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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 15

 

 

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Introduction

The Sixth Vision. The Seven Bowls of Wrath and the Destruction of Babylon the Great (chapters 15-18).

It is noteworthy that before each vision dealing with activities on earth there is an assurance that God’s people are well catered for. The seven seals (chapter 6) are preceded by the representation of the twenty four elders in Heaven and their assurance of Revelation 5:9-10. The seven trumpets (chapter 8-9) are preceded by the sealing of the people of God and the heavenly multitude (chapter 7). The attacks on the two witnesses are preceded by the measuring of the Temple (chapter 11). The attacks of the monster and the beast (chapters 12-13) are preceded by the victory cry with respect to the redeemed and by the deliverance of the woman (Revelation 12:10-11; Revelation 12:14-16). The judgment of the world is preceded by the gathering of the redeemed on the heavenly Zion (chapter 14). Now again, before the outpouring of the bowls of wrath, we have a picture of the redeemed (Revelation 15:2-4).


Verse 1

‘And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven plagues which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.’

The seven plagues are the last to be described not the last chronologically, for the seven seals and the seven trumpets which run parallel to them also involved the wrath of God. They are the last because they sum up God’s judgments. As Paul emphasised ‘the wrath of God IS (at this present time) revealed from Heaven’ (Romans 1:18 compare Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; Romans 5:9) for we are ‘by nature children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3).

The idea of the wrath of God is applied to the final judgment, ‘the day of wrath’ (Romans 2:5; Romans 2:8; Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 9:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 6:16-17; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 14:19; Revelation 19:15) and to the present wrath of God revealed in various ways (Luke 21:23; Romans 1:18 with Romans 1:24-32; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1; Revelation 16:19). It is not anger as we know it but righteous anger like the anger of Jesus (Mark 3:5), a righteous response to the awfulness of sin, the sign of an antipathy to sin. In His holiness God must react against sin.

He did it first by offering a way of redemption and providing a means of ‘propitiation’ through Jesus Christ and His death on the cross (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2), which was a way of righteously dealing with sin while forgiving the sinner, but for those who refuse that way His wrath against sin means that He must ultimately deal with sinners, first by attempts to make them consider their ways, and then in final judgment.

‘Another sign in heaven, great and marvellous’, compare the signs in Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:3. We have seen the sign speaking of the true people of God, we have seen the sign of the Evil One who seeks to destroy God’s handywork, now we see the sign of God’s response to that evil, seven angels having the seven plagues which finalise God’s programme of wrath against sin. But before these are emptied we must see the safety of the redeemed.

The fact that there is no article before ‘angels’ suggests these are nottheseven angels, but merely seven selected from among many. It is not, however, a matter of great importance. What matters is that Heaven is at work.


Verse 2

‘And I saw as it were a glassy sea mingled with fire, and those who came victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing by the glassy sea, having harps of God.’

Here John is looking forward to the rapture and resurrection. He is declaring that what is to follow need not disturb God’s people for their future is secure. Whether it be persecution at the hands of Roman emperors, or persecution by others who are like-minded, they may know that when it has been accomplished they will be able to put their seal of approval on what God has done. The solid glassy sea reminds us that for them daily washing from earthliness is no longer required. Thus the water of the sea is solidified (see on Revelation 4:6). It is pure glass referring to the holiness which the people of God now enjoy (see Revelation 21:18; Revelation 21:21). It is seen as mingled with fire another symbol of holiness (Revelation 1:14; Revelation 3:18 compare Mark 9:49). Now they are in Heaven His people no longer need the water of washing nor the fire for refining.

The sea of fire can also be seen as in direct contrast with the lake of fire, the destructive fire which destroys the wicked (Revelation 19:20), the one refers to eternal joy and bliss, the other to eternal judgment and destruction. They represent two aspects of the holiness of God. The one represent the joy of holiness received and enjoyed in the presence of God. The second the response of holiness to the sinfulness of the unrepentant.

Those who are overcomers, overcoming the claims of the world beast and not entangled in his snares, are there with harps of God in their hands. Harps speak of worship (Revelation 5:8; Psalms 33:2; Psalms 43:4 and often), and joy (Isaiah 24:8) and victory (Revelation 14:2). That they are harpsof Goddemonstrates a gift of special affection. They are His gifts. Their rewards have begun.


Verse 3-4

‘And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvellous are your works (Psalms 104:24; Psalms 111:2; Psalms 139:14), Oh Lord God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 145:17), you King of the Ages (Jeremiah 10:10). Who shall not fear, Oh Lord, and glorify your name (Psalms 86:9)? For you only are holy (Psalms 86:10; Psalms 99:3; Psalms 99:5; Psalms 99:9). For all the nations shall come and worship before you (Psalms 86:9-12), for your righteous acts have been fully revealed”.’

There are two songs here combined in one, the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. The song declares that just as the sign depicting the seven plagues (v. 1) was great and marvellous, so are God’s works great and marvellous (v. 4). Thus the works include His works of judgment. Here, after they have taken place, they have the approval of God’s redeemed people.

