The Message of the Second Angel – Revelation 14:8

For the first time in Revelation, the kingdom of the beast is identified as “Babylon the Great.”  As with the message of the first angel, this second angel announces Babylon has (already) fallen although the judgment on Babylon is not narrated until Revelation18:1-19:10. What does John mean by “Babylon the Great”?

Great Whore rides the beast

There are some commentators who take John’s reference to Babylon literally. Robert Thomas, for example, thinks “Babylon the Great” alludes to Daniel 4:30 and considers this verse to prophesy a central role for the city of Babylon in world affairs (Revelation 8-22, 207). Ironically, such overly literal interpretations of Revelation 14:8 must take predictions that Babylon will fall and never be rebuilt as non-literal (Isa13:19-22; Jer 50:39-40).

Since Babylon was not the capitol of a major empire at the end of the first century and the region was not particularly important for world affairs until recently, older interpreters usually found an allusion to the Roman Catholic church here, but this reflects an older, historicist view of Revelation and is (mostly) abandoned today.

Others consider Babylon as a reference to Jerusalem. In Four Views on Revelation, Ken Gentry argued Babylon is an allusion to Jerusalem as part of his thesis Revelation was written prior to A.D. 70 as a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. Bruce Chilton thinks the whore of Babylon represents “Apostate Jerusalem is the Harlot-city” and the fall of Jerusalem is “Israel’s final excommunication” (Days of Vengeance, 443). In his recent ITC commentary on Revelation, Peter J. Leithart states “Jerusalem is the only first-century city that fits the description of a πόρνη, a harlot city given to πορνεία. A harlot is a city that has turned from Yahweh” (172).

The majority of scholars consider Babylon the Great as an allusion to Rome. This is clear in 1 Peter 5:13, where Peter, living in Rome, greets his readers but says that he is in Babylon. Peter may be drawing a parallel between his “exile in Rome” and the Babylonian exile.

After the first century, the identification of Rome and Babylon was common in Jewish apocalyptic literature as well as Christian writings. In the fifth Sibylline Oracle, Nero’s flight from Rome is a flight from Babylon (this is probably an allusion to the return of Nero myth): “He will flee from Babylon, a terrible and shameless prince whom all mortals and noble men despise” (5.143) and in 5.434 the oracle declares “Woe to you, Babylon, of golden throne and golden sandal.” A few lines later it predicts the Parthians will terrify the “impious race of Babylonians” (5.440). These are all clear allusions to Rome. David Aune draws a parallel to the Dead Sea Scrolls which refer to Rome as the Kittim.

The parallels between Babylon and Rome are obvious. A Jewish writer would see both world empires arrogant and opposed to God; both empires destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70). Dating Revelation to the end of the first century, both empires demanded worship as a sign of loyalty (cf. Daniel 3, 6 and the Imperial Cult). John calls the enemy Babylon several more times in Revelation (16:19, 17:5-6; 18:2, 10, 21). By Revelation 19:10 is seems clear he has Rome in mind.

The prediction that Rome had (already) fallen would have been laughable in the first century. Rome had endured for centuries by the time John wrote Revelation and would last for several hundred more, even if its glory was in decline. However, there were predictions of the fall of Rome in the first century, such as the Oracles of Hystaspes which predicted Rome would fall to powers from the east, but 6,000 years in the future (Aune 2:831). This work is only known through the third century A.D. writer Lactantius (Div. Inst. 7.15.11) so it is not particularly relevant for the end of the first century.

Revelation 14:8 describes Babylon the Great made the nations drink “the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” John just hints at what the maddening wine is here, he will expand in this in Revelation 17.

The Message of the First Angel – Revelation 14:6-7

Revelation 14:6-13 three angels who appear in mid-heaven to announce the judgment on the kingdom of the beast is near.

angels of death Durer

Each of the three angels in this section are called “another angel,” despite there being no first angel in the series.  In 14:8 the next angel is called the second; in 14:9 the angel is the third. In Revelation 8:3 there was an eagle who announced the beginning of three woes. Similar to this angle, that eagle was flying in the mid- heaven, but it was not clear in that context the eagle was an angel. Although there is no text variant, some scholars suggest “another angel” (ἄλλον ἄγγελον) ought to read “another eagle” (ἄλλον ἀετόν).  Both the eagle (8:3) and the angel (14:6) proclaim their message to the inhabitants of the earth. But the eagle announces three woes, this angel is announcing “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον).

