The Good News About Fearing God - Thoughts on Revelation 14:6-7
Revelation 14:6-7 "And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7 and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
Avoiding poison ivy
As a young boy, I can recall the time one of my childhood friends had gotten into a batch of poison ivy. He had the tell-tale rash of poison ivy on his face, arms and legs. For several days, I watched him scratch in agony, not finding relief. The blisters turned into sores. I told my dad the story of my friend, commenting that I never wanted to run into poison ivy. Now keep this short little story in mind, since I'll refer back to it later in this post.
The "good news" and the "not-so-seemingly-good news"
Whenever we turn to the pages of the New Testament, we find reference to the word "gospel" over 100 times. The term "gospel" means "good news". Jesus first mentions the term "gospel" in Matthew 4:23 as He begins to proclaim the "Gospel of the Kingdom". The good news that Jesus preached was that the reign of God in salvation had begun to manifest in the midst of a people who were spiritually oppressed. The Jews conceived of the "kingdom of God" as becoming visible at the end of history. Much like a birthday present that comes early, the good news was that God's Kingdom had begun to appear as a result of Jesus' public ministry. The middle mention of the term "gospel" in the New Testament is found in the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3. Paul writes of the Gospel or "good news" of salvation found in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The good news is that the forgiveness of sins was once for all achieved, as demonstrated by Christ's resurrection from the dead.
So far, then, we can see how the term "Gospel" refers to "goodnews". However, whenever we turn to the final mention of this term in Revelation 14:6-7, we read the following words -
"And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people. and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
These two verses put together two seemingly unrelated ideas - "the gospel" and "fear God". What makes this final mention even more remarkable is that, unlike the other examples mentioned earlier, this final reference makes it hard to see how the angel's message would count as "good news". So how do we make sense of this? Let's first return back to the little story I told at the beginning of this post and define what the scriptures means when it says: "fear God".
The news I was glad to hear
I had told my dad about my friend and the poison ivy. He warned me about the poison ivy around our wooded home, what it looked like and how to avoid it. I can remember playing outside in absolute terror. I was so afraid of running into poison ivy, that I went to the extreme to avoid anything that had leaves. One day I was outside and suddenly my dad yelled to step away from one of the larger trees in our yard that had the dreaded plant. He told me that what was growing upon the tree was not poison ivy, but its worse cousin - "poison oak". As my dad retaught me what to look for, I rejoiced in hearing the words - "fear poison ivy". I could now play freely outside while avoiding the fate of my friend. Such a "fear" or "respect" for the outdoors actually saved me from pain.
The news we need to hear - "fear God"
So in light of this illustration, how can we discern Revelation 14:6-7 to contain good news in its urgent message to the final inhabitants of future planet earth: "fear God"? To fear God involves four key ideas.
1. To fear God means that I reverence God. To reverence someone or something desribes responding in a way that recognizes the thing or person for what they are. God is described, for example, in Hebrews 12:29 as "our God is a consuming fire". If we fail to revere normal fire, we will get burnt or hurt. God is uncreated, holy and, by His very nature, upholds all other things. If I fail to acknowledge God's nature, to "revere Him", I am demonstrating a "lack of fear" in God at the peril of my own soul (see Hebrews 10:31).
2. To fear God means I depend upon God. "Fear of God" also carries the idea of dependance on God. Hebrews 12:28 states this point most plainly - "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe."
3. To fear God is to have the desire to obey God. In Genesis 22:12, we find the patriarch Abraham heeding the voice of God in offering up his son Isaac on an altar. As Abraham is about to plunge the knife into his son's chest, the Angel of the Lord (i.e. an appearance of God Himself) cries out to Abraham to desist, since he has demonstrated his "fear of God". Abraham's actions reveal a total desire to obey God. When we fear God as believers, we are willing to do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to live out God's will for our lives.
4. To fear God means I'm on my way to escaping what I deserve. This final meaning of the Biblical concept of "fearing God" refers to the impulse sinners ought to have in relating to their Creator. Hebrews 12:25 captures what we're saying here in a most perfect way - "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven."
The Holy Spirit's involvement is necessary to stoke the impulse of the "fear of God" into a full-fledged desire to trust God. Theologians talk about two-types of fear: "servile fear" or a fear of someone that is perceived as wanting to harm them, and "filial fear" or the type of fear a son may have in not wanting to bring grief to his dad. Sinners, by nature, view God as their enemy. As the Spirit sheds further light of grace, for those who come to see God as a Father reaching out to save them, such "fear of God" saves them (comapre John 16:8-12).
Just as I rejoiced when my father had told me the need to "fear poison ivy", the goodnews of the Gospel includes this notion of "fearing God" to warn us of how to escape what we deserve - wrath. God's wrath has to do with His "settled opposition against sin". God hates sin because it opposes His holy character and destroys the objects of His love - namely ourselves. As the Spirit of God works in us the need to "fear God", author John Murray notes:1
"As sinful people, we have every reason to fear God's judgment; it is part of our motivation to be reconciled with God".
Is it no wonder that Proverbs 1:7 tells us - "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." What at first is "seemingly-not-so good news" - "fear God" - is actually news we need to hear.
The final mention of the Gospel is good news after all
In this brief survey of the concept of "the fear of God", we have discovered that its placement along with the term "Gospel" is very, very good news. What the Apostle John demonstrates is that at the end of the age, God extends an undeserved overture of grace to a world that doesn't intend to return the favor. To a world that doesn't want God, God wants to show mercy. The Gospel is about giving us "good news" of how to escape the wrath that is to come (read John 3:16). Author John Murray lays out three practical benefits stemming from a healthy fear of God:2
1. By the fear of God we flee to Jesus (since we see in Jesus our provision for satisfying the wrath of God, or what is called "propitiation"), (1 John 2:1-2).
2. By the fear of God we seek after godly living (Philippians 2:12-13).
3. By the fear of God we conquer all other fears (1 John 4:18).
As I close out this post today, Revelation 14 reminds us that God's attributes are never in conflict. God's wrath against sin shows us what He opposes or hates. God's love toward sinners describes His intention to want to save them. God's justice is His righteous actions towards a world that has no desire for God. God's mercy in having the angel proclaim the Gospel once more at the end of history reveals a God whose mercy is extended, undeserved. All of these attributes are not merely possessions of God, they are Him. God expresses Himself in these ways, not because of the creature, but because of the kind of God He is. Would it be that we would respond appropriately to this God of grace. Would we fear God - since to fear Him leads to the greatest news of all - the Gospel.
1. John Murray. No true religion without the fear of God.
2. John Murray. No true religion without the fear of God.
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