ESV = English Standard Version
KJV = King James Version
NIV = New International Version
SCRIPTURE quotations are from ESV unless otherwise noted.
Verses 6-13 form a cohesive unit just as the previous five verses of chapter 14 are a unit. There is little direct correspondence between the two sections. In general, the first section focuses on an idealized group of saints, followers of Jesus who are exemplary in their lifestyle. The second section warns of judgment and contrasts the saints with those who take the Mark of the Beast. So, while the first section praises the faithfulness of the 144,000, the second section warns that saints need to hang on to the end because judgment is coming and those (whether from among the saints or the general population) who cave in to the pressure will suffer terrible punishment. This section depicts a succession of three angels. Presumably all are flying in the sky and making important announcements.
The first angel has an eternal gospel. There is no article with this term. This does not necessarily make it a generalized or vague term. The fact that the adjective “eternal” modifies the noun means that this a gospel that has great significance. It is possible that “the” is omitted to add dramatic effect. So, I do not think that this should be understood as some other word other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I shall extend this below. This gospel is proclaimed to those who “dwell” (ESV) on the earth. It is important to note that the word that is translated “dwell” is not the same as the one that is often in Revelation to designate the “earth-dwellers.” This latter term can be considered a technical term in this book to refer to those persons who have been captured by the powerful antichrist spirit that is extant in the world. Rather, this reference in 14:6 is to all who live on earth, no matter what their spiritual condition. The universality of the recipients is emphasized by mentioning “every nation and tribe and language and people.”
The message of the angel is striking, first, because it is not what we consider to be the gospel. I do not think this necessarily is a contradiction. The fact that the angel “has” the gospel does not mean that the words from him are a full statement of the gospel. The gospel is God’s good news to humanity. It is difficult to hear these words of warning, yet warning is a form of grace. It calls us to repentance before it is too late. It says that God does not punish without first warning us. Fearing God is often denigrated by Christians. How do we reconcile two concepts—the grace of God that gives us boldness before Him and the call to fear God?
STUDY OF THE FEAR OF GOD:
TO FAIL TO FEAR GOD: This can come from either being overly concerned about temporal consequences or from arrogance. Jesus warned that we should fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell and not fear the one who only can destroy the body (Matthew 10:28). This is being overly concerned about temporal consequences and not concerned about eternal consequences. Jesus described the “unjust judge” in Luke 18:1-8 as having no fear of God or people. In this case the judge displayed arrogance that puts his own agenda ahead of God’s requirements. In both these cases, we see carelessness and foolishness because God and eternity are not taken into account. There is also, in both cases, ignorance of spiritual things. Romans 3:18 includes a lack of fear of God as a sign of rebelliousness. Also, Revelation 11:18 contrasts the rebellion of the nations with the prophets and saints who fear God.
A PROPER FEAR OF GOD: Fear of God is connected to holiness—a desire to rid ourselves of defilement (II Corinthians 7:1) and a recognition of God’s holiness (Revelation 15:4). Romans 11:20-21 cautions Gentile believers against pride in their standing before God. They should, instead, “fear” God, who can remove them as easily as He gave them standing. So, fear of the Lord calls us to humility and removes pride. Ephesians 5:21 calls us to submit to one another “out of reverence for [fear of] Christ.” This verse serves as a heading for the following passages on submission by wives, by children, and by slaves—as well as the parallel submission of husbands, parents, and masters to their obligation of love and kindness. Thus, fear of the Lord brings about a mutual submission. We are also called to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) I take this to mean that we take as ultimately serious the matter of our eternal salvation. Each person’s faith response to God’s grace in Christ has both universal and personal implications. By “universal” I mean that we have a heartfelt conviction of the truth of the Christian faith as it has always and everywhere been believed. By “personal” I mean that the implications of that conviction are going to find individual applications that differ from person to person. It is the serious working out of those implications that calls for working through them “with fear and trembling.”
THE LOSS OR ABSENCE OF FEAR IN THE SAVED: We have a relationship with God as adopted sons and daughters and not as slaves who fear their master. (Romans 8:15) We have entered into a love relationship with God, who loves us as His children. (Romans 8:15, I John 3:1 and 4:18) We enter God’s presence through the Spirit with boldness that recognizes God’s grace, the redemption of Jesus through His blood, the satisfaction of God’s wrath through the cross, and the reconciliation with God through Jesus, so that we do not cower in fear before God. (Hebrews 10:19)
THE RECONCILIATION OF THE TWO IDEAS OF FEAR AND ABSENCE OF FEAR:
a. Fear acknowledges who God is and what His prerogatives, authority, and power are.
b. Fear takes into account that God will judge the unrighteous and takes this knowledge very seriously in making decisions about spiritual things—and all other matters.
c. Fear works out one’s salvation: that is, pays close attention to the matter, prays about it, searches the Scripture, and does not neglect the issue.
d. Fear, in all the issues of life, acknowledges God—praises and worships Him and honors Him.
e. Fear recognizes that we live our lives out before God.
f. Absence of fear comes about because of God’s loving grace and the saving work of Jesus Christ.
g. Absence of fear is not an arrogant or presumptuous grasping, but a humble acceptance of the gift of God.
h. Absence of fear characterizes our relationship with God—a relationship of love.
