A Primer on the Three Angels of Revelation 14

(Spectrumbot) #1

As I’m teaching a Sabbath School class one day, I refer in passing to the Three Angels Message. A young woman raises her hand. “I’m embarrassed to admit this,” she says. “All my life I’ve seen three angels associated with our church. I know they have something to do with the time of the end. But I don’t know what makes them important.” Some of the oldsters in the class claimed they had at least a basic grasp of the Three Angels’ Message. Most of the younger ones admitted they were in the same boat as the questioner: they knew it was eschatological, but not what the significance was.

They can be forgiven, I think, for not knowing. The number of sermons on these topics has diminished in recent years. And those sermons that are preached sand down some of the abrasive edges that the Adventist pioneers left there.

So, for what it’s worth, a primer on those three angels that you see pictured on church books and in our publications, for Seventh-day Adventists who don’t know (or have forgotten) what they meant to the founders of our church. We begin with the first angel, which John labels “another”.[1]

Revelation 14:6 Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people— 7 saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”

Some commentators emphasize “the everlasting gospel” in this passage: that grace is really the heart of our message. To our pioneers the spotlight fell on the word “judgment”—specifically, that it had already begun in their time, as taught by the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8. This judgment was more than a general warning that Jesus was coming soon. Nor was it a future, public event—the Great White Throne of Revelation 20:11 was only a post-millennial formality for the damned. They taught that a closed-door judgment had begun in 1844 up in heaven, with the record of each individual’s life being inspected at this very moment. “He will examine the cases of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Every one must be tested, and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing”. (The Great Controversy, page 490).

It is essential to understand that this judgment is happening in present time. “Beginning with those who first lived upon the earth, our Advocate presents the cases of each successive generation, and closes with the living. Every name is mentioned, every case closely investigated. Names are accepted, names rejected” (The Great Controversy, p. 483). What happens when all the dead are judged, and judgment passes to those of us still alive? According to the pioneers if, when your name comes up for judgment, you are not found “without spot or wrinkle,” you have no further chance for salvation.

This “close of probation” is a sort of eschatological predestination: you carry on with your life, but your spiritual choices no longer affect your salvation. When does probation close? Some said it happens all at once, others implied that it could happen individual by individual without warning, leaving you thinking you’re doing fine when you’re already lost, or conversely, still in doubt about your salvation when it is in fact already locked in.

This angel also introduces the other eponymous Seventh-day Adventist belief: in “worship him who made heaven and earth,” is the Sabbath, the memorial of a creator God. Its acceptance was a key point—perhaps the key point—in the judgment going on.

Revelation 14:8 And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

This is more than a general warning about doctrinal error. To our pioneers it had a specific application: Babylon was the Papacy, and all nations being partners in her fornication referred not just to Roman Catholic believers, but to the Protestant churches (what Ellen White called “apostate Protestantism”) that held doctrines that can be traced back to Roman Catholicism, such as Sunday worship. The only hope was that the honest people among them would hear the call of Revelation 18:4 (“Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues”) and cross over to be with us.[2]

Eventually, in their resentment, all reject and oppose us. This angel’s message and the one that follows fed the narratives familiar to 20th century young people of Adventist separation, persecution, and of fleeing and hiding from Catholic torturers and their Protestant and governmental allies.

Revelation 14:9 Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

The third angel’s message is usually summed up in the single phrase “the mark of the beast.” Our pioneers taught that the mark-giver was the lamblike or two-horned beast of Revelation 13:11-17, which they identified as the United States of America. Yet this beast was but a factotum of the first beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the Papacy, for the mark of the beast was Sunday worship. To the pioneers it meant that those who get this mark—that is, keep Sunday—will be lost. That is to say, in the time of the end not only Roman Catholics but all other Sunday-keeping Christians will not only be refused eternal life, but would be punished with unusual severity. Yes, our hymnals are full of their hymns, and we read their books. Still, not only are we right and the majority of Christians wrong, but having once been warned about the Sabbath, they cannot be saved if they don’t accept it.

