The Terror and Comfort of the Gospel (Rev. 14:6-13)
There is no denying the weightiness of the book of Revelation. Eternity hangs in the balance as John’s vision portrays the punishment of evil, and the victory of the Lamb. Symbolism increases the sense of mystery while highlighting the terrible and glorious realities they illustrate. Our passage this morning reveals how the gospel provokes both terror and comfort.
Read Rev. 14:6-13
Pascal’s Wager essentially states that humans bet their lives on whether or not God exists. You must wager whether He is or is not. You cannot pass. Pascal reasoned that people should risk believing because the consequences of being wrong are minor in comparison to rejecting the Christian God and being wrong.
These angels are proposing a kind of wager. You can fear God and worship him, or you can continue to worship the beast. If you choose to remain in your sin, your state of misery and pain will only increase in eternity. Therefore, if the gospel is true, then the consequences of rejecting it are terrifying and severe.
This passage warns of the final punishment for unbelievers and promises the final reward of the saints. Themes of judgment and peace, terror and comfort precede the Second Coming (14:14). Just before Christ returns, these final announcements are given.
Although this is a future reality, the true preaching of God’s Word includes warnings and promises. Unbelievers should heed these warnings as if it were their last opportunity to hear them. And believers should take comfort in this promise even now.
The endurance of the saints is supported by the terrifying reality of the alternative.
A Call to Repent (6-8)
This passage reminds us of God’s patience towards those who dwell on the earth, not wishing that any of them should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pt. 3:10). He takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23), but his character demands they receive the just penalty for their sin.
Another angel flys directly overhead, literally “midheaven” (6). The last time this happened it pronounced a “woe” upon the earth-dwellers who were about to endure the judgment of the last three trumpets (8:13). The context suggests a message of wrath for earth-dwellers, those who identify with the beast rather than the Lamb.
However, this angel has an “eternal gospel to proclaim.” If this is a message of judgment, why is it called the gospel? The aroma of Christ can be a fragrance of life to those who are being saved, while also a fragrance of death for those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:15). The “good news” of this judgment is only heard and heeded by believers. What fills them with gratitude fills unbelievers with disgust.
The angel calls people to “Fear God”, “give him glory”, and “worship” their Creator (7). Maybe you wonder how this description can be called “the eternal gospel” when it is apparently missing some critical components. There is only one gospel this angel could be proclaiming to every nation, tribe, language and people, but the description of that gospel is complex.
Christ-centered preaching often reduces the gospel to a few slogans and simple propositions. When someone doesn’t present the gospel according to the parameters we have set forth, we judge that they missed the mark.
I remember when a fellow seminary student listened to the sermon of one of our pastor-professors and proceeded to write a blog about how he had not preached the gospel. Following a formula developed by a “discernment blogger” this student essentially dismissed the professor’s message because it didn’t fit his gospel paradigm.
Beeke If the gospel is not preached the way we expect, we are unhappy. We assume that the gospel can be reduced to a few simple propositions, and we expect preachers to present them to us over and over again. If they don’t, we conclude that they are not preaching the gospel! Yet in Scripture, the same gospel is preached in many different ways.
This verse is a case in point. The gospel cannot be reduced to a slogan without truncating the fullness of biblical teaching on the subject. And a pastor is still preaching the gospel even when he has not addressed every aspect of the gospel in a particular sermon.
The angel declares an exhortation for people to turn to God their Maker. Do you fear God or man? Do you give glory to the Lord or to an idol? Do you worship the Creator or the creature? Those who continue to worship the beast will face God’s fierce wrath.
This announcement is not so much a warning of judgment to come in the future, but a statement that the final judgment has arrived. The hour of God’s judgment has come. Next week we will see the angels enacting that judgment, indicating the end of another cycle.
This is followed by a second angel who announces the fall of the worldly system of idolatry (8, see chapters 17-18). Babylon is the anti-city, the counterfeit of the New Jerusalem. At the time of John’s writing, that was personified by Rome (1 Pt. 5:13).
Just as Babylon had destroyed the first temple and sent the Israelites into exile, so Rome had destroyed the second temple and scattered God’s people throughout the region. That means that Rome and every subsequent evil power would experience the same fate as Babylon, they would become desolate forever. Thus, all who engaged in her immorality would be devastated.
Again, idolatry is represented as sexual immorality. The wickedness of all kinds of evil are summarized by one of the most prevalent and destructive sins. The internal shame and external consequences of sexual promiscuity are nearly unmatched in scope. It is with good reason that Scripture often illustrates general sin in terms related to sexual immorality. All sin is equally worthy of condemnation, but few sins are as equally heinous to God’s purposes for his people.
