Tag Archives: the cosmic conflict

The Center of Satan’s Deceptive Activity Today (17:3)

It was insane of the adversary to begin this war over his desire to be worshiped as God. It is equally insane for him to continue this war, now that he knows that he has lost. But continue he does, in a mad desire to bring down as many as he can with him. And since no one in the wider universe is willing to listen to his charges any more, he concentrates his destructive efforts on us here on this planet. Only on earth can he find individuals willing to listen, he even finds many who agree with him. That explains the warning of Revelation 12:

Be glad, you heavens, and all you that live there! But how terrible for the earth and the sea! For the Devil has come down to you, and he is filled with rage, because he knows that he has only a little time left (Rev 12:12, GNB).

We are at the center of Satan’s deceptive activity because earth is where we live. Hence Peter offers a similar warning in 1 Peter 5:8-9, GNB: “Be alert, be on watch! Your enemy, the Devil, roams around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Be firm in your faith and resist him. . . .”

The apostle John warns that Satan’s final efforts to deceive will apparently be rewarded with complete success. For the whole world is described as worshiping him, the very thing he’s wanted all along:

The beast [Satan working through agents on earth], was allowed to make proud claims which were insulting to God. . . . It was allowed to fight against God’s people and to defeat them. . . . All people living on earth will worship it, except those whose names were written before the creation of the world in the book of the living. . . . This calls for endurance and faith on the part of God’s people [emphases supplied]. Rev 13:5, 7, 8, 10, GNB.

These words in Revelation 13 remind us of Revelation 14:12: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” [emphases supplied]. Rev 14:12, RSV. So that appeal is made more than once. The closing up of the Great Controversy and Satan’s final effort to deceive call for endurance and faith on the part of God’s people.

The Cross and Satan’s Deceptions (17:2)

How easily Jesus could have used His power to blot out His tormentors at the cross. And He knew, moreover, that if He used His power, the people would be pleased. They would follow Him, but for the wrong reason. The people were looking for a Messiah that would use His power to conquer their enemies and set up an earthly kingdom where they could rule over the world. What a temptation it must have been for Christ to demonstrate His power and His majesty, to come down off the cross and blot out the Roman soldiers, to see all the people fall at His feet and worship Him. If He had done that, a cry would have gone throughout Judea and the countries beyond. “The Messiah has come! The Messiah has come!” How rewarding that might have seemed for at least a moment.

Satan had done his best to break down Jesus’ trust in His Father and in His mission to reveal the truth about God. But the things that God desires the most; love, trust, peace and freedom; are not produced by shows of power or force. They are not produced by terrifying people until they fall on their faces in fear. So Satan watched in frustrated fury as Jesus, instead of becoming angry, said to His tormentors: “I forgive you” (Luke 23:34). Satan watched Jesus saying to John, “Please look after My mother” (John 19:25-27). Satan watched Jesus say to the repentant thief, “I would be pleased to remember you when I come into My kingdom” (based on Luke 23:42-43).

Jesus’ behavior at the cross completely refuted Satan’s charges that God is arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. All the other questions that had been raised about God’s character and government had also been clearly answered, not with claims, but in very costly and painful demonstration (see “Three Questions Regarding the Character of God” in Chapter Eight). The angels in the universe got the message. They have been celebrating ever since. How do you think Satan feels when he hears lyrics like the following?

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. . . . You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power. . . . Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear [reverence], you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed (Rev 4:8, 11; 15:3-4, NIV).

The object of this praise is God’s own righteousness. That is the crucial issue in the cosmic view that the great controversy theme provides. In the narrower view, we are more preoccupied with what God has done for you and me. But if that were the primary focus, and it is an important one (Rev 5:9-10), they would not be singing about God’s righteousness. God has been accused of being unrighteous and unworthy of the trust and worship of His children throughout the universe. That is also the theme of Romans 3:25-26. Jesus died to demonstrate the righteousness and the trustworthiness of our God. Even before the victory on the cross, as Jesus watched the disciples gradually learning the truth about His Father, He could say that He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18, RSV).

