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Revelation 14:9-12 says,
9 And another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will 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 goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. 12 Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
There are many elements in this passage, which will be explained one at a time.
The Third Angel
Some years ago the Father identified him as the Angel of Severance. As with the first two angels, I was not allowed to meet him personally or to interact with him, because, as He said, this would serve only to give me “bragging rights.” Nonetheless, the Father readily identified all three angels in order to equip me with the knowledge needed as a teacher to understand these passages and to expound on them to others.
The name of an angel speaks of his mission and place in the divine plan. Others may know these angels by other names according to their own revelation. Just as men are often given more than one name, so also can it be with angels. Sometimes a single name does not fully describe the calling of an angel.
The Angel of Severance clearly speaks of separating the overcomers from the rest of humanity in order to distinguish them as the ones called to rule the Kingdom at the end of the time allotted to the beasts. This also distinguishes those qualified for the first resurrection from other believers, preparing us for the events of Revelation 20. The main calling of this angel is to distinguish those who worship the beast and receive his mark from those who persevere in keeping “the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”
We have already shown how this worship has to do with the love of money. The “mark” on the hand and forehead is the mark of lawlessness, contrasting such people (including believers) with those who metaphorically bind His law to their foreheads and hands, as prescribed in the law. Yet we also need to understand the divine judgment upon these lawless ones, because so many interpret this according to the view that they have been taught by others.
The Wine of the Wrath of God
Revelation 14:10 says that God’s opponents (those who do not repent) will have to drink of the wine of the wrath of God. This is obviously symbolic language, for no one will have to literally drink some wine. The language used here is taken from Jeremiah’s prophecies that originally applied to the literal city of Babylon. Jeremiah 25:15-17 says,
15 For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand, and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. 16 And they shall drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.” 17 Then I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations drink, to whom the Lord sent me.
Jeremiah did not literally take a cup out of God’s hand and make nations drink of the wine. Perhaps he poured out a cup of wine upon the ground, or perhaps it was all done on a purely spiritual level. We are not told. But the result of this “wine” was to confuse the understanding of the nations that God was judging. “They shall…go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.”
The “wine” is also the “sword.” And “the cup of His anger” (Revelation 14:10) is the same as “the wine of the wrath of God.” Let us not think of this “wrath” and “anger” as an emotional response, as if God has a temper or becomes frustrated. Frustration is an emotion that comes from being helpless to change a situation. God is sovereign and does not suffer from temper tantrums or fits of frustration. His “wrath” is a judicial wrath, not an emotional wrath.
The Divine Sword
In ancient times, God sent a literal sword upon Babylon by the hand of Medo-Persia. However, the sword that is used in the book of Revelation is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This is made plain in Revelation 1:16, which says, “out of His mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword.”
This is confirmed later in Revelation 19:15, which says,
15 And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations…
It is the same “sword” that God used through His prophets in the Old Testament. Hosea 6:5, 6 says,
5 Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. 6 For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
In other words, God “slew” them and cut them in pieces with WORDS. Why? Because He preferred loyalty to Him rather than sacrifice. In other words, He did not want to literally kill them, so He did NOT use a physical sword. The sword He used was the one described everywhere in the New Testament. And this is the “sword” by which He will slay the nations, as described in the book of Revelation.
This tells us that His intent is NOT to shed blood, but to cause people to repent by the word of His mouth. And so, while the description is in physical terms of warfare, blood, and destruction, this is not really what God intends for the nations at all. The nations are God’s inheritance—and ours—so it would make no sense to destroy them. The only thing that God intends to destroy is oppressive government and false religion that burdens the people today and deceives them into doing violence to others.
Tormenting People with Fire and Brimstone
Revelation 14:10 says that those receiving the mark “will be tormented with fire and brimstone.” Once again, let us not think of God as a torturer. The law does not specify torture as a proper judgment of divine law. The law itself is pictured as a fire in Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV, saying, “from His right hand went a fiery law for them… all His saints are in Thy hand.”
In other words, the “fiery law” in God’s hand is identified with the “saints” in His hand. When the law is written on the hearts of the overcomers, they become His fiery law, and they become the administrators of divine justice and rulership in the earth. The fire of God comes from His right hand, the place of rulership, and all of His saints are in His hand. It pictures the overcomers as the manifested sons of God administering the divine law to the world according to the mind of Christ. This is the meaning of the “fire” as God intended it from the beginning.