The angel’s admonition is to fear God and give Him the glory because the “hour” of His judgment has come. Of all the reasons to fear God, approaching judgment is the most acute. I do not believe that we should take this sentence as a chronological clue in the book. Much of Revelation contains scenes and statements that are not constrained by a specific chronology. Rather, they are anticipations of events in the future—events which are so important that they affect the present. So, this message could be understood to apply to the Tribulation period—the last seven years before the Second Coming, but it also can apply to us today. God’s judgment is coming, and that is ample reason to fear God. Combined with an admonition to fear is a call to worship God. Fear of God in Scripture is tied to a wise acknowledgement of God, which issues in worship. The angel focuses on worship of God as creator. The whole of creation—heaven and earth—is mentioned and then also two particular components, the sea and the springs of water. The sea represents chaos and wild, mysterious unknown regions. Yet, God is greater than the sea, for He created it. The springs of water represent refreshing, life-giving water, which comes from the hand of a good and loving God. As we worship God, we acknowledge Him as greater than ourselves, as the worthy owner of all creation who has a claim on our lives. In properly balanced fear, we do not give mere lip-service, but whole-heartedly worship God. As Christians, having the full revelation of Christ and God’s gift of salvation, we know that the prerequisite to worshiping God is to come into a proper relationship to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Though we read such “doctrine” into this simple admonition in verse 7, we should not necessarily understand that this is the implication of the verse. Rather, the angel is focusing the hearer on the proper response to almighty God: to fear and worship Him.
This verse refers, for the first time in the book, to Babylon. It is the subject of chapters 17 and 18. It is also mentioned in 16:19. I shall go into detail, hopefully, when I get to those other references, especially chapters 17 and 18. In 14:8, Babylon is said to be “fallen.” Because there is little to help in chronology, I believe that this is an anticipation of the fall of Babylon “the great.” The function of these brief scenes seem to me to create a sense of fear, awe, and anticipation of God’s great power and purposes. We are shaped by our vision of God and what He has done and what He will do. So, one of the important understandings in our frame of reference is that “Babylon the great” will fall. When exactly that happens is not so important as to understand that a component of God’s judgment will be the destruction of Babylon.
The remainder of the announcement helps define Babylon and justify God’s judgment: “she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” Although the King James Version translate the latter part as “wine of the wrath of her fornication,” the use of “passion” by ESV is probably more nearly accurate. The word for “passion” is thumos and it is translated as “wrath” or “anger” appropriately in almost all other uses. However, in 18:3 similar wording to 14:8 confirms that the issue is that Babylon has been the instigator of immorality among the nations. Revelation 18:3:
For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.
Notice that three activities are in parallel:
1. The nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.
2. The kings of the earth have committed immorality with her.
3. The merchants of the earth have grown rich off of her.
Poetically “wrath” and “sexual immorality” could be linked, in the sense that the sin brings about the wrath. However, no consequence is included in each of the other activities. Hence, it makes sense that thumos is characterizing the sexual immorality and not functioning as a consequence. Thus, the use of “passion” is appropriate. NIV uses “maddening”; thus the nations have drunk of “the maddening wine of her adulteries.” (NIV)
In these verses, we look back to chapter 13 in which the Beast is described and in which the policy of the Beast’s empire to mark everyone with the Mark of the Beast is described. The second beast (generally called the False Prophet) orders everyone to worship the Beast, under penalty of death (13:15) and to receive the Mark of the Beast in order to buy and sell (13:16-17). Now, the angel declares the will of God: anyone who worships the Beasts and receives his Mark will suffer the outpouring of God’s wrath. So, the Two Ways are presented in stark contrast. In Deuteronomy 30:19 we read: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live…” The first Psalm contrasts the outcome for the person who delights in the law of the Lord with the outcome of the ungodly: The godly person is like a tree planted by the water, but the ungodly person is like chaff blown away by the wind. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus contrasts the narrow gate and way with the wide gate and way: one leads to life and one leads to destruction. So, although the immediate consequence of Beast worship and taking the Mark is safety and economic prosperity, the final outcome is to experience the wrath of God and endure torment of fire and sulfur. This torment is “in the presence of the…angels and…the Lamb.” Thus, we have the horrifying picture of these people looking up at the holy angels, totally pure and clean of the abominations of the world while the Beast-worshipers are suffering punishment for their sins. They also are seeing the One who died on the cross for them. They see Him still to be the Lamb of God, but now He reminds them throughout eternity that they took the broad road that leads to destruction. There is, in Scripture, intrinsic to God’s offer of salvation the reminder of judgment. In verse 14:11, the torment is depicted as going on “forever and ever.” There are three time components to judgment: it is sudden, it is final, and it is forever. This sobering warning is for those who will encounter the Beast and his empire and false worship. But it is also for us today. There may not be THE Antichrist today, but there are certainly many antichrists (I John 2:18). And there are certainly many broad roads for ungodly people to travel to destruction. There are false religions and cults of all sorts. There is a smorgasbord of sensual pleasures and perversions. There are temples to luxury and materialism. There are hatred and prejudice in the air as thick as smoke. Violence is rife. What Mark will you take? What image will you worship? You have a supermarket full of possible ways to defy God and seal your fate. Yet, in the midst of all this chaotic onrush to sin, there is the peaceful voice of Jesus calling: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And we have the gospel message that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
ESV translates the start of this verse: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints…” The Greek does not have “a call”; it simply has: “Here is the endurance of the saints…” Although the ESV translation is possible, I think that omitting “a call” helps us think about what is being said. First, we have to ask: “Where are the saints in all of this?” Verses 8-11 have focused on sinners—Babylon and the earth-dwellers who take the Mark of the Beast—and their judgment. But implied in this is that not everyone will participate in Babylon’s sins and not everyone will receive the Mark of the Beast. Those who avoid this participation in sin will be the saints. Simply avoiding Babylon’s sins and the Mark of the Beast does not make one a saint. The latter part of verse 12 defines the saints: “those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” If we think through the gospel doctrine that is generally accepted, the line of cause-and-effect would be as follows: Faith in Jesus brings acceptance with God (justification). This faith and the Holy Spirit bring about a transformation of the personality so that one begins to live a holy life, in obedience to Christ (see Romans 6 and 8 and 12:1-2). This latter process is termed “sanctification.” The combination of justification and sanctification is reflected in the description in Revelation 14:12 of the saints as “those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Notice this verse 12 describes saints who not only HAVE believed and obeyed but also ARE NOW KEEPING that belief (faith) and obedience as an ongoing experience.
