We come now to the second point of our sermon series. It is the sixth symbolic character and they are the three angelic messengers. Again, we need to remember that each of the characters are placed in context to the historical timeline between the first and second coming of Christ. As such, what we learn from these characters is applied not only to those who first read this letter from John but also to us now in every generation of Christian until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Last week we heard about the 144,000 and they are universal invisible church here on earth. They are the God’s people, the believing community, the whole number of elect, members of the Covenant of Grace. They are the fifth symbolic character and the message last week was a message of encouragement and comfort. Today for our sixth symbolic character we will focus our attention to the followers of the dragon. They are the unbelievers, citizens of the city of man. They receive the mark of beast, and deserve the wrath of God. They follow him in peril and destined to perish in hell. The message John has for them is a message of judgement and warning. Yet although the message comes to unbelievers as a message of fear, it serves as a message of hope and perseverance to believers. Therefore, it is a great comfort to all of us to open God’s Word and learn from it today.
So let us begin with a prayer:
“Let us call upon our God and Father, beseeching Him, since all fullness of wisdom and light is found in Him, mercifully to enlighten us by His Holy Spirit in the true understanding of His word, and to give us grace to receive it in true fear and humility. May we be taught by His word to place our trust only in Him and to serve and honor Him as we ought, so that we may glorify His holy name in all our living and edify our neighbor by our good example, rendering to God the love and the obedience which faithful servants owe their masters, and children, their parents, since it has pleased Him graciously to receive us among the number of His servants and children.” ~ John Calvin
Three Angelic Messengers
verses 6-13: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Again, there are several questions we would like answered from these texts. First, what is the great sign mentioned by John and what is its message to unbelievers? Second, what does Babylon symbolizes and what strategy she uses to deceive her followers into submission? Third, what is the ultimate destiny of those who follow the dragon and his beasts? Fourth, what is the message of encouragement John wants us to receive and understand?
The great sign between the first and second coming of Christ is the proclamation of the Gospel. The gospel is the message about the person and work of Christ. It is a message of reconciliation between God and man brought by the atoning work of Jesus Christ who is God’s Son. This message is proclaimed and preached to all nations as mandated by Jesus Christ himself as his Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15).
As an objective message, meaning as a message based a concrete and historical event, the gospel must be preached to all men. It is meant to be proclaimed to all who hears. The Word of God like a seed scattered to the ground by a farmer is indiscriminately announced to everyone (Matthew 13:1-9). And yet how the message is received varies according to type of soil it lands in. Paul narrows it for us between two kinds. He wrote to the church in Corinth: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).” The believer receives it with faith while the unbeliever rejects it and rebel against it. The preaching of the Gospel softens the heart of the regenerate when the Holy Spirit dwells in him and in contrast, it hardens the heart of the unregenerate further because God allows it to perish under its own sinful degenerate state. The same idea is expressed in our HC Q#83, where it reads:
Q. How does preaching the gospel open and close the Kingdom of Heaven? Ans. According to the command of Christ: The Kingdom of Heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to each and every believer, that as often as he accepts the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all his sins. The Kingdom of Heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.
Now applied to the visible church, we need to understand that while the elect continues to become part of it, hypocrites or false professors remain. This is what Jesus points to when he taught us the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30). The church militant, the visible church remains a mixed assembly. It continues to include members who are in the end are really unbelievers. This remains the state of the church until Christ at this Second Coming will finally separate those who are saved from the not saved.
Therefore the message of the gospel while a saving message to God’s people is message of condemnation and wrath against unbelievers and this includes the hypocrites and false professors inside the church. What is God’s message to them? Verse 7 reads, ““Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” This is call to repentance but sadly later on we will find out like what we studied in the sixth trumpet (Revelation 9:20), none of them avail of it. All unbelievers including hypocrites will remain unrepentant in the end and they will continue to harden their hearts against God. And while false professors may outwardly comply with discipline of the church they do not “Fear God and give him glory.” Rather, they continue towards the path of perdition. They seem to worship God but they do not truly adore.
Babylon is the demonized state. Historically, it was the the Roman Empire but applied in every generation, Babylon symbolizes any state who demands worship from its citizens. The Fall of Babylon historically happened when Rome fell during the 4th century AD. But taken as symbol is the prophecy against any state who tries to usurp God’s authority. According to John, they are all bound to fall and in the end, it will definitively fall when Christ comes back the second time. The city of man falls and only the City of God remains in the end.
Babylon seduces her followers with worldliness. She blinds them with then promise of pleasure and leads them to the path of idolatry. Now, John lays down the fate of unbeliever who follow the path of the devil. It serves as a warning to hypocrites as well. Those are remain under God’s wrath (because they were not justified by faith nor covered by the blood of lamb) will finally experience it both in body and soul. Verse 9-11 read “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
John describes hell here as a place where unbelievers experiencing the full wrath of God. Because God continues to restrain his judgment and wrath against those who continue to rebel against him until such time Gospel is proclaimed to all nations but once Jesus comes back again in judgment all restrain is lifted. Psalm 75:6-8 graphically reads: “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” This torture and torment happens before the presence of God and his angels (verse 10). Unlike some imagined think Hell is an absence of consciousness like numbness or total annihilation, John describes hell here as a real and live experience. It is an endless experience of no rest. Hell is a place where unbelievers experience the endless torture of God’s wrath.
Soberly, as Christians we are called to remain faithful and persevere until the end. These frightening message is meant to encourage us and not to cripple with fear and inaction. On the contrary, it invites us to life of courage and mission. Verse 13 reads: “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Remember that our labor in the Lord is not in vain. Paul exhorts us: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58).” So Beloved, let us encourage one another with these words.
ZCRC(Imus), the message of the gospel will be proclaimed to all nations. God’s people will receive it with faith and repentance. The power of the Holy Spirit continues to regenerate the hearts of believers and sustains them with God’s Word. May Lord strengthen us and bless us with his presence. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.