No Rest (Revelation 14:6-13)
It is already summer and the kids get to rest. Remember what that was like, adults? I remember how hard it was my first couple of summers out of college to grapple with the fact that summer means nothing as an adult. You have now stepped onto the hamster wheel and you have to keep running till you die — no rest.
When God made the heavens and earth, it was it was formless and void — disordered and empty. But God ordered it and filled it over the course of six days and then rested on the seventh day. Every other day had morning and evening and ended, but Genesis records no end to the seventh day. God’s rest on the seventh day shows us the goal of creation. After you make a meal, you eat it. After God made the world, he rested in it. God did not create, form, and fill the universe just for fun — the heavens and earth were likely made as a sort of temple for God to rest in with his people. But when Adam and Eve sinned, they were cursed with lives full of pain and meaningless work without rest.
Slavery in Egypt was the essence of the curse. The Israelites worked sun up to sun down seven days a week as slaves in Egypt. But God foreshadowed the final day of our rescue from slavery to work, sin, and death when he broke their chains and set Israel free. And God commanded Israel to share in the Sabbath day rest he set aside in the beginning. God commanded them to remember how he set them free from slavery in Egypt by working six days a week and resting on the seventh day. He also set aside periods of feasting and rest throughout the year. Every seven years Israel was supposed to let the land rest and just trust that God would give them enough food to take care of them. At the end of the seventh sabbath year — that is, every 50 years — they declared a Jubilee. The land rested, slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, everyone who had fallen on tough times and had to sell their family’s land was allowed to return to it. It was a picture of the ultimate rest that God gives and will give us one day.
But, due to sin, God’s people were exiled from their land of rest to Babylon where they were afflicted for 70 years. But at the end of the 70 years when Daniel was ready for their exile to be over, God curiously answered that they would have to endure 70 more weeks (sevens) before final salvation was worked. Ten more sets of Jubilees before the ultimately Jubilee — all sin atoned for and everlasting righteousness brought in. God did release the captives, but they quickly recognized that they were still slaves in exile to another Egypt, another Babylon.
When God spoke through Isaiah of how he would one day crush Babylon and set his captives free, he spoke of it as a time when “the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve…” (Isaiah 14:3 ESV). To this day God’s people still long for freedom from slavery to never-ending work, sin, and death. We long to be free from Egypt and Babylon. One day, God will end the pain and the turmoil and bring us into the eternal Sabbath day rest with no end that he’s been pointing us to for thousands of years. Doesn’t that sound so good?
In Revelation, parts of God’s salvation are depicted as a new Exodus to a new day of rest. Before, God had plagued Egypt, parted the sea, and led his people through the other side of the sea where they rejoiced over God’s salvation singing the song of Moses with dancing and tambourines. In Revelation, angels pour exodus-like plagues on the enemies of God’s people. Those who conquer the enemy stand beside the sea with harps singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb (15:2-4).
Revelation also points us to the final Sabbath rest in the new heavens and new earth and the new Jerusalem where God and his people rest together forever. But before all that, the idea of rest is more explicitly played on in Revelation 14:6-13. Three angels sound out the gospel to the whole world, but their message sounds very different from what you and I might think we should say when we sound out the gospel.
No Rest (14:6-11)
Did you notice how the message is primarily one that speaks of God’s wrath and judgment? Certainly, when we proclaim the good news we should proclaim Jesus’ kingship, authority, and that, because of his sacrifice, all can be reconciled to God. But, that’s not the focus here. Look again at verse 7. The focus here is on the need to repent, fear God, give him glory, because his judgment is coming near.
And that doesn’t change throughout the text. Verse 8 proclaims the fall of Babylon. Literal Babylon had fallen many centuries earlier, but the type is revived here to portray any city, country, or empire that leads people to commit spiritual adultery on God. Babylon gives glory to itself instead of God, it trusts itself for security instead of God, it idolizes luxury and economic prosperity over God, and instead of doing justice it multiplies injustices against its slaves and against God’s people. And the angel goes out proclaiming the sureness of Babylon’s fall.
Imagine this so far as you proclaim the gospel. Not only do you tell people about Jesus, you level with them in a really sober way. “God’s judgments are falling on the earth to wake us up. God’s ultimate hour of judgment is coming at any moment. Fear God and worship him. The ultimate demise of our country is so certain that the Bible proclaims, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon.’”
