The players in this cosmic drama are now clear. The dragon (Satan) is making war against the saints (the followers of the Lamb) through two monsters–one from the sea (Roman imperial power) and one from the earth (Asia’s imperial cult). The saints who overcame the monsters through martyrdom are the firstfruits of a coming harvest. They stand victorious with the slain Lamb before the throne of God.
Now the drama is ready for the next act. Heaven and earth are waiting. The Lamb has unsealed the book, God’s angels have sounded the seven trumpets, and the actors have been identified. The drama is ready for its conclusion.
Like a good dramatist, however, the conclusion is drawn out. The drama is extended by rhetorical techniques that hold our attention and test our patience. With the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6, we cry out, “How long?” When will you end this persecution? When will you defeat the empire?
Instead of moving directly to the concluding seven bowls of wrath (which will come in Revelation 15-16), heaven sends three separate angels flying overhead to announce heaven’s intent.
The first angel offers good news. It carries an “eternal gospel” (euanggelion aiwvion) that is “gospeled” (euanggelisai) to everyone who dwells on the earth, including every ethnicity and language. Though the inhabitants of the earth have, up to this point, worshiped the beast, the angel (messenger) still offers them good news. There is still opportunity. They can yet respond to the gospel.
The message has three imperative: (1) fear God; (2) give God the glory; and (3) worship the Creator of heaven and earth. This stands in contrast to the demands of the first beast who presents itself as the great benefactor of the Empire and deserving of divine glory. The question is about worship or allegiance. The choice is to which kingdom will the inhabitants of the earth swear their allegiance. They cannot do both; they must choose.
The second angel announces what has not yet happened: “Babylon is fallen!” Well, not yet…but it is a certain future. God will subvert Babylon because of its extensive sexual immoralities (porneias). Its fall is so certain that one can announce it as already accomplished.
This is the first time the term “Babylon” is used in the Apocalypse. This anticipates the use of the name in the third vision (chapter 17). The name is highly symbolic as it recalls the great enemy of Israel that destroyed the first temple. Jewish literature often referred to Rome as Babylon (e.g., 1 Peter 5:13 uses “Babylon” for Rome), and Rome destroyed the second temple. Babylon is Rome and Revelation 17 will make this clear.
The third angel announces the end of those who are aligned with the beast. They worship him and its image. Marked by the beast, they have given the empire their allegiance. Because they drink the wine of its sexual immoralities, they will drink the wine of God’s wrath.
The description of their end is intended to horrify readers. Torment, fire, sulfur, and eternal (aionas aionon) smoke are words that underscore the drastic and permanent end of those faithful to the Empire. Their allegiance to the empire will result in their destruction “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Rather than accepting the good news of the “eternal gospel” their end will be marked by smoke that ascends “forever and ever.”
The three angels offered good news and a warning. The earth still hears the gospel and the saints are encouraged by Babylon’s prospects, but earth’s inhabitants are also warned that their allegiance to the empire will not go well for them. At this moment (Revelation 14:12), John offers an editorial comment (similar to Revelation 13:10). Its intent is to encourage his readers and remind them that the trial is not yet over.
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
The saints are called to stand up under the pressure (the meaning of “endurance”). They will have to endure the trial and follow the Lamb. But who are the saints? They are those who keep God’s commandments and keep the faith of Jesus.
Most translations render the final words of Revelation 14:12 as “faith in Jesus.” But the construction is a genitive one (“of Jesus”). While it may be rendered as an objective genitive (faith in Jesus), it seems to me that it is better rendered as a subjective genitive, that is, the faithfulness of Jesus or the faith that Jesus has. The point would be that the saints not only keep the commandments of God but they embrace the faithfulness of Jesus, that is, they follow Jesus even to the point of death. They follow Jesus to the cross. Saints are obedient and faithful to the path that Jesus has paved for them.
This call to faithfulness is followed by a divine blessing. Since the voice is not identified it probably is God’s own voice or perhaps the Lamb’s voice (“a voice from heaven”). The Lamb, it seems, says to John (just as he did in Revelation 1:11), “Write” this down! This is important; it must not be forgotten. Unlike those who worship the beast, those who follow the Lamb are “blessed” in their death.
“Blessed” is a divine act. To die in the Lord is to die blessed. God is no passive observer when saints die. God is blessing them; God is present. Saints do not die alone.
Moreover, the Spirit affirms the Lamb’s blessing. The Spirit is excited. Hearing the Lamb’s beatitude, the Spirit responds with “Yes!” (nai). Exactly! That’s right! Their blessing means that they will “rest” from their works. They have followed the Lamb and now their works will follow them. They have overcome just like the Lamb, and they stand victorious before the throne with the Lamb! The trial is over; there is no more pressure. Now they will rest. Their death is a victory though it is tragic injustice.