Chapter Seventeen: “Satan’s Final Effort to Deceive” (17:1)

The book of Revelation describes not only God’s last pleading with His children (Rev 14:6-12) but also Satan’s final effort to deceive (Rev 13:12-18). Though Jesus “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), the defeated enemy of God and man still “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), knowing that his time is short (Rev 12:12). The one whose insane desire to be God led to the war up in heaven will at last seem to enjoy complete success (Rev 13:8). So how can we resist Satan’s last and most diabolical attempt to convince us of the truthfulness of his lies about God? How will he seek to persuade us to join his side as the great controversy over God’s character and government comes to its end? Revelation 13 describes Satan’s final effort to deceive us into accepting his lies as the truth.

When Adolph Hitler knew that he had lost the war, he announced his intention to bring the whole Third Reich down with him in destruction. The world said he was mad. Satan suffers from a similar madness. When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), Satan knew that he had lost the war. He knew that the falsity of his charges had been exposed before the whole family of the universe. He knew that he had failed to provoke the Son of God to anger and retaliation. He had lost his case. Like Hitler, his only remaining purpose is to bring as many as possible down with him at the end (Rev 12:12).

Questions and Answers (16:11)

Lou: I’m intrigued by the Maxwell version of Romans 3:25-26 that you gave earlier. Why do so many versions translate this gospel passage as a revelation of God’s activity in salvation rather than a revelation of God’s character, or the kind of person God is? Is the gospel the truth about God’s character or the truth about how God saves us?

Graham: To understand what Paul is saying here, you need to go back to Romans 1:17-18. According to the Greek of verse seventeen, the gospel derives its power from the fact that it reveals the righteousness of God. But then in verse eighteen Paul says, “The wrath of God is revealed.” The Greek in these two phrases is almost identical. It is God’s wrath one verse below, and God’s righteousness one verse above. But many of our good Christian friends say, “Why would God’s righteousness need to be revealed? He’s the Sovereign of all things, of course He’s righteous.” You see, following Luther’s example, they don’t understand this text in light of the great controversy over the character and government of God.
In the larger, great controversy view, it’s God’s righteousness that has been challenged. If God is not proved to be righteous, there is no basis for us to trust Him. The good news, in that case, is that God is righteous. Those who are not aware of a conflict over His righteousness, choose something else, such as, “It’s God’s way of righting you and me.” What’s beautiful about this, though, is that both ideas are true. If the good news is about God’s righteousness, then the revelation of God’s righteousness is the way in which He rights you and me. And so the larger view contains the smaller view, but the narrow view denies the larger view.
That’s what I like about the larger view of Scripture. You can be much more generous when you hold it. You can say, with the beautiful Good News Bible, “God’s way of righting wrong.” That’s beautiful. But what is God’s way of setting men right with Himself? It is to reveal and demonstrate the truth about His own righteousness at infinite cost. It is our privilege to explain the larger great controversy view from all sixty-six books of the Bible. That view allows the Bible to be translated very literally in Romans 1:16-17, and even leaves room for narrower views which are more focused on what God has done for you and me. To many of our friends, the good news is primarily what God has done for you and me, the plan of salvation. The larger view, on the other hand, is the good news that God is not as His enemies have made Him out to be. And to see Him like that is to be won to repentance and faith. The plan of salvation has at its very heart the revelation and the demonstration of the truth about the righteousness of God. That’s a more inclusive view. That’s why we venture sometimes to call it the “Larger View.”

Lou: Another question: “I understand that the wrath of Satan (Rev 12:12, 17) and the wrath of God (Rev 14:10; 15:1) are based on the same word in the original language. How can we fit Satan’s wrath into the picture you are helping us to see regarding God’s wrath? Or could it be that I am misinformed regarding the original language?”

Graham: Yes, the two main words for “wrath” in the Greek are orge and thumos. Both words are used for God (in Rev 14:10) and for Satan (in Rev 12:12, 17), the same words. Similarly, the word “faith” is used for “saving faith” or “trust” (Rom 3:28) and also for the frightened kind of faith the devils have (James 2:19). The only difference is that when God expresses His wrath, He sadly gives us up. When the Devil comes down with great wrath, he comes “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet 5:8). That’s the difference between the two. Same words, different context. The context indicates the meaning.

Lou: It has to do with the kind of person the Devil is and the kind of person that God is. Because their characters are different, their expressions of wrath are also different.

Graham: That’s the difference.