Revelation 13:16-17 had already told us of the mark’s consequences to us: without it you couldn’t buy or sell, thus explaining one sort of persecution we suffer for keeping the Sabbath. In my youth there were some who said that credit or debit cards, even bank accounts, made us vulnerable to authorities who wanted to cut off economically anyone who kept the Sabbath, and they warned us against using them. Others thought the mark of the beast was a literal thing: an invisible barcode imprinted on people’s hands and foreheads.

The intensity of the message of the three angels has been attenuated in recent years.[3] Some may be pleased about that, others disappointed. I know congregations that insist on hearing the unvarnished Three Angels’ Message, and others that would be upset should their pastor preach this part of historic Adventism, with its indictment of other Christians and notes of perfectionism and salvation uncertainty. But every Seventh-day Adventist should at least know what those three stylized angels in your church stained-glass window meant to those who first identified them as ours: 1. Judgement is going on now behind the scenes, and at some point while you’re still alive your access to salvation may be cut off whether or not you realize it, 2. Other Christians will be lost unless they leave their churches and join ours. 3. Sunday-keepers will be spectacularly punished, but not before they ostracize and persecute Sabbath-keepers at the behest of the Papacy and with the authority of the United States government.

Some Seventh-day Adventists choose not to believe the historic interpretation of this passage, or offer more palatable interpretations. But if you are among those Seventh-day Adventists who claim the high ground of doctrinal originalism, then you must proclaim the pioneers’ interpretations without spin or obfuscation. Nor can you obscure the truth until people can handle it, like Scientologists waiting to learn about Xenu. The messages of the three angels are meant to be heard by all humankind, not reserved for a handful of esotericists.[4]

This separationist, martyrist identity may seem in tension with the highly organized, respectable, world-connected, cooperative-with-government church that we have now, with 20 million believers, billions in assets, a massive payroll, specialists in investments, law, insurance, and banking, world-renowned hospitals, universities and social-service agencies, media outreach, even recognition by world leaders. If end-time events unfold as the pioneers predicted, we may soon see if we are still as invested in this dystopian interlude predicted by the three angels as we were at the founding of our denomination.

[1] Only the third angel is referred to by number. In our publications I’ve seen this teaching denominated in both singular and plural: the Three Angels’ Message, or the three angels’ messages.

[2] A popular story when I was young, one often mentioned in Sabbath School class, was that Billy Graham knew we were right, and before the time of the end he would declare himself openly and join us. I heard it referenced to evangelist Emilio Knechtle, who claimed to be a personal friend of Graham’s.

[4] Though I think it was terrible PR for the church, inoculating whole cities against us, I give this much grudging respect to the Great Controversy mass mailers: at least they are stating plainly what they believe. I don’t think the same can be said for all church leaders.

Loren Seibold is a pastor in the Ohio Conference, and co-contributor (with Monte Sahlin) to Faith in Context, a blog about the intersection of religion and culture.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6563

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

the First angel HAD the Everlasting Gospel, The Everlasting Covenant had been fulfilled! what was promised has been accomplished. so now the devil through human powers sets his sights on diverting loyalty from the risen Savior to a earthy King of Satan’s own making. The devils aim is to divert either mind or the labor of true worshiper at the threat of death. Here Patrick Henry’s words are appropriate-“Is life so dear or peace do sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” .
This is just a global replay of the three worthies of Daniel.

Tom Z

(Winona Winkler Wendth) #3

Excellent. It’s been a while since most of us have really given this attention, and Pastor Seibold’s directness is both admirable and enlightening—quoting 16th century literature, however good for our language skills (and it is good), does allow us to keep a distance: the words fly over our heads and seem a bit fuzzy. So the glibness with which he summarize what many American people believed a hundred and fifty years ago in contemporary language does give pause for thought. A central question is not whether scripture is accurate to some cosmic Truth, but whether or not people in the mid-19th century thought and processed information the way we do. For many English people, the Anti-Christ was clearly Napoleon and the threat to a God-centered life had less to do with Rome than with Paris. The Book of Revelation is a set of symbols, not metaphors, and meanings ray out from those variously. I doubt that the writer intended specificity; but I am not a scholar in the history of theology.