Despite the angel is in the air, there is no implication the angel as wings. The verb (πέτομαι) is associated with the flight of birds and insects in classical Greek, but also with running or moving quickly (BrillDAG). The angel is located in the midpoint of the sky, “midair” (NIV; μεσουράνημα), hence the ESV translation “directly overhead.”

The angel has an “eternal gospel to preach” to everyone on earth. Other than Romans 1:1, this is the only place in the New Testament where the word Gospel does not appear with the article, suggesting this is not the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus (Aune 2:825). This announcement of good news may allude to Isaiah 40:9-10 and/or 52:7-9. In both cases someone is on a mountain top and announcing good news and in both cases the good news is the salvation of Jerusalem and Zion. In the context of Isaiah 40-55, the good news of Zion’s salvation is the defeat of Babylon and the destruction of her gods (Isa 46). The next angel in Revelation 14:8 announces the fall of Babylon the great.

The angel proclaims good news to all the people of the earth and the message is simple: the day of God’s judgment has come, therefore they ought to “fear God and give him glory.” Most commentators see an allusion to Deuteronomy 10:12-15 or other similar passages. God requires all people to fear him and walk in all his ways (cf. Prov 8:13).

This announcement implies the day of judgment has already come. If this is so, is it too late to glorify God? The aorist verb “has come” may be a proleptic aorist, or an aorist of assurance (Aune, Revelation, 2:828). John often expresses the nearness of God’s judgment by declaring the time “has come.” A similar statement is made in Revelation 6:17 and 11:8 and will appear again in 18:10.

Another option the command to fear God and give him glory does not mean the ones do so are will be saved from the coming judgment. If they have taken the mark of the beast, then they are under God’s judgment. Even those under the judgment must acknowledge that God is worthy of glory. This is similar to Philippians 2:10-11, every knee will bow and acknowledge that Jesus the Messiah is Lord.

The angel concludes by declaring God is the creator. Similar to Paul’s preaching in Acts 14:15-16 and 17:24, the announcement to all peoples of the earth to fear God is based on his status as the creator of everything (cf., Romans 1:18-23).

Who is the Angel with the Incense from the Altar of God? – Revelation 8:3-5

In Revelation 8, an angel takes the censer of incense and hurls it to the earth in anticipation of the judgments about to be revealed. What is thrown to the earth, the fire from the altar or the censer?  Grammatically, there are three verbs, the angel took the censer, filled it, and threw to the earth.  There is no explicit object to the verb threw.

The object of the verb “throw” could be the fire which is scooped up into the censer, or the fire itself. If the fire is the object thrown to the earth, then the background is the daily sacrifice. Exodus 30:8 indicates incense was burned at the evening sacrifice and Ezra 9:5-15 associated prayer with the burning of incense at the evening sacrifice.

In the first or second century AD text 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou, “Things omitted from Jeremiah”), Jeremiah concludes a ten-day series of sacrifices by calling out to God with a sacrifice and the “fragrant odor of incense.”  In his prayer he calls on Michael the Archangel to open the gates for the righteous. Revelation 8:4 says an angel took the incense and smoke from the hand of God. Although it is not clear from Revelation 8 who this angel is, both Jewish and Christian readers would identify Michael as the angel who stands before the Lord (Aune 2:515).

4 Baruch 9:1-4  And those who were with Jeremiah continued for nine days rejoicing and offering up sacrifices for the people. But on the tenth (day) Jeremiah alone offered up a sacrifice. And he prayed a prayer, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, incense of the living trees, true light that enlightens me until I am taken up to you; for your mercy I plead, for the sweet voice of the two seraphim I plead, for another fragrant odor of incense.

Throwing fire down to the earth may be an allusion to Ezekiel 10:2. In Ezekiel, a man dressed in linen takes coals from the altar and flings them over the city of Jerusalem as a sign of judgment. When this is done, a number of apocalyptic images appear, thunder lightning and an earthquake. All of these resonate with Revelation 8:3-5.

If it is the censer which is hurled to the earth, then the background for the image may be the daily worship in the temple. As far as I know, Massyngberde Ford was the first to suggest this (Revelation, 136), I encountered the suggestion through Jon Paulien (Decoding Revelation’s Trumpets, 314).

In the Mishnah tractate Tamid 5:4-6, when the censer was cast down, it made such a loud sound that it was a signal for three things to happen, the first two are worship, the third is that a priest go to the eastern gate to begin dealing with those who need to deal with personal uncleanliness.

