The message of the third angel is a further expansion of the condemnation of Babylon. Rather than drinking the maddening wine of Babylon, those that have accepted the mark will drink the wine of God’s fury. The wine of God’s fury is “unmixed” (ἄκρατος) or “full strength” in most modern translations. In the ancient world, wine was normally diluted with water. If it was not mixed with wine, then the drinker would get the full strength of the wine.
Making someone drink a cup of strong wine is a common metaphor God’s wrath in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 75:8 (LXX 74:9), “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (cf. Isa 51:17-22; Jer 25:15-17, Hab 2:16; Pss 11:6; 73:10). Describing God’s fury towards Jerusalem leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, the writer of the Psalms of Solomon said:
Ps Sol 8:13–17 (LES2) They trampled the altar of the Lord from every uncleanness, and they stained the sacrifices with ⌊menstrual blood⌋ like profane meat. 14 They left no sin undone that they did not do worse than the nations. 15 Therefore God mixed them a spirit of error. He gave them a drinking cup of unmixed wine to drink, for drunkenness. 16 He led the one from the end of the earth, the one who strikes strongly. 17 He decided on war against Jerusalem and her land.
John further describes God’s untempered wrath on those who worship the beast. The one who has taken the mark of the beast will be “tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.” This disturbing image of judicial torture is shocking to most modern readers, but the original readers would have understood torture as part of the Roman judicial system. The verb translated torture (βασανίζω) refers to being put to the test in order to determine a person’s legal status. For example, the phrase βεβασανισμένος εἰς δικαιοσύνην appears in Plato’s Republic (361c), “having been tested/tortured for the purpose of justice.” The related noun βασανισμός refers to pain inflicted by torture (BDAG). In the fifth trumpet, the demonic locust tormented people for five months (Rev 9:5). The noun also appears in 4 Maccabees 9:6 for the “coercive tortures” inflicted on pious Eleazar.
Beale softens this by taking the torment as “primarily spiritual and psychological suffering” (760), although he does think Revelation describes “a real, ongoing, eternal, conscious torment” (763). The verb and noun have the sense of physical punishment which often resulted in death (4 Maccabees especially).
Those who have taken the mark of the beast will be tortured with fire and sulfur. Sulfur (θεῖον) had a number of uses in the ancient world and was sometimes used as a medicine. Older translations have brimstone, a common word used for what we call sulfur, “brunston.” People are tormented by fire and sulfur (14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8) and the final judgment on the wicked is to be cast into “the lake of fire and sulfur” (19:20; 20:10; 21:8).
The prototypical image of God’s wrath is Genesis 19:24, God rained fire and sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham looked across the valley, he saw the smoke going up like “the smoke of a furnace” (Gen 19:28). Isaiah 30:33 describes God’s wrath on the king of the Assyrians as a long-prepared burning place kindled by “the breath of the LORD, like a stream of sulfur.” The psalmist calls on God to rain fire and sulfur on the wicked (Ps 11:6).
Surprisingly, this torment takes place in front of the Lamb and the holy angels. Although there is no other reference the punishment of the wicked in presence of a messianic figure or the angles, there are a number of examples of the he wicked being tormented before the righteous (1 Enoch 27:2-3, 90:26-27; 48:9; 4 Ezra 7:36 [possibly a Christian interpolation]) The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the rich man appears to be able to see Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
1 Enoch 27:1-3 At that moment, I said, “For what purpose does this blessed land, entirely filled with trees, (have) in its midst this accursed valley?” 2 Then, Uriel, one of the holy angels, who was with me, answered me and said to me, “This accursed valley is for those accursed forever; here will gather together all (those) accursed ones, those who speak with their mouth unbecoming words against the Lord and utter hard words concerning his glory. Here shall they be gathered together, and here shall be their judgment, in the last days. 3 There will be upon them the spectacle of the righteous judgment, in the presence of the righteous forever. The merciful will bless the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, all the day.
1 Enoch 90:26–27 In the meantime I saw how another abyss like it, full of fire, was opened wide in the middle of the ground; and they brought those blinded sheep, all of which were judged, found guilty, and cast into this fiery abyss, and they were burned—the abyss is to the right of that house; 27 thus I saw those sheep while they were burning—their bones also were burning.
If this scene evokes Roman practice, then torture in front of a conquering king makes sense. The king is seated on his throne with his military on display around him while the enemy is tortured publicly. In Revelation 14, the Lamb is the conquering king and judge who will oversee the judgment of the worshipers of the beast.
Revelation 14 concludes by returning to the followers of the Lamb. They will be blessed when they endure torment and die on “in the Lord” (14:13). John intentionally contrasts the worshipers of the beast and the worshipers of the Lamb (Rev 4:8-10). The words in 4:8c are identical to 14:11: the worship of the lamb never stops, just as the torture never stops never stops.