The song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:30) is described in Deuteronomy 32. It is a song celebrating the One Who is a God of faithfulness, just and right. His work is perfect and His ways are justice (v. 4) in spite of His people’s unfaithfulness and failure (v. 5). But then, after a catalogue of their failure, it declares that He kills, but He makes alive. He wounds, but He heals (v. 39) and He avenges the blood of His servants and makes expiation for His people (v. 43). This deliverance is what God indeed has wrought, as witness those gathered here, and this judgment is what He is about to carry out. Thus this song epitomises the song of Moses.

(The song in Exodus 15 is nowhere called the song of Moses. That was the song of redeemed Israel).

The fact that it is also called the song of the Lamb shows that these words refer to Him. He is the Lord God, the Almighty, Whose ways are marvellous, true and righteous. He is the One to be feared and glorified. He is the Holy One before Whom the nations will worship (Revelation 5:9). He is the One Whose mighty acts have been revealed, in, for example, the opening of the seals and the cleansing of His people. He is the One Who is great and marvellous, the King of the Ages, the Eternal King.


Verse 5-6

‘After these things I saw, and the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Heaven was opened, and there came out from the Temple the seven angels that had the seven plagues, arrayed with precious linen (some few authorities read ‘stone’ - lithon for linon), pure and bright, and girded about their chests with golden girdles.’

‘After these things’ does not mean ‘chronologically following’ except from John’s point of view (compare Revelation 7:1). It means he saw one thing, and then moved on to the next, but it says nothing about how the two visions fitted in time sequence. Compare how the glorified people of God in Heaven are seen prior to the blowing of the seven trumpets (Revelation 7:9-17).

‘The Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.’ Stress is laid here on the fact that this Heavenly Temple is the equivalent of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (Exodus 38:21), which contained the Ark of the Testimony (Exodus 26:33-34; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 30:26) which itself contained the two tables of the Testimony (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15; Exodus 34:29), the covenant of grace which God had made with Israel through Moses, which included the ten commandments (Exodus 25:16; Exodus 25:21-22). Thus God is about to deal with those who have broken His law and to fulfil His promises of protection and deliverance to His people. Compare Revelation 11:19 where the Ark of His Covenant was seen in Heaven. The Ark was in the Holy of Holies, but there is now no Temple on earth.

The seven angels are girded in such a way as to suggest a priestly function. The golden girdle is like that worn by the Son of Man in Revelation 1:13. (The variant reading would make no difference to the sense, but if ‘stone’ is read it could refer to something similar to the white stone given to overcomers (Revelation 2:17)). Priests were responsible for guarding the book of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:18), teaching the Law (Malachi 2:7) and acting as judges in some cases (Deuteronomy 17:8-9). They are the messengers (the word also means ‘angels’) of the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 2:7). Thus we are to see these angels as acting as priests and messengers of God in condemning, and meting out punishment to those who have broken God’s law and refused to repent.


Verse 7-8

‘And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one was able to enter into the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.’

The four living creatures are regularly involved in activities which further God’s judgments. They are concerned for the purity of creation. They guarded the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). They were guardians of the throne of God, in symbol stretching their wings over the ark. They command the four horsemen in Revelation 6 and one declares God’s three woes (Revelation 8:13). Here another hands to the angels the seven bowls of wrath.

Golden bowls were used in the Temple worship and belonged to the altar (1 Kings 7:50; 1 Chronicles 28:17). Here they are in contrast to the golden bowls which held the prayers of God’s people (Revelation 5:8). An angel took fire from the altar and cast it on the earth before the blowing of the seven trumpets as an act of activating the prayers of God’s people (Revelation 8:3-5). It is an indication of the seriousness of the plagues that each is preceded by a pouring out from a bowl from the Temple.

‘And the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power and no one was able to enter into the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.’ The Tabernacle and the Temple were covered with or filled with a cloud when the glory of God was revealed (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11), but it was at the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai that the glory of the Lord was hidden by smoke (Exodus 19:18), and in the vision of Isaiah when he saw in the Temple the Lord in His glory (Isaiah 6:4), when a purging from sin was necessary and judgment was to be announced. As mentioned above these seven angels are closely connected with pouring out punishment for the breaking of the Law given at Mount Sinai. The world is still under His Law. Thus it is smoke that hides the glory of the Lord, not cloud, for He is dealing in judgment with regard to His Law.

‘No one was able to enter into the Temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.’ Does this exclusion refer to God’s people or to all the inhabitants of Heaven? The latter seems unlikely in that the living creatures are His constant companions under all circumstances, even in the Holy of Holies. In Exodus 40:35 we are told that Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting when the cloud abode on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle, and in 1 Kings 8:10-11 the priests were excluded when the cloud filled the House of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled the House. This may suggest that what is being stated here is that, because of the glory of His holiness, access to the heavenly Temple by the people of God cannot be granted until God’s wrath has been poured out on the world. This is why there can be no resurrection and His people must ‘rest’ until that day. Then, as described in Revelation 15:2-4, they will have access. Hebrews makes clear that they do however have entry through their Great High Priest, for no access can be forbidden to Him (Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:24) and when the time is ripe He will appear from the Holy of Holies to receive His people (Hebrews 9:28).

