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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Revelation 15

 

 

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Verses 1-8

Chapter 15

THE VICTORS OF CHRIST (Revelation 15:1-2)

15:1-2 And I saw another sign in heaven, great and wonderful--it was seven angels, with seven plagues which are the final ones, because in them the wrath of God reaches its climax. And I saw what I can only call a sea of glass intermingled with fire; and I saw standing beside the sea of glass, with the harps of God, those who had emerged victorious from their struggle with the beast and with his image and with the number of his name.

It might have been thought that John could have conveniently stopped when he had told of the reaping of judgment; but he has still much to tell--the final horrors, of the thousand year reign of the saints, of the final battle and of the final blessedness.

He has told of the opening of the seven seals; he has told of the sounding of the seven trumpets; and now he must tell of the pouring out of the seven bowls of the wrath of God. His arrangement is typical of the way the apocalyptic writers tended to arrange their material in groups of seven and of three and would regard three groups of seven as standing for perfection.

The scene is in heaven. Before John tells of the seven angels with the seven bowls of wrath, he has a picture of those who came through martyrdom for Christ. They are standing beside the sea which looked as if it was of glass. We have already seen this sea in Revelation 4:6. This time the glass is intermingled with fire, a natural addition in the circumstances. This is a passage of judgment and fire in Scripture is often the symbol of judgment. There comes upon Egypt hail mingled with fire (Exodus 9:24); the chaff is to be consumed in the fire (Matthew 3:12); our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The whole scene is grimly illuminated with the lurid light of the fire of judgment which is to descend upon the earth.

We are shortly to hear of the song of Moses. This is the song which Moses sang when the children of Israel had come triumphantly through the dangers of the crossing of the Red Sea. Even so, as H. B. Swete puts it, the martyrs have come safely through the sea of martyrdom and have arrived at the shore of heaven.

It is said that the martyrs have emerged victorious from their contest with the forces of Antichrist. There is something very significant here. The martyrs died the most savage deaths and yet they are said to have emerged victorious. It was the very fact that they had died that made them victors; if they had remained alive by being false to their faith, they would have been the defeated. Again and again the records of the early church describe a day of martyrdom as a day of victory. In the record of the martyrdom of Saint Perpetua we read: "The day of their victory dawned, and they walked from prison to the amphitheatre as if they were walking to heaven, happy and serene in countenance." Jesus said: "Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 16:25). The real victory is not prudently to preserve life but to face the worst that evil can do and if need be to be faithful to death. "May God deny you peace," said Unamuno the Spanish mystic, "and give you glory."

THE SONG OF THE VICTORS OF CHRIST (Revelation 15:3-4)

15:3-4 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

Great and wonderful are your works, O Lord, God the Almighty; Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who shall not fear and glorify your name, O Lord? Because you alone are holy; Because all the nations will come and worship before you; Because your righteous judgments have been made plain for all to see.

The victorious martyrs sing two songs. They sing the song of the Lamb which, as we have seen, is the song which they alone could learn (Revelation 14:3). They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God. This was the song which Moses sang in triumph to God after the safe crossing of the Red Sea. It is in Exodus 15:1-19. "The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.... Who is like thee, 0 Lord, among the gods, who is like thee, majestic in holiness, terrible in glorious deeds, doing wonders?... The Lord will reign for ever and ever." This song was stamped upon the memory of the Jews. It was sung at every Sabbath evening service in the synagogue. At every Jewish service the recital of the Shema (compare the verb, Hebrew #8085), the creed of Israel, was followed by two prayers--it still is--and one of these prayers refers to this song: "True it is that thou art Jehovah our God, and the God of our fathers, our King, and the King of our fathers, our Saviour, and the Saviour of our fathers, our Creator, the Rock of our Salvation, our Help and our Deliverer. Thy name is from everlasting, and there is no God beside thee. A new song did they that were delivered sing to thy name by the sea-shore; together did all praise and own thee King, and say, Jehovah shall reign, world without end! Blessed be the Lord who saveth Israel." The song of Moses commemorated the greatest deliverance in the history of God's people Israel, and the victorious martyrs, brought through the sea of persecution to the promised land of heaven, sing that song.

But the martyrs have their own song. Two things stand out about it.

(i) It is almost entirely composed of quotations from the Old Testament. We set down first the words in the song and below them the Old Testament passages of which they remind us.

Great and wonderful are your works.

