Chapter 15

Introduction

Chapter 15 is the final chapter and the climax of the Introduction to the Bowls, which began with chapter 12.

Summary of the Bowl Introduction

In this bowl introduction section, we’ve seen the following:

  • Satan’s opposition to God  (chapter 12).
  • Antichrist’s opposition to God  (Chapter 13).
  • The False Prophet’s opposition to God (chapter 13).
  • Two groups of people: Those who worship Christ and those oppose him (chapters 13 and 14).
  • The decreed judgment, presented as a preview of God’s wrath (chapter 14).

All of these things were presented to make this point: God’s wrath against those who oppose Him is justified. That is exactly the point that will be made here in chapter 15.

Commentary

Preparation for the Wrath of God

1Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.

v1 Then I saw another sign in heaven – A transition. This concludes the preview of God’s wrath at the end of chapter 14, and it begins a new scene in heaven. This new scene shall introduce the actual execution of God’s wrath.

v1 seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished – The seven last plagues are the seven bowl judgments (Rev 15:7-8).  An important point is made here. The wrath of God is completely contained within the bowl events from beginning to end. This point is indicated by two things:

  1. The number seven itself carries the idea of wholeness and completeness, from beginning to end.
  2. A study of the word “wrath” in Revelation reveals that the execution of God’s wrath is something that takes place at the end of the seven years. It is not the entirety of the seven years as some propose. This point is discussed further in the chapter 19 commentary and in The Rapture.

The Saints in Heaven Called as Witnesses

The angels of verse 1 are prepared to deliver God’s wrath. However, before proceeding directly into the wrath, we see a pause in order to make a point: God’s wrath is justified.

2And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.

v2 I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire – The “sea of glass” indicates that John is back in the throne room (or temple) introduced in chapter 4 (Rev 4:6). The reference to “fire” suggests the burning of God’s wrath, which is about to be revealed.

v2 those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God – These “victorious” ones are the saints who were described earlier in this bowl introduction (Rev 12:11).

While on earth, they remained faithful, they persevered, and they refused to receive the mark of the beast. Many of them were persecuted, even to the point of death. However, they now stand gloriously in heaven before the throne, and it is their turn to stand as witnesses concerning the things that took place upon the earth.

I believe that this scene with saints in heaven is essentially the same scene described in the latter part of chapter 7, and also the early part of chapter 19. That is, this takes place shortly after the rapture, but just before the bowls. (Please see The Rapture for discussion of this proposed timing.)

The Saints Testify

3And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”

v3 they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb – Songs of praise and salvation. The song of Moses may be from Exodus 15, which includes this text that aptly describes the situation at this point in Revelation:

Ex 15:9-13 9“The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand will destroy them.’ 10“You blew with Your wind, the sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters. 11“Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? 12“You stretched out Your right hand, The earth swallowed them. 13“In Your lovingkindness You have led the people whom You have redeemed; In Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.

It may also include another song of Moses, which concludes with Deut 32:43, “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.”

The song of the Lamb may refer to Rev 5:9-10, 9And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

v3 saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! – These saints in heaven begin by acknowledging that God is the Almighty and King over all the earth. In particular, they confirm that God’s ways are righteous and true.

v4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.” – The saints ask the rhetorical question, who will not fear and glorify you name?, and of course the expected (and correct) answer is “no one“. The coming wrath will force all the inhabitants of the earth to fear and glorify God. Every knee shall bow  (Phil 2:10).

The saints then render a verdict (so to speak) concerning the acts of God which have been revealed. These acts of God are the things we have just seen at the end of the previous chapter (Rev 14:14-20), where John described how God will respond to the wickedness on earth with wrath.

Their verdict states that these acts of God, displayed in His wrath, are righteous, and that all people, whether saved recipients of His mercy or condemned recipients of His wrath, must ultimately give glory to God, for He alone is holy.

This announcement is the primary point of the Introduction to the Bowls section. Having made this point, it is time to proceed with the righteous wrath, which is described in the form of seven bowl judgments.

God’s Wrath is Presented

5After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 6and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. 7Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. 8And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

v5-6 5After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 6and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple – The righteousness of God’s judgments have been declared, and as if in response, the heavenly temple opens, and the seven angels come out of there, indicating that they are have come from the throne of God to carry out His command.

The point here is not that God required the approval of the righteous saints to carry out his wrath, but He does want us to know that His wrath, albeit severe, is righteous. This point is further emphasized even after the bowls have begun (Rev 16:5,6,7).

It should be stressed that the wrath described at the end of chapter 14 was essentially a preview of God’s wrath. It’s as if, having seen both (1) the opposition to God and (2) God’s response in wrath side-by-side, we are able to confirm that God’s wrath against His opponents is righteous.

v6 clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes – These are clearly holy angels carrying out God’s righteous wrath.

Opinion: I have the impression that God knows that the severity of the bowl judgments may seem shocking and horrifying to us. If we could see the wickedness of the world through holy eyes, and the rejection of the magnanimous grace that was offered to them, we would have no difficulty seeing the justification for God’s terrible wrath. Being that we lack perfection, we must trust God’s view of things.

v7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever – This is further indication that God’s wrath is only now beginning, and it is completely fulfilled with the bowls.

8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished – These descriptions emphasize the fierceness of the wrath and the urgency of having it executed completely. The righteous angels are armed with the bowls of God’s wrath, which leads directly into the descriptions of the bowl events in the next chapter.

Observations About the Wrath of God

God’s wrath is not like the wrath of a man. A man can get angry, become carried away by his emotions and lash out, only to regret the consequences later.

God has endured the sin and mocking of man for millennia. He has graciously provided a way for man to escape His wrath. He sent prophets and apostles and his own Son to inform the world about that way (the Gospel of Christ), and their message has spanned the globe. Even in the end times, we see Him give many warnings through the 144,000 Jewish servants, the two witnesses in Jerusalem, and the warnings issued by the trumpet events.

He has told us that he is coming like a thief, and yet what thief repeatedly calls to warn you, long in advance, that he is coming? What thief advises you to be watchful and alert so you will be ready for when he comes?

Even so, for many people, God’s coming wrath will be a complete and utter shock. To their shame, Christ’s appearance will indeed be like the coming of a thief. They shall receive his wrath, and it will be righteous wrath, judiciously carried out only after all of God’s offers of peace have been rejected.

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