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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.
Some years ago the Father identified this angel 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 them 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.
Rev. 14:10 says that God’s opponents (that is, 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. Jer. 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” (Rev. 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.
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” (Eph. 6:17). This is made plain in Rev. 1:16, which says, “out of His mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword.”
This is confirmed later in Rev. 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 presented in terms of physical warfare, destruction, and blood, 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.
Rev. 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 Deut. 33:2, 3 (KJV), saying, “from His right hand went a fiery law for them… all His saints are in Thy hand.”
The fire of God comes from His right hand, the place of rulership, and all of His saints are in His hand. In other words, the “fiery law” in God’s hand is not only His law, but is also 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 overcomers are 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.
Rev. 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 unjust and cruel 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 Matt. 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” (Matt. 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 Eph. 2:8, which says, “by grace you have been saved through faith”? Are we to understand that this “grace” is nullified or ineffective 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 deserve 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 often performed at the command of their rulers.
In Rev. 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 attribute 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 Rev. 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.
Rev. 14:10 says that those who worship the earth beast and receive his “mark” will drink from the “undiluted … cup of His indignation” (The Emphatic Diaglott). Further, “he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels.” This is a reference to the Great White Throne judgment, where all of mankind (other than the overcomers) must stand and give account of themselves.
At the Great White Throne, described in Rev. 20:11-15, both believers and unbelievers will be judged, for Jesus describes this moment in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
It is clear that the judgment at the Great White Throne will include both believers and unbelievers. Believers will be raised “to a resurrection of life,” and unbelievers “to a resurrection of judgment.” Speaking of believers, Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor. 3:13-15 that “the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work,” and “he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” There is no contradiction between judgment and salvation, for there are many believers who will experience an appropriate level of fiery judgment before they are given their reward of immortal life. Fortunately for them, this “fire” is not literal, except perhaps in certain cases.
Believers who have not learned to forgive, or who have harbored the love of money in their hearts, or who have supported the earth beast, will find many of their works “burned up” by the fire of divine judgment. Yet Paul tells us, “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Why? Because by definition all genuine believers have laid Christ as the Foundation of their “temple,” regardless of which building materials they used to build upon that Foundation. Hence, even if the whole temple is destroyed by the divine fire, the Foundation remains intact. If the foundation remains firm, a new and improved temple can be built upon it afterward.
Unbelievers, on the other hand, who do not have Jesus Christ as their Foundation, will receive “a resurrection of judgment,” Jesus says. The fiery law will affect them for a longer time until they are finally set free by the law of Jubilee at the end of time.
This is the “lake of fire” in Rev. 20:14, 15, and it is also the “river of fire” in Dan. 7:10. In each case, the fire is not literal, but describes the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2 KJV). The fire, John tells us, is applied “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” to each man according to his works.
John also speaks of “brimstone” (KJV, NASB), which is actually sulfur, or Sulphur (The Emphatic Diaglott). The Greek word is theon, which, according to Thayer’s Lexicon, means:
“divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify and to ward off contagion.”
When John wrote his book, sulfur, or brimstone, was thought of as a divine purification agent. The metaphor did not elicit pictures of a prison where men were tortured by fire, but a temple where men were purified by “divine incense” from burning sulfur. Thus, John uses “fire and sulfur” to indicate that men would be judged by God’s law (fire) for the purpose of divine purification, or correction, so that they could be “saved so as through fire” (as Paul puts it).
God’s law forbids and abhors any punishment that does not fit the crime (evil deed), for such judgment goes against His nature. In fact, God manifested Himself only as “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24) when He gave the fiery law to Israel. The law, then, is the expression of His nature. 1 John 4:8 says “God is love.” This is the overriding standard by which God does everything, especially when He judges the world. While we should never minimize His justice, neither should we subject His love to justice, but rather subject His justice to love.
For this reason the law provides limitations in the administration of justice, whether by the limit of 40 lashes (Deut. 25:3) or by the law of Jubilee (Lev. 25:54). The purpose of the law and of divine judgment is to rehabilitate sinners, not to destroy them forever. Even the death penalty is only a temporary measure, which ends with resurrection, when they are summoned to the Great White Throne and when their actual rehabilitation actually begins in the “fire” of God.