These saints, in this passage, are people who are exposed to the worst possible alternatives—the sin of Babylon and participation in Beast worship. In order to maintain their Christian identity, they are called to have endurance. Endurance is a theme found in several places in Revelation. See the following references: Revelation 1:9, 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 13:10, and the present verse. In 1:9, John identifies himself with other Christians who undergo tribulation and who participate in the Kingdom. Such people know what it is to live with endurance. In 2:2-3, Jesus compliments the church at Ephesus for its endurance and does the same for the church at Thyatira in 2:19. In 3:10, Jesus promises Philadelphia protection because the church has “kept my word about patient endurance.” In 13:10 an expression very similar to 14:12 is used (ESV): “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” Such endurance and faith is in the face of the power of the empire of the Beast.
So, verse 14:12 is consistent with the theme of endurance—holding steady under intense pressure—found throughout Revelation.
This verse makes a final comment: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” Very likely many would be taken aback by such a comment—it is a comment of “a voice from heaven.” This is a way to convey the intensity of the time that is being depicted. It is such a time of suffering, of persecution, of overwhelming evil, that—to be blunt—a Christian is better off dead. No doubt it will only be by grace and loyal obedience that the saints—rather than contemplate suicide—live faithfully in the presence of a world filled with hate and sin. The Spirit answers the unnamed voice with an explanation. The saints who die will now be able to rest and to know that their “deeds follow them.” I think of a couple of Scriptures related to this idea. One is Matthew 6:19-21, in which Jesus admonishes us not to store treasures on earth, but in heaven. For there our treasure will last forever. To put it another way, what we do has eternal significance, and, when we live for the Lord, our deeds count for eternity. I also think of I Corinthians 15:58, in which we are admonished to stay steady and to abound in the Lord’s work because our “labor is not in vain.” What we do for the Lord is not empty and insignificant, but rather it has eternal significance. So, today, when we die, we are blessed, knowing that we can experience rest and that our work for the Lord will be part of our eternal resume’.
SUMMARY OF REVELATION 14:6-13:
Three angels fly overhead and make announcements. The first calls people to fear God and obey His commandments because judgment is coming. Fear of God is a wise understanding of who God is and what are His prerogatives. Fear motivates people to seek the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The second angel announces that Babylon is fallen. This anticipates the much fuller description of Babylon in later chapters. Its mention here sets the background of intense contrast between good and evil, between those who fear God and those who brazenly disobey Him. The third angel announces the judgment of those who receive the Mark of the Beast.
In contrast to these announcements of judgment, the saints are found to endure in this very negative environment. Although many will die, their deaths bring blessing because they can rest and know that their righteous deeds will be known for eternity.
These brief announcements, which are not particularly attached to a detailed chronology, focus on the moral alternatives between good and evil, saints and earth-dwellers, Christians and non-Christians—in the last days but also in the present.
Rist contrasts the usual meaning of “gospel” as good news with this “stern warning.” The warning of the angel, he says, is “in answer to the question raised by the worshipers of the beast in 13:4, ‘Who is like the beast…?’” The Creator God should be worshiped and not (Rist believes John implies) “the emperor.” He also compares these verse to “early Christian preaching against idolatry. He cites Acts 14:15, in which Paul and Barnabus states the “good news” is to worship the Creator God.
Rist compares the beginning of this verse to Isaiah 21:9, in which there is a report of the fall of Babylon using very similar language. He states: “For John, Rome, the new Babylon, was to be destroyed for her idolatrous ways.” He notes that sometimes the Jews used “Babylon” to designate Rome. These references were “obvious” and no one would have been “misled” by the Jews who compared Rome to Babylon. Nor “should any reader of Revelation (or I Pet. 5:13) seek to find any mystical or hidden meaning in the use of the name Babylon other than Rome, the persecutor of the true Israel [the church, for Rist] as Babylon had been of the Jews.”
He considers the latter part of verse 14:8 to be “a free rendering of the condemnation of Babylon in Jer. 51:7:
Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord's hand,
making all the earth drunken;
the nations drank of her wine;
therefore the nations went mad.