Lou: All right. Another friend has raised this question. I think it’s a very important one. “Are we going to have the same freedom that Adam and Eve had when we go to heaven—free to choose, perfect freedom of choice?” What about this matter of freedom which you have stressed so much?

Graham: Well, when you think of the price God has paid to show what freedom means to Him, and to restore freedom, you could say, “Absolutely, yes.” The end of the conflict doesn’t mean that freedom is gone, to the contrary.

Lou: Let’s move very quickly to one other question: “Why wasn’t the conflict ended with Christ’s victory at the cross and His resurrection? Why has pain and suffering gone on since then?” We have covered this before, but it may help to review it here.

Graham: The fact that this issue keeps coming up suggests how important it is. We will address it again at some length in “God Waits for His Children to Grow Up” (Chapter Eighteen). In the narrower, more legal view, if it’s done at the cross, why wait any longer? In the larger, great controversy view, there are terrible events to occur at the End, and there will need to be a mature generation— not a generation of children, or even the “dear idiots” of Galatia (Gal 3:1). There needs to be a group of Jobs who are so grown up and settled into the truth, that like Paul they could say: “If even an angel from heaven should come with a different gospel,” pretending to be Christ, “he is wrong and we will not believe it” (Gal 1:8-9). So God in mercy waits.

Lou: Our next chapter is “Satan’s Final Effort to Deceive.” What more important subject could we study to be prepared for these final days?

Graham: I considered putting that chapter before this one, but I wanted to do the good news first. Having said that, it is a truly important subject for the times in which we live.

Questions and Answers (16:10)

Lou: You spoke about the last sentence in the third angel’s message (Rev 14:12). Is that really part of the message? The punctuation seems a bit ambiguous.

Graham: Most commentators believe verse twelve is included in the third angel’s message, even though in most translations the quotation marks close with verse eleven. But the message of the third angel is so fearsome, it calls for the endurance of the saints. Perhaps verse twelve is a response to all three messages, but it especially responds to that dreadful number three.

Lou: I’m concerned about the wording of verse twelve because it has been a favorite of mine for many years. In the New International Version it talks about “remaining faithful to Jesus.” The King James, which I learned many years ago, talks about “having the faith of Jesus.” How do we interpret that phrase?

Graham: Well, it’s a technical thing, but the Greek can be translated “faith in Jesus” or “the faith that Jesus had.” And that’s why some versions go one way and some go the other, and none of them are consistent in the way they translate it from one place to another.

Lou: How do you make that kind of choice as a Greek scholar?

Graham: Well, the context will sometimes indicate. At other times, the context makes no difference either way. In this case, Revelation 13 talks of those who are loyal to the adversary, and Revelation 14 talks of those who are loyal to the true Christ. So in Revelation 14:12 I like the translation “faithful to Jesus.” But suppose it’s the other way. “The saints are those who have a faith in God such as Jesus did” or, “The saints are those who trust in Jesus.” Either way we come to exactly the same conclusion. So it really makes no difference. If I were to create my own version, though, I’d put it, “Remain loyal to, or trust in, Jesus.”

Lou: There’s another word in there: “Here is the patience of the saints” (KJV). Other translations say: “Here is the endurance of the saints” (RSV, ESV). And still others have “patient endurance” (NIV).

Graham: That last phrase is an interesting combination of patience and endurance. One possible translation is “patience,” as in “I am patiently waiting for the Lord to come; don’t disturb me.” The underlying Greek word means “remaining under,” as if you were pushing something or carrying a heavy burden. You put your shoulder to the wheel, you stay under, and you shove with all your might. That’s the root word here. “Endurance” is a better English translation. But the New International is even better, “This calls for patient endurance.” That’s really bridging both ideas. Patient endurance isn’t easy.

Lou: It strikes me that this phrase is comparable to our colloquial expression today, “hanging in there.”

Graham: That’s true.

Lou: The third angel’s message refers to a “mark of the beast” (Rev 14:9, see also 13:15-17). Many Christians put a lot of emphasis upon the mark of the beast. It seems to be very important to the message. So what is it?

