What Is the “Third Angel’s Message”, and What Does It Have to Do With Church of God History?


Woocut from Luther’s Bible for Revelation 17
depicting the Beast and Babylon the Great

1. True Gospel

The world had lost the Gospel. They didn’t know what the Gospel was: I came among the True Church of God of the Sardis Era, They didn’t know what the Gospel was, they thought it was what they called the third angel’s message. They didn’t know what the gospel really was. They called it a third angel’s message. God revealed it to me and through me, to the Church.

That the gospel is the Kingdom of God, that is the gospel Jesus preached, that’s the gospel Paul preached to the Gentiles, that’s the gospel that Peter and John preached. You’ll find when Jesus sent them out and sent out 70, He said preach the Kingdom of God. That is the only gospel, is the gospel OF Jesus Christ.

The world preached and has a gospel ABOUT Christ. Now the first thing to be restored to the Church is the true gospel.

~ Hebert W Armstrong, “Restored Truths (Restored Doctrines)“, op cit Church of God Community Web

I got a chance to listen in to the Bible study of the new group coming out of COGaIC Friday evening, and it was quite enlightening.  The topic was “the subject of Israel” as it relates to not only prophecy but also biblical history.  Apparently, there is an urgency among them to re-embrace British Israelism, which adds fuel to the rumor that David Hulme was downplaying (as he was much of the Gospel overall, it would seem).

Since I was not able to attend church the following day, I tried again to listen in to the Sabbath services, but there were various difficulties.  Everyone was supposed to mute their phones, but partway through it suddenly unmuted itself (someone obviously hit the button, as my microphone was nonetheless still muted according to my dash), and then 18 minutes after it was supposed to start and nothing meaningful was being piped through the phone, it suddenly dropped the call.  By that time, I was already pondering going to my own organization’s site and finding a webcast.

During the Bible study, for the record, I did not hear any abject heresy.  Peter Nathan seemed like a sincere man who was contrite over not presenting this doctrine fully in the past.  He explained that there were various Church of God members who already believed this, and HWA while did not invent it, but he was the first to thoroughly explore it and present it to the leadership of the church.  It was stressed that the truth was the truth, and HWA did not invent the truth but rather was able to understand and communicate it.

Apparently, it was not until HWA tied Israel in prophecy to the Third Angel’s Message that it truly got the attention of Andrew N Dugger.  I am familiar with many of the SDA teachings, and I am naturally familiar with many of the COG teachings, but this was a reference I could not hang my hat on.  It sounded briefly familiar, but I could not place any specifics on it, and Nathan did not elaborate.  Therefore, I decided it was time to do some digging.

First, though, it should be noted that Peter Nathan was at that point giving a historical context to the study, and he was not saying that the Third Angel’s Message was a valid doctrine.  However, he implied everyone was already familiar with what it meant, and I was not.

Common Adventist Past

The doctrine of the Third Angel’s Message is an Adventist teaching.  You may mostly associate “Adventist” with the Seventh-Day Adventist group, which is the largest sect of Adventists.

As a reminder, though, there are other Adventist groups, including the COGs.  “Adventist” pretty much means that someone believes in the second coming (“Advent”) of Christ, that human beings do not have an immortal soul, that a human being is unconscious until resurrected and the ultimate fate of the wicked is eternal death, i.e., “annihilation”, rather than eternal life in hell fire.  Most, but not all, are Sabbatarian, and they all can trace their current organizations back to the Second Awakening in the United States and the Millerite movement.

Today, the two largest Adventist groups are the SDAs (which actually are not as unified as some would like us to believe) and the various Sabbatarian Churches of God (COGs) that can link their history to the Church of God, Seventh Day (COG7), so it shouldn’t be surprising that there is some shared theology.

It turns out that COG7 did teach the Third Angel’s Message, but HWA at some point rejected the doctrine.  Hopefully, you will too, as it requires the lifting a passage of Revelation out of context in order to make it fit some preconceived idea held by some.  I soon figured out I couldn’t remember it because it is simply not biblical.

The Three Angels’ Messages

In Revelation 14, we see the “Three Angels’ Messages“, of which Wikipedia says:

The “three angels’ messages” is an interpretation of the messages given by three angels in Revelation 14:6-12. The Seventh-day Adventist church teaches that these messages are given to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus Christ, and sees them as a central part of its own mission….

