John saw an angel flying in midheaven, evidently so that his proclamation could be heard far and wide. As the messenger of an eternal evangel or good news for all of earth’s inhabitants (every nation, tribe, language group, and people), he proclaimed with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come, and worship the Maker of heaven and earth and sea and springs of water.” (14:6, 7) The specific content of this evangel belongs to the realm of eternity, as the abiding obligation of all who owe their life to the Most High is to have reverential regard for him and accord him the glory or honor that is rightfully his. At the time of judgment, when the final hour arrives, earth’s inhabitants apparently will still have an opportunity to humbly submit to the Creator and thus escape the frightful judgment that will befall all who defiantly set themselves in opposition to him. (11:13; compare Acts 14:15-17; 2 Peter 3:9.)
John then saw a second angel. He made the announcement, “Fallen, fallen [is] Babylon the great, which made all the nations drink the wine of the passion of her fornication.” (14:8) At the coming hour of judgment, this Babylon will be the first to be punished for her God-dishonoring actions that put people everywhere into a state comparable to a drunken stupor. The identity of “Babylon the great” and the severe judgment to be executed upon her is revealed later. (17:1-18:24)
With a loud voice, the third angel proclaimed that anyone worshiping the beast and its image and accepting its mark on his forehead or on his hand would drink of the wine of God’s fury, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath, and would be tormented with fire and sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb. The smoke of the torment would ascend forever and ever, with no rest or relief from the torment either day or night for the worshipers of the beast or for anyone accepting the identifying mark of its name. (14:9-11)
For those who adore the beast or the ruling power of this world and oppose God’s will, their having to drink from the cup of his anger would mean their having to experience his unmitigated anger, an irreversible condemnatory judgment. The torment with fire and sulfur evidently is to be understood against the backdrop of similar images of divine judgment. Regarding Edom, the prophecy of Isaiah (34:9, 10, NIV) says about YHWH’s day of vengeance: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever.” The portrayal is that of eternal ruin (comparable to what happens in an area of dried-up vegetation that is engulfed in flames and transformed into a wasteland). This is evidently also the way in which the imagery in the book of Revelation is to be viewed. The worshipers of the beast will be sentenced to eternal doom, with no possibility of any relief or release. Like ascending smoke that gives evidence of a destructive fire, the evidence of their torment or everlasting loss will remain eternally. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the fires ceased burning long ago, but their end came with such finality and thoroughness that Jude (verse 7) could speak of the cities as undergoing a judgment of eternal fire. The dreadful judgment to be executed on the worshipers of the beast will not be hidden from the holy angels and the Lamb. (Compare Isaiah 66:24.) Moreover, when the time for the execution of the final judgment arrives, those who will be facing their eternal doom apparently will become fully aware of just how great their loss will be. This is suggested by references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” resulting from the pain or torment of unalterable loss. (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28)
Apparently because the pressure to join in worshiping the beast will be intense, God’s people, or the “holy ones” who observe his commands and have the faith that focuses on Christ, would need endurance so as not to give in. (14:12) A full awareness of how severe the judgment will be for those who side with the beast would serve as strong encouragement not to yield and to endure faithfully.