Tamid 5:5-6. A. He who won [the right to the ashes with] the firepan took the silver firepan and went up to the top of the altar and cleared away the cinders in either side and scooped up [ashes with the firepan]. B. He came down and emptied them out into that [firepan] of gold. C. About a qab of cinders scattered from it, and he swept them out into the water channel. D. And on the Sabbath, he covered over them with a psykter. E. And a psykter was a large utensil, holding a letekh, and two chains were on it, one with which he pulled to lower it, and one with which it was held firm from above, so that it should not roll. F. And three purposes did it serve: (1) they turn it over on top of cinders; and (2) on a creeping thing on the Sabbath; and (3) they lower the ashes from on the altar with it. 5:6  A. [When] they reached the area between the porch and the altar, one man took the shovel and tosses it between the porch and the altar. B. No one in Jerusalem hears the voice of his fellow on account of the noise of the shovel. C. And three purposes did it serve: (1) a priest who hears its sound knows that his brethren the priests enter in to prostrate themselves, and he then runs and comes along; (2)  and a son of a Levite who hears its noise knows that his brethren, the Levites, enter to say their song, and he then runs and comes along; (3)  and the head of the priestly watch then had the unclean people stand at the eastern gate.

The censer caused catastrophic events to happen. These disturbances are often associated with a theophany, primarily when God reveals himself at Sinai. Richard Bauckham considers the section a conscious reference to the Exodus events, especially given the potential parallels between the plagues and the trumpets (Exod 19:16-18; Ps 68:8; Isa 64:3).

That these apocalyptic phenomenon are all associated with the theophany at Mount Sinai is perhaps a hint at the background for the seven trumpets with follow immediately after this in Revelation. The imagery used for the seven trumpets draw on the plagues on Egypt.

Who Are the Seven Angels in Revelation 8:2?

After the seventh seal is opened, John sees “the seven angels who stand before God.” “Standing before” someone is an idiomatic expression for serving, so this could be translated as “served” the Lord. According to Jewish tradition the angels must be standing because they did not have knees. This is based on Ezekiel 1:7 (cherubim with straight legs).

Who these seven angels? Revelation 9 does not identify them. Are these the “the seven archangels who occupy a very particular role in the angelic hierarchy,” as David Aune suggests? (2:509). On the other hand, Beale finds it “tempting to identify them with the seven guardian angels of the seven churches” (Beale 454). John may have intended these seven angels standing before God to be the seven spirits which were before the throne of God in Revelation 1:4 and 4:5.

Other Second Temple Period literature refer to seven archangels, Michael and Gabriel being among them. For example, in Tobit 12:15, the angel Raphael says, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One” (RSV).

The tradition of seven archangels is present in the apocryphal book of Tobit. In Testament of Levi 8 Levi sees seven men clothed in white who prepare him to be a priest.

In 1 Enoch 20, the Greek text has seven angels: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel, and Remeiel (missing in the Ethiopic text, see OTP 1:23–24).

  • Suruʾel, one of the holy angels—for (he is) of eternity and of trembling.
  • Raphael, one of the holy angels, for (he is) of the spirits of man.
  • Raguel, one of the holy angels who take vengeance for the world and for the luminaries.
  • Michael, one of the holy angels, for (he is) obedient in his benevolence over the people and the nations.
  • Saraqaʾel, one of the holy angels who are (set) over the spirits of mankind who sin in the spirit. 7
  • Gabriel, one of the holy angels who oversee the garden of Eden, and the serpents, and the cherubim.

3 Enoch 17 says “There are seven great, beautiful, wonderful, and honored princes who are in charge of the seven heavens. They are, Michael, Gabriel, Šatqiʾel, Šaḥaqiʾel, Baradiʾel, Baraqiʾel, and Sidriʾel.:

However, in Revelation 9 the angels are not named nor are them described as special in any way except they are given the honor of announcing the judgements by blowing on trumpets. There is another series of angels in Revelation 15-16 as the final seven bowl judgements are poured out on the earth.

Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Faithlife Films, 2019)

Michael Heiser is well-known for his books on angels and the supernatural world as well as his Naked Bible podcast. He is a Scholar-in-Residence at Faithlife Corporation. This film is a companion to his book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham, 2015). Heiser’s PhD dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was entitled “The Divine Council in Second Temple Literature” (2004) and he contributed articles on the Divine Council in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings (InterVarsity Press, 2008), Prophets (InterVarsity Press, 2011) and in the Lexham Bible Dictionary.

