“Rest” is an interesting term with various shades of meaning. It can refer to physical and emotional rest (Mark 6:31), it can describe spiritual rest, and it can refer to resting in death in Jesus until the first resurrection takes place. Revelation 14:9–13 uses the same terminology as does Matthew 11:28–29—the noun “rest” and the related verb “to rest.” One group experiences rest. The other has no rest, day or night.
I. THE THIRD MESSAGE
The third angel’s message is the longest of the three messages. It is sobering. It consists of two parts: a long part dealing with idolatrous worshippers and their judgment (Rev 14:9–11) and a contrasting part, emphasizing characteristics of true believers (14:12). An addendum is found in verse 13. People have made wrong decisions and did not take to heart the message of the first angel, while others have accepted God and Jesus, based on the three messages.
A. Those Who Have Rejected the Third Message
The idolaters. The long section refers back to the sea beast, the image of the sea beast— erected by the beast from the earth—and the mark of the beast, which allows people who have taken it to continue buying and selling (Rev 13). Many worship these entities now and will do so in the future. Others will then be pressured, and some may give in to false worship. Their type of worship is a rejection of the Creator God. The third message is individualized, addressing persons one by one. With it God counters the message of the image of the beast.
Consequences. This long section begins and ends with worshippers of the beast and its image, the recipients of the beast’s mark (14:9, 11). Between these bookends their judgment is described in three elements with vivid imagery and future tenses: (1) He/she will drink from the wine of the wrath of God, (2) he/she will be tormented with fire and brimstone, and (3) he/she will have no rest, day or night.
The choice. In the central element Jesus appears. The judgment of those who do not worship God occurs in the presence of the angels and the Lamb. This passage contains so-called casuistic law: if you do what is not right, then this will be the consequence. This indicates conditionality. So, even the third message, which does not condemn humanity indiscriminately, is indirectly an invitation to make the right choice for one’s own benefit. You can choose to worship evil powers and suffer the consequences, or you can choose to worship God and enjoy the related benefits. If you follow Jesus, you will reflect His character. If you choose to follow evil powers, you will become like them, one of the earth dwellers, who persecute and kill true believers (6:9–10). These are not innocent people who just made a wrong choice unknowingly. Rather they support the economic boycott and death decree directed against believers.
God and judgment. The strong and provocative language of judgment serves as a warning. It may be partially figuratively, and the torment may be more psychological and spiritual than physical—although the latter is not excluded. The enemies of God find themselves in the presence of the Lamb, must admit that God is just in His judgment, and notice that their decision has become irrevocable. Life cannot be sustained without God. They will die the second death (20:14–15). An angel affirms God’s fairness in His judgment: “Just are you, O Holy One, . . . for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink” (16:5–6, ESV). Judgment has not only to do with justice, but also with the deliverance of the followers of Christ and the eradication of sin from the universe.
Jesus. Judgment before the Lamb and His angels does not mean that Jesus triumphs when His adversaries suffer. It must hurt Him because He came to save people by His supreme sacrifice on the cross. Those lost people are not only suffering from extreme despair, but they are also confronted with Jesus, the Source of life (John 14:6), whom they have rejected, and whose people and cause they have combatted. Now they have no rest and peace.
B. Those Who Have Accepted the Third Message
The “saints” of verse 12 (see also 13:10) are in this context also the remnant (12:17) and the 144,000 (14:1–5). Here three of their characteristics are highlighted: patience, obedience, and faith. In other places there are more— for example, holding to the testimony of Jesus (12:17) and following Jesus wherever He goes (14:4). These characteristics are not only important because they identify God’s people, but also because indirectly they tell them who they are and how they should live. In addition, they tell the audience what the group of the lost is not. They also help to understand what the mark of the beast is.
Patience. “Patience” expressed more actively can be translated with the terms “endurance” and “perseverance.” In all adversity, distress, and misery the “saints” do not give up, do not allow their relationship with God to fade away, and do not distance themselves from the hope of Jesus’ soon return. They overcome evil. Patience (1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12) is crucial for the church in Revelation. It is in no way secondary to the other two characteristics.
James had already developed the concept of patience in the end-time setting of James 5:1–11. He speaks about three dimensions of patience of the believers: (1) patience in waiting for the return of Jesus, (2) patience in human relationships, and (3) patience in suffering. Patience is one of the most prominent attributes of God Himself, because He is “merciful and gracious, patient, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6). His patience aims at our salvation (2 Pet 3:9, 15).
Keeping the commandments. The most important among the commandments—apart from the commandment to love God and neighbor— are the Ten Commandments. This is indicated by the context. The ark of the covenant (Rev 11:19) had already indirectly referred to them. Revelation stresses the first table (no idolatry, no abuse of God’s name, no disregard for the Sabbath as the seventh day) and does not disregard the second (e.g., no sexual immorality, no killing, no lying; Rev 21:27; 22:15). The observance of the biblical Sabbath is anchored in the first angel’s message (14:7: “Who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water”) and recalls Exodus 20:8–11. Keeping God’s commandments is not so much a matter of duty and an act of agreeing with them intellectually, but must be a matter of the heart. Although keeping the commandments is extremely important and is part of the new covenant, ratified through the death of Jesus on the cross, Revelation does not teach that keeping the commandments saves humans. Therefore, faith is highlighted next.
Faith. The “faith of the saints” has been mentioned before (Rev 13:10). Here the Apocalypse speaks about the pistis Iēsou. This phrase can mean (1) our faith in Jesus or (2) the faith of Jesus. The second option would understand faith as a body of beliefs, which Jesus held and taught. In addition, pistis can also mean “faithfulness.” This opens two additional options: (3) our faithfulness to Jesus or (4) the faithfulness of Jesus. In case of various possible interpretations, the context has to be used to determine the exact meaning. However, at times the context may be intentionally ambiguous. John may be ambiguous by purpose to cover all aspects of our relation to Jesus and His relation to us: While the saints keep faith in Jesus and are faithful to Him and His teachings, they can rely on Jesus’ faithfulness, who by grace has justified and saved them. Faith of the saints describes their trust in and reliance on the Lord, their confidence in deepest distress, their faithfulness in the face of martyrdom, and their absolute commitment to Jesus Christ. They live with the assurance of salvation because salvation is a gift and cannot be attained by human effort. Therefore, faith and observance of the commandments point to saving faith, from which works of love result.
Addendum in 14:13. This addendum to the three angels’ message mentions the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It creates another contrast to the idolaters. Followers of the Lord experience spiritual rest, which is associated with Sabbath rest. Therefore, those who die in Jesus in the end time rest in death with the certainty of resurrection to eternal life. Followers of evil powers have no rest (14:11), no peace, and no hope. They do not benefit from Christ’s solidarity with humanity when He took it upon Himself to become one of us, live, suffer, die, resurrect, and save us.
“Lord, help me to choose wisely, follow You, and experience rest. As I proclaim your message, help me not to shy away from difficult teachings that people may not like to hear. Help me to share your Word truthfully, faithfully, and wisely.”
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.