In the same way, the nations of the Roman Empire “had been intoxicated and seduced by the imperial cult…” Rist favors the KJV rendering of thumos as “wrath” rather than “passion.” He considers “fornication” [RSV] to signify idolatry “as in 2:20.” He extends this idea by referring to 17:2 where, he says, “Rome is depicted as the great harlot who made all nations drunk with the wine of her ‘fornication.’”
Thus, Rist key interpretative lever is that Babylon = Rome. His comments come from the perspective that John understands Rome to be the persecutor of the Christian church in the same way that Babylon persecuted the kingdom of Judah and its people. Babylon was a center of pagan idolatry in its day, and Rome presided over widespread idolatry, especially the cult of Rome and the emperor. Babylon was a world empire as was Rome. All the nations under Babylon were drunk with idolatry as were the nations of the Roman empire. Just as Babylon fell under the power of the Medes and Persians, so Rome would fall under the power of God. His interpretative perspective is, at least for this passage, a modified Preterist understanding. His confidence in this perspective is revealed in his dogmatic claim that no reader “of Revelation…seek to find any mystical or hidden meaning in the use of the name of Babylon other than Rome…”
Rist understands chapter 14 to be a series of seven visions, which he organizes in the following way: 14:1-5 (144,000), 14:6-7 (“worship God”), 14:8 (Babylon), 14:9-12 (judgment of the Beast-worshipers), 14:13 (blessing on the martyrs), 14:14-16 (harvest), 14:17-20 (vintage of wrath).
He comments that verse 14:9-12 may be more a warning to Christians than pagans, since the Christians “had been tempted almost beyond their strength to deny Christ and worship the emperor and his image.” He believes that there were cases of apostasy at the time and “that it was on a larger scale than we might care to admit is highly probable” because of the intense pressure. John, he says, “was engaged in a counter-pressure, resorting…[to] sanctions of both reward and punishment…to encourage Christians to be faithful…” He considers 14:10a to be a “loose quotation of” Jeremiah 25:15. Verse 10 is both a prediction of the seven bowls of chapters 15-16 and of the lake of fire, or second death, of 20:14 and 21:8. The presence of the Lamb and the angels is that those who are punished will be “eternally shamed before the face of him whom they have denied.”
He cites Isaiah 34:8-10, which describes the destruction of Edom as the background for verse 14:11. He describes 14:9-11 as a “catena of O.T. phrases and recollections,” which are evidence of the “author’s [John’s] acquaintance with and his use of the O.T…” He notes the similarity of 14:12 and 13:10, which he describes as a “fortifying statement.”
Rist mentions 14:13 as one of the seven beatitudes of Revelation (see in section on Morris’ comments). It contrasts with the “eternal damnation of the worshipers of the beast [in 14:9-11]…” He describes the Spirit as “doubtless the same Spirit closely related to the glorified Christ, who pledged eternal rewards…[in] the letters to the seven churches [of 2-3]…” He believes that the rest from labors is not so much “cessation of physical work and toil” as it is “release from sufferings, tortures, and death…” Rist sees “inconsistency” in the mention in this verse that the saints’ works will follow them. He considers thoroughgoing determinism…[to be] so evident in Revelation…” Yet, the fact that “the doctrine of works is also given a prominent place” he considers to be inconsistent with this determinism. I gather from this that Rist makes the following set of equivalencies: determinism = predestination (hard Calvinism) = salvation by grace and not by works. Then, he considers that the concept of works bringing reward to be opposed to those equivalencies.
I think that one of the great mistakes of theology is to create these kinds of all-or-none lines of thought. For example, salvation by grace through faith, not by works does not necessarily imply predestination/determinism. Moreover, salvation by grace does not negate the call to live fruitful, holy lives—that is, to do works. This call is a call of grace and comes in association with the transforming power of God in salvation. So, determinism/works is a false dichotomy that is really, I believe, evidence of a false line of theological thought which leads to the equivalencies that I have listed above. Moreover, although determinism does often seem to underlie much of the thinking of the Bible, we need to use caution in interpreting just how “hard” that determinism is. For example, in some cases I believe predestination/determinism in the Bible is an expression of God’s purposes and plans for certain groups (for example, those who are “in Christ”) and not for individuals.
Rist considers determinism to be a characteristic of apocalyptic literature: There “is a definite time schedule which God himself has predetermined. Also, as a rule, a certain limited number are foreordained to be among the righteous and the saved.” (349) He considers 6:11 as an example of this determinism, in which both the timing of events and the number of saints is predetermined. Although this certainly is a kind of predestination, it is not necessarily one that determines the eternal destiny of individuals, but rather describes the ultimate plans of God. For example, Matthew 24:14 describes a prerequisite for the end to be the preaching of the gospel to all nations. This gives a prediction of God’s plans but also implies a call to the church to heed the Great Commission.