It is interesting, however, that no example is given of anyone entering the Temple from before the blowing of the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:3-5) until the final judgment (Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:15-17). And the seven angels are previously described as leaving the Temple as priests (Revelation 15:6). Thus it may be that in the glory of His holiness and power even the beings of Heaven are excluded from His presence while His wrath is being poured out, apart from the living creatures. Under this interpretation the ministry of the heavenly beings in the Temple is thus now seen as completed and is no longer required. From the moment when the prayers of God’s people were seen as heard, to the final fulfilment of the resulting judgment, no further priestly function is required in Heaven. The destiny of the world is fixed and their ministry is now to pour out His judgments on the world. But as we have said, none of this can exclude the Great High Priest. His ministry for His people will continue and the implication may be that He alone has access. Then Revelation 11:19 may be the indication that this time is over.

Note on the Law and the Covenant of Sinai.

Many Christians have a mistaken idea about the ten commandments and the Law. They overlook the fact that what happened at Sinai, and before, was as much an act of God’s undeserved favour as the cross. It was God Who had chosen out His people and made them His firstborn (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 7:6). It was God Who arranged for their deliverance and set them free from bondage, even though they did not deserve it (and incidentally chose out, and made His own, people of many nations who joined themselves with Israel). Now at Sinai He is seeking to put His actions on a regular footing.

Around the time of Moses when Great Kings conquered other peoples they would enter into a one-sided treaty with them in which they would first declare who they were and what they had ‘graciously’ done for these people they had conquered (they regularly suggested it was a deliverance). Then they would lay down their stipulations of what was required from the ‘grateful’ people in return. This would often then be followed by a series of blessings and cursings. Deuteronomy has been seen as being built up on this pattern. This is exactly the type of treaty that the covenant of Sinai was, and it is a typical treaty of that time.

God opens by declaring Who He is and what He has done for His people. ‘I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’. Then, on the basis of what He has done for them He issues a list of His requirements, what we call the ten commandments. The covenant that follows is an expansion of these requirement and necessary guidance as to how life should be conducted. These were a disparate people with many differing customs and such guidance was therefore necessary. And finally and graciously God provided them with a sacrificial system which kept them in touch with Him and provided a way back to Him when they offended.

It was only later that men distorted these ideas and began to look on the keeping of the Law as a way to fulfill the covenant and thus earn God’s favour and receive eternal life, and it was these latter doctrines which Paul rejects in favour of the Gospel of God’s free grace, freely offered and accepted by faith, turning back to the original idea behind Sinai. Thus Sinai is originally not Law but Gospel.

(End of Note).

The Pouring Out of the Seven Plagues (chapter 16).

‘In them is finished the wrath of God’. The seals, the trumpets and the plagues make up the full total of the wrath of God. Many see the plagues as occurring right at the end of time as a final act before the judgment. But this does not tie in with the description of them, for they clearly parallel the seven trumpets. In both cases the first produces pestilence (Revelation 8:7 with Revelation 16:2), the second makes the sea as blood (Revelation 8:8 with Revelation 16:3), the third affects the rivers and fountains of waters (Revelation 8:10 with Revelation 16:4), the fourth affects the sun (Revelation 8:12 with Revelation 16:8), the fifth causes great pain and anguish (Revelation 9:5-6 with Revelation 16:10-11), the sixth connects with the Euphrates (Revelation 9:14 with Revelation 16:12) and the seventh is the final judgment, ‘the great hail’ (Revelation 11:19 with Revelation 16:21). So the seven plagues are the results of the seven trumpets to some extent repeated, but made more specific or intensified.

It may be argued that these intensify what comes after the blowing of the trumpets as some of those only applied to specific fractions (a third), and this is true to some extent, but whether these plagues affect all mankind is not stated and it must seem unlikely. That is not the impression given in other descriptive passages of those times (Revelation 11:10; Revelation 13:16-17; Revelation 17:4-6; Revelation 17:12-13) brief though they may be. What they do is bring out a particular aspect of the previous judgments. Thus we must see these plagues as to some extent in parallel with, although in some ways different from and more intense than, the effects of the trumpets, repeated in order to stress the certainty of what is to happen (compare Genesis 41:32). As the angels blow their trumpets the other angels empty their bowls. Now we are made to see that all the happenings were the result of the wrath of God.

We cannot overemphasise that Revelation is split into sections each of which leads up to the second coming of Christ and the judgment. At the sixth seal Christ comes on the day of wrath (Revelation 6:17). The third Woe is again the coming of the day of judgment (Revelation 11:15-18). Chapter 14 ends with the coming of Christ and the judgment. Chapter 16 ends with the judgment. Chapter 19 ends with Christ’s coming and the judgment. Thus the sections in between are contemporary not consecutive. Chapter 20 ends with the Great White Throne.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 15:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-15.html. 2013.

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