Fear God and Give Him Glory
Since chapter 12, we’ve been studying another cycle of seven signs—today is the fifth. In chapters 12-15, these signs tell a story that stretches from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus’ return. We live in the middle; and these signs help us make sense of our present struggle in tribulation.
Our struggle is one of cosmic war against Satan the Dragon. Together with the Beast and False Prophet, they form an unholy alliance to destroy you. They use military power, political influence, false religion, economic pressure, worldly attractions, physical persecution—all to pressure you to give up the fight of faith.
But again and again, the Lord helps us choose endurance. In Revelation, he does this through visions of Jesus’ lordship. Last week, it was Jesus claiming the high ground atop Mount Zion. He reigns, and his followers reign with him. So, don’t lose heart! Stay in the fight. Jesus is lord. His kingdom will prevail.
Verses 6-13 also serve our endurance. Verse 12 includes a call for endurance. But the way these verses motivate endurance is by developing the results of Jesus’ lordship in relation to his enemies. If Jesus’ kingdom will prevail, all rebel powers must be destroyed. That’s what today’s passage—judgment on the Beast’s kingdom should lead us to fear God and give him glory. Listen to God’s word from verse 6…
6 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. 7 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.” 8 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.” 9 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, 10 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. 11 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.” 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 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!”
Warning #1: Coming judgment demands a response.
Three warnings, a call for endurance, and a blessing—that’s where we’re going. Our passage starts with three warnings. In warning number one, we learn that coming judgment demands a response. In verse 6, John sees an angel overhead. The picture is that he’s high as the noonday sun. He’s a messenger coming down from the heavenly places; and he has with him an eternal gospel. In the Old Testament, those victorious in battle would send messengers with good news of their triumph. Often it appears with news of God’s triumph. Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
Well, in 14:1 Jesus secured victory on Zion. So, it’s fitting that God send a messenger from the battle front with news of Jesus’ reign. He’s taken the hill. God’s king has won. This good news is also eternal in that Jesus’ victory is eternal. Jesus will reign forever. Also, the effects of Jesus’ reign apply universally. Verse 6 says that it’s for “every nation and tribe and language and people.” This gospel is not just “true for you.” Jesus’ reign effects everyone. It’s historical reality. Nobody can escape the effects of Jesus’ lordship. If he is Lord, then judgment is inevitable for all who will not bow.
Notice the urgency of the angel’s message. “Fear God and give him glory.” Why? “Because the hour of his judgment has come.” Jesus’ victory set in motion the final hour of God’s judgment. That’s what we’ve seen since Jesus took the scroll in 5:8. The seals, the trumpets…next is the bowls—Jesus is causing all history to barrel towards final judgment. Nobody can stop it. Nobody can escape it.
Which means the gospel demands a response from everyone. If Jesus is Lord, then everyone must “fear God and give him glory.” To fear God means you stand in awe of his authority. You submit to his word. To give him glory means you recognize his infinite worth in adoration and allegiance. Verse 7 adds that everyone must “worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
These demands come in a context where the Beast has deceived everyone into false worship. The Beast flexes his military and political power—and so people learn to fear him instead of fearing God; and what you fear you obey. But the gospel demands that people fear God above all and worship him alone. Romans 1 says that people exchange the truth about God for a lie. They worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. The gospel calls people to forsake that way of living.
If judgment isn’t coming, then it doesn’t matter. “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” But if judgment is coming—and the resurrected and exalted Christ guarantees it is—then you must fear God and give him glory.
Warning #2: The City of Man will certainly fall.
Warning two: the City of Man will certainly fall. In verse 8, John sees a second angel. He says, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” In Revelation, God divides the world into two cities—the City of God, New Jerusalem, and the City of Man, Babylon.
Historically, Babylon was a powerful empire. In the Old Testament, you hear about its king, Nebuchadnezzar. It was a pagan nation that God used to judge his people. At the same time, Babylon was known for its pride, its idolatry, and its oppression of God’s people. For this reason, God judges Babylon. He has Persia destroy Babylon in 539 BC. But what’s interesting is that later prophets use the name “Babylon” as a codeword for proud, idolatrous nations who oppress God’s people.
That’s how John uses it here. In fact, listen to its further description in 17:3. John describes Babylon: “I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations. And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” Babylon is the city that opposes God and hates God’s people.
14:8 adds that she “made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” We’ve discussed this before, but in Revelation “sexual immorality” isn’t limited to sexual activity. It’s more so a symbol for spiritual harlotry. It pictures someone abandoning her covenant Husband to run around with other lovers, other false gods—which might include sexual activity. But the point is broader. Babylon leads the nations to cheat on the Lord with false gods of all sorts. They are drunk with harlotry.
