from the seven angels with trumpets- they are really the eighth, ninth, and tenth in the sequence.
Recognising the true context of the chapter helps us to understand its purpose.
These angels have been sent to explain the significance of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which was the last event in the story.
The first angel- Judgement comes
The central point of the first proclamation is that "the hour of God's judgement has come".
This really echoes and confirms what was announced by the "mighty angel" in ch10, before the event.
He swore an oath that once the seventh trumpet was sounded there would be "no more time", and then "the mystery of God's will should be accomplished".
The old world would be brought to an end- its "times" would expire.
The first angel is now telling us the same story.
The sounding of the seventh trumpet means that the "hour of judgement has come"; this announcement is called an "eternal gospel".
(The proclamation is made to the inhabitants of the earth- "every nation and tribe and tongue and people". These are the same four words that have
already been used -ch13 v7- to describe the extent of the authority of the Beast)
The announcement of judgement is a "gospel", because the removal of the old world is "good news" for the victims of the old world.
Presumably it's called "eternal" because there's a permanence in God's will and power to put things right.
The approach of judgement is given as a reason for fearing and worshipping God as the one who made the different parts of the world. The two themes go
together, because judgement is about putting right the world God made, making the world more complete.
The second angel- Babylon falls
The second proclamation is that Babylon has fallen, which follows on logically from the first announcement that the hour of judgement has come.
(This is the first time, in fact, that Babylon has been mentioned in Revelation. The reference anticipates the later descriptions, and the wording
echoes ch18 vv2-3)
The two scenes at the end of the chapter may as well be brought into this part of the discussion.
They go back to the proclamation of God's judgement against the nations, found in the prophet Joel;
"Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
Go and tread, for the wine-press is full.
The vat overflows, for their wickedness is great"- Joel ch3 v13.
These two metaphors- the time of the wheat harvest and the time of the wine-harvest- are now developed into little dramas which John can witness.
Both scenes contain a figure associated with "judging the world" in other parts of the Bible.
In the first scene, it is "one like a son of man", as in the vision of Daniel ch7.
In the second scene, it is "the angel who has power over fire". This appears to be the same angel who launches the "seven trumpets" at the beginning
of ch8, by throwing fire from the altar upon the earth.
The remarkable depth and breadth of the overflow of the wine-press needs to be looked at more closely.
"Sixteen hundred stadia", as a literal distance, would be about two hundred miles.
But perhaps we should be looking for the symbolic meaning of the number.
"1600" can be broken down into "4x4x10x10". So we can find in this number the symbolism of the number "10", which points us towards "completeness",
and also the four directions.
So I'm inclined to understand the distance as indicating "the fullness of the world in all directions".
And in Joel, it should be remembered, the overflowing is ultimately a measure of the wickedness
of the world's population.
So these two scenes are not new "events" in the storyline of Revelation.
They're simply additional, metaphorical ways of expressing the message of the first two proclamations- that the hour of judgement has come, and the
old world is going to be overthrown.
The third angel- Avoid the Beast
The central message of the third proclamation is the need to avoid any association with the Beast.
Once again, this is the logical consequence of the proclamation that the hour of judgement has come (the Beast is going to be judged).
The message comes first in the form of a dire warning about the fate of those who do associate themselves, by worshipping the Beast or accepting the
Mark of the Beast.
As always in Revelation, there's the question of how literally the language of "eternal torture, and the denial of rest" is meant to be understood.
But the essence of the message doesn't depend on literal interpretation.
The point is that receiving the Mark, which indicates loyalty to the Beast, is understood by God as a decision against himself. It is a serious
business, with serious consequences.
This amounts to a "call for the endurance of the saints". The logic is that knowing what happens to the followers of the Beast should be motivating
the saints to resist the pressure to compromise their faith and attach themselves to the doomed regime.
(This word "endurance" keeps recurring in Revelation.
In fact "This is a call for the endurance of the saints" is a very neat summary of the book's purpose.
The function of Revelation is to encourage the faith and perseverance of a church experiencing tribulation)
The voice- the Blessing
The positive side of the third angel's proclamation is expressed by the voice from heaven;
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth".
This surely relates, in the first instance, to those who have resisted the Beast and carried their resistance to the point of martyrdom. Instead of
losing from their resistance, they have gained "rest".
But what does "henceforth" mean? When does the blessing begin?
At first glance, the obvious meaning would be " as from this point in the narrative".
But that point in the narrative is very late in the story; Babylon is about to be destoyed.
Any blessing which starts as late as that seems to be arriving a little late on the scene, almost too late to be of any benefit.
I would prefer to apply the word "henceforth" to the moment when John hears the voice and the message is published in Revelation. It would then cover
the martrys of John's own time and onwards.
Or indeed we could take it back to the moment when Christ rose from the dead, and it first became possible to die "in the Lord", and benefit from the
power of his resurrection
Finally, while the promise is clearly designed to comfort those who have survived the martyrs or those who see martrydom in prospect, there is perhaps
no need to restrict the benefits of the blessing to the martyrs themselves. It is part of a promise which belongs to the church at large;
""For whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labours as God did from his"- Hebrews ch4 v10
So the very seasonal title of this discussion is not just an example of premeditated exploitation of topicality (although it's that as well). It
points towards the birth of Jesus as the ultimate source of the announcements in this chapter.
There is continuity between the the "eternal gospel" proclaimed by these angels, and the "good news" announced to the shepherds.
The journey described in Revelation towards the new Jerusalem is a journey which begins at Christmas.
edit on 19-12-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)