(Peter) #4

Again, Loren Seibold sheds a very helpful light our beliefs. I highly recommend as additional reading the new book by Kendra Haloviak Valentine (Associate Professor of Religion at La Sierra, formerly Columbia Union College) titled, “Worlds at War, Nations in Song: Dialogic Imagination and Moral Vision in the Hymns of the Book of Revelation.” (Wipf & Stock Pupblishers). This was published just this week.

(Marcelo) #5

Well, there is a group of “pioneer Adventists” who do indeed preach something similar to what you said about the pioneer interpretations. Not only that, but they go as far as to say that the charts produced by the pioneers in 1843 and 1850 are gospel and they almost treat it as sacred. Not the 1863 or any subsequent chart, since those include the errors of removing the 2520, the daily and etc…

And obviously, they say that Adventism that came out of Daniell’s and Prescott, the 1919 Bible Conference, the Bible Research Fellowship, Cottrell and other theologians from the era, our hermeneutics, eschatology, higher education institutions are all evil and introduced by Satan to blind us from the truth of the charts.

(Marcelo) #6

Also, about the article in Ministry Magazine, the author still holds to the pioneer interpretation of the 3 angel’s messages but avoids using the words Papacy, Sunday law, for PR reasons, I would say.

Lastly, as the late AG Maxwell would say, (I’m paraphrasing), the beast of revelation is nothing more than a puppet to the dragon, whoever it is within history is not as important as understanding who the dragon is and what it does through the beast.

(k_Lutz) #7

[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:7583”] … for the hour of His judgment has come …
To our pioneers the spotlight fell on the word “judgment”—specifically, that it had already begun in their time, as taught by the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8. This judgment was more than a general warning that Jesus was coming soon. Nor was it a future, public event—the Great White Throne of Revelation 20:11 was only a post-millennial formality for the damned. They taught that a closed-door judgment had begun in 1844 up in heaven, with the record of each individual’s life being inspected at this very moment. “He will examine the cases of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Every one must be tested, and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing”. (The Great Controversy, page 490).

It is truly unfortunate that:

  1. In the english language, the same word, judgment, is commonly used as both a verb and a noun. This marked lack of distinction results in much confusion and misunderstanding. Had our fore-bearers a little comprehension of that difference, they would not have illegitimately put God in the judgment-seat, krima, but would have recognized that the consequences of God’s holy decision were being carried out, krisis.
  2. That the failure of Christ’s return in 1844 was heaped upon the heads of those whom so desperately sought it then and there. As per Daniel, “TEKEL!” For which they dove ignorantly into the Scriptures to discover their shortcomings. They found them alright! And, like the post-exilic Jews centuries before them, made a religion out of routing out of sins of commission, while disregarding the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy.

Come out of her my people that you be not partakers in her sin.

Trust God.

(k_Lutz) #8

Where does one get this book? I am NOT seeing that Wipf and Stock has published the book. I too have found the Revelations to be full hymns for the Court of Heaven.

Trust God.

(George Tichy) #9

Always good stuff coming from LSU!!!

(Andrew Dykstra) #10

There is still one vital bit of information missing from this excellent article. Ellen White has, in my opinion, undermined the whole thing by at least two fascinating comments. As Eric Webster has written in an article appearing in Ministry "Some ninety years ago Ellen White wrote: "Several have written to me,
inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s
message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in
verity.’ " —Review and Herald, April 1, 1890. Apparently,
justification by faith is not a preamble to the third angel’s message;
it is not introductory or preparatory; it is the very heart and core of
the message.
This is the URL to the article: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1980/08/the-third-angels-message-in-verity

In Early Writings, Page 254 Ellen White appears to have drawn further attention to this point by saying: The
third angel closes his message thus: "Here is the patience of the saints:
here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.“
As he repeated these words, he pointed to the heavenly sanctuary.” This is another way of saying that the righteous are justified by faith alone as they always have. Nothing has changed. Justification by Faith is the third angel’s message in verity. It does seem like Ellen White transcends much of the church’s teachings.