The final angel isn’t any happier — notice verses 9-11. The ultimate political and military power is depicted in Revelation as a sea-beast that exerts control over all nations and languages. Just as Jesus the Lamb is slain, fakes sacrificial care for its people by being wounded in battle. But Jesus the Lamb rose from the dead, so the beast also fakes power over death by surviving its mortal wound. The beast draws everyone into worship it. An earth-beast also causes everyone to receive marks on their hand and forehead — which is a symbol of identity, worship, and allegiance to the beast.
And if anyone worships the beast or receives the mark, they must drink the wine of God’s wrath full strength. They are tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of the torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest, day or night. In Revelation this is making permanent what was only temporary before. In Revelation 9, armies of scorpion-like locusts are unleashed on the earth to torment those who are not marked by God. Revelation 9:5–6 ESV, “They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.” We could go a lot of ways with this, but one upshot of this is that God urges people to repent before they endure eternal torment by sending them temporary torment. People will long to die, but death will elude them. Has God ever graced you with a time like that to wake you up? I hope you listened. In Revelation 9, the torment you wish you could die from lasts 5 months. In Revelation 14 and after, it lasts forever and ever. We call it hell. Revelation calls it “the lake of fire.” Jesus calls it “Gehenna” and the place of darkness where people weep and gnash — grind — their teeth.
Brothers and sisters, they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast. Isn’t that so sad? How awful to conclude this life — whether by death or when Jesus suddenly comes in the clouds — and after this life of work and pain, for the Lamb and his holy angels to preside not over your eternal delight, but over your eternal torment. We ought to try to imagine it. And in those times where we are in such agony we want to die, we ought to receive God’s gracious warning.
Once the angels are done pronouncing their woes, John takes up his pen to urge the saints to endure — notice verses 12-13. If you are keeping the commandments of God, if you are keeping the faith of Jesus — endure. Don’t stop. The beastly government will threaten you, impose socio-economic suffering on you, exile you, or kill you. The beastly government will try to impress you with its displays of sacrifice and victory. Prostitute-like economic power will wink and offer you the good life apart from God — pleasure, security, wealth and luxury. Run. Flee. Endure!
A voice from heaven comes — potentially Christ’s (cf. 4:1) — makes certain that John writes something down. He will hear and see a lot — he must not miss this. Those who worship God are pictured as suffering underneath the beast and the prostitute in this life. But those who die in the Lord from now on are blessed, happy, fortunate. The Spirit interjects in agreement. The worshippers of the beast have no rest, but those who are in the Lord rest from their labors. Their deeds follow them. I frequently point to the end when Jesus comes from heaven to consummate all history because that is indeed the focus of Scripture. However, even here, before the end, this sweet promise tells us that we get to start enjoying an advance on that rest when we die.
Can you imagine that? We get so tired sometimes. We run out of energy. Sometimes we just need a nap. Sometimes what we really need is not just sleep, but a couple weeks to sit back and enjoy the fruit of our labor. Let all the work we have been doing mean something. It’s not the full resurrection and all things made new and it’s not the kingdom come when all enemies are vanquished — but the Spirit here promises that those who die in the Lord are happy, resting from their labors. Their deeds follow them — meaning they are eating the fruit of their labor.
Their Deeds Follow Them (14:13; 21:7-8; etc.)
For some of us, this may be slightly confusing. “No, we will enjoy rest because of the grace of Jesus!” Amen. That is so true. We are saved by grace through faith. It is not our own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9). I was hopelessly lost in sin, yet Jesus because of his grace took me in. And yet, the Bible repeatedly asserts that we can know who others are based on their works and that we ourselves will be judged by our works. Those who are saved by faith do walk in good works. Our works show whether or not we do really trust the Lord, whether or not we really are saved.
We can more fully dive into that subject another time. What the Spirit simply asserts here is that our deeds follow us — whether to eternal reward or to eternal punishment. Later in 21:7-8, this will be emphasized again. Conquerers become children of God, those who are cowards and otherwise are in the lake of fire. One way we can know whether or not we will rest or suffer is our works. Brothers and sisters, what are our works?
Are you tired? Hitting summer wishing you could have a summer break? God freely offers eternal rest to those who follow the Lamb. They will rest when they die. But others will find only torment with no rest.