The Ages following the Great White Throne judgment are known as the Ages of Ages, that is, the climax of all the ages of earth time. In previous ages, men were “free” to sin without legal constraints other than by the laws of men. But the Great White Throne marks a new era. All sinners are issued an arrest warrant and are summoned to the divine court for a hearing and for judgment. Then they will be “sold” and put under authority in order to teach them proper behavior and attitudes.
At the Great White Throne, all sinners will learn the truth about God and of Christ. This new revelation will cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess allegiance to Him as their “Lord” (Isaiah 45:23; Phil. 2:10, 11). This will be the first step in their rehabilitation, for once they have become believers, they must still learn obedience as bond-servants of Jesus Christ—even as every believer since the beginning has had to learn.
Becoming a believer is not the only requirement. They must also grow spiritually by “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
Those under divine judgment will be “sold” as slaves according to the divine law to the overcomers (Exodus 22:3). It will be the responsibility of their new masters to rehabilitate and train them by example to know Christ and His ways until the Creation Jubilee, when “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
So John says in Rev. 14:11 (quoting The Emphatic Diaglott),
11 And the smoke of their torment [imprisonment, confinement, restriction under slavery] rises up for Ages of Ages; and they shall have no rest day and night, who worship the beast and his image, and if any one receive the mark of his name.
Smoke is evidence of fire. The evidence of the divine law in this case is the restriction under which these ex-unbelievers must live during the “Ages of Ages.” They will not be free to do as they wish as free men. Their freedom to sin has ended. They will be monitored at all times, and the law will be enforced. Only righteous acts are permitted in this new order. This is the “smoke” or evidence of their restrictions as bondservants of Christ and the overcomers.
John says also that “they have no rest day and night.” Those who picture this as a torture chamber understand this to mean that it is impossible to get any sleep when one is in great pain. But when we understand this as a long time of slavery and restriction prior to creation’s release, then we may interpret this in a more biblical manner.
The biblical concept of “rest” is explained in Heb. 3:8-11 says,
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.
This admonition was given to the church, showing how the church in the wilderness had failed to enter God’s rest. God’s rest is the Jubilee, and Israel had refused to enter the Promised Land on the 50th Jubilee from Adam. They believed the evil report of the ten spies, rather than the good report of Caleb and Joshua. So that generation died in the wilderness and did not enter the position of “rest” that characterizes the promise of God.
As long as one is enslaved to sin, a person is not in a position of “rest.” Slavery is the opposite of rest. Those who are sentenced to slavery at the Great White Throne will not obtain “rest” during the Ages of Ages. However, because every knee will bow to Christ at the start of these final Ages, and because they will be trained by the overcomers in the ways of God during those final Ages, it is guaranteed that they will enter God’s rest, His Jubilee, at the end of the final Age.
This rest is guaranteed by the New Covenant, wherein God swore an oath to make this happen. Isaiah 45:23 says,
23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
This is another way of expressing God’s oath in Deut. 29:12-15, where all the people gathered together,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord your God and with those who are not with us here today.
This oath came out of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bless all nations and all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). For this reason, He did not limit His oath to those standing there with Moses, but included “those who are not with us here today.” The fact that even the non-Israelites were included (Deut 29:11) shows that this New Covenant was not given only to Israel, but to all mankind.
Revelation 14:12 says:
12 Here is the perseverance [“patient endurance”] of the saints [“holy ones”] who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
John says that the holy ones, empowered by the holy angels, have endured much hardship and tribulation in order to avoid the judgment of God at the Great White Throne. Their goal is to be part of the overcomer company who will reign with Christ and who will have authority over others and have responsibility to train sinners in the Ages to come.
Like the Old Testament saints in Hebrews 11, they have endured to the end in order to obtain a “better resurrection” (Heb.11:35). For, you see, these saints, or holy ones, are the first to be raised from the dead (Rev. 20:5), the first to be manifested, the first to come into the experience of the Feast of Tabernacles. They are the first fruits company who are blessed to enter God’s rest and to receive the promises of God before the rest of creation.
The Angel of Severance is assigned the job of distinguishing between the two companies. His flaming sword prevents those who are not yet qualified from having access to the tree of life. His actions sever the unbelievers from the believers as well as the church from the overcomers. Each group is then judged differently at the Great White Throne.