Finding Good News in the Three Angels’ Messages

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Finding Good News in the Three Angels’ Messages

I have a confession to make. I don’t like the three angels’ messages.

My discomfort with Revelation 14:6-11 goes back to the summer I was 9, in the primary pavilion at camp meeting. That’s when I learned the already familiar verses as a Scripture song. Even at that young age it was clear to me that “he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone” is not the kind of thing you sing about.[1]

When people quote their favorite Bible passages, “Babylon is fallen” rarely comes up. You don’t see “The hour of his judgment is come” inscribed in a greeting card or framed on a wall plaque. All the way from “Fear God” to “they have no rest day nor night,” these messages are not exactly the most heartwarming part of Scripture.

Not liking the three angels’ messages is a bit of a problem, because Seventh-day Adventists have believed for years that our key mission, our reason for existence, is to announce these messages to the world in preparation for Jesus’ coming. Ellen White wrote that Adventists “have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 19).

Quotes like these leave me depressed. You mean I’m supposed to go around talking of nothing but judgment, wrath, and eternal torment? Yes, I want my friends and neighbors to be ready for Jesus’ return, but pronouncing dire messages of doom doesn’t seem like the best way to get them excited about devoting their lives to the Savior.

Of course, Ellen White didn’t mean for us to ignore the rest of the Bible in our zeal for these messages—she herself wrote entire books about subjects other than Revelation 14. But if the three angels’ messages are to form the core of the Adventist Church’s witness and ministry, surely there must be something positive about them.

Over the years I’ve struggled to find that note of grace and encouragement. But in comparing these messages with the rest of Scripture, I’ve gradually been able to discover a loving God behind these troubling warnings.

 

Message #1: God’s Judgment Is Here!

Revelation 14:6 describes the first angel as “having the everlasting gospel” (i.e., “good news”), but at first glance the message announcing the hour of God’s judgment sounds like anything but good news. However, when we look at the Old Testament, we discover that judgment is actually a good thing for those who are on God’s side.

For example, David repeatedly pleads with God to “judge me” (Psalm 7:8; 26:1; 35:24; 54:1).[2] Because he has followed God’s way, David fully expects God’s judgment to go in his favor and result in his deliverance from injustice and oppression.

Similarly, Isaiah predicts that Jesus, the “Branch,” will judge the poor and meek (Isa. 11:1-4). Isaiah depicts this as a positive thing because He will judge fairly and righteously, in contrast to the unfair treatment that often befalls the less fortunate members of society.

The significance of the first angel’s message becomes even clearer when we look at Daniel 7, the Old Testament passage predicting God’s end-time judgment. Twice Daniel emphasizes that God’s judgment is what rescues the saints from the persecuting power of the little horn (vv. 21-22; 25-27). When the court is seated, the verdict goes in favor of the saints: they receive their heavenly kingdom, while the horn’s dominion is taken away. The judgment is the moment that turns the tide in favor of God’s people.

Thus, by announcing the arrival of God’s fair and righteous judgment, the first angel proclaims a message of hope for freedom from evil.

 

Message #2: The Oppressor Is Defeated!

On April 15, 1945, 20-year-old Lucille Eichengreen and her friend Elli stood outside their barracks in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they had been incarcerated by the Nazis under horrific conditions. Suddenly the two young women heard a loud rumbling noise and saw a line of tanks crawling down the camp’s main road toward them. Soldiers wearing unfamiliar uniforms perched atop the armored vehicles.

Lucille recalled the scene:

 

A woman’s shrill, hysterical cry pierced the air as she pointed to the soldiers, “Look, they’re British . . . They’ve come, the war must be over! We are free!” . . .

 

So it was true. We were liberated—finally! Tears, laughter, hugging, and uncontrollable senseless screams burst out of us. (Quoted in Images from the Holocaust: A Literature Anthology, p. 341)

 

The fall of Nazi Germany was unfathomably good news to the millions of people who had suffered under that cruel regime. And like the British soldiers announcing liberation to Bergen-Belsen’s emaciated prisoners, Revelation 14’s second angel announces good news to God’s suffering people.

