The Three Angelic Warnings
Gospel: Fear God and Worship Him
First-century Israel was about to “lose its place and its nation” (John 11:48). The Son of God made flesh came to his own people, but they rejected and crucified him. He warned them that judgment was coming for their rebellion (Matt. 24:36; Mark 14:62). He gave Israel forty years to repent, and many thousands did turn to him as “Lord and Christ.” Most did not. His wrath was about to fall upon them (1 Thess. 2:16). Until he sent the Roman armies, Christians proclaimed the truth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again. They were like angels – heavenly messengers clothed with God’s own authority sent to gather his elect (Matt. 24:31). The Lord Jesus said that he would not come in judgment upon that generation until the cities of Israel and the Roman world had the gospel preached to them (Matt. 10:23; 24:14).
The first angel came preaching the “everlasting gospel” to all that dwell upon the earth or land. “Every kindred, tribe, and tongue, and people” expresses that the entire Roman world (Luke 2:1) of the first century would hear the gospel – which it did (Col. 1:6). The everlasting gospel is not a message of political liberation, self-realization, or personal improvement. It is God’s gracious purpose to save sinners, his plan from eternity, his promise after man’s fall, and his gracious covenant revealed and accomplished through the Law and the Prophets. When the church proclaims this good news, she speaks with heavenly authority. She is the heavenly messenger on earth. This is one reason we must not alter the gospel or back down from preaching the whole Christ as our only peace and righteousness before a holy God. We must not apologize for proclaiming Jesus Christ as the only Savior, the eternal Son of God, and the only Prince who rules the kings of the earth. All spiritual and political liberty comes from submission to him as the Christ of God. Everywhere there has been a blended gospel of ceremonies and grace, works and grace, an unholy alliance between popes, priests, and princes, unholy blending of justification and sanctification, there has been tyranny and oppression, ecclesiastical and civil. Christ Jesus alone makes men free (John 8:32; Gal. 5:1).
“Fear God and give him glory” may seem a strange gospel, but we will never feel our obligation to reverence God until we humbly recognize him as our Maker. Having made us, he owns us, and we would be more convicted of our sins if we took seriously his ownership of us and his right in us. He is worthy of our praise and service. He made us for himself. We owe our lives to him, and our praise and service. But we have rebelled against him constantly. Sin has blinded us so that we will not see it. Sin’s blinders must be ripped from our soul’s eyes so that we can see the truth about ourselves – that we are unclean, without God and without hope until we turn to him and embrace Christ crucified. The gospel call was urgent then: “the hour of his judgment was come.” It was the last call for first-century Israel. It is the same urgent call to us to fear the Lord and give him glory by turning from our sins and believing upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. True faith is not the desire for God to accept you as you are or to “experience God.” True and saving faith springs forth by God’s grace when we are convicted of our sins against a holy God and nevertheless see that he offers us mercy in his Son.
This is the everlasting gospel the early church proclaimed, as symbolized by the first angel. Israel should have known this, but unbelief and disobedience make us lose the truth we once possessed. Although we rebelled against him, he will forgive us and accept us as his redeemed children. He takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He is willing for all of us to come to repentance, and he commands us all to repent (Acts 17:31). Unless we repent and believe his gospel, we shall perish (Luke 13:3,5). Do not stay asleep as half the virgins did. Remember that the “whole world lies under the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Your odds of being saved from the wrath of God are not good, I must tell you. The gate is very narrow, as is the path. It is not easy to be a Christian. There are many false prophets in our day who have made the gate very broad and the way wide. They are liars. You cannot build your own gate to heaven or pave a highway with your good works and intentions. No one but the living God can give you faith and repentance to believe his good news and to turn from your sins. He has sent angels to warn and invite you. Turn to him now.
Judgment: Babylon (Jerusalem) Fallen
The Lord throws every name in the book at Jerusalem. He has already called her “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8; Isa. 1:10). He now calls Jerusalem “Babylon.” Israel has become Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon: sensual, persecuting, and corrupt. She has joined the beast against God and his Christ. The hour of her judgment has come. She, not Rome, has committed fornication against the Lord, her true husband. We are married to our Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 11:2), and worldly loves or sexual immorality commits spiritual fornication and adultery against him. Jerusalem was the leading harlot of the first century. All the nations who had business with Jerusalem learned her fornicating ways. She was not the light of the world but the queen of back alley, Yahweh’s unfaithful wife. The Lord rid himself of his fornicating wife. He will have us pure for himself, for him alone, separate from the world. Jerusalem chose to bow to Caesar rather than confess Christ. She is the harlot of harlots. She has become God’s enemy. Most will not accept this plain truth, for they are wedded to mistaken notions about Israel being God’s chosen people. It is nothing of the kind. Israel lost its place, as our Lord said (Matt. 21:43). His true Israel is those who embrace him by faith, Jew and Gentile, in one body, his church (Eph. 2:16). His wife does not practice sexual immorality, and she does not bow to the beast.