Actor Corbin Bernsen is the host of the film, but Heiser does most of the speaking. The video has a wide range of soundbites from other biblical scholars, including Eric Mason, Gary Yates, Darrell Bock and Ben Witherington III. The film runs about an hour and twelve minutes and is well-produced as far as documentaries go. The music is dramatic but not distracting and the general tone of the film inviting. Heiser and the other speakers do not present this material as some great secret suppressed by the church (as most biblical documentaries seem to do these days).

Heiser takes the ancient Near Eastern worldview of the Bible seriously. The imagery used in the Bible for the gods, angels and demons is drawn from the ancient world. There are many examples in the Old Testament where God sits at the head of a “heavenly council” (for example, Psalm 89:5-7, Daniel 7).

In the introduction to the book form of the Unseen Realm Heiser says “What you’ll learn is that a theology of the unseen world that derives exclusively from the text understood through the lens of the ancient, premodern worldview of the authors informs every Bible doctrine in significant ways.” Some of these are very helpful and it is important Bible readers hear the echoes of the ancient world rather than medieval paintings. For example, cherubim is a supernatural throne guardian similar to Assyrian and Babylonian throne guardians.

Heiser describes three supernatural rebellions explain the presence of evil in the world: The Fall in the Garden, the Nephilim, and the Tower of Babel. Although I agree each of these represents a rebellion against God, I am not sure the second two rebellions are on the same order as the Fall. Heiser thinks the sons of Anak were descendants of the Nephilim were the actual target of the Israelite conquest. There are more details on this in the book, but I remain unconvinced the “giants” in the land were the literal descendants of the Nephilim (who presumably survived the flood).

With respect to the New Testament, the demons recognize Jesus, but they are “duped into killing Jesus.” Caesarea Philippi (now called. Banias), in the area of Bashan. According to Heiser, Bashan was ground zero for the worship of demons. Heiser argues this location is the “gates of Hell,” which is why Jesus says the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the church Jesus will build “upon the rock” (Matthew 16:18-19).

Heiser points out Paul reflects the ancient worldview, although there is much more which could be said about the unseen realm in the Pauline letters. Two examples which need more development. First, there are far better descriptions of Paul’s view of the defeat of spiritual powers. For example, Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians (IVP Academic, 2010), Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians (both now reprinted by Wipf & Stock) and Powers of Darkness (IVP Academic, 1992). Second, the worldview of the Old Testament reflects the ancient near east and this is certainly part of the background for Jewish writers in the New Testament. But Heiser does not take fully take into account the Greco-Roman worldview for the Pauline mission to Gentiles. For residents of Ephesus, the Nephilim the Mesopotamian council of the gods would have been unknown. Readers of Paul’s letters and Revelation (written to Ephesus and Asia Minor) were immersed in the gods of Rome, Artemis and the Imperial Cult.

For some viewers, Heiser takes the ancient worldview far too seriously. I suspect some conservative viewers will be shocked to hear how angels and demons fit into the worldview of the ancient worldview. Like John Walton, Heiser recognizes that the Old Testament adopts and adapts the cosmic geography, divine council, and spiritual beings of the ancient world. But less-than-conservative viewers will find Heiser’s acceptance of these elements as “too literal.” Heiser may describe the worldview of the ancient world accurately, but he actually believes that worldview is an accurate depiction of reality. In fact, this film concludes with a clear presentation of the Gospel.

Much of what Heiser says in the film (and the book Unseen Realm) is accurate description of the worldview of the ancient world. I find his description of sacred space and cosmic geography very helpful and the parallels between Eden, Tabernacle and Temple are important (if not commonly accepted today). There are many details in the film which go too far, such as his view of the role of the giants in Canaan during the conquest, the implication Ezekiel 28 refers to Satan, and the background of Banias for understanding Jesus’s words in Matthew 16. Nevertheless, for many viewers, this film will be a good introduction to the discussion of a biblical theology of angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and the “unseen realm.” Along with Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm, this film would be good for a small group Bible study or Sunday School class. The website is unclear on licensing (can the film be used for a small group?) and as far as I can see there are no workbooks or other curriculum available at this time. 

Here is the trailer for the film, View clips of the film at FaithlifeTV.