The Angel of Severance, part 2
Jun 15, 2016
Revelation 14:10 says that those who worship the earth beast and receive his “mark” will drink from the “undiluted … cup of His indignation” (The Emphatic Diaglott). Further, “he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels.” This is a reference to the Great White Throne judgment, where all of mankind (other than the overcomers) must stand and give account of themselves.
Two Types of Resurrection
At the Great White Throne, described in Revelation 20:11-15, both believers and unbelievers will be judged, for Jesus describes this moment in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
It is clear that the judgment at the Great White Throne will find both believers and unbelievers present. Only the overcomers will avoid this judgment, because their resurrection will come a thousand years earlier, as described in Revelation 20:4, 5, 6. Those believers who face the judgment will be raised to “a resurrection of life,” as Jesus says, but Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 3:13, 14, 15 that “the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”
Believers who have not learned to forgive, or who have harbored the love of money in their hearts, or who have supported the earth beast, will find many of their works “burned up” by the fire of divine judgment. Yet Paul tells us, “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” Why? Because by definition all genuine believers have laid Christ as the Foundation of their “temple,” regardless of which the building materials they used to build upon that Foundation. Hence, even if the whole temple is destroyed by the divine fire, the Foundation remains intact. If the foundation remains firm, a new and improved temple can be built upon it afterward.
Unbelievers, on the other hand, who do not have Jesus Christ as their Foundation, will receive “a resurrection of judgment,” Jesus says. The fiery law will affect them for a longer time until they are finally set free by the law of Jubilee at the end of time. This is the “lake of fire” in Revelation 20:14, 15, and it is also the “river of fire” in Daniel 7:10. In each case, the fire is not literal, but describes the “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV). The fire, John tells us, is applied “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” to each man according to his works.
Brimstone, or Sulfur
John also speaks of “brimstone” (KJV, NASB), which is actually sulfur, or Sulphur (The Emphatic Diaglott). The Greek word is theon, which, according to Thayer’s Lexicon, means:
“divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify and to ward off contagion.”
Sulfur, or brimstone, was thought of as a divine purification agent when John wrote his book. The metaphor did not picture a prison where men were tortured by fire, but a temple where men were purified by “divine incense” from burning sulfur. Thus, John uses “fire and sulfur” to indicate that men would be judged by God’s law (fire) for the purpose of divine purification, or correction, so that they could be “saved so as through fire” (as Paul puts it).
God’s law forbids and abhors any punishment that does not fit the crime (evil deed), for such judgment goes against His nature. In fact, God manifested Himself only as “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24) when He gave the fiery law to Israel. The law, then, was the expression of His nature. 1 John 4:8 says “God is love.” This is the overriding standard by which God does everything, especially when He judges the world. While we should never minimize His justice, neither should we subject His love to justice, but rather subject His justice to love.
It is for this reason that the law provides limitations on justice, whether in the limit of 40 lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3) or in the law of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:54). The purpose of the law and of divine judgment is to rehabilitate sinners, not to destroy them forever. Even the death penalty is only a temporary measure, which ends with resurrection, when they are summoned to the Great White Throne and their actual rehabilitation actually begins in the “fire” of God.
The Ages of Ages
The Ages following the Great White Throne judgment are known as the Ages of Ages, that is, the climax of all the ages of earth time. In previous ages, men were “free” to sin without legal constraints other than by the laws of men. But the Great White Throne marks a new era. All sinners are issued an arrest warrant and are summoned to the divine court for a hearing and for judgment.
All sinners will then know the truth about God and of Christ. This new revelation will cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess allegiance to Him as their “Lord” (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10, 11). This will be the first step in their rehabilitation, for once they have become believers, they must still learn obedience as bond-servants of Jesus Christ—even as every believer since the beginning has had to learn. Becoming a believer is not the only requirement. They must also grow spiritually with “the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Those under divine judgment will be “sold” as slaves according to the divine law to the overcomers (Exodus 22:3). It will be the responsibility of their new masters to rehabilitate and train them by example to know Christ and His ways until the Creation Jubilee, when “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
So John says in Revelation 14:11 (quoting The Emphatic Diaglott),
11 And the smoke of their torment [imprisonment, confinement, restriction under slavery] rises up for Ages of Ages; and they shall have no rest day and night, who worship the beast and his image, and if any one receive the mark of his name.
Smoke is evidence of fire. The evidence of the divine law in this case is the restriction under which these ex-unbelievers must live during the “Ages of Ages.” They will not be free to do as they wish as free men. Their freedom to sin has ended. Only righteous acts are permitted in this new order. This is the “smoke” or evidence of their restrictions as bondservants of Christ and the overcomers.
No Rest Day and Night
John says also that “they have no rest day and night.” Those who picture this as a torture chamber understand this to mean that it is impossible to get any sleep when one is in great pain. But when we understand this as a long time of slavery and restriction prior to creation’s release, then we may interpret this in a more biblical manner.
The biblical concept of “rest” is explained in Hebrews 3:8-11 says,
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. 9 There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.
This admonition was given to the church, showing how the church in the wilderness had failed to enter God’s rest. God’s rest is the Jubilee, and Israel had refused to enter the Promised Land on the 50th Jubilee from Adam. They believed the evil report of the ten spies, rather than the good report of Caleb and Joshua. So that generation died in the wilderness and did not enter the position of “rest” that characterizes the promise of God.
As long as one is enslaved to sin, a person is not in a position of “rest.” Those who are sentenced to slavery at the Great White Throne will not obtain “rest” during the Ages of Ages. However, because every knee will bow to Christ at the start of these final Ages, and because they will be trained by the overcomers in the ways of God during those final Ages, it is guaranteed that they will enter God’s rest, His Jubilee, at the end of the final Age.
The New Covenant Promise
This is guaranteed by the New Covenant, wherein God swore an oath to make this happen. Isaiah 45:23 says,
23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
This is another way of expressing God’s oath in Deuteronomy 29:12-15, where all the people gathered together,
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord your God and with those who are not with us here today.
This oath came out of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to bless all nations and all families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). For this reason, He did not limit His oath to those standing there with Moses, but included “those who are not with us here today.” The fact that even the non-Israelites were included (Deuteronomy 29:11) shows that this New Covenant was not given only to Israel, but to all mankind.
The Perseverance of the Saints
Revelation 14:12 says:
12 Here is the perseverance [“patient endurance”] of the saints [“holy ones”] who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
John says that the holy ones, empowered by the holy angels, have endured much hardship and tribulation in order to avoid the judgment of God at the Great White Throne. Their goal is to be part of the overcomer company who will reign with Christ and who will have authority over others and have responsibility to train sinners in the Ages to come.
Like the Old Testament saints in Hebrews 11, they have endured to the end in order to obtain a “better resurrection” (Hebrews11:35). For, you see, these saints, or holy ones, are the first to be raised from the dead (Revelation 20:5), the first to be manifested, the first to come into the experience of the Feast of Tabernacles. They are the first fruits company who are blessed to enter God’s rest and to receive the promises of God before the rest of creation.
The Angel of Severance is assigned the job of distinguishing between the two companies. His flaming sword prevents those who are not yet qualified from having access to the tree of life. His actions sever the unbelievers from the believers as well as the church from the overcomers. Each group is then judged differently at the Great White Throne.
This is part 111 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones