Chapter 15: A Glorious Heavenly Scene Preceding the Vial Judgments
After noting "another
sign in Heaven, great and marvellous" (14:1), this chapter,
the shortest of the Apocalypse, sees both a Heavenly scene of triumphant praise by
those who will overcome the Antichrist (14:2-4) and a description of the final preparations
for the pouring out of the final Vial Judgments (14:5-8). John describes the "seven angels having the seven last plagues" (15:1) as "another sign" (Greek, semeion), making a connection of significance between the signs
of the First and Second Advents of the Messiah. If the Star of Bethlehem was seen
by the Wise Men at the first Christmas, then this "sign
in Heaven" (16:1) will most likely manifest itself as
an observable celestial phenomenon. "1 And there appeared a great wonder [Greek, semeion] in Heaven; a woman
clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve
stars: 2 And she being
with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered
[i.e., First Advent of the Messiah]. 3 And there appeared another wonder [Greek, semeion] in Heaven; and behold
a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4 And his tail drew the
third part of the stars of Heaven, and did cast them to the Earth: and the dragon
stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as
soon as it was born" (Revelation 12:1-4).
Though the Seal Judgments (6:1-17; 8:1) and Trumpet Judgments (8:1-9:21; 11:15-19) demonstrate the displeasure of God with man, the Vial Judgments (16:1-21), which are the "seven last plagues" (15:1), are especially noted to be full of the "wrath of God" (15:1). "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11). But here, Jehovah's anger is focused into Judgmental Wrath, resulting in the last plagues before the return of the LORD Jesus Christ. When the Almighty ceases to strive with man over their sin, then only the "fierceness of His great wrath" (2Kings 23:26) is left. The Therapeutic Anger of God is found only by the Elect, because they respond with repentance and faith to the mercy of God. "7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. 8 In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer" (Isaiah 54:7-8). Those who refuse to acknowledge the righteousness of the LORD's anger toward their sin, must ultimately "fall into the hands of the Living God" (Hebrews 10:31). And, He has promised Fearful Retribution to those who have had "their conscience seared [i.e., by their own hand] with a hot iron" (1Timothy 4:2). "Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver" (Psalm 50:22).
The "sea of glass" (15:2), described previously in Chapter 4, is "before
the throne" (4:6) of God. Thalassa is the Greek word used
which indicates a continuous body of water, as the ocean. The emphasis in this verse
is that the Saints "stand on the
sea of glass" (15:2). They are supported by the vastness
of the High and Lofty One That Inhabiteth Eternity (Isaiah 57:15)-- indicating His
serene and powerful control of all things. "Alleluia:
for the LORD God Omnipotent reigneth" (Revelation 19:6).
Perfect peace is portrayed by this imagery of a smooth and placid sea. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is
stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).
We are told that that the "sea of glass" is "mingled with fire" (15:2). Fire is indicative of God's Judgment. "But
the heavens and the Earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved
unto fire against the Day of Judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (2Peter 3:7).
Standing around the throne of God are those "that had gotten the victory over the Beast [the Antichrist], and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name" (15:2). This scene anticipates the "seven last plagues" (15:1) of the Tribulation Week. Specified in this Heavenly picture are all the Tribulation Saints (martyred or raptured), who have triumphed over the Antichrist-- having been collected from the immediately preceding Pre-Wrath Rapture ["Come up hither... the seventh angel sounded" (11:12, 15)] and its attendant Resurrection of the Just [the "dead shall be raised incorruptible" (1Corinthians 15:52)]. Though all of the Redeemed Elect have already been translated into the presence of God through:
(1) death, i.e., the Resurrected Saints from all ages will be resurrected immediately before the Pre-Wrath Rapture ["we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the LORD shall not prevent <literally, precede> them which are asleep" (1Thessalonians 4:15)],
(2) the Pre-Tribulational Rapture, i.e., "Come up hither" (Revelation 4:1), or
(3) the Pre-Wrath Rapture, i.e., "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1Corinthians 15:51);
this gathering around the throne emphasizes the deliverance and victory of the Tribulational Saints through Pre-Wrath Rapture or Faithful Martyrdom, for which all of Heaven rejoices. "But let all those that put their trust in Thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them: let them also that love Thy Name be joyful in Thee" (Psalm 5:11).
The Heavenly Harpers have their mouths free to "sing the song of Moses" (15:3), as they accompany themselves on their harps. Let us pause to consider the significance of their "song of Moses" (15:3). Twice in the Pentateuch are we given the understanding that Moses composed and sang a "song unto the LORD" (Exodus 15:1). The first instance of any song recorded in the Scriptures was occasioned by Jehovah's deliverance of the children of Israel from the chariots of Pharaoh by His miraculous parting of the Red Sea for Israel, while drowning the pursuing Egyptians. The Song of Moses can be divided into four parts:
(1) the enemy's evil intent, i.e., "The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them" (Exodus 15:9),
(2) the LORD's magnificent faithfulness, i.e., "Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (15:11),
(3) the Judgment's devastating consequence, i.e., "10 Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters... 12 Thou stretchedst out Thy right hand, the Earth swallowed them" (15:10, 12), and
(4) the deliverance's joyful result, i.e., "Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation" (15:13).
Outside of the Psalm of Moses (Psalm 91), which is a song of deliverance, i.e., "Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence" (91:3), the only other song attributed to Moses in the Pentateuch is Moses' Farewell Song of Deuteronomy 32. Sadly, this parting song for Moses to Israel is:
(1) a complaint of Israel's stiffneckedness, i.e., "And [the LORD] said, I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith" (32:20),
(2) a reminder of Jehovah's mercy, i.e., "[Jehovah] made [Jacob] ride on the high places of the Earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields" (32:13),
(3) a warning to avoid Israel's future anguish, i.e., "29 O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! 30 How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had shut them up?" (32:29-30), and
(4) a prophecy of Israel's future repentance, i.e., "For the LORD shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when He seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left" (32:36).
The difference between the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and Moses'
Farewell Song (Deuteronomy 32) is the difference between joyful deliverance, i.e., "[Egypt] shall be as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O LORD,
till the people pass over, which Thou hast purchased"
(Exodus 15:16), and woeful unbelief, i.e., "Of
the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee" (Deuteronomy 32:18). For this reason, Revelation 15:3 must refer to the
theme of deliverance found in the Song of Moses (Exodus 15); because, it is more
akin to the Pre-Wrath Rapture and Deliverance of the Tribulation Saints. "For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots
and with his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought again the waters of the
sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea" (Exodus 15:19). Antichrist like Pharaoh will be utterly defeated, i.e.,
"And the Beast was taken, and with him
the False Prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that
had received the Mark of the Beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both
were cast alive into a Lake of Fire burning with brimstone"
(Revelation 19:20). The Tribulation Saints like Israel will be thoroughly delivered,
i.e., they shall have "victory over the
Beast" (15:2). Again, Revelation 15:3 is more reminiscent
of a triumphal gathering of Pre-Wrath Raptured Tribulation Saints, than simply and
only an assembly of Martyred Tribulation Saints.
As the Song of Moses speaks loudly of deliverance, the "song of the Lamb" (15:3) gives worshipful praise to the Deliverer. "Great and marvellous are Thy works, LORD God Almighty" (15:3). Thanksgiving without naming God as the object of our gratitude is making ourselves our own deliverer and benefactor. "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy" (2Timothy 3:2). Jesus, who is the "Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6), is the Just One, i.e., "just and true are Thy ways" (Revelation 15:3). "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the Coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). Jesus will soon definitively and everlastingly demonstrate that He is the "King of Saints" (Revelation 15:3). "Which in His times He shall shew, Who is the Blessed and Only Potentate, the KING of Kings, and LORD of Lords" (1Timothy 6:15).
The Song of the Lamb (15:3) is sung by these Triumphant Tribulation
Saints. They sing, "Who shall not fear
Thee, O LORD, and glorify Thy Name?" (15:4). The "fear" spoken of here is
from the Greek word phobeo, meaning fear, reverence, or awe. The Saints stand in
holy reverence and awe of God. "The fear
of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do
His Commandments: His praise endureth for ever" (Psalm
111:10). If man does not voluntarily surrender himself to fear the Living God, then
he can only have anxiety, agitation, and dread of the Judgment of God. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the
Living God" (Hebrews 10:31). The godly willingly "glorify [the] Name" (15:4) of the LORD, for they understand
that He is "worthy"
(4:11), but the godless unwillingly glorify the LORD through the Judgment that Jehovah
brings upon their sin, i.e., "for Thy
Judgments are made manifest" (15:4). "22 And
I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him,
and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain,
and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. 23 Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself;
and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the
LORD" (Ezekiel 38:22-23).
How shall all nations "come and worship before" (15:4) the LORD, if not all nations will be converted? "And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:32). Isaiah prophesied the salvation of the Gentiles from the nations of the world, i.e., "ye that are escaped of the nations" (Isaiah 45:20). "22 Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the Earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23 I have sworn by Myself, the Word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear" (45:22-23). Not only would Gentiles be saved from among the nations; but ultimately, every single human being would willingly or unwillingly bow their knee and confess that Jesus is LORD. "9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name: 10 that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in Earth, and things under the Earth; 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
The second half of chapter 15 begins with a look at the "Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Heaven [as it] was opened" (15:5). In chapter 11, immediately following the sounding of the Seventh
Trumpet Judgment, it was said that the "Temple
of God was opened in Heaven, and there was seen in His Temple the Ark of His Testament" (11:19). Both of these Temples are the same. Both reside in Heaven, and
are, of course, not to be confused with an earthly Jerusalem Temple. It must be remembered
that the Jerusalem Temple was patterned after the
"example and shadow of Heavenly things" (Hebrews
8:5). Comparing the earthly Jerusalem Temple to the "Temple
of the Tabernacle of the Testimony" (15:5), the most significant
feature of both Temples is the Law of God-- also known as, the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy
10:4), the Covenant of the LORD (4:23), the Testimony (Exodus 25:21), the Royal Law
(James 2:8), the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). The
"two Tables of Testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18) in the Jerusalem Temple's Holy of Holies are copies of the
"Testimony in Heaven" (Revelation 15:5). And, the pre-eminent feature of the Law is Love, which
"is the fulfilling of the Law" (Romans 13:10).