Revelation 14:9-11 tells us that those who continue to worship the beast and his image (money) will drink of the wine of God’s judicial wrath, “and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence [enopion, “face”] of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”
Men have long interpreted this literally, as if God plans to torture sinners in front of Him like the kings of the beast systems have done to their opponents over the centuries. But God is not like them. In fact, it is because of their injustice and torture policies that God will remove them from their positions of authority over the earth. God will not have unjust tyrants ruling in His Kingdom—not even Christian tyrants like King Saul or the Popes. Torture, when used as a general punishment, is evidence of lawlessness. The law, which establishes the fact that the judgment must be limited to the extent of the crime itself, is an expression of the character of God Himself.
In Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus told a parable of the Kingdom, where a debtor was called into account. He could not pay a huge debt, so the creditor forgave the debt. The former debtor, however, refused to forgive his neighbor a relatively small debt. In fact, in the parable he “threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed” (Matthew 18:30).
When this became known, the original creditor, who had forgiven the very large debt, treated the man according to his own standard of measure and reinstated the former debt. Since the man could not pay it, verses 34, 35 concludes,
34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers [basanistes] until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
Are we to understand from this that God will torture anyone who fails to forgive his neighbor? If so, this would include the majority of Christians throughout history. What about Paul’s doctrine in Ephesians 2:8, which says, “by grace you have been saved through faith”? Are we to understand that this “grace” is nullified if we hold any grudge against our neighbor?
If we interpret Jesus’ parable in the way that many do, it would strike fear in the heart of every believer and put doubt in nearly every heart. If I begrudge my neighbor for stealing $20 from me, will I lose my salvation and be tortured forever on account of this one sin? How could a $20 sin warrant an eternity of torture? Is that really divine justice? Is that what the law reveals? Not at all.
The main misunderstanding is rooted in language and translation. Every language uses euphemisms and other expressions that have a basis in truth but are not to be taken literally. In this case, the key to understanding the word “torture” (or “torment” in the KJV) is explained in Dr. Bullinger’s notes on Matthew 18:34,
34 tormentors; or jailors. Gr. basanistes. Occurs only here. Imprisonment was called in Roman law-books, cruciatus corporis.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines basanistes as meaning:
one who elicits the truth by the use of the rack; an inquisitor; torturer… used in Matt. xviii. 34 of a jailor… doubtless because the business of torturing was also assigned to him.
So we see that jailors, or prison wardens, were called basanistes, because under Roman or Greek law, it included their task of torturing prisoners to elicit “truth.” Bullinger says that in Roman law-books, imprisonment was called cruciatus corporis, “physical torture.” But in God’s law, there are no prisons, for lawbreakers were required to work to pay the debts owed to their victims (Exodus 22:3). Jesus’ parable was not meant to advocate the prison system, nor did He condone torture in violation of the divine law. He was using the common word of the day for a jailor without advocating the sins that jailors were often required by their rulers to perform.
In Revelation 14:10, those who worship the beast “will be tormented” (basanizo). It is the verb form of the noun basanistes. Jailors imprison people, but do not always torture them physically. John uses the common metaphoric language of the day, but if we do not understand the difference between God’s justice and men’s justice, we will most certainly interpret this in terms of the beast systems and thereby do injustice to God.
While men often used fire to torture their prisoners, God’s law forbids this unless a torturer has been brought to justice. If someone has tortured others by fire, then and only then can he receive the same treatment. The judgment must always fit the crime. This is the meaning of Exodus 21:23-25, which says,
23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
The law demands equal punishment, but the law also allows every victim the right to forgive. For this reason, even if punishment is warranted by the law, there is opportunity for forgiveness, especially if the victim sees repentance in the heart of the sinner.
In Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18, there is no indication that the debtor knew secrets that needed to be extracted by the use of torture. The creditor already knew the full extent of the debt. Likewise, in Revelation 14:10 the great Judge of the whole earth does not need to apply torture to elicit the truth. Neither would such torture be lawful in most cases. Only those who have tortured others might find themselves tortured for a time. Yet even then, because their sin is limited, so also is the judgment. No man has opportunity to torture people beyond his own lifetime, and so the divine law could not torture any man for eternity.
An eternal sentence would violate the nature of God as expressed by His own law.
To be continued….