God has chosen to communicate with humanity. Because God is God and not a human being, humans were dependent on God to initiate communication. In His grace He has done that. He speaks to us in various ways, preeminently through His Word/word—capitalized and non-capitalized. But often humans have turned a deaf ear to His messengers and messages. Yet, He has not given up because His love for humanity aims at our salvation. So, in Revelation He sends us various messages.
I. MESSAGES IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The three angels’ messages play an important role in Revelation (14:6–12). But they are by far not the only messages found there. In Revelation, many voices and persons are heard, heavenly and earthly. The book is replete with significant speeches, hymns, and other messages.
Human communication. On earth, believers and unbelievers are communicating. Among the believers are John (Rev 7:14; 22:20), the martyrs (6:10), the conquerors (15:3), and the bride (22:17). For instance, the great multitude of redeemed humans sings, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:10, ESV).
Communication of heavenly beings. Heavenly beings—angels, unidentified voices, the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and even God the Father—share crucial messages and insights. John exclaims, summarizing the entire content of Revelation,
“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (1:4–7, ESV).
Jesus addresses the seven churches (2–3). He proclaims several beatitudes (16:15). Repeatedly, He promises to come soon (22:12, 20). God the Father speaks in Revelation 1:8 and 21:5–7, revealing Himself and what He is going to do about the new creation.
The importance of Revelation’s messages. The three angels’ messages are crucial messages to be proclaimed worldwide, but are not the only messages in Revelation. They are not even the only end-time messages. There are others that need to be heard. It is not only the immediate context of Revelation’s central vision that determines the understanding of the three angels’ messages, but also Revelation’s other messages. For example, the first angel’s message calls humans to fear and worship God and designates Him as Creator. But the questions about who and how God is and what He does is not sufficiently answered by Revelation 14:7. We need more information from other messages, and specifically from those coming directly from God the Father and Jesus Christ.
Some messages go beyond the three angels’ messages and furnish more information on future events. The three angels’ messages have little to say about positive eschatological developments, dealing more with the negative ones in judgment. They do not mention directly the second coming, the new heaven and new earth with the new Jerusalem, and the immediate presence of God among His people.
Other messages explain, for instance, in more detail (1) who God the Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit are (1:4–8; 4–5). (2) They describe salvation—the involvement of Jesus in redemption, the cost of salvation, and how humans can be saved (1:5–6; 5; 7:9–10, 13; 12:10–11; 15:3; 19:1; 22:14). (3) They clarify what the eternal gospel is. (4) Creation is important to them, occurring with Jesus in 3:14, climaxing with the God of creation in chapter 4, and permeating chapters 21–22 as well as other parts of Revelation. (5) While worship begins with Jesus, worship of God the Father and the Lamb reaches a peak in Revelation 4 and 5.
While the three angels’ messages are critical and decisive messages to be proclaimed in these days, they are not all-comprehensive and need to be understood in the context of the entire book of Revelation—especially its other messages. While they need to be shared with people, we should not forget that in the Great Commission Jesus charged His disciples to teach people to observe all that He had commanded them (Matt 28:20).
II. THE SETTING OF THE MESSAGES OF THE THREE ANGELS
The mega-narrative. The messages of the three angels are embedded in a large mega-narrative that determines their interpretation. The vision of Revelation 12–14 (more precisely of 11:19–14:20), which contains these messages, depicts the long conflict between good and evil and its outcome. The rest of Revelation supports and broadens this mega-narrative.
Revelation 12. Here is the storyline of Revelation’s central vision: Chapter 12 introduces the characters of a woman—the true church—and a dragon-serpent—Satan. The conflict is already foreseeable. The woman gives birth to a child. The attention is drawn to Jesus’ incarnation and the struggle He had to endure during His life on earth. As ruler of the nations, He “was caught up to God and His throne” (12:4–5). The reference to a woman, a serpent, the woman’s seed, and enmity is based on the promise of the Redeemer after humanity’s fall into sin (Gen 3:15). This promise of the Messiah has now been fulfilled. Satan’s attack on Jesus is followed by his war against His church (12:6, 13–16). But there is also an immense heavenly battle between Michael/Jesus and the dragon (12:7–10). At the end, Satan is defeated but not annihilated. Consequently, the last verse of the chapter focuses on the massive conflict at the end of earth’s history, in which Satan attempts to destroy Christ’s faithful remnant (12:17; 13:1–18).
Revelation 13. This war is a proxy war. The dragon uses a beast from the sea to make war against the saints. Unfortunately, the believers, who have “overcome” Satan “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11), are now “overcome” by the sea beast (13:7) at least temporarily. They have gained spiritual victory but have not been able to escape persecution. Satan uses also a second, extremely deceptive beast, the land beast—later called the false prophet—which came out of the earth. Both beasts are so opposed to God that they divert worship from Him to the dragon and his allies. Their opposition to God’s people consists of preventing believers from buying and selling (13:17) and thereby threatens their existence. In addition, non-worshippers of the image of the first beast, which was created by the second beast, are to be killed (13:15). Reading this narrative, the audience is left with the impression that God’s faithful people have no chance of surviving the final evil onslaught.
Revelation 14. But suddenly the picture changes. Yes, there are survivors, and they are standing triumphantly with Jesus on Mount Zion. The vision of chapters 12–14 draws to an end with a description of the 144,000 (14:1–5); the messages of the three angels, which is probably their message (14:6–12); and the second coming of Christ (14:14–20).
In Revelation 12–14 the message of the three angels is the final and universal divine communication addressed to all people in the last time of earth’s history. It reacts to the activity of the evil powers. It is God’s response to the propaganda of these entities with their attempt to bring about undivided universal worship to themselves instead of to God.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THE THREE ANGELS’ MESSAGES
In His grace, God communicates important messages including the three angels’ messages: (1) He is looking for people who are willing to enter into an intimate relationship with Him. (2) He shows that the alternative, the evil powers’ approach to life, is detrimental and that they are not as powerful and pious as claimed. (3) He points to the dramatic consequences for people following them knowingly or unknowingly and contrasts them with His faithful people who are fully committed to Him.
Why does He do that? He wants people to be saved and to live with Him for eternity. He wants to inform them about important present and future events. He gives humans—including us—another chance with the three angels’ messages.
Many conversations are not communication in the truest sense, but are rather monologues in the presence of one or more witnesses. But real communication requires at least two parties fully engaged in the process. For God not to communicate in vain, it takes our response and witness.
Ekkehardt Mueller, ThD, DMin, is a retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.