We are perhaps astounded to read Israel being called Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon. Israel turned into its opposite. It became an enemy for the gospel’s sake (Rom. 11:28). The warning is vivid and pressing – we, too, can be cut off, if we do not hold fast to Christ (Rom. 11:22). Faithful churches have become their opposites – centers of perversity and false doctrine, synagogues of Satan. Men and women who once professed to be believers and gave evidence of being converted have proven to be false, fruitless branches, even persecuting their own families and justifying themselves. Once Christian peoples have become anti-Christian nations, for they allowed the truth to be sabotaged and perverted, lies and corruption to be institutionalized. Satan then rushed in with seven worse demons and turned our nation into a land ruled by heathens, pagans, and perverts. Lose faith in the living God and the Christ who rules the nations, and shocking reversals occur. Refuse to kiss Jesus Christ as Lord and lose everything. The enduring city of God, church, and family builds upon Jesus Christ and his word.
Separate: Do Not Worship the Beast
This is the message of the third angel and warning – do not worship the beast or his image, and do not receive his mark. This is the easier path of compromise – to cozy up to the world, to make love with its loves, to replace the love of God with the love of self and the world. False loves will gain you a wider path and more company. You will find plenty of fun-seekers and truth-mockers and moral gray-men on the road of worldly loves – yes, you poor thing, you are misunderstood. Your parents and elders were wrong to confront you, not support you, to tell you NO! Who do they think they are? This is all part of beast worship. Beast worship is Marxist revolution to break down Bible values in our society and destroy our land through perversion and chaos. Men also receive the mark of the beast when they follow man’s word in place of God’s, his own feelings and experiences, rather than the Lord’s commands and statutes. The beast does not simply reside in Rome and Washington – he has offices in the local church that speaks of Christ without a Bible, spirituality without saving faith, a good life without repentance, and worship without obedience to God’s commands. A close friend or even family member may be an agent of the beast, or acting as one, when he or she encourages you to disregard God’s word, change its meaning to suit your desires, and avoid people who are telling you the truth.
This third angel flies to warn them (and us!) to repent. To worship the beast and receive his mark in any form may buy you a season of earthly reprieve and many hearty welcomes from other worldlings, but it is to drink the cup of God’s wrath. The beast and all his followers will finally come to the lake of fire that burns forever, to be tormented in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. Hell will not be a spectator sport, but the righteous will rejoice in God’s justice. The smoke will never stop rising, for the sinning will never cease. One sin against an infinite God carries infinite guilt. Everlasting fire? Come on – this is the modern age. God does not modernize to suit the tastes of rebels. He is eternally relevant, unchanging, holy in all his ways and works and words. He is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11). Satan is deeply appreciative when the church is embarrassed to speak of God’s wrath and of the sinner’s final home. God’s righteous anger against sin is the one thing in this life that is able to terrorize you straight into the arms of Jesus Christ.
These are unwelcome ideas in many conservative American churches. You cannot talk about God’s wrath and hell, at least not too often. It must be metaphorical. God is love, and surely he would not subject any of his creatures to everlasting hell. There must be a third door somewhere and sometime, perhaps an opportunity after a time in hell for post-death repentance. If there is such a door, then the cross was unnecessary – it is not the blood of Jesus Christ that saves you but your own sufferings in hell. God’s justice is a wicked farce, for he set forth his Son to be a propitiation for our sins when his sacrifice was unnecessary. If there is a third door, sin away. Take the easier path of beast worship, which today is expressed by “woke” politics and theology, the state demanding compliance to its dictates while hosting transvestite parades in our cities and drag queens in our local libraries. The beast has been resurrected and now roams our land. Will you bow? Beware the consequences of resisting him; do not underestimate Satan’s malice against faithful believers in Jesus. Do not underestimate, on the other side, the allure of compromise. Strong is the temptation for a smooth faith, reassuring words, and broad paths without so many negatives and warnings. A polite, cross-free religion is one of the church’s tallest idols. We have been prosperous for so long that the thought of cross-bearing immediately creates self-doubt and theological uncertainty. Wait – if the world does not like us, we must be the ones who need to change. No, the Lord is calling us to return to the way of the cross.