O Lord, how great are thy works! (Psalms 92:5); The works of the Lord are great (Psalms 111:2); he has done marvellous (wonderful) things (Psalms 98:1); Wonderful are thy works (Psalms 139:14).

Just and true are your ways.

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings (Psalms 145:17).

Who shall not fear and glorify your name, O Lord

All the nations thou hast made shall come and bow down before Thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name (Psalms 86:9).

You alone are holy.

There is none holy like the Lord (1 Samuel 2:2); Let them praise thy great and terrible name! Holy is he! (Psalms 99:3); Holy and terrible is his name (Psalms 111:9).

All the nations will come and worship before you.

All the nations thou hast made shall come and bow down before thee, O Lord (Psalms 86:9).

Your righteous judgments are made manifest.

The Lord has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations (Psalms 98:2).

A passage like this lets us see how steeped in the Old Testament John was.

(ii) There is another thing which must strike anyone about the song of the triumphant martyrs. There is not one single word in it about their own achievement; from beginning to end the song is a lyric outburst on the greatness of God.

Heaven is a place where men forget themselves and remember only God. As R. H. Charles finely puts it: "In the perfect vision of God self is wholly forgotten." H. B. Swete puts it this way: "In the presence of God the martyrs forget themselves; their thoughts are absorbed by the new wonders that surround them; the glory of God and the mighty scheme of things in which their own sufferings form an infinitesimal part are opening before them; they begin to see the great issue of the world-drama, and we hear the doxology with which they greet their first unclouded vision of God and his works."

THE AVENGING ANGELS (Revelation 15:5-7)

15:5-7 And after this I saw, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and there came out of the temple the seven angels who have the seven plagues; and they were clothed in shining white linen, and they were girt about the breasts with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives for ever and ever.

The tent of witness, or the tent of testimony, is a common title in the Old Testament for the tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 9:15; Numbers 17:7; Numbers 18:2). It is, therefore, clear that John is seeing this picture, not in terms of the Jerusalem temple, but in terms of the ancient tabernacle.

It is from within the tabernacle that the seven avenging angels come forth. In the centre of the Holy Place within the tabernacle lay the Ark of the Covenant, the chest in which were contained the tables of the ten commandments, the essence of the Law. That is to say, these angels come out from the place where the Law of God rests and come to show that no man or nation can with impunity defy the Law of God.

They are clothed in a shining white robe and are girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. The robes of the angels are symbolic of three things. (a) Their dress is priestly dress. The robe of white fine linen and the gold embroidered girdle about the breast is the dress of the High Priest. The High Priest might well be called God's representative among men; and these angels come forth as the avenging representatives of God. (b) Their dress is royal dress. The white linen and the high girdle are the garments of princes and of kings; and these angels come forth with the royalty of the King of kings upon them. (c) Their dress is heavenly dress. The young man at the empty tomb of Christ was clothed in a long white garment (Mark 16:5; Matthew 28:3); and the angels are the inhabitants of heaven, come to execute God's decrees upon earth.

It is one of the four living creatures who hands them the bowls of the wrath of God. When we were thinking about the four living creatures when they first emerged on the scene (Revelation 4:7) we saw that the first was like a lion, the second like an ox, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle; and that, they may well symbolize all that is strongest and bravest and wisest and swiftest in nature. if that be so, it is fitting that one of them should hand the bowls of wrath to the seven angels. The bowls of wrath are to bring disasters in nature to the world; and the symbolism may well be that nature is handing itself to God to serve his purposes.

THE UNAPPROACHABLE GLORY (Revelation 15:8)

15:8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels had been completed.

The idea of the glory of God being symbolized as smoke is common in the Old Testament. In the vision of Isaiah the whole house was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:4).

Further, the idea that no one could approach while the smoke was there is also common in the Old Testament. This was true both of the tabernacle and of the temple. Of the tabernacle it is said: "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34-35). Of the dedication of Solomon's temple it is said: "And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord" (1 Kings 8:10-11).

There is a double idea here. There is the idea that the purposes of God will often be clouded to men, for no man can see into the mind of God; and there is the idea that the holiness and the glory of God are such that man in his own right can never approach God.

But R. H. Charles sees more in this passage. No man could come into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels have been completed. Charles sees in that a symbolic statement that no approach of man to God can halt the coming judgment.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 15:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/revelation-15.html. 1956-1959.

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