(Bill Garber) #11

So, Loren,

Is it possible that today Seventh-day Adventists, as suggested by Ellen White in 1892, are yet again to pass through a reconstituting of what we believe no less virulent than did those who greeted the sunrise on October 23, 1844, sleepless and yet warmed by the certain presence of God no less than the day before?

Or is your sense that the picture you have painted here to remain truly flat and lifeless?

(Kim Green) #12

Hmmm…so, the writings of EGW in regards to political “correctness” are found wanting? I can imagine that the message of the 3 Angels might continue to not be the fodder for Sabbath sermons everywhere (at least in the US and other first world countries…but others as well). I imagine that some of what White wrote is already considered “Hate speech” or at very least divisive in many European countries.

I also have a relative that makes his living traveling in this country and to others, including Africa, to preach that it is Islam that is the “King of the North”. There is a very fine line between presumption and faith…perhaps God does protect he and his wife- but I wouldn’t be shocked if someone tries to attack them for their “message”.

My “prediction” is that Adventism within this country will continue to downplay the 3 Angel’s Message as sounding archaic, politically incorrect and down-right distasteful to a younger generation. Do I think/believe that the GC will continue to encourage/promote? Absolutely…but I am not so sure that it will fare well over time. Adventist rhetoric at the cross-roads.

(Bille) #13

Thanks, Marcelo, for making the point I have bolded in your comment above. This was also what struck me when reading Loren’s essay… that it sounded very much as though it had been gleaned from quotations made by the current “historics”, rather than by an unbiased look at what the “Pioneers” themselves actually said.

I was especially surprised (shocked even) at the contents of Loren’s “Primer” given the fact that I have consistently admired his materials for so long. My own view of what the Pioneers actually said… and how they developed their understandings through the years… is much more in line with the Ministry Magazine article by Eric Webster which was cited by Andrew Dykstra. I’m wondering if this is the same one you mentioned without giving a link to it. @lorenseibold @adykstra @tjzwemer @kennlutz @winonaww @GeorgeTichy @plobdell3 @bill

(k_Lutz) #14

I believe that this need not be necessary, as long as the true messages of those three angels is proclaimed. There is nothing in those messages which were written for 1st-century Christians that indicates they were not God’s message to them then. Note that John was forbidden from sealing those prophecies for their fulfillment was nigh.

Once those messages are read in the context of the whole book - a polemic against imperialism - without the peculiar SDA overlay, then the glory of those messages can be proclaimed far and wide, the Creator will be honored for His creations, not just in word, but our very deeds will uphold His creation; that the adversary IS impotent, that imposition cannot improve anything but only serves death; that anyone which admires the beast’s methodology of force will come to despise himself and the beast whom he imitated for the futility of that regime.

There is no need to bury the Three Angels Message, just those factors inferred upon it by an ignorantly deceived cotillion of fear.

Trust God.

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #15

I read the article & was reminded of why I’ve been so frustrated whenever meeting this explanation of “righteousness by faith.” Basically, it gets defined into: ‘Oh, yes, it’s Christ’s righteousness that saves you. However—you’re still required to be absolutely obedient.’

This is supposed to be different from perfectionism because it denies that our obedience saves us. But, really, it just cancels out “righteousness by faith” as classically understood by Protestant Christianity.