Graham: Well, since dreadful things happen to those who have the mark, we had better know something about it. There are many, many different answers to your question. We will go into this in more detail in the next chapter, when we talk about Satan’s final effort to deceive. In a nutshell, earlier in the book of Revelation it talks about God’s loyal people having a seal (Rev 7:1-4). It seems they have some mark of loyalty and trust. The mark of the beast seems to be comparable to this seal. Those who have the mark prefer Satan’s lies to the truth. They have accepted him, the false Christ, as their redeemer. So we need to identify something that would be an appropriate mark. I’m very impressed with the fact that if you research Vicarius Filii Dei, a historic papal title, the literal meaning is “substitute for the Son of God,” which is exactly what Satan has wanted to be. But I’m more intrigued with the fact that, through the centuries, you can find the very number 666 connected with devil worship and other misrepresentations of the truth. Whatever it is, the mark of the beast is connected with rejection of the truth, a preference for Satan’s lies, and loyalty to him.
We will focus more on these issues in the next chapter. The issues are more important than the identity of the mark. You won’t get the mark unless you prefer Satan’s side, so I’m more concerned about being on the right side, than about what the mark itself might be. Because if I’m on the right side, I won’t get it.

Questions and Answers (16:9)

Lou: Now in light of this book’s theme that there is no need to be afraid of God, I have to ask; how can you preach the three angels’ messages without inspiring fear? Even the first angel’s message sounds a note of judgment (Rev 14:7). That makes one feel a bit uneasy. And after that comes the second and the third. How can you preach judgment, even in the first, without producing fear?

Graham: This is a very good illustration of the points we made before. We need to interpret texts like these. We did some of this in Chapter Nine, the one entitled “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God.” We talked about judgment there. People interpret the concept of judgment in various ways. Those who prefer a more legal model of atonement will say, “There is no need to be afraid in the judgment, because we have a Friend up there. But they don’t mean the Father, they mean the Son. Or they may say, “We have no need to be afraid, because the legal penalty has been paid. The Father is fearsome, but if you’re paid up you don’t have to worry.”
I believe the good news that we don’t have to be afraid is based on the fact that our Friend up there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are our friends. That’s the best reason for facing the judgment unafraid.

Lou: You’ve challenged us to the hard work of thinking, yet you’ve still said the message is simple enough that a child can understand. If that’s true, then how is it that people have so many different versions of the gospel, even within our own fellowship? Why is there so much disagreement, often generating more heat than light, over the gospel? Why isn’t it so simple that everyone can say, “Oh yes, fine, that’s it, I agree.”

Graham: Well, Paul seemed to think it was simple. He says: “Since the death of Christ was explained so clearly to you, how could you be such dear idiots as to go back to the other view?” He even goes so far as to say: “Who has been casting a spell over you?” or as some versions say: “Who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1. Actually, Paul was right about that. We cannot leave out the adversary when talking about the gospel. The gospel is what defeats him. And he is determined to pervert it, not so much by contradicting it as by twisting it. There are many “twistings” of the good news and the adversary is involved in that. But we also need to allow for some honest differences. It’s hard to give up our prejudices, so we should be patient with each other. But the day is coming when we all need to have it clearly worked out, so we can stake our lives on it and survive the troubles of the End-time. We will have more to say about that in Chapter Eighteen.

Lou: Is there a sense, though, in which the gospel is such a gem that we will never fully encompass all of its beauty?

Graham: Oh, I like that. That was good to add. There are always different facets, but the different facets will not contradict each other. It’s only worrisome when there’s a contradiction. But no one person will see it all, nor speak of it in exactly the same way. Yes, that’s very well said.

Lou: Matthew 24:14 speaks of Jesus’ promise that the gospel will be preached in all the world. Now if the three angels’ messages are that gospel and they are to be proclaimed before the End comes, how widely are these messages being proclaimed and how close are we to that day?

Graham: An even more important question would be: Suppose we could document that the three angels’ messages were being broadcast to the entire world, how sure could we be that we’re giving them correctly? To me that would be the more worrisome thing, because there are different versions of how people understand them. But even if we knew they were being given correctly, would we ever be able to tell the day when Jesus will come? I don’t think we’ll ever know. We just need to give the message and go on giving it, and the Lord will know when the work is done.

Lou: And when He comes, we will know that it was completed.