Two Encouragements to God’s Saints
The Way of Patience: Faith and Obedience
We do not want such a heavy religion. All this talk about beasts, God’s wrath, and hell is a sure recipe for spiritual indigestion and backdoor exoduses from the local church. And yet, it is brutal honesty, the Lord’s own loving call to us to wake up and face the realities of heaven and hell, time and eternity, sin and judgment. Hear the voice of Jesus Christ! The three truths that most modern believers hear little of and want to hear less – sin, righteousness, and judgment – are the very truths to which the Spirit is sent forth from the Father and Son to bear witness and bring conviction (John 16:8-11). They are the very truths we must hear if we are to be awakened from sin’s sleepiness so that we flee to Jesus Christ and hold fast to him. Ours is not an easy path, the broad path of the world’s approval and the soft path that appeases the flesh. We must walk our Savior’s path of patience. It is the way of the cross, of suffering for the moment to be crowned with glory and honor in the end. Our path of endurance is marked chiefly by keeping God’s commands and the faith of Jesus. Both are needed if we are to reach our goal. Patience with obedience – obeying when we do not feel like obeying; obeying when we want to give up; obeying when other religious people around us are encouraging us that we will be happier if we disobey the Lord and follow our feelings and popular opinion. If we are to endure the beast’s allure, we must be resolved to obey our great God and Savior – not to merit salvation but to enjoy his love and communion. We shall not think it so hard to be misunderstood and hated by the world if he is holding us in his arms and the blows we receive enfold us more tightly in his love.
The Hope of Rest and Reward
We shall not always be at war with the beast. Our Lord will not always need to warn us of the fiery pit. Why does he do so? He does not want us perishing there by compromising with the beast or being overwhelmed by worldly loves and the fear of men. He holds out to us something better – “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Let us aim for the death of the righteous – not a death of regret, unrest in our souls because we fear our death is the gate to hell. Some of you know this about yourself. Why do you delay? Why do you play dice with the devil and put the Lord to the test? Run immediately to Jesus Christ so that for you death is not the gate to hell but to paradise. To die in the Lord is to die with his righteousness as your burial clothes, his blood as the key that opens heaven’s gate, and his fellowship that will usher you into the presence of the Father as one of his children. It is to die not in doubt of your destiny but to give your soul into his hand as he gave his into his Father’s. Such a death is hardly a death – more like a launch to joy and glory. A death that brings us immediately to our Lord’s smiling presence is not to be dreaded or avoided but welcomed when it is time.
Then, you will rest from your labors. Were it possible, when you see the face of Jesus Christ, your beloved, you would ask to come back for a bit and serve him more, to do that hard service you never could bring yourself to do, to mend that broken relationship you avoided, to speak more proudly of Jesus Christ and his cross. Do so now. Labor for the Master. Do all for his name. Do not wait until you have waited too long, too long to have many works to give him, too little perfume to pour upon his head and feet. Give yourself wholly to Jesus Christ now. Resolve to follow him – not our hearts and the world. Resist the beast now – in our homes and offices. Speak and warn the unbelieving: the word of man is deadly. The unrest around us is because “there is no peace for the wicked.” Only the righteous have peace (Ps. 119:165). Let us come to Jesus Christ, for he will kill our sins and give us rest in his righteousness and strength to obedience in his communion. Rest comes later. Rewards will soon be handed out. Our works will follow us. This is told to us now so that we are resolved to give our all for Jesus Christ and never bow to the beast or live by his mark, the word of man, but to serve our Lord with resolute hearts that trust him and have committed ourselves to him.
One last word about the faith of Jesus – come and make sure your interest in him, that you possess a saving claim upon him, that you are forgiven of your sins. Make sure you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, your Lord and Savior. How do you know if you are forgiven? That he is your Lord? Have you turned from your sins? Do you hate your sins and plead with God to forgive you? Do you walk forward in the path of obedience, even if you are stumbling? When you stumble into sin, does it matter to you? Are you grieved and cry out for deliverance? Are your tears crocodile tears or from a new heart that wants to serve your Master. This is only possible through faith in the Lord Jesus. We have no strength without him. Are you wailing over your sins and weakness? Do you seek and ask him for help day and night? Have you come here today wanting more of Christ, only Christ, to be clothed in his righteousness and cleansed by his blood? Believe God’s promise of mercy. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
And believe in him, abide in him. Focus more upon him than ever before. If you want to do something truly useful in these times, devote your life to him as never before. Learn more of him. Trust him more. Speak more of him. Ask him to search your heart and sanctify you wholly. Follow him wherever he leads. Keep earthly distractions to a minimum and be harder on yourself than you are on others. Live in communion with the Lord Jesus. He is your life. The city of man is frantic, rattled, and giving itself over to maniacal evil. Jesus Christ the light of the world is not there, and there are no lights on in the city of man. Where he is not, there is only madness, slavery, and blindness. Where he is, there is light and liberty, joy and peace. Come to him. Receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, for hope, and for strength. He will never fail you.