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Bible Commentaries

William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation

Revelation 15

 

 

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Verses 1-8

Chapter 13: The Seven Last Plagues

The Day of Wrath is begun by the appearing on earth of the Lord Jesus as Son of Man, in Palestine, trampling the allied armies of all the earth (Revelation 14:20; Revelation 19:19-21). This day inaugurates the thousand-year reign.

Therefore, all judgments seen under the seals, trumpets and vials are prior to this Great Day. They are preliminary visitations of wrath before the Great Day of Wrath at Christ's coming to earth. This fact should be constantly kept in mind. We shall repeat it again and again.

The Four Gospels furnish us with an excellent example of that method of God's Word which we find in the book of Revelation. Matthew sets forth Christ as Israel's Messiah; Mark, as Jehovah's Servant; Luke, as Son of Man; John, as Son of God; each book goes over the same period, each bringing out certain peculiar phases of the Lord's life on earth.

In The Revelation we saw that the sixth seal revealed in a panoramic, prophetic way the Great Day itself, though several years before it. Then, under the seventh seal, we went back to various particulars, leading up to that Great Day. Again, the seventh trumpet (11:15-18) revealed the anger of the nations, the coming of God's wrath, and the accompanying tremendous matters: yet we went back, in chapters 12 and 13, to consider in vision God's plan about Israel,-the woman's warfare with Satan, the development of the Antichrist, etc.

Then again, at the close of chapter 14, we had a vision of the Son of Man reaping the harvest of earth, and treading the winepress of Armageddon, destroying the rebel nations, who had gathered to destroy Israel.

But now, in chapters 15 and 16 we return to consider certain particulars preceding the Great Day of Wrath and Armageddon: visitations of God's preliminary judgments, just as the ten plagues in Egypt were preliminary to the complete overthrow of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.

We must keep this in mind, lest we try to make the book of Revelation a mere chronological narrative.

We may call attention further to this method in the case of "Babylon the great."

In Revelation 14:8, Babylon is announced as fallen, but it is only so in anticipation. In our present Revelation 16:19 we observe her visitation in the earthquake of the seventh vial. Then, in chapters 17 and 18 we go back to consider what Babylon is; her history; her relation to the world-power and to the Antichrist; and her final earthly destruction.

Chapters 15 and 16 are a complete section so we will give the outline of their contents here:

1. "Another sign in heaven"-the Seven last Wrath-Angels, Revelation 15:1.

2. The Vision of the Victors Over the Beast, Revelation 15:2-4. (As always preceding judgment, the triumph of Grace is shown: compare Revelation 7:1; Revelation 7:3; Revelation 7:9.)

3. The Connection of the Seven Vials of Wrath with the Heavenly Temple, and the Reason Therefore, Revelation 15:5-8; compare Revelation 11:19.

4. The Seven Terrible Vials of Wrath. (Literal plagues, of course, like those upon Egypt) Revelation 16:2-21.

The Seven Last Wrath-Angels

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

The first "sign,"[We find the word seemeion (translated "wonder" in the King James Version, and "sign" in the Revised Version) occurs seventy-seven times in the New Testament, beginning with Matthew 12:38-39. It is sometimes rendered "miracle" in the King James Version (where rhetoric rather than accuracy so often governs). It is not to be confused with "mystery" (musteerion); for in the very first verse of Revelation the word is used in verb-form: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, the things about to come to pass … and he signified it, by his angel," etc. The whole book of The Revelation thus is governed by this word, which sets forth the manner in general of its presentation to John. Our Lord's use of this verb in John 12:33; John 18:32; John 21:19, signifying by what … death he should die," plainly shows that instead of the word setting forth something mysterious or hidden, 011 the contrary the plainest announcement of the facts that would occur was given.

It is necessary to rid our minds of that unbelieving: conception of The Revelation that fills it with constant secrets, making it amount to an hallucination. The Lord commanded John not to seal it up (22:10); and it is therefore not sealed, but open to Christ's own (1:l).