He also cites various examples of the “efficacy of works,” by which he seems to means the role of works in determining one’s eternal fate. He says the Old Testament views are irrelevant because its view of rewards are for “this life, not the next.” But “Judaism” (by which he means the developments of the Hebrew religion between the Old Testament era and the New Testament) “accepted a belief in punishments and rewards beyond the grave…” He quotes from various sources, including apocalypses. For example, I Enoch describes the Messiah weighing works in the balance, and II Esdras describes a treasury of works “laid up in heaven.” His citations are of non-Christian literature. But we can note that works are important in the New Testament. For example, Jesus admonished us to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). We could understand, from the context of the Sermon on the Mount, that such treasures would include our attention to the things of God, our faith, as well as our righteous works—which are done in the context of faith. Paul described the work of the ministry in I Corinthians 3:10-15. The quality of that work will be judged on the “day”—at a time of judgment. In the final judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15, one’s standing with God by faith seems to be represented by having one’s name in the Book of Life. This is a basis for one’s eternal destiny: Those not found in the Book are cast into the lake of fire. However, at this same judgment, people are judged on the basis of their works. We find this same kind of tension in Romans. See, for example, Romans 2:6, in which judgment of works is promised, as it is in the entire context of Romans 2:5-11. Of course, at the same time, Romans is about salvation by faith. See Romans 3:21 and chapter 4 in its entirety.
My “take” on this is as follows:
a. We are justified by faith and saved by grace through faith.
b. Our standing with God is on the basis of God’s grace and our faith in Jesus. We are reconciled to God and in right-standing with Him because of our faith in Jesus.
c. Our faith is not pre-determined. Although people are utterly lost without God, we can respond to the gospel call by faith. Some (Wesleyan/Arminians) believe it is through the prevenient grace (grace that comes before salvation) that we so enabled.
c. Moreover, we are given a new birth so that we become a new creation in God through faith in Christ. We are also adopted into the family of God so that we are sons of God and heirs with Christ. All of this is by grace through faith.
d. We are newly created for good works, so that our new nature is expressed through good works.
e. We are also called, in the context of faith, to holy lives (Romans 12:1-2).
f. Our faith is expressed through our works of righteousness. We have ceased to work for our salvation, but we have not ceased to work. To fail to bear fruit in our lives is a failure of faith and endangers our salvation.
g. The upshot of all of this is that salvation by grace through faith and the call to good works are not to be forced into a dichotomy of predestination versus salvation by works.
Although there is not much good news in the proclamation of the angel, Morris points out that “judgment is a necessary implication of the gospel” and that Christians facing persecution can be encouraged by the news that all people, including their persecutors will “be called upon to give account of themselves…”
He notes that “worshipers of the beast” and in awe of his power now “are compelled to recognize real power”—the power of the creator of heaven and earth.
He believes there is “no reason for holding that John means the Mesopotamian city of that name…” He does consider that John may have Jeremiah 51:7f in mind, in which a similar picture of Babylon is drawn. (See also Rist’s comments.) He also refers to the Tower of Babel and concludes that the name “Babylon” “thus stands for the pride of man and for the heathen city-empire. For John, Babylon is “the great city, the symbol of man in community opposed to the things of God.” He mentions that Rome is sometimes referred to as Babylon, but “John does not go as far as this…” Babylon will fall because of “her bad influence.” He accepts that “wrath” and not “passion” is the correct translation of thumos: Babylon entices people to impurity and this brings upon them God’s wrath.
He discusses the use of thumos and orge, two words that refer to anger or wrath. The first usually refers to a passionate anger and the second comes from a “settled disposition.” Generally, this latter word, orge, is used in the New Testament for God’s anger—out of a “settled disposition. However, in Revelation thumos, passionate anger, is used often in Revelation. The wine of wrath is “not broken down in any way.” I assume he means not diluted. The wrath results in “fire and brimstone.” (Morris uses KJV.) He comments that the use of this terminology “is to be taken symbolically, but seriously. The modern vogue of dispensing with hell has no counterpart in Revelation.” He comments on the presence of the angels and the Lamb by noting that Christians of that day often were publicly persecuted, and so there is justice that “their tormentors” (the Beast worshipers) will suffer while Jesus and the angels watch.
He compares the fact that the people who are receiving this punishment have no rest day or night to the “unceasing worship” of the four living creatures in 4:8. He comments that this passage is not “gloating,” but rather is warning those who may be tempted to escape martyrdom. “Such ‘self-interest’ is fatal.” And, he notes, that “modern men” “must reckon” with “ultimate realities” (of heaven and hell, etc.).
He continues this thought, about ultimate realities, in his comments on this verse. Consideration “of ultimate realities sustains the people of God.” They know their “troubles are temporary,” and this “keeps them calm. It issues in steadfastness.” He notes that “saints” are described by their “ethical conduct” and their “reliance on the Savior.”
He notes that the natural tendency is to think of blessing is in this life, but to the persecuted “there are more important things than life.” He mentions that this verse is one of seven “beatitudes” in Revelation, which he lists elsewhere as the following:
1:3: Blessed is the one who reads and hears this prophecy and takes it to heart.
14:13 Blessed is the one who dies in the Lord
16:15 Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him.
19:9 Blessed is the one who is invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.
20:6 Blessed is the one who has part in the first resurrection.
22:7 Blessed is the one who keeps the word of the prophecy in this book.
22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
He notes that the word that is translated “labor” in most translations is “labor to the point of weariness” and “sometimes means pain.” “Heaven is not so much a place where no work is done as one where pain has ceased.” Since believer’s works “go into life beyond the grave,” there is “dignity to all the work” of the Christian.
Ladd states that the message of the angel is addressed to “unregenerate humans” because he uses John’s “usual idiom for unregenerate humans.” However, in those places that he cites, for example 8:13, another Greek word is used, as I point out in my commentary. He discusses two aspects of the term “gospel.” One aspect is why there is no definite article and finally concludes that “too much ought not to be made of” the omission. He also considers how the announcement of judgment is good news. It is not, of course, good news for the unrepentant, but “the announcement of the end is good news, for it will see the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose.”