Snips illustrating my point:

“Christ and His righteousness must be made the great center of attraction, and this will result in loyalty to the moral law of God and to the true Sabbath as God’s special sign.” —Eric Webster

“Here are God’s people keeping His commandments in a rebellious world, bravely upholding the covenant of God, and yet finding their eternal security and salvation in the imputed righteousness of Christ through the merits of His precious blood. What a beautiful illustration of the truth that justification by faith is the third angel’s message in verity!” —Eric Webster

“In His divine arrangement, through His unmerited favor, the Lord has ordained that good works shall be rewarded. We are accepted through Christ’s merit alone; and the acts of mercy, the deeds of charity, which we perform, are the fruits of faith; and they become a blessing to us; for men are to be rewarded according to their works. It is the fragrance of the merit of Christ that makes our good works acceptable to God, and it is grace that enables us to do the works for which He rewards us. Our works in and of themselves have no merit.” —Review and Herald, Jan. 29, 1895.

"Why does Christ not silence the accuser in the judgment by the beautiful exhibition of the lives of God’s commandment-keeping people? Why does He not say to Satan, “Look at My people. Behold their faultless lives”? No, Christ uses a more mighty argument the argument of Calvary, the argument of a righteousness outside of man, the merits of His own spotless life.

“It has been aptly stated that man is justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone. As the third angel’s message in verity, justification by faith clearly produces the fruit of sanctification and obedience evidenced by the attitude of God’s people toward the beast, his image, and mark (see Rev. 14:9-12).” —Eric Webster

(Loren Seibold) #16

This explanation of the three angels is found in books like The Great Controversy and Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation - central works to Seventh-day Adventist eschatology. Even though they date from the latter part of the 19th century, I consider that still the pioneer era: the founders were still alive, and had landed on this as settled doctrine. I never intended to write on the development of our eschatology from the earliest days of the movement. That would be an interesting piece, but it isn’t this one.

(Bille) #17

I suggest you read the article again… focus on the parts in between the “snips”. It would also help to try and adjust the “color of your spectacles” as you read.

(George Tichy) #18


Salvation by works has been deeply engraved in the SDA culture, and I am not sure it will ever change. The word “BUT” is always there when someone dares to talk about Salvation by Grace, or Justification by Faith.

As I recommended before, people should read Stuart Tyner’s boox on grace (Amazon.com), which will help them to get out of that ghetto of salvation by works (including LGT!).

By the way, there is no reason for fear in reading Stuart’s book. Sure, it’s not one of the “boox” but it’s denominational and therefore approved by Ted Wilson! It’s safe!

(Bille) #19

Taking two books… and two that have been “man-handled” by a very large number of hands both in the years before and after they were written… does not IMO constitutes sufficient background information for writing a “Primer” on the topic of the “Three Angels”. At best they show only one of many views… and in fact, the most basic discussions and explanations of the meaning of the messages of Revelation 14 took place in other materials and venues … and is not at all reflected in those two published books.

What you have given as a “Primer” would be very well accepted by the factions in our church which call themselves some variation of “Historic” or “True” SDAs. I had never pictured you as being of that class… hence my astonishment at your description… which does not match up on many different points with my own views… which I learned from Conservative Adventist teachers… and from reading widely enough in the primary materials… especially those from 1888 onward… and from discussions with SDA theologians over the past 50 years.

(Elaine Nelson) #20

This is exactly what I was taught, and I’m sure that there are many out there who could confess they learned this at church and in SdA school. This interpretation did NOT come from the BIble but largely, Great Contoversy, the SdA “bible” on Christian history and eschatology. Many died fully believing this without assurance, not knowing whether their name had been “called up” and for them probation had already ended.

My husband, a convert, said when he first heard “Three Angels’ Message” he wondered what the first two were?"

This is why many have left Adventism: because the Great Controversy was neither prophetic or true. Only one person, and the few pioneers who made a decision based on poor interpretive skills and eager to describe the burgeoning movement as called by God have been trusted by the church from its beginning.
Also part of this eschatology was that only those who keep the commandments (code for Sabbath) will be those who are in the remnant ready for heaven.

Now the question for Loren: How do you suggest the church address this original teaching? Should it be continued as it once was, or should it be left to a gradual demise? How is that possible with the most vocal and official leader who would never concede one point of this teaching? To do so would deny the Great Controversy as the book on which he suggested should be scattered like the leaves of autumn (allbeit, a very condensed and watered down version)?