The use therefore of the word "sign" in 15:1 is not intended to convey in the least the thought that this chapter and the following one contain unreal things, or those not literal facts; but the exact opposite. The word "great," moreover, indicates that something of outstanding importance is to be set forth.] in Revelation 12:1, revealed God's heavenly counsels concerning Israel; the second in Revelation 12:3, the great opposer of those counsels, the Dragon, in his opposition to God's plan of governing this earth by His Son through redeemed Israel. Satan opposes God's Christ with his false Christ in chapter 13. All the nations of the earth are by this devilish scheme led into Satan-worship. This brings the flood of evil to its height and calls forth the divine judgments of the seven vials of wrath, chapters 15 and 16.

Consequently, when those judgments are about to take place, it is announced that it is a "great and marvellous" thing that is signified.

When Israel had the terrible breach with Jehovah at Sinai, and God had finally agreed to pardon them, He said in Exodus 34:10 : "Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth, nor in any nation."

These seven angels, pouring out the seven bowls of wrath, are indeed a "great" sign, for "in them is finished the wrath of God." We shall see them proceed from the temple of God in heaven-all patience having been now exhausted. (The temple stood for mercy and worship.)

The sign is also "marvellous," for the more we study these chapters the more the weight of these final terrible visitations grows upon us. It is the last expression of God's indignation before Christ comes in person in the Great Day of Wrath. [Remember constantly that Christ must come Himself, at the last, and tread the winepress alone, in His anger (Isaiah 63:3-5). The wrath of God is general, world-wide, and in view of man's iniquity and idolatry. The wrath of the Lamb is particular-against Antichrist and his king and armies gathered for the double purpose of cutting off Israel from being a nation (Psalms 83:4), and of "making war" against the Lamb (whose presence, with His army, seems to be evident to those on earth- Revelation 19:19; Zechariah 12:10) to prevent His rescue of beleaguered Israel.]

Before the out-pouring of these terrible vials, however, God gives us a vision of those who triumphed over the indescribable awfulness of the days of the Beast. (15:2-4).

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire; and them that come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing by the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages. Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy; for all the nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy righteous acts have been made manifest.

Again the "sea of glass" comes into view. It was "like unto crystal" in Revelation 4:6 when first seen. From that passage also we are shown its position "before the throne." This description is of vastness-a sea: like unto glass-settled, unruffled, peace; like unto crystal-the purity of God's own Throne. See "the terrible crystal" of the firmament above the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:22, which appears to be the same as in Exodus 24:10.

Now, in our lesson, this sea of glass is "mingled with fire." And this has, we believe, a two-fold significance. First, these saints "that come off victorious" have been called to pass through the very worst furnace of trial ever known. It has been well said that while we are called on to oppose the world, the flesh, and the Devil, these have had a fourth foe, even Satan's Christ, a being brought back from the abyss, and known to be such, to whom all the earth has been given over, and whose delusions were so strong as to deceive if it were possible, the very elect. Second, God Himself is "a consuming fire." Moses saw the bush, that it was not burnt, although the fire was there! We are here beholding the last martyrs before Christ's coming, and it should thrill our hearts to read that this glassy sea before God is now "mingled with fire." It celebrates on the one hand what they will have passed through and on the other hand their nearness to and association with God!

We have then, "those that come off victorious (literally ‘those conquering away from') from the beast and from the image of him, and from the number of the name of him," standing upon this sea. We also find that they have "harps of God," i.e., as Alford so well says: "part of the instruments of heaven, used solely for the praise of God"; and (Govett) "real instruments, of God's making."

Now, although the Church of God (which these are not) has an unspeakably higher vocation than they, being members of Christ Himself, yet we must not fail to give God the glory for the victory of these through the greatest possible temptation and trial God's great enemy could bring upon them. We must not fail to enter in spirit into the glorious reward given them. Earth has bowed beneath the hideous blandishments of Satan's Christ; these resisted him unto death. They then passed through fire, yea, all the fires and agonies possible, and now they stand on that glorious crystal sea, mingled with heavenly fire, which celebrates their victory.