But notice, Jesus’ victory means the City of Man is guaranteed to fall. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.” That comes from Isaiah 21:9, where you get a picture of a watchman looking over the horizon for the sign of approaching judgment. As he sees the armies begin to crest the horizon, he knows the downfall of the city is inevitable. So, he says, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon.” He describes a future reality from a distance as if it already happened. The point was to convey certainty.
Same here. The enthronement of Jesus means the downfall of Babylon. The enthronement of Jesus means that all evil powers will fall. So certain is the downfall of Babylon, this angel can announce it like it’s already happened.
Warning #3: Eternal punishment awaits the Beast’s followers.
Warning number three: eternal punishment awaits the Beast’s followers. A third angel follows in verse 9; and he announces judgment for those who worship the Beast and its image and receive the Beast’s mark. In 13:16, we discussed this mark. It’s a spiritual mark evidenced by who you serve and worship. Those who belong to the Beast serve and worship idols. Whatever compromise gives them the best life now—they do it. If the Beast opposes Christians, they do it to save face and keep their jobs.
In other words, these people are not innocent. They have an insatiable craving for Babylon’s idolatry; and they join the Beast in persecuting the church. For these people, God promises terrible judgment. They must drink the wine of God’s wrath.
In the Old Testament, drinking from God’s cup was a metaphor for suffering under God’s wrath. The cup was in God’s right hand, depicting his absolute rule (Hab 2:16). But when people despised God’s rule, the cup was depicted as full of God’s fierce judgment. For God to pour out his cup was for him to enact his judgment.[i] He forced his enemies to gulp it down to the point of staggering disillusion and utter despair.[ii] But here’s the thing. When God forced nations to drink the wine of his wrath, it was diluted. It wasn’t as strong as it could be. It only included temporary judgments.
Those temporary judgments of old were pointers to the far greater judgment to come. That’s why verse 10 says the wine will be poured “full strength [undiluted] into the cup of his anger.” To this point, all of God’s judgments have been diluted. The flood, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt, the ground swallowing Korah, the fall of Jericho, the curses on Israel, the siege of Jerusalem, the exile, God handing people over to their own devices in Romans 1, the seal judgments in Revelation, the trumpets—all of them are diluted judgments. But at the end, God wrath is undiluted, full strength.
God’s judgment will also be fierce. Notice in verse 10, “he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Fire and sulfur often appear in contexts of judgment in the Old Testament.[iii] Think Sodom and Gomorrah, for example—only worse. It is a sign of agonizing despair. Your mind is tormented with an overwhelming sense of loss and no way to reverse the damage. Later, these images describe the Lake of Fire, which is the destiny of the Dragon, the Beast, and False Prophet. If you follow the unholy alliance, you share their torments.
Now, people are sometimes confused by the phrase “in the presence of the Lamb.” That’s because 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, “[they] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” So, which is it? Some will say that Paul means the Lord’s face, his favorable countenance in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. So, he’s present to judge, but his enemies will be away from his favorable countenance. But it could also be a translation issue, which the ESV tells us in a footnote. The idea isn’t that punishment is away from the Lord’s presence but that it’s from the Lord’s presence. Meaning, he’s the source—which is exactly what Revelation 14:10 pictures.
God’s judgment is also forever. Verse 11, “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” That comes from Isaiah 34:9-10. Edom was God’s enemy. But the Lord promised to punish them the same way he punished Sodom and Gomorrah. When the Lord was finished, people would pass by and see the smoke rising over the city as a memorial to their judgment. Only here it’s worse. There’s ongoing torment. Never will they get to experience the sweet rest of God’s sabbath. These enemies have no rest, day or night. They will be in a constant state of utter despair and exhaustion.
A Call for Endurance
Those are the three warnings. Now, we could stop there and tease out these warnings for those who don’t know the Lord; and we could do that. But I first want you to recall that the Lord gave this prophecy to believers. It’s written to the seven churches. It functions much like the oracles against the nations functioned for Israel. That’s why he shifts next to a call for believers to endure. Verse 12, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”
Endurance has to do with a long-standing obedience in the face of trial. But that obedience comes by faith in Jesus—Jesus remains the object of our trust and the giver of our strength. But why this call to endurance here? Because while you’re fighting through the tribulation of chapters 12-13, he wants you to contrast the two signs of chapter 14. In verses 1-5, we see the destiny of those following the Lamb—they reign on Mount Zion. In verses 6-11, we see the destiny of those who follow the Beast—they will fall and experience eternal punishment. Those two sites help you in the fight of faith.
For those saints getting comfy in Babylon—which was Rome of John’s day; America isn’t too far behind—this vision says, “Don’t do it. Resist the worldly attractions. Eighty years of luxurious living in Babylon isn’t worth an eternity of torments.” That’s what it says to a church like Laodicea. Maybe other saints would start fearing the Beast’s power. When he threatens them with persecution and pressures them to recant, this vision says, “Fear God, not man. The Beast’s kingdom is going down. Fallen, fallen is Babylon. Don’t fear those who can only destroy the body.”
Then other Christians would be faithful, laying down their lives, suffering unjust imprisonment and torture. Maybe others don’t suffer as much, but they stay true to God’s word, they do their work quietly, they weep over the wicked prospering saying, “How long, O Lord!” This vision reassures them, “Vengeance belongs to the Lord. He will judge your enemies. He will put an end to all evildoers.” So, wherever you are, Christian, endure. That’s how the call works in the larger context of chapters 12-15.
A Blessing from the Spirit
Now, choosing endurance is going to cost you. It may even cost your life. The Lord knows that. Which is why he leaves his people with a blessing from the Holy Spirit. I love this about the Lord. He doesn’t just call us to endure, he gives us the assurance of rest beyond the grave. Verse 13, “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!’”
Notice the phrase, “die in the Lord.” In John’s writings, the opposite of dying in the Lord is dying in your sins. Dying in your sins means dying guilty under God’s wrath without rest or escape. We read about that in verses 9-11.
Dying in the Lord means that all the saving benefits of Jesus’ death have been applied to you. You belong to Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross has freed you from sin. Your guilt has been removed. God’s wrath has been satisfied. You will enter God’s rest. The blessing of verse 13 is eternal rest. Your faithfulness to Jesus will give way to the reward of rest. Every ounce of energy spent for the kingdom, every sacrifice endured for the Lamb, every heartache in the path of compassion—it will all give way to rest and reward in Jesus’ presence.
Fear God and Give Him Glory
Three warnings, a call for endurance, and a blessing—that’s the vision. Now, what do we do with it? One, we must fear God and give him glory. In his book, The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges writes, “There was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people. This was a badge of honor. But somewhere along the way we lost it. Now the idea of fearing God, if thought of at all, seems like a relic from the past.”[iv] Brothers and sisters, that shouldn’t be. The Scriptures call all creation to fear God, meaning that we behold him with reverential awe.
That’s harder to do in our culture. As David Wells has observed, since the 1960’s our culture has “exited the moral world in which God was transcendent and holy, and we have entered a new psychological world in which he is only immanent and loving.” But Revelation challenges us not to reduce God’s character to those things we find more palatable. God is wholly other in majesty. He will hold the world accountable. Because of Jesus’ victory, the hour of the Lord’s judgment has come. It’s just over the horizon. God will reveal the fullness of his presence; and it will be terrible. The only appropriate response is to repent and give him your exclusive worship.
Two, don’t settle in Babylon. Babylon doesn’t have a geographical location. It symbolizes the whole system of evil that opposes God and oppresses God’s people. We’ll learn more about Babylon in chapters 17-18. For now, it’s enough to say that Babylon is much like Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress. As the story goes, the town of Vanity hosted a perpetual year-long fair. It was filled with all sorts of houses and lands, riches and delights, lusts and pleasures, games and adulteries. All of it was strategically designed by the Enemy to distract people from the Heavenly Jerusalem.
At some point Faithful and Christian pass through. They don’t look like the rest of the people settling down at Vanity Fair. Instead, Faithful and Christian look more like sojourners. They didn’t speak like the world either, they spoke the truth. They also packed lightly as if traveling to a far better country.
The people of Vanity Fair try to get them to compromise. But neither Faithful or Christian would compromise. It gets them imprisoned. Not long after that, Faithful is tortured and then burned at the stake—all because he wouldn’t settle in Vanity Fair. His heart belonged to the New Jerusalem. That illustrates what we must be like in the face of Babylon’s distractions. Babylon may look powerful and attractive and even fun, but we must continue to remember that it is fallen. Its doom is sure. So, keep passing through like a good sojourner, and keep your sites on Jesus in the New Jerusalem.
Three, uphold the Bible’s teaching on eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is among Christianity’s most offensive teachings. In some cases, that’s because people won’t accept anything less than a God who is morally permissive. In their minds, God is loving to the degree that he lets them do whatever they want. The major problem there is defining love around self, whereas Scripture defines love around God. God is love, and his love always upholds what is holy and judges what is evil.
