The first angel’s message tells us to “fear God.” What does that mean? See Ps. 34:7–22.
Fear could be understood in two ways. First, there is a fear that shows itself in reverence and respect. This kind is what the first angel wants to bring to our attention. Those who fear God are true believers in Him (Rev. 11:18). To fear God means to honor Him (Rev. 14:7), praise Him (Rev. 19:5), obey Him (Rev. 14:12), and glorify His name (Rev. 15:4). The fear of God in the first angel’s message also acknowledges God as Judge and as Creator, and it calls us to worship Him as such.
Second, there is a fear in the sense of being afraid that sooner or later God will judge this world. To the unfaithful, the message of the judgment is a message of terror. That’s why we often call the three angels’ messages God’s last warning to the world. Inherent in the very notion of a “warning” is something to be feared, and if we read about that which the lost will face, they indeed do have something to fear.
However, as long as mercy is available, God always desires to move the lost to repentance, and the fear of God could be an incentive to start seeking Him (see Rev. 11:13). Though ultimately a saving relationship with God is one based on love, sometimes people need a good dose of fear to open their eyes. And if it takes a warning to get their attention, why not?
We know that “God is love,” and nothing reveals this love more than the Cross. We know, too, that God loves this world, and it must pain Him tremendously to see what sin has done to it. A God of love and justice isn’t going to sit by forever and let evil go unpunished. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31, NKJV). How can we strike the right balance in understanding both God’s love for us and understanding His wrath against the evil that has done us all so much harm?