And what do they sing to the accompaniment of those heavenly harps? "The song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." [It is deeply suggestive that Moses is here called "the bondservant (doulos) of God" and the Lord is called, as is usual in this book, the diminutive arnion, which means "the little lamb"! (Compare amnos in John 1:29-36; 1 Peter 1:19; Acts 8:32). DeWette surely rightly believes that the change to the diminutive arnion, a word used only in the Apocalypse, is meant to put forward permanently the idea of His meekness and innocence. It is the exaltation noted as the result of perfect obedient patience in Philippians 2:6-11; and it is of the utmost importance that we grasp firmly and hold fast constantly the fact that it is God the Father who exalts Christ as the result of His patience; that it is God the Father who insists upon Christ's judging and executing judgment because of His infinite patience and humiliation (He being the Creator) in becoming a Son of Man, and dying the death of the cross. In our Lord's lovely life He left absolutely everything to the Father, who win in due season absolutely exalt Him, and that in the scene of His former rejection and shame.]

Note then, in the song they sing, the celebration first of the works, and then of the ways of "the Lord God, the Almighty," the "King of the ages." No gracious heart can read Revelation 15:3-4 repeatedly without being profoundly moved.

The song of Moses celebrated the overthrow of Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea-the mighty work of God. Jehovah is "fearful in praises, doing wonders." The song of the Lamb brings out God's ways as righteous and true. Christ prayed, "If it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." The ways of God with the Lamb involved for him all meekness and suffering, as the path to kingdom and power.

Moses stands for the power of Jehovah who "caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses," who brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, by the stretched-out arm of might.

The expression, "the Lamb," reminds us of those ways of unutterable grace, though in righteousness and truth, in which our Lord walked on earth. These witnesses, upon the glassy sea, celebrate this double song before God.

How beautiful are their words as they address them directly to the God for whom they suffered all things rather than yield to Satan! "Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name?" Again, "Thou only art holy." These witnesses chose holiness in the face of a world gone over to sin; and they have come where holiness alone is! There is exquisite beauty here.

And again, their faith in the victory of their God is declared: "All the nations shall come and worship before thee." Not yet has this come to pass, yet they are celebrating it in God's very presence!

Finally they cry, "Thy righteous acts have been made manifest." Coming from those who passed through the horrors of the persecution, torment and fire of the Beast, through all the rage of Satan, these are most beautiful words! ["The fiery persecution under the Beast was a trial far exceeding in its combination of suffering anything hitherto experienced (Mark 13:19). The pagan persecutions of early times, and the still more exquisite and refined torments under Papal Rome, come short of the horrors of the Great Tribulation" (Scott).]

They find not a word of fault with their God. All His acts they call "righteous acts"! Mediate upon this, ye who feel yourselves tempted and tried and suffering over-much. Some day you will declare His ways to be good and His acts to be righteous!

The Connection of the Seven Vials of Wrath with the Heavenly Temple

And 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 stone, pure and bright, and girt about their breasts with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures gave unto the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and none was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.

1. There is a literal temple of God in heaven. Unless this is clearly seen and believed, much will be obscure. Was not Moses commanded when he was to make the tabernacle, "see that thou make them after their pattern, which hath been showed thee in the mount" (Exodus 25:40)? Now these tabernacle things are distinctly called, in Hebrews 9:23, "copies of the things in the heavens."

We saw in Revelation 11:19, that "there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant." Also, in Revelation 8:3, we find a golden altar before the throne of heaven.

2. It is true that in the New Jerusalem John beholds no temple; and the reason is given that our Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof. In that city they will see His face directly. All formal mat- ters are past-especially governmental matters such as are connected with the temple of which we read in The Revelation 3:1-22. With the heavenly temple in The Revelation, only judgment matters are connected. Even in 8:3-5, where the prayers of God's saints come up, it is with the effect upon earth of thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake! Again in 11:19, upon the opening of the temple of God in heaven, and the vision of the ark of His covenant, there follow "lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail." And now, upon the opening of the temple in our present chapter there came forth the seven angels with the seven last plagues.

4. We find in the temple, in 11:19, the ark of God's covenant; and again, in 15:5, the remarkable expression "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven."

This indicates that God is about to fulfill His covenanted promises toward Israel, for to Israel belong the covenanted things (Romans 9:4).

We are back on Old Testament ground, prophetically. Consequently, we saw in 12:1, immediately after the mention of the ark of God's covenant, the great sign which sets forth in heaven God's counsels concerning the Woman, who represents Israel. They will involve the full accomplishment of God's word in Psalms 2:1-12 -that He will set His king upon His holy hill of Zion,-despite the opposition of all the earth!