Graham: Paul was much less concerned to know when it would be finished; than that it would be finished. He said, “I want to get to you in Rome and beyond; I’d like to get everywhere with this good news” (based on Romans 15). That should be our preoccupation as well, I think.

Questions and Answers (16:8)

Lou: Graham, you and I know that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination is strongly connected with this third angel’s message. How was it that our church came to identify with the third angel’s message?

Graham: It’s actually something of a historical accident. The Adventist pioneers saw the three angels happening in a historical order. The first angel’s message was given, and then the second, and then the third. We do feel that we’re the people with the final message, which includes number three. But the Adventist pioneers always referred to “the three angels’ messages.” They realized it’s a barren message to preach number three alone. We should always preach all three.

Lou: Would you go so far as to say that there’s something especially unique about this third angel’s message? Is it appropriate to identify myself as a Christian who believes in the third angel’s message?

Graham: Well, if one took the third angel’s message just the way it reads without understanding what the rest of the Bible has said about it, then a Seventh-day Adventist is a Christian who believes in eternal torment.

Lou: Uh, oh! That’s not what I had in mind!

Graham: I’m sure it wasn’t, but by calling people’s attention to the meaning of the cross in the larger setting of the Great Controversy, we can offer a truly biblical explanation of the third angel. At first glance, the third angel’s message is fearsome. But to explain it in the light of how and why Jesus died is to bring very heartening news to people. The message is serious, yes, but it is no reason to be afraid of God.

Lou: So the Seventh-day Adventist Church has chosen to strongly identify itself with all of the three angels’ messages (Rev 14:6-12). How did that choice come about? Do you think it was a good one?

Graham: I think it was a very good choice, because the position that these three messages have in the Bible suggests they are the final messages of invitation and warning. They also provide us with a wonderful opportunity to summarize all the rest of Scripture. If you read these three messages apart from the rest of the Bible, they’re fearsome. But if you read them in the light of all sixty-six Bible books, it is an opportunity to demonstrate our conviction that the whole Bible is the word of God. The Bible should be read as a whole, and these three messages must be understood in the light of all that’s gone before.

Lou: But that raises another question. Why not just take the third angel’s message (Rev 14:9-11) as it reads? Why not read it and just believe it the way it reads, that people are going to be burned forever, that the smoke of their burning goes up forever and ever (14:11)?

Graham: Well, if you were reading the whole Bible you would just have read in Jude that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with eternal fire (Jude 1:7), but that fire went out a long time ago. So the book of Jude prepares you for these words in Revelation. And then there is the slave who doesn’t want to be set free, so they punch a hole through the lobe of his ear and he serves his master “forever” (Exod 21:2-6). The rest of the Bible prepares you to understand this fire and smoke that goes up forever and ever. See also the section in Chapter Nine on “How Sinners Die the Second Death.”

Lou: So you’re saying that I have to interpret the Bible to find its real meaning. I can’t just take the surface meaning of texts. Each text has a context and a history, so I have to work at understanding Scripture.

Graham: When people say, “We must take that text just the way it reads,” I often say, “Well, let’s turn over here to Deuteronomy where it says, `Take the tithe and buy strong drink with it and rejoice before the Lord’” (Deut 14:22-26).
And they’ll say, “Oh no, don’t take that text just the way it reads; let’s interpret that with care.”
And then we turn to the text where it says, “Give wine to the poor, that they may forget their misery” (based on Proverbs 31:6-7).
And they will say, “No, let’s interpret that.”
Then we go to, “It would be better not to marry; but it’s all right if you can’t control yourself” (based on 1 Cor 7:36-37).
“Oh, let’s interpret that.”
“Women shouldn’t speak in church” (based on 1 Cor 14:34-35).
“Let’s interpret that.”
Then we come to the third angel’s message and they say, “Let’s take it just how it reads.”
When it comes to the Bible, we need to be consistent all the way through. We want to find the true meaning, we don’t want to cheat. We want to know exactly what it means. And it takes the whole of the Bible to do that.

Questions and Answers (16:7)

Lou: I was thinking about the title of this chapter, “God’s Last Pleading with His Children.” Then I looked at those messages in Revelation 14, particularly the second and the third, and wondered if a more appropriate title might have been, “God’s Last Threatening.” Isn’t that what’s happening here?