Ladd interprets this as a call to repentance, since the “end is about to take place and judgment is about to fall.” He considers the phrase “give him glory” to imply repentance. He contrasts the beast whom many worship with the creator God, “who is mightier than the beast.”
The announcement of the fall of Babylon is “proleptic.” That is: it anticipates what will be described later in detail. Babylon “here stands for the capital city of the final apostate civilization, the symbol of human society organized politically, economically, and religiously in opposition to and defiance of God. Its first-century “embodiment” was Rome. He notes that other apocalypses referred to Rome as Babylon. He considers the phrase “the wine of the wrath of her fornication” to combine the ideas of intoxication for seduction and the wine of the wrath of God. This follows the KJV, which translates “thumos” as “wrath.” Other translations render it as “passion” or “maddening.”
“We must be reminded again” says Ladd that behind the wrath of God is a “merciful purpose” to turn people to repentance. “It is inconceivable” he says that people who “hate God’s Messiah” should enter the Kingdom of God. Therefore, judgment must come. He comments on thumos and orge in almost the same way that Morris does. He describes God’s wrath as “the settled reaction of…[God’s]…holiness to man’s sinfulness and rebellion.” God’s wrath is a “necessary correlative to his love and mercy.” He lists two of the main themes of Revelation is the “recalcitrance of men against God’s salvation…and the judgment of God which must fall upon them.” He also cites John 3:36 and Romans 1:18 as instances in which God’s wrath is affirmed in the context of God’s love and grace. He states: “Any interpretation of the New Testament gospel which does not include the wrath of God is an attenuated and apocopated [shortened by dropping off] message.”
He explains the odd wording, which is translated variously, “poured out without mixture” (KJV) or “poured full strength” (NIV and ESV). The literal translation is “mixed unmixed.” The ancients usually mixed wine with spices and, sometimes, with water in the process of serving. So, to pour wine involved also preparing it—much as we say “mix you a drink.” So, this wine is poured up for the drinker, but it has not been spiced up nor diluted with water; it is poured undiluted into the cup of God’s wrath. The result is tormenting with “fire and brimstone” (ESV: “fire and sulfur”). Ladd says: “Here is the ultimate meaning of the cup of God’s wrath.” He refers to 20:10 and 15, which tell of the lake of fire. These descriptions are to be “taken as symbolical of a fearful and final reality which no man can describe.”
He gives a short comment on the various places of punishment in the New Testament. In its use in Revelation, “hades” is “practically synonymous with the grave.” The following are uses of hades in Revelation.
1:18: …I have the keys of Death and Hades.
6:8: …a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him.
20:13: And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.
20:14: Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
Geenna (also “gehenna”) was used by Jesus “to describe the fate of the wicked.” Originally it was a valley south of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to pagan gods. It is generally understood that gehenna is equivalent to the lake of fire of Revelation 20. Ladd remarks that KJV translates both gehenna and hades by “hell,” and this “badly confuses the situation.” (That is, it confuses us in seeking to understand the fate of the wicked.)
Ladd refers to another commentator, Beckwith, and agrees with him that the “most poignant factor in the pain of the wicked” would be that they are punished in the presence of Jesus, since they “as worshipers of the beast,…had joined him [the beast] in warfare against the Lamb.”
He remarks that the “eternal duration of the punishment of the wicked is no new note in the New Testament.” He cites Jesus’ statements in Mark 9:48 and Matthew 25:46.
The certain doom of the beast-worshipers impels John, Ladd says, to call for endurance of the saints as they “suffer at the hands of the beast.”
He remarks that this blessing is for all Christians, but is directed especially to those “who shortly will fall before the beast [who] are, contrary to all outward appearances, the blessed of God.” To “die in the Lord” does not designate a “special group of Christians” but refers to all Christians. The “labors” refers to the saints’ being worn “down to the point of exhaustion.” Their works or deeds include, for Ladd, “endurance, obedience to the commands of God, and faith in Jesus…” (emphasis in original)
Metzger considers that this passage “gives offense to some modern readers…” First, he advises that one consider the “symbolic language.” It “would be quite unfair” to take John literally in this passage when one considers that he uses symbolism in many other passages. “Now throughout Revelation we have seen that if people persist in living contrary to the structure of God’s universe, they must suffer. John’s words mean here that the most terrible thing that a person can do is deliberately to turn away from the living God.” This is what I would call the work of a “spin doctor”—the kind person who makes bad news come out looking good for a politician. Metzger is playing spin doctor for God. The formal word is “theodicy,” which is justification of God. The following is his further explanation for why the torment of malefactors is eternal: “God respects our free will and will never force us to turn to him. So this picture of wrath and hell means nothing more or less than the terrible truth that the sufferings of those who persist in rejecting God’s love in Christ are self-imposed and self-perpetuated.” He goes on to wonder whether “any soul will in fact eternally resist God…” He remarks that the “solemn thoughts” are followed by the comfort of the second of the seven beatitudes of Revelation. His further comment on the latter part of verse 14:13 is that the good deeds of the righteous will be as “witnesses for them before the Judge of the living and the dead…”
This latter characterization of God as a Judge clashes with his description of how our eternal destiny is “self-imposed and self-perpetuated.” It is difficult to be generous toward Metzger in response to his commentary that is borderline ludicrous. First, he is not honest toward the text. It is not wrong to understand that symbolism plays a role in this and other texts of Revelation. See, for example, Ladd’s comments. However, interpretation of symbolism is not a license to ignore the message of the text. The passage begins with a warning to “fear God” because God’s judgment is coming (verse 14:7). That is not a statement about the “structure of God’s universe.” It is a statement of a living God who personally makes determinations about the eternal destiny of persons. The total witness of Scripture assures us that God does not judge capriciously, but He does not shy away from upholding righteousness and punishing evildoers. Moreover, this passage is not about persons self-imposing their own eternal punishment. It is about God’s pouring out terrible punishment upon them. Whether that punishment will indeed involve burning sulfur or whether burning sulfur is an apt picture of that terrible punishment is not revealed. What is certain is that we are being dishonest with this text to sugar-coat its message.