True believers are not perfectly pure at any point in this life. Remnants of corruption abide in every part of man, which constantly wages war with the Spirit. But believers, strengthened by the Spirit, are also being sanctified by Christ so that they heed this warning. We are enabled to mortify the flesh, to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. Yet, we are often weak and even our “best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God” (WLC Q.78). The fruit of our struggle is not perfection, but exhausting perseverance.
Therefore, when the angel announces Babylon’s fall, the saints rejoice. It reflects not only the end of her ever present temptation, but the vindication of God’s supreme authority and power. It represents the end of the persecution of the Church and of her constant struggle to remain pure in the face of evil. That is the good news of judgment for the believer!
The temporal destruction of Babylon leads to the eternal torment of all who worshiped the beast.
A Warning of Torment (9-11)
This passage is difficult to read. The description of God’s fierce wrath is almost unbearable. It is not hard to comprehend why so many televangelists ignore these passages altogether. Many think motivation should only come from uplifting words of encouragement. But in reality, motivations are diverse. We can be driven by fear as much as joy. Threats of pain can be just as powerful as promises of reward. We should not minimize the power of a passage like this.
A third angel warns about the consequences of worshiping the beast, its image, and receiving its mark (9). Which leads to several consequences (10):
- Drinking the wine of God’s wrath from the cup of his anger.
- Tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the angels and the Lamb.
This torment endures forever, day and night, for all who worship the beast, its image, and receive its mark (11). Those who worship the beast share in the fate of the beast (20:10, 15; 21:8).
We begin with the assumption that this is symbolic language. The cup of wrath, the fire, the sulfur, all represent something. Some scholars suggest that this should be taking spiritually, not physically. But symbols are not limited to spiritual realities.
The beast is a symbol of evil state powers, and the false prophet is any instrument that promotes the counterfeit worship of the state. Those are physical entities, but not necessarily tied to one specific individual. What is being revealed to John and those who read his vision are the principles and patterns by which evil operates both physically and spiritually.
What does the torment of fire and sulfur represent? By all indications, they represent an extreme amount of physical, spiritual, and psychological suffering forever. Their physical pain is intensified by a “relentless restlessness” (Johnson). Torment is always used in reference to conscious suffering. The Bible leaves no room for annihilationism, the idea that the torment of the wicked will eventually end.
There is a bodily resurrection of all unbelievers who had died before they are thrown into the lake of fire (20:13-15). Likewise, believers who have died prior to the Second Coming will be reunited with their resurrected bodies (20:5). If there were no bodily resurrection, then we might assume that the pains of hell are merely spiritual or psychological. But why would there be a bodily resurrection at the end of the age if heaven and hell do not involve our physical senses? Christ’s own resurrection, which was physical, serves as the model and firstfruits of the resurrection at the end of this age.
Sin is committed against an infinitely holy God, therefore justice demands infinite punishment. The fact that God’s wrath cannot be exhausted is a message for everyone. This is the misery that sin ultimately brings. It is the eternal separation from God’s comforting presence, and the experience of the torments of hell in soul and body. That does not mean the wicked are separated from God’s presence altogether.
Sproul We need to realize that those who are in hell desire nothing more than the absence of God. They didn’t want to be in God’s presence during their earthly lives, and they certainly don’t want Him near when they’re in hell. The worst thing about hell is the presence of God there.
However, this warning in Scripture is proof of God’s patience. Until Christ returns we hope and pray for even the most wicked sinner to repent. This is a time to love our enemies and pray for them. This is a time to warn everyone of the judgment that is coming. Because once that Judgment Day arrives, it will be too late to repent. God will be glorified both in the display of his mercy and his justice (Rom. 9:22-23).
The wicked will drink the cup of God’s undiluted wrath in full (Psa. 75:8). They will never experience true peace (Isa. 57:21), remaining in shame and utter darkness forever (Jud 13). Israel was given the cup to drink (Isa. 51:17), but God promised to remove it from their hands (Isa. 51:22). He did this at the appointed time, by sending his Son to drink it for them.
True rest is only found through Jesus (Mt. 11:28-30). Jesus Christ endured the restless night in Gethsemane as he staggered before the thought of drinking the cup of his Father’s wrath. He asked him to remove the cup if there were any other way. But, he ultimately submitted to the will of his Father.
For those who turn to Christ in faith, they will not drink a single taste of the wine God’s wrath. Jesus consumed every last drop when he died upon the cross crying out “It is finished!” In his death, Christ defeated sin and bore the full weight of God’s wrath on behalf of all who trust in him.