In connection with the opening of the temple in chapter 11, we had not only the vision of the Woman and the Dragon, but the war in heaven, the casting out of Satan into earth, the bringing forth of the Antichrist and his False Prophet, and the ghastly reign of iniquity on earth, with the fearful persecutions of God's saints.

5. Now we are to behold the last plagues, i.e., those final visitations of God upon the nations, and the vexing of them in His sore displeasure, before He sends His Christ, the Lamb of God, to execute the fierceness of His wrath in person. For the earth is now worshipping the Beast: and the jealousy of the Living God burns like fire!

6. One of the four living creatures, those beings "full of eyes," deep in the intelligence of the purposes of the Almighty, now gives to these seven angels "seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God." There is finality about this scene that brings the utmost awe into our hearts. The temple from which these angels come; their holy glittering aspect; the bowls of wrath ready to be bestowed for pouring; the solemn formal presentation of a bowl to each angel; the material of these bowls -gold, setting forth the very glory of God; the fact that these bowls are full; and that they are full, not of grace, as when David said, "I will take the cup of salvation"; nor of mixed mercy and wrath, as when Habakkuk cried, "In wrath remember mercy"-no longer this: but "full of the wrath of God." The name of God here is connected definitely with these solemn words, "the wrath of God, who liveth unto the ages of the ages." Let us speak in low, slow, measured words here. Let us fear; and observe earth's wickedness with its attendant punishment, with deep humility and awe!

7. What follows should be contrasted with like scenes, when mercy was present:

"The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power."

We read in Exodus 40:34-35 words of great blessedness. Moses had constructed the tabernacle which God said He desired that "He might dwell among them," and had finished it, according to the divine directions:

"Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle."

This was blessing indeed! Again, when Solomon had built the temple according to the directions given David, his father, by the Spirit of God, and had made his great prayer of dedication, we read in 2 Chronicles 7:1-4 :

"Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of Jehovah filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of Jehovah, because the glory of Jehovah filled Jehovah's house. And all the children of Israel looked on, when the fire came down, and the glory of Jehovah was upon the house; and they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and gave thanks unto Jehovah, saying for he is good; for his loving kindness endureth for ever."

Here again was unlimited blessing. The very priests are unable to enter the temple or to minister; for all was full of the glory of the blessed presence of Jehovah.

But what a fearful contrast here in Revelation! Sin had caused God to leave His earthly house in Jerusalem: first the glory left (Ezekiel 8:1-18; Ezekiel 9:1-11; Ezekiel 10:1-22; Ezekiel 11:1-25); then the Lord of the house Himself came and saw, and left it desolate (Matthew 23:37-38).

Now, in Revelation 14:1-20, the majority of Israel are in covenant with Antichrist himself (Daniel 9:27; John 5:43); the nations are in hellish league with Satan to refuse God's Son His throne. So we read these awful words:

"None was able to enter into the temple, till the seven

plagues of the seven angels should be finished."

No words of ours are needed here. Only calm reflection upon the fact. God will so turn to anger, at last, that all else ceases, even in heaven! Wrath will be the only business. "Who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" (Psalms 76:7).

Ah, Russia, could you but read and mark and turn and repent!

Ah, America, could you but know the end of your godless ways!

The world seeks today the cause of the "great depression"; but she does not seek that God who caused it, and who alone can relieve it!

That we may understand these seven last plagues, three things must be held firmly in mind:

First, that the whole earth (except God's elect) has gone mad after the Beast (Revelation 13:8), and God's "hot displeasure" must be manifested, according to Revelation 15:8. "God will listen to naught now but to the demands of His righteous indignation. The sin of earth is beyond endurance; the unpardonable sin is abroad." "Ah," cries the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, "I will ease me of mine adversaries!" There must be this divine relief for Him who declares, "Vengeance is mine." Centuries of long-suffering mocked, despised, by a devil-worshipping earth, arouse at last divine fury. So these bowls of wrath are poured out on the whole world of rebels.