Moreover, Metzger is creating a false hope where none is warranted from the text. The finality of the punishment (“forever and ever”) is non-negotiable. Metzger holds out hope for a “second chance” that this passage does not warrant.
The whole tenor of Metzger’s comments, I believe, are disrespectful of the sovereignty of God. He is concerned not to offend “modern readers.” He seems to believe that the approach of modern people to these issues of eternal consequences is more enlightened that the New Testament. Yet, it has been the church’s belief that Scripture—Old and New Testament—is the God-breathed revelation of truth. (Oden, 552-553) Yes, the language and manner of presentation of truth is in the idiom of the ancients and requires a certain degree of interpretation, but I believe Metzger is not just concerned to update the idiomatic expression but is concerned to challenge the revelation of God that is presented in this passage. That is a disappointment to me.
Rowland often is insightful, but he is also fast. He covers these verses in two pages. Many of his comments are simply references to other Scriptures. I shall pick out what I think are comments that need to be mentioned.
He believes that the call to give God glory (14:7) implies repentance (see Ladd’s comments). He refers to Joshua 7:19, in which Joshua called upon Achan to give God glory in conjunction with confession of sin. He also asserts that the call to worship God in 14:7 implies a call not to worship the creature (including the Beast) (see Rist’s comments).
He relates the use of “gospel” in these verses to the summary of the gospel in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” In both passages the gospel “provokes the possibility of rejection [of the gospel] and judgment…” Thus, the “gospel” of the angel is in a “time of crisis” just as the coming of Jesus brought about a crisis to the Jewish nation—either to believe or not.
He explains the “offense” of Babylon in 14:8 to be making the people intoxicated so that they forget the “true vocation to worship God…” He does not further explain this process of intoxication.
He notes that Christians pay a “social cost of non-conformity,” which is described in 13:15. In 14:9-10, the “cost of conformity is set forth…” That is, the cost of conforming to Beast-worship. “Intoxication with Babylon can lead only to God’s wrath…” This wrath is torment with fire. He expounds on the fact that the torment is in the presence of the Lamb: “[It] [the Lamb] is a witness to the judgment…upon those who have been compromised by their involvement with the beast and Babylon…”
Rowland echoes the other commentators who see a reflection of 4:8 in the phrase “day and night” in 14:11. He notes that verse 11 repeats the “qualifications for those who receive the awful judgment”—the Beast-worshipers and those with the Mark of the Beast. The call to “endurance” includes an expression that may be translated “faith of Jesus.” Ladd interprets the “of Jesus” (which is one word in Greek—in the genitive case) as an “objective genitive” so the expression means “faith in Jesus.” Morris implies the same. ESV translates it as “faith in Jesus.” Rowland believes this is a “subjective genitive” and the phrase should be “the faith of Jesus.” The saints are to have the “faithfulness of Jesus.” NIV sort of takes a middle ground by render it: “remain faithful to Jesus.” “Endurance,” he says, “is particularly necessary in the face of the demands of the beast…”
The message in 14:13 is that there is a “new situation for the dead who ‘die in the Lord’…” This is “reminiscent of the ethical injunctions of the Pauline tradition…” He cites numerous passages from Paul that use the phrase “in the Lord.” He comments on the fact that the deeds of the dead follow them by noting that books will be opened at the judgment (20:17) and that the letters to the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3) state that the Lord knows the deeds of those churches—good or bad.
(Individual ancient authors are cited.)
Victorinius of Petovium believes that the angel in the air is, in fact, Elijah, “who precedes the kingdom of the antichrist.” He is possibly referring to the two witnesses of chapter 11.
Oecumenius considers the call to fear of God is a “saving teaching” because “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God…” The antichrist should not be feared because his judgment has come. That is, he takes “his” to refer to the antichrist, (14:7) who will be judged, rather than God, who will execute judgment.
Andrew of Caesarea understands the angel’s position as an intermediate one in order to lead people to God. He interprets his message to be to fear God but not the “antichrist who cannot kill the soul with the body,” referring to the words of Jesus, such as in Matthew 10:28. He also considers the mention of judgment to be the judgment of the antichrist.
Primasius interprets the angel as a “messenger”—a preacher or, perhaps, all preachers of eternal life. The “eternal” gospel is the gospel of “eternal life.”
