(9) And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, (10) he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
This text addresses a critical point, one that will be repeated throughout the rest of the book (such as 19:17-21, 20:11-15), though sometimes not as straightforward as we see it here; so, we should take the opportunity to acknowledge the point of these verses before moving on.
It is common in the books of the prophets to see God turn to the gentiles, after punishing his people, to tell them that they haven’t been forgotten; he remembers their deeds too and he judges without partiality. Not that every nation falls immediately following the literal desolation of God’s people; but this is a manner of speaking, God is explaining to everyone else that if they witnessed his people fall because of sin, what then will become of all others who have sinned? The old prophets do a good job (as does the book of Revelation) of showing the impartiality of God toward all others while he is specifically dealing with the sins of only one group at the moment.
Isaiah, using this pattern, spoke of the punishment of the gentile nations (Isaiah 24), following his oracle against Jerusalem (Isaiah 22), saying,
“The earth staggers like a drunken man; it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again. (21) On that day the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. (22) They will be gathered together as prisoners in a pit; they will be shut up in a prison, and after many days they will be punished. (23) Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.” (Isaiah 24:20-23).
Later, in Isaiah 66:15-24, a prophecy after the fall of Jerusalem (70 A.D.), he spoke of God’s judgment for the rest of the world,
“For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. (16) For by fire will the LORD enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many. (17) Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the LORD. (18) “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory” (Isaiah 66:15-18).
Daniel also speaks of God judging the beast after the fall of Jerusalem (see Daniel 7:9-11, and Revelation 20:11-15); which further confirms this pattern of language. Then there is Joel 3:1-17, which provides us with the same figure of judgment for the rest of God’s enemies after the fall of Jerusalem, saying,
“Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. (12) Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. (13) Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great.” (Joel 3:11-13).
Zechariah gives us another example of this pattern of prophecy. After he spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:1-11), he turns to speak to all the wicked nations who took part in the desolations,
“And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.” (Zechariah 14:12).
What have we learned, therefore, but that God does not forget the wickedness of the nations. It is the Lord’s pattern of behavior to visit them after he visits those who are nearest to him,
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (18) And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (19) Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:17-19).
(11) And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Smoke has been a figure of judgment from the early days. The demonstration of God punishing Sodom for their sins is seen in a great rising of smoke (Genesis 19:28). While the smoke was literal for Sodom, it was a manifestation of the spiritual realities that such people were “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7). The worshippers of the beast receive the same punishment, an eternal torment of fire.
“They have no rest, day or night.” This statement is in contrast to a couple of different points, the first being in the immediate context. Verse thirteen will celebrate the rest which the faithful receive in the Lord. The invitation of the Lord (Matthew 11:28) was for men to follow him in faith and obedience, and they would be at rest. Although the Lord’s invitation was also given to these worshipers of the beast (verse six), they did not respond. Now, they forever have no rest. The second contrast is in the four living creatures who, “day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'” (4:8). The Greek words are the same, the living creatures do not rest, and the worshipers of the beast do not rest. The difference is in the application of the Greek; one does not rest because of joy for glory and holiness; the other because their constant torment renders them incapable of rest. What a terrible picture! Is sin really worth it?
(12) Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
The previous picture was intended to spur the saints on to continue in faith and obedience. These visions are purposeful, they are meant to be applied to the lives of the faithful (1:3).
(13) And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
A blessing is placed on those who die in the Lord “from now on.” Why from now on? Because the faithful who were slain prior to this time were not yet avenged, and they cried to the Lord for justice (6:9-11). But now, we hear the Babylon is fallen, the oppressor has been judged and laid desolate; justice has been served to the slayers of God’s people, and God has avenged his elect (16:6, 18:20). The dead who die in the Lord no longer cry to be avenged, for that has been accomplished. They are at rest now.