We often think of the statement “Babylon is fallen” as referring to the corruption and depravity of that false religious system—and rightly so (see The Great Controversy, p. 383). But in its Old Testament context, “Babylon is fallen” (Isa. 21:9) held for the Jews in Babylonian exile much the same meaning that “Germany has fallen” held for the Jews during World War II. It meant not so much “Babylon is utterly sinful” but “Babylon is utterly destroyed.”

Jeremiah’s final prophecy (ch. 51) is a lengthy prediction of Babylon’s fall to the Medes—a devastation that the Lord would bring about to punish the nation for its oppression of His people. “I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight,” the Lord declared (v. 24, NKJV).

Similarly, in Revelation the fall of Babylon is cause for great rejoicing among God’s people because “He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (Rev. 19:2, NKJV). “Babylon is fallen” means that evil has been defeated and God has triumphed—definitely good news.

 

Message #3: Don’t Worship the Beast!

Over the years I’ve managed to see the hope in Messages 1 and 2. But let’s face it: you can’t put a positive spin on Message 3. Its sole purpose is to proclaim the horrible results of worshipping the beast and his image and receiving his mark.

The third angel’s message reminds me of the first page of so many owner’s manuals: the page emblazoned with boldface words like “DANGER” and “WARNING,” accompanied by crude graphics of fingers being chopped off and electric shocks coursing through bodies. They’re the pages we often skip over, rolling our eyes: How likely is it that my refrigerator will tip over and crush me? Is it really necessary to tell me not to use my curling iron while sleeping?

While appliance warnings may seem overblown, the third angel’s message is not. The world is headed toward mortal peril, with most of its inhabitants oblivious to the hazards looming ahead. The third angel’s graphic warning is God’s last desperate attempt to awaken His beloved children to a sense of their danger. It’s not supposed to be cheery and inspirational. It’s a warning, plain and simple.

The God who gives the third angel’s message is not a father cuddling his child on his lap and whispering words of affection. He is a father screaming “Stop!” as his son rushes toward a precipice or yanking his daughter out of the path of an oncoming car. His actions may not seem kind and caring in the moment, but they are desperate measures meant to save.

 

The Creator or the Beast?

In the context of Revelation 13 and 14, the purpose of the three angels’ messages is not merely to prove the doctrine of the investigative judgment, show the importance of keeping the Sabbath, or illustrate the depravity of the beast. The messages point us to the deciding question at the end of time: a question of worship. Will we “worship Him that made heaven and earth,” or will we “worship the beast and his image?”

In a well-known statement, Ellen White noted that the message of justification by faith is “the third angel’s message in verity” (Review and Herald, April 1, 1890). This is because the beast’s religion is based on following human regulations and uplifting human authority rather than relying solely on God for salvation. That is the choice we face in the end of time, and every day—will we submit fully to God and trust in Him, or will we follow our own way?

Through the three angels’ messages God makes clear that He is the only one ultimately deserving of worship and the one about to win final victory in the great controversy. Adventists, in proclaiming these messages, must be sure to “give glory” to the Creator and not to the beast. We should dwell on what He is doing in these last days rather than focusing all our attention on the machinations of His enemy.

In our evangelistic efforts, we also need to remember that the messages begin with “the everlasting gospel,” not the mark of the beast. It is only when we have a saving relationship with Jesus that the end-time judgment and the doom of Babylon can begin to sound like good news. If we think we can use the three angels’ messages to scare people into God’s kingdom, we’ve got our messages backward.

The book of Revelation, including these messages, reveals an all-powerful Savior who has a plan to rescue His people from the deadly clutches of Satan and give them a kingdom that will last forever. The three angels’ messages—the messages we are called to bear—are His final attempt to bring as many people into that kingdom as possible, because He is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9).

Is that good news?

Absolutely!

______

Notes:

[1] Bible quotes are from the KJV unless noted.

[2] Most modern translations use a word such as “vindicate” instead of “judge,” but the underlying word can indicate either a positive or negative decision.

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Rachel Cabose is the consulting editor of The Compass Magazine and a freelance writer. She previously worked as associate editor of Guide magazine at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Rachel and her husband, Greg, live in Michigan.