Relevant Biblical Passages: Revelation 14:1-12
The Historical Context. The three angels’ messages of Revelation 14 are of special interest to Seventh-day Adventists because of the role these messages played in our formative years. Even after Adventism’s doctrinal and organizational structure was largely in place, “The Three Angels’ Messages” still dominated Adventist thinking and vocabulary. In the Review and Herald and on the campmeeting circuit, Adventist writers and speakers could give a whole series of presentations, indeed their entire message, under the heading, “The Three Angels’ Messages.” And before they were through, they would have included the full Adventist message.
In the 1840s, however, each angel’s message was more narrowly defined and had its day in the sun at a particular point in time. A brief historical summary can provide helpful background:
1. First Angel’s Message, 1840: THE HOUR OF HIS JUDGMENT IS COME. Millerite preachers began trumpeting the first angel’s message in 1840 as enthusiasm mounted for the return of Jesus. In those early days, judgment was closely tied with the Advent rather than with a judicial process preceding Advent. Even before the Disappointment, however, Josiah Litch taught a judicial judgment separate from and preceding the executive judgment.
2. Second Angel’s Message, 1843-44: BABYLON IS FALLEN. Ever since the Reformation, Protestants had labeled the church of Rome as Babylon. In the face of Protestant resistance to Advent preaching, however, Millerites began to include Protestants in Babylon as well. Soon, another angel’s message, the one from Revelation 18:4, was included as part of the second angel’s message: COME OUT OF HER MY PEOPLE, interpreted to mean that the time had come to leave the corrupt churches of the day. Charles Fitch’s sermon that sparked that more strident preaching of the second angel’s message, “Come Out of Her My People,” was published in 1843. Millerite leaders, however, did not support it generally until the summer of 1844.
3. Third Angel’s Message, 1846: THOSE WHO WORSHIP THE BEAST AND ITS IMAGE AND RECEIVE ITS MARK WILL DRINK THE WINE OF GOD’S WRATH. As Adventist thinking shifted from anticipation of Advent to holy living and obedience in preparation for the Advent, the Sabbath came into focus as the key issue in the third angel’s message. The mark of the beast came to symbolize acceptance of a religious authority that would force obedience to mere human commands in place of God’s commands. Thus, coerced Sunday-keeping came to be seen as the mark of the beast, standing over against a freely-chosen seventh-day Sabbath as the seal of God. The Sabbath was the opportunity for human beings to choose obedience out of gratitude to the One who created and redeemed the human family.
The world has changed. Adventism has changed. But the principles of the three angels’ messages remain the same. How will we understand and apply them in our day?