Graham: Well, it certainly is a warning. The language is so serious. If we were more willing to listen, God wouldn’t have to talk like this. We looked earlier at the words of Hosea, “Come home, come home” (Hos 14:1-9), but humanity, both then and now, is not listening. This is the same God who sent she bears (2 Kgs 2:24) and thundered on Sinai (Exod 19:16-19; 20:18) because He doesn’t want to lose His children. In Chapter Nine I tell the story of a father on a mountain trail thundering at his son to keep him from falling off a precipice. People nearby might misunderstand what the father is doing until they see the whole situation. They might end up apologizing for misunderstanding the father’s action. Similarly, I think we owe God an apology for misunderstanding the times He’s raised His voice.

Lou: So what you’re really saying is that the tone of God’s voice is not angry as He says these things. It’s the serious consequences that call forth such serious warnings.

Graham: He certainly wishes to spare us these consequences. It’s somewhat like the tobacco problem. People often don’t believe there is danger in smoking, so the government requires serious notices on each pack of cigarettes. They’re trying to find as many ways to warn people as possible.

Lou: You gave a good deal of emphasis in this chapter on the gospel as “good news.” Still, it’s hard to see how the second and third angel’s messages (Rev 14:8-11) are really good news.

Graham: Well, there is also sadness in the good news. Victory in the Great Controversy will bring great joy on the one hand, but God is also going to lose vast numbers of His children forever. When the End comes, I see Him crying and smiling at the same time. “We’ve won, but look how many we have lost.” I just wouldn’t want people to think that the second angel is announcing good news because the other side has taken a beating, and the third angel is good news because the people who hurt me are going to be burned. I hope no one thinks it is good news in that way. But there is another way in which it’s good news. In the third angel’s message God is not torturing His children to death. If the death of Christ tells us how the wicked will die, God did not torture His Son to death. He sadly gave Him up, as He will give up the wicked in the end. That is also important good news. But you are right; it’s not totally good news. It’s also very sad.

Lou: But if the gospel includes all three of these messages, as I think you are saying, shouldn’t we say a great deal more about the destruction of the wicked when we preach the gospel?

Graham: Yes, if we say we are preaching the Three Angels’ Messages (Rev 14:6-12), then we’ve got to preach number three (Rev 14:9-11), which is about destruction. But if the cross demonstrates how the sinner dies, how can you preach the cross without preaching the destruction of the wicked? Or to put it another way, to preach the third angel’s message is to explain why Jesus died and how He died. So the third angel’s message is the message of the cross. That’s why we even speak of the third angel’s message as being righteousness by faith. It’s only if we preach it correctly, only if the third angel’s message raises serious enough questions about the death of the wicked, that we can go to the cross to find out by observation just how Jesus died. The cross is amazing good news, because it says there is no need to be afraid of God. He did not torture His Son on the cross and He will not torture the wicked at the end.

The Climax of the Eternal Good News (16:6)

So the first angel comes with the everlasting gospel, the everlasting good news. What is it? Each of us should study and think this through for ourselves. The following is a summary of my understanding of the good news:

God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be — arbitrary, unforgiving, and severe. Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” God is just as loving and trustworthy as His Son, just as willing to forgive and heal. Though infinite in majesty and power, our Creator is an equally gracious Person who values nothing higher than the freedom, the dignity, and the individuality of His intelligent creatures — that their love, their faith, their willingness to listen and obey may be freely given. He even prefers to regard us not as servants but as friends.
This is the truth revealed through all the books of Scripture. This is the everlasting Good News that wins the trust and admiration of God’s loyal children throughout the universe.

It seems to me, that’s the only “truth” it is safe to be dogmatic about. Here we can be like Paul and say, “Even if an angel came with a different picture of God, it is wrong, and I will not believe it.” To me, this is not a negotiable position. You can be adamant, immovable, and dogmatic about freedom, because you will never hurt anybody with that view. You are immovably committed to freedom, and to the picture of God as valuing nothing higher than the freedom of His children. To me, that is the essence of the message of the first angel (Rev 14:6-7). With that in mind, the second angel comes and simply says, “The opposition has collapsed in corruption and defeat” (Rev 14:8). Then the third angel warns of the inevitable consequences of preferring Satan’s lies to this magnificent truth (Rev 14:9-11).

