The Three Angels’ Messages are specific messages in Revelation 14:6–12, relevant for the end time. An important question is: how should the messages be shared once their content is at least partially understood by the presenters? This question is related to another one: if the messages are to go to all people, this would include people from all walks of life, from all cultures, with very different worldviews, and from all world religions, as well as people who are secular and claim to be nonreligious, atheist, and agnostic. How would, for instance, a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or an adherent to indigenous religions understand the messages? A simple reading or narration of Revelation 14:6–12 may not mean much to them and may even be unintelligible. There are some basic questions to be answered before dealing with the identification of Babylon, the beast, the image of the beast, etc. Who is the God of the Three Angels’ Messages, bearing in mind that some audiences will even doubt the existence of any god? Other key questions are: What is His character? How does He relate to humans and what are humans? Why is it important to “fear” Him? How can He torment forever those who have not decided to worship Him? Does He want humans to follow Him because He is powerful and will otherwise destroy them? Who is the Lamb? Obviously, the messages need to be unpacked.
But before that happens those who are willing to share or proclaim them must have appropriated them, understood them at least partially, and must be living what they are going to present. The messages are not only about doctrines, but also about a way of life, practical Christianity. Here are some suggestions:
First, the three messages are primarily about God and Jesus. Proclaiming the Three Angels’ Messages would mean explaining who God is and who Jesus is. People would need to know about God’s character, about His authority, and about His sphere of influence. People would especially need to be introduced to Jesus because in Him God has become tangible and has revealed Himself. To fear God, give Him glory, and worship Him presupposes people to have or receive some basic knowledge about who this God is. Otherwise, they may just hate or ignore Him.
Second, since the first message is introduced by the mention of the “eternal gospel,” people need to know what the gospel is, why the gospel is necessary, and how they can be saved. Humanity’s problem with sin, their desperation, and their apparent meaninglessness of life must be addressed. The plan of salvation may need to be explained, remembering that other people may not have the same concept of sin and forgiveness and eternal life— some may not even desire the latter—as we do. Obviously, the gospel is not only a means for people to reach a situation of unending life or to escape the circle of reincarnation. Salvation is about reconciliation with God and with a life in intimate fellowship with the One who is Life.
Third, in this context creation can be addressed. The biblical God is alone Creator in the comprehensive sense and the One who is able to create ex nihilo. He is the Author of creation and the Owner of creation who has created beings as an expression of His love and His desire to communicate with His creatures, bless them, and allow them to participate in His goodness. Almost all other theological insights rest on the fact that God decided to create. Thus God’s creative act has provided a model for people to live in healthy relationships with Him and each other.
Fourth, the Three Angels’ Messages refer to God’s commandments, including the Sabbath. God’s law needs to be explained— its purpose, its benefits, its relation to salvation. While the Sabbath is very important, the context of God’s central vision points also to the first commandments of the Decalogue—no other god, no image of God, no blasphemy of God—and also to the second table—no killing, no deception and falsehood, no adultery (even if understood primarily in a metaphorical sense in Revelation), no coveting. All of the Ten Commandments need to be maintained and taught—not only the Sabbath commandment, but especially the Sabbath commandment.
Fifth, the problem of evil powers should be presented—at least in a rudimentary way. This includes the great controversy, which is expressed most clearly in Revelation 12–14. It also permeates the Three Angels’ Messages. The issue is not only that some powers are opposed to God almost from their very beginning, but also that there are powers who started out as God-honoring movements but turned their back more and more on the Creator and Redeemer God.
Sixth, divine judgment is also important. What does it mean? Why does God judge? How does He do that? What will the outcome be? Judgment touches also on the question of theodicy, especially when people expect the just God to intervene when they deem fit, while God does not seem to do anything.
Seventh, the Three Angels’ Messages are not only about head knowledge, although cognitive truth is very important. People need to be challenged to turn to God, follow Jesus, and love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind and their neighbor as themselves. This has very practical implications and will lead to a lifestyle which in the positive sense singles out people as disciples of Christ.
One of the questions to be raised is whether the Three Angels’ Messages replace all other messages in Revelation or other places of Scripture—for instance, Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28—or if they are additional and final messages that call humanity to make a decision for God. It is suggested that the Three Angels’ Messages, while understood as the final messages, are nevertheless built on other messages and need to be understood through these, due to their brevity. We also acknowledge that they do not cover all areas of biblical truth and when it comes to eschatology they focus mainly on the judgment of evildoers.
But John’s Apocalypse does not stop there. It has more to say. For instance, Christ’s second coming is mentioned very frequently in Revelation, but it is not found in the Three Angels’ Messages. While creation occurs in Revelation 14:7, it is the Genesis creation—that which was made (Rev 14:7)—not directly the new creation which will be made. In this respect creation looks back to the past because the original creation was and is foundational to whatever follows for humanity. But it does not speak of the creation which will be established and will surpass everything of the past, especially through the direct presence of God and His throne among redeemed humanity.
Revelation does not end with chapter 14 or chapter 20. It does not conclude with so-called negative aspects of judgment—namely, the eradication of the wicked. It tells us about a wonderful future, about a new heaven and new earth, a new Jerusalem, the end of all pain and turmoil, and about direct fellowship with God. This must also be proclaimed. The Three Angels’ Messages talk about God, creation, redemption, and judgment. Judgment may appear threatening to some people and as a negative motivation to “fear God.” The positive motivation is the concept of salvation in the Three Angels’ Messages and the new creation in communion with the God of love, holiness, and justice which is proclaimed in Revelation 21–22.
The Three Angels’ Messages have to be understood in an endtime context of extreme pressure on the saints, even in a context of persecution and martyrdom. In such a context they make a lot of sense. Judgment can and should also be understood as a positive event because it is linked to God’s justice. This justice will overturn unjust verdicts of earthly courts. It will make things right. Perpetrators will not be able to get away with all the evil and bloodshed they have brought on humanity. And the problem of sin will be solved once and for all. God’s astonishing plan of salvation will be finished.
To be warned of a judgment to come and to be encouraged to reconsider one’s life, to make things right with God, and to accept the gift of eternal life is of inestimable value. So, the Three Angels’ Messages are a call to the world’s population and to all sincere people to turn to God and come out of fallen Babylon, even if one was not aware of being part of it. Therefore, listen to the eternal gospel of salvation, fear God, give glory to Him, and worship the Creator and Saviour, the One who loves us (Rev 14:6–7; 1:4–8).
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.