In other cases, eternal punishment offends because they misunderstand the sinful state of those being judged. They envision a scene of God tormenting a people who are crying for mercy, begging the Lord’s forgiveness. But this isn’t true. Those who suffer punishment remain enslaved to their sins. They will forever hate God and gnash their teeth in anger at him. In that sense, God hands them over to what they want.
Others struggle with eternal punishment, though, because it seems unfair. How is it fair, they might ask, that there be an eternity of punishment for a finite number of sins? It seems disproportionate. But as others have pointed out so well, “degrees of blameworthiness come not from how long you offend dignity but from how high the dignity is that you offend.”[v] The issue isn’t the amount of sin but the nature of sin. Sin is an insurrection that rejects the character, authority, and power of God. Our blame is measured against the infinite worth and holiness of the Creator Lord.
I’m not saying the doctrine of eternal punishment is easy to accept. There are aspects about hell that are difficult to comprehend on this side of Jesus’ return. It’s hardly a teaching we should embrace without great sorrow for those outside of Christ. But like other hard teachings in Scripture, we must submit ourselves to God’s word. It is what our Lord Jesus taught on this subject; and we follow him wherever he goes.
Something else to add, though, is this. If people truly grasped the splendor of God’s holiness and the heinousness of our sin, we wouldn’t question eternal punishment; we’d be asking why this God chooses to save anybody from it. That’s where I want to go next: give thanks for the Lamb whose cross delivers from eternal punishment.
What’s striking is that people object to God punishing the guilty in hell. But they have less of a problem with God punishing the only innocent One at the cross. That’s the greater conundrum. Jesus, the one of infinite worth and intrinsic perfection takes on a punishment he didn’t deserve to save scoundrels from the punishment we did deserve. But as Scripture tells us in Romans, far from undermining God’s justice, the cross of Christ establishes it. In his gracious plan to save the guilty, God punished your sins in Jesus. That makes God just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In your place, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, so you could enjoy the cup of God’s blessing. Give thanks, beloved, for the Lord’s saving grace in the cross. Rejoice in the redeeming work of the Lamb. Tell his salvation from day to day. Announce his gospel far and wide. One of the things we stress in Membership Matters are motives for evangelism. God is worthy of worship—that’s one motive. Another is our union with Jesus in mission. But a third is compassion for those sitting in darkness, compassion for those outside of Christ. We can’t just uphold the doctrine of eternal punishment. That doctrine must increase your compassion for the lost. Seek them and save them as the Son of Man came to seek and to save us.
Lastly, take courage that rest awaits those who die in the Lord. Don’t forget that Revelation is written to persecuted Christians. Some had already been killed. Others would soon face death themselves. Yet the Spirit’s blessing extends to all who die in the Lord. In the last few weeks, I’ve spoken to a couple of you about death. With age and health complications, perhaps you feel your own death drawing nearer. It’s caused in you more sober reflections on life in recent days.
I hope that you take great comfort in a blessing like this. God speaks in his word and says to you, “Blessed are [you] who die in the Lord…that [you] may rest from [your] labors.” A day is coming when you will no longer have to strive against the relentless temptations of this age. All the burdening effects of the Fall will be lifted, and you will know the reward of your Savior’s face. Death will not separate you from Christ but enable you to know him more. It won’t yet be the final state of resurrection. But it will be an immediate rest in the reward of Christ’s presence.
You will be like those coming out of the great tribulation in 7:13. You shall hunger no more. You shall thirst no more. The Lamb on the throne will be your shepherd. He will guide you to springs of living water. God will wipe away every tear.
I love the story of Andrew Fuller. Fuller was a pastor for forty years and helped found the Baptist Missionary Society. One of the texts he loved was this one in verse 13. During his last dying hours, he was in much physical anguish. But a man named Mr. Blundell recalls Fuller saying, “My hope is such that I am not afraid to plunge into eternity!”[vi] I hope this blessing gives you all the same confidence, to plunge into eternity without fear and filled with the assurance that in Christ, there is true rest.
[i] Ps 11:6; Jer 25:15.
[ii] Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17; Jer 49:12; 51:7.
[iii] Gen 19:24; Deut 29:23; Isa 30:33; Ezek 38:22.
[iv] Bridges, Joy of Fearing God, 1.
[v] Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, 122. Piper is following Edwards, Turretin, et al.
[vi] Evan D. Burns, “Andrew Fuller’s Heavenly Minded Piety: The Blessedness of Rest and Rewards for the Dead in Christ,” Churchman (Summer 2015), 156.