Now it’s true that the third angel’s message has the most fearsome wording in the whole Bible. I’m sure the Devil would have us misunderstand these words as the words of an angry God. But all the previous books of Scripture have prepared us to understand the terrible consequences of sin. Through the words of Scripture, we watched Jesus die. We know that God would do anything to spare His children the same fate. Story after story in Scripture prepares us to see our heavenly Father as the One who would much prefer to speak gently to us of the truth.

When we know Him in this way, we can trust Him when He raises His voice one last time in these messages of warning and invitation. The God we worship would never allow us to pass through these closing events unenlightened and unwarned. Behind the fearsome warning of the third angel’s message there stands the God of Hosea 11:8 crying: “How can I give you up? Why will you die? How can I let you go?” The same person who wrote the awesome words of the third angel also wrote 1 John 4: “God is love. . . . There is no fear in love” (1 John 4:16, 18, Williams). The apostle John was the beloved disciple who knew all about love, the one who told us there is no need to be afraid. He is also the one who wrote the fearsome words of the third angel’s message. God could reveal this to him because he understood the larger picture of what God is like.

As loyal members of God’s family, we have the privilege of participating in the final proclamation: “This Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world . . . and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, GNB). The good news about the Kingdom is about the way the King runs His Kingdom. Could you conceive of any higher honor or privilege than to join with the loyal angels in making this good news, this everlasting truth about our God, known to all the world?

What God Is Really Like (16:5)

We have earlier discussed the meaning of Romans 3:25-26 at some length. Forgive me for putting in my own translation. I just can’t find one that does it right, in my opinion:

For God showed Him publicly dying as a means of reconciliation [at-one-ment]. This was to demonstrate God’s own righteousness . . . to show that He Himself is righteous and not as His enemies have made Him out to be. And because He is righteous and trustworthy, He sets right everyone who trusts in Jesus (Maxwell).

Paul confessed with shame that formerly he had misrepresented God. He had believed Satan’s lies to the extent that he used force, even stoning, to compel people to obey (based in part on 1 Timothy 1:12-16). But after Paul accepted the good news, he devoted the rest of his life to telling the truth. Who has written more eloquently about freedom, about love, and about trust than Paul? Who else has so clearly assured us that all God asks of us is trust (Rom 1:16-17), that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom 6:14-15), and that there is no need to be afraid of God (Rom 8:15)? Paul had learned the truth about God that sets His children free.

You may remember Jesus’ words: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32, Williams. For Jesus, in John, “the truth” is always the truth about His Father (John 1:17-18; 14:9). You see, if God were the kind of person Satan has made Him out to be, there would be no freedom. There would only be the bondage of fear (Rom 8:15). But Paul had learned the truth, and now he took it everywhere he could. He took it to the Galatians. And when he brought them the truth, he also brought them freedom. They loved it at first. Then they turned away from it. He urged them: “This is the freedom with which Christ has made us free. So keep on standing in it, and stop letting your necks be fastened in the yoke of slavery again.” Gal 5:1, Williams.

There was a time in Paul’s life when he himself was satisfied with the obedience that resulted from law and from fear. He thought it was the right thing to do, what the sovereign God preferred. But once Paul discovered the good news, the truth, he realized that God does not want the obedience that springs from law and from fear. He wants the obedience of faith; the obedience that comes from free people who agree with God that this is the right thing to do. They agree so fully, they don’t even need to be told to do so. They do what is right because they agree that it is right.

Notice Paul’s understanding of his commission in Romans 1. He begins the book by saying, “I have been called to make known God’s good news about Him and about His Son” (based on Romans 1:1). Then he goes on with these words: “Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom I have received grace and a commission for His Name’s sake to win men to the obedience that springs from faith. . . .” Rom 1:4-5, Weymouth. Not the obedience that springs from law, but the obedience that springs from faith. What produces this obedience that springs from faith? Isn’t it the good news about our God, the kind of person He is, that leads us to a willingness to listen (the definition of obedience)? Isn’t it how highly He values our freedom, and how infinitely worthy He is of our love and trust, that leads us to loyalty? “Here are they who keep God’s commandments and maintain their loyalty to Him and to His Son” (based on Revelation 14:12).