Second, that the all-nation invasion of Palestine by the Beast and his armies, while it is prepared for, under the sixth bowl (Revelation 16:12-16), and though the earth-armies are gathered to Armageddon, yet they will be given over to Christ Himself, to be trodden down at His personal coming in the Great Day of Wrath, according to Revelation 19:11-15. That great day will come as "destruction from Shaddai" (Isaiah 13:6). "Rebellion will be crushed then: for the rebels will be taken off the earth (Matthew 13:40-43). On the contrary, these seven bowls are seven visitations from God in anger on men, while the Lord Jesus is yet absent from earth; and while men are still suffered to rebel and blaspheme. They are hardening judgments, like those upon Pharaoh; indeed, men grow steadily and rapidly more hateful toward God, from the opening of the first seal of judgment in Revelation 6:1-17.

Third, that these seven bowl-judgments are literal! There is no other reasonable interpretation possible. Shall we believe that the ten plagues upon Egypt were actually as described in Exodus, and dare to turn away these "seven last plagues" of The Revelation from their evident open significance? Four of the ten Egyptian plagues are here repeated: boils, blood, darkness, and hail. What kind of interpretation is it that believes the one and denies the other! There the visitation was in a single land: here, in all the earth. Is it the extent of the horror that appalls the heart? Have we not read, through all the prophecies, of the day when God will "return judgment to righteousness" amidst earth-wide visitations? "Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" said Pharaoh's servants to him. Nay, he knew it not nor did he believe it, but rushed madly on into the overwhelming sea! So will earth, under Satan (Pharaoh's antitype), rush madly to its end. [Because these seven judgments, like the other judgments we have considered, are as definitely hardening judgments as were the plagues upon Pharaoh, it will be profitable to the real students of The Revelation to read the account of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7:1-25; Exodus 8:1-32; Exodus 9:1-35; Exodus 10:1-29; Exodus 11:1-10; Exodus 12:1-51), Read the different expressions concerning Pharaoh: when he "saw that there was respite, he made strong his heart and hearkened not unto them"; "the heart of Pharaoh was stubborn (Hebrew-heavy), and he did not let the people go." "Jehovah hardened (Hebrew-made strong) the heart of Pharoah, and he hearkened not unto them." "When Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and made heavy his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was strong, and he did not let the children of Israel go." "Moses and Aaron did these wonders before Pharaoh: and Jehovah made strong Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land."

Remember, in Exodus 5:2, Pharaoh's first word to Moses: "Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto his voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go." But remember chiefly God's word to him by Moses, in Exodus 9:14-16 : "For I will this time send all my plagues upon thy heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I had put forth my hand, and smitten thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou hadst been cut off from the earth: but in very deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth."

Remember that Romans 9:14-18 is just as much inspired by the Holy Spirit as John 3:16. The whole history of this present world is meant to show forth, through God's gift of His Son at Calvary, not only His own infinite love, but also the absolutely deadly nature, character and power of sin; together with its proud insanity, as rebellion of the mere creature against the Infinite Creator: together with the sure and just end of all such rebellion; in order that all eternity may be able to look back, and contemplate, and fear, and reverence forever, and serve the Holy One!]

For we need to consider, that God hates what men call "civilization," and "human progress"! All man's system: his philosophy (which has self-wisdom as its postulate); his science (which discovers "Nature" and denies its Creator); his art (which demands the beautiful in form, but abhors holiness in fact); his inventions (designed, from Cain's city onward, to make earth livable without God); his religion (which denies God's righteousness and hates God's Christ and His shed blood); his government (which has no place whatever for the King who patiently awaits, upon His Father's throne, the moment when He shall receive the throne to which He only has the right) and, finally, those pleasures which man delights in-all of which consists in the indulgence of that "mind of the flesh" which is "enmity against God."

The Lord will shortly strike, crush, destroy, wipe out, efface and remove even from memory ["The memory of the righteous is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot." There goes the whole history of Adam the First, and all his selfish line! "The former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind."] this hateful, abhorrent, abominable thing-man's "independence"! "Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth," will be carried out to the letter! And that involves crushing the present earth system as one would stamp out a nest of wasps.

 


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Bibliography Information
Newell, William. "Commentary on Revelation 15:4". William Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wnc/revelation-15.html. 1938.

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