Bede interprets “eternal” gospel as the gospel of the “eternal kingdom.” His understanding of the angel as representing preachers is similar to that of Primasius. The position in mid-air is the capacity of the message to “lift…minds from the place of their…sluggishness…”
Primasius notes that the hour of judgment “is virtually here already.” Thus, preaching “of this kind” (what is found in 14:6-7) needs to be universally known. The message includes the idea that the “temporal power of the beast should best be regarded as insignificant” since all creation acknowledges the Lord to be eternal.
Tyconius understands Babylon to be the “city and the people of the devil.” The proclamation of its fall before it actually falls is a “common way of speaking in the Scripture…when it knows that what it predicts will inevitably be fulfilled.” The city “is constructed from all nations that it gathers to itself…” All the nations are “made drunk by errors” and so the city is drunk with fornication. So, though all the nations is in mind, the Scripture “talks only of one [city].”
Oecumenius considers Babylon to mean “confusion” and to refer to “the confusion and arbitrarily random trials of the present life…and to the manic stupefaction of [idolators].”
Andrew of Caesarea believes the Babylon refers to the confusion of the world. The “wine of the wrath of her fornication” means the frenzy of idol worship and the derangement of all sin. The Jerusalem from above appears and Babylon falls and sinners are sent to everlasting fire.
Oecumenius refers to Psalm 75:8, which in the Septuagint describes the cup that sinners will drink. The wrath of God is wine that brings people into darkness and derangement. It is poured out unmixed—meaning it is “utterly poured out,” just as God’s goodness is poured out, although the latter is much greater.
Primasius mentions those who have withdrawn “from us” either because of their heresy or their morals. It is not clear how this relates to those with the Mark of the Beast. He then focuses on the Jews, for whom he believes the wrath and torment of the passage is reserved.
Andrew of Caesarea states that those who take the Mark of the Beast are acknowledging the Beast “to be God.” These people will share with the Beast the “revenge-filled cup, which is unmixed and devoid of any divine mercy…” The Beast-worshipers have drunk from the “wine of godlessness” and so they drink the “wine of wrath.”
Bede interprets the torment “in the presence of the holy angels” to refer to the saints, who “are always able to observe the punishment of the wicked…” This does not distress them because they are “in agreement with the just Judge.”
Oecumenius answers the objection to the eternal punishment. The sinner’s torment is not as bad as they deserve. Moreover, it is not physical torment. His suffering is “that he does not share in the good things of God…” The smoke “refers to the heaving breath of the sinners…in their lamentations over their situation.”
Andrew of Caesarea states that the smoke is “either the sighing of those being tormented…or the smoke that comes from the fire that torments the fallen.” “Day or night” is either an accommodation to our present understanding or “day” might be the “life of the saints and “night” the “torment of the impure.”
Bede interprets the suffering as suffering inflicted by the Beast.
Oecumenius understands the “endurance of the saints” to be needed in the time of the antichrist. The latter part of the verse answers the rhetorical question: “And who are those…whom you call holy and patient?” The answer is that they are those keep the commandments and the faith of Jesus. They “regard all things as second in importance to faith and to the love of God.”
Primasius quotes Matthew 10:22/24:13. The endurance in this case is to “escape the fellowship of the beast and mark of its name.”
Andrew of Caesarea notes that the “impious” will be punished but the saints show endurance by “keeping inviolate the commandments of God and their faith in Christ…”
Bede contrasts the ferocious beast with the eternal bliss of the saints. The saints will see their persecutors “suffering eternal penalties along with the beast.”
Oecumenius understands the blessing to be upon those who did not worship the image of the beast and were martyred and so were “crowned with the crown of martyrdom…”
Primasius says to “die in the Lord” is show oneself “approved in both [one’s] faith and…life.” He contrasts the “no rest” of 14:11 with the rest that the faithful receive. He considers those “in the Lord” to include all, but those “who work in the vineyard” are given rest from their labors. These he understands to be ministers. He cites I Thessalonians 5:12-13, which refers to those “who labor among you.” In commenting on how their works follow them, he cites Psalm 90:17, which asks God to establish our work.
Andrew of Caesarea believes that those who die in the Lord “have died to the world and so carry about the dying of Jesus…and suffer with Christ. For these persons the departure from the body is truly a rest from their labor.” These saints “prevail in the contests…against invisible powers.” If we also “yearn for such glory,” then we need to “pray unceasingly.”
Bede considers the harmony among the various voices in the passage to be “beautiful.” There are announcements—of the Kingdom, of the fall of “city of the devil,” of the “flames of the wicked,” and of the “rest of the blessed.” The last announcement is “worthy to be committed to writing to be eternally remembered.” He thanks Jesus that He blesses “those in heaven who on earth die for you.” He applies Psalm 127:2 to this passage: “He gives to his beloved sleep.” He also applies Proverbs 20:4: the sluggard will have nothing at harvest.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand
Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Metzger, Bruce M. Breaking the Code. Understanding the Book of
Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Tyndale New Testament
Commentaries. Vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids:
William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity. A Systematic Theology. New York:
Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” Exegesis. The
Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. XII. Nolan B. Harmon, Ed. New York:
Abingdon Press, 1957.
Rowland, Christopher C. The Book of Revelation.” The New Interpreter’s
Bible. Vol. XII. Leander E. Keck, Convener and Senior Ed. Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1998.
Weinrich, William C. Revelation. Ancient Christian Commentary on
Scripture. New Testament. Vol. XII. Thomas C. Oden, Gen. Ed.
Downer’s Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002