Though the Lost Ark of the Covenant, "wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the Covenant" (Hebrews 9:4), has been traditionally reported to have been hidden by the rabbis under the Temple Mount or by Jeremiah in a nearby cave to avoid capture by the Babylonians, the grand significance of this apocalyptic mention of the Testimony (15:5)-- of which the Moral Law of Love is its essence-- is that even the "seven last plagues" (15:1) of the Tribulation Week flow from the "God [Who] is love" (1John 4:16). It is an inescapable attribute of the Love of God, that opposition to sin is an essential characteristic of True Love to God. "I hate and abhor lying: but Thy Law do I love" (Psalm 119:163). For this reason, Jehovah chastens His wayward children, i.e., "for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the LORD Jesus" (1Corinthians 5:5). "For whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6). And, God's final Judgments of the wicked at the end of the Tribulation Week reflect that though He does not take "pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33:11), His love for the well-being of Himself and His creation necessitate that He must judge sin and halt its blighting influence, lest the universe be ruined. "The LORD is good to all: and His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psalm 145:9). "14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the LORD cometh with ten thousands of His Saints, 15 to execute Judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him" (Jude 14-15).
(15:6) are described. They come "out of
the Temple" (15:6), indicating that they are sent by God.
"Who maketh His angels spirits; His ministers
a flaming fire" (Psalm 104:4). These seven have been commissioned
to carry out the Judgments of the "seven
plagues" (15:6), i.e., the Vial Judgments outlined in
chapter 16. Their clothing is "pure and
white linen" (15:6), which indicates that their purpose
is righteous, just as white linen speaks of the "righteousness
of Saints" (19:8). And, their readiness, willingness,
and agreement with the Almighty to carry out the Vial Judgments is portrayed in that
they have "their breasts girded with golden
girdles" (15:6), i.e., "wherefore
gird up [Greek, anazonnumi, meaning prepare or ready] the loins of your mind" (1Peter
1:13). "The fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring for ever: the Judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether" (Psalm 19:9).
If the "seven plagues" (15:6) to be executed by the "seven angels" (15:6) defied the Universal Law of Love, i.e., the Moral Law, then the angels would be under no obligation to perform such an unrighteous command. But, because "God is love" (1John 4:8) and "He cannot deny Himself" (2Timothy 2:13), then His commands must always be obeyed, for His Judgments would only be an expression of His Love, unlike the often perverse and contradictory laws of man. "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). God demands the obedience of angels and man because He has discovered Himself to us to be altogether worthy of love, faith, and obedience. "Thou art worthy, O LORD, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11). No law is law that sets aside the Moral Law of Love, but it is for this very reason that holy angels and godly men joyfully carry out the Judgments of God, because His Judgments are expressions of His Love. "I the LORD love Judgment, I hate robbery for burnt offering" (Isaiah 61:8).
These are the same "four
beasts" (15:7) that appear around the throne of God (4:6,
8; 5:6, 8; 6:1, 6; 7:11; 14:3), earlier. They are the same angelic seraphim that
Isaiah saw crying to the LORD, "Holy,
holy, holy, is the LORD of Hosts" (Isaiah 6:3), and that
Ezekiel saw in his visions as "four living
creatures" (Ezekiel 1:5). Holiness is the theme of their
adoration of the LORD God, because they stand in His presence continually and "worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2). May we, the living, salute our Creator even now with our
own worship of the Holy Jehovah, "Who
liveth for ever and ever" (15:7), consecrating our lives
in holiness to Him, who is worthy. "Be
ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is Perfect" (Matthew 5:48). "Follow peace
with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the LORD" (Hebrews 12:14).
One of the seraphim gives "unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God" (15:7). This means that the wrath of the Vial Judgments is not an expression of their anger, but of the wrath of God Almighty. "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little" (Psalm 2:12). Not simply the wrath of a fabled pagan angel or god, but it is the fury of the Omnipotent Judge. "3 I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me: for I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment. 4 For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed is come. 5 And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me; and My fury, it upheld Me. 6 And I will tread down the people in Mine anger, and make them drunk in My fury, and I will bring down their strength to the Earth" (Isaiah 63:3-6).
Smoke "from the glory of God, and from His power" (15:8) filling the Heavenly Temple is reminiscent of Solomon's dedication of the original Jerusalem Temple. "1 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 the LORD filled the house. 2 And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD'S house. 3 And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, saying, For He is Good; for His mercy endureth for ever" (2Chronicles 7:1-3). The Judge of All the Earth's stress upon the execution of the Vial Judgments is so great that "no man was able to enter into the Temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled" (15:8). This indicates that the emphasis of God is so wholly directed toward the judgment of the "seven [last] plagues" (15:8) of the Vial Judgments, that He allows no one else to even enter His Heavenly Temple for worship, and thereby detract from their momentousness. "But the LORD is in His Holy Temple: let all the Earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20).
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