The doctrine of the Three Angel’s Messages rests upon the fact that “angel” comes from the word “messenger”.  So, unless the context supplied suggests otherwise, a messenger can be either spirit or human.

The First Angel’s Message

The first angel has the “everlasting gospel” (Rev 14:6-7), and so the doctrine states that the first angel’s message is to preach to every nation on earth.  The “gospel” is interpreted according to Romans 1, and is thus interpreted to be “the power of GOD given to those who believe in His righteousness for salvation.”

The Second Angel’s Message

Verse 8 tells us that a second angel proclaims Babylon has fallen.  I would suggest that they must tie this with Revelation 18:4, where God’s people are called to come out of Babylon, for the Adventist interpretation is that this is a call of repentance and for coming out of the world’s churches, identified as Babylon.

The Third Angel’s Message

The third angel in vv 9 – 12 warn of receiving the mark of the Beast, or worshiping either the Beast or the image of the Beast.

EG White, the so-called prophetess of the SDA movement, made a long treatise about this third message, which I will spare you of.  However, she believed the mark of the Beast was the keeping of Sunday instead of Saturday as the Sabbath.  If keeping the Sabbath was God’s mark upon His people, she reasoned, then the counterfeit of keeping Sunday was the mark of the Beast.

However, she seemed to ignore the fact that other commandments are also called God’s sign upon His people, and in particular the holy days.  So, while the seventh day Sabbath command was often stressed in the OT, of secondary stress were the annual sabbaths.

HWA Ties Third Angel’s Message to Identity of Israel

Let’s make it clear that Herbert W Armstrong (HWA) did believe in this doctrine, at least initially.  If nothing else, this should show that God doesn’t correct anyone immediately on all things.  Else, we would be perfect, right?  Well, that’s not going to happen in this lifetime.

Again, it should show the folly of building our beliefs upon the opinions of men rather than the Bible.  We all need to search out the truth in who has authority and in what areas, and then we need to measure ourselves and our leaders by those gauges of authority based upon Scripture.

Just because something is not in the Bible does not make it wrong, but saying it is when it isn’t is wrong.  The doctrine of the Three Angels’ Messages is not in the Bible, for it requires lifting the passage out of context and turning those events into something other than the supernatural events that they portray.

Not only did HWA once believe in this doctrine, but he also seemed to believe that Protestants were part of the equation.  The Second Angel’s Message, according to an article he wrote for the Bible Advocate, Vol LXII, Number 41, “Have We Tarried for the Power to Carry the Third Angel’s Message?“, was carried out by “Luther, Calvin, Wesley.  Men who were filled with this wonderful power.  Men who were heard around the world!  Men who shook the world with their message and won millions to the side of Protestantism, out of the darkness and spiritual chaos of Roman Catholicism.”

So, what does all of this have to do with British Israelism?  If the Sabbath were given to God’s nation, and they were taken into captivity because they were disobedient and did not keep the Sabbath, then it stands to reason that they more than any other must be called out of Babylon and avoid the mark of the Beast!

He saw the Third Angel’s Message as a warning to endtime Israel!

Those Who Don’t Learn From History Are Doomed to Repeat It

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

~ George Santayana

What we need to be careful of is falling into the same trap or into being lulled into going along with leaders who fall into this same trap.

Something like the Three Angels’ Messages sounds biblical because it uses direct quotes from the Bible.  However, the application is severely lacking.  Even if applying something that we know to be true, such as Anglo Israelism, to something that is false, it doesn’t make either any more true.  It is still false.

True discernment is not about looking for ways to knock holes into various ideas and theories.  Anyone can do that.  Skeptics are good at that.  The Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were good at that.  No, the idea is to apply critical thinking to a subject in order to determine if it is true or not.

Taking a passage out of the context it is in to apply some preconceived notion to it is not discernment.  HWA eventually realized that was what was being done to this particular doctrine, and so he dropped it.

How many of us have done the same, though?  How many of us have made up preconceived notions about government, birthdays, the mark of the Beast, the King of the South, the calendar and more, and then searched for Bible verses to support them rather than the other way around?



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