Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bible Study - Revelation Chapter 15

Revelation Chapter 15

Prelude to the Seven Last Plagues

Rev 15:1  And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.
Rev 15:2  And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
Rev 15:3  And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Rev 15:4  Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
Rev 15:5  And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:
Rev 15:6  And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.
Rev 15:7  And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.
Rev 15:8  And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.


·        Chapter 15 is introductory and prepares the reader for the execution of the judgments described in chapter 16.

·        They are first described as the seven last plagues and then as seven bowls full of the wrath of God (vs. 7; 16:1). These seven plagues will chronologically bring to an end the ordered events of the Tribulation judgments in a dramatic crescendo. The plagues described here are extremely severe and occur in rapid succession, which adds greatly to their severity.

·        The plagues are culminated by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the final phase of Armageddon.

·        The purpose of chapter 15 is a vindication of God’s holiness. It shows these judgments stem from the holiness of God and the perfection of His plan. Under the three figures of God’s final judgment—the cup of wine (14:10), the harvesting of the earth (14:14-16), and the vintage (14:17-20), chapter 14 has anticipated what is now more thoroughly developed under the symbolism of the seven bowls.

·        Remember, the seven plagues and seven bowls used in this chapter refer to the same judgments. The use of different terms is designed to display the different aspects and character of these last judgments. They are plague-like calamities, and each is poured out suddenly, all at once as the contents of a bowl when it is turned over.


·        Chronologically speaking, remember that we are first given a graphic description of six seals (Rev 6:1-17), but the seventh (Rev 8:1) is never described. We are only told that when it is broken, there is silence in heaven. T

·        The implication is that the seven trumpets come out of the seventh seal and actually express the content of the seventh seal (Rev 8:1 to Rev 9:1-21; Rev 11:15-19). This seventh trumpet takes us up to the return of Christ and includes within its judgments the events of the seven last plagues or bowls of chapters 15 and 16, which occur rapidly at the end. The final great event is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory (Rev 19:11-21).

·        Again, let’s not forget that chapters 10:1-11:4; 13-14; and 17:1-19:10 are interludes and do not advance the Tribulation events chronologically. They simply fill in the picture of the Tribulation giving important details about key personages, events and concepts. Alan writes:

The inclusive series of bowl judgments constitute the “third woe” announced in 11:14 as “coming soon” [see comment on 11:14]. Since the first two woes occur under the fifth and sixth trumpets, it is reasonable to see the third woe, which involved seven plagues, as unfolding during the sounding of the seventh trumpet, when the mystery of God will be finished (10:7) … These last plagues take place “immediately after the distress of those days” referred to by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse and may well be the fulfillment of his apocalyptic words in Mt 24:29. Significantly, the next event that follows this judgment, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds (Mt 24:30-31), is the same event John describes following the bowl judgments (19:11).193

The Prelude to the Bowl Judgments

·        The Sign in Heaven (1) 

·        John sees another sign in heaven, which refers to something that is used as a symbol to signify and teach an important truth. Here in this scenario, the seven angels with the seven last plagues point to God’s judgment on the beast, his system, and his worshipers. The other signs previously mentioned are those in Rev 12:1 and Rev 12:3 (Israel, the woman, and the red dragon who is the head and source of the empire of the beast).

·        “The seven last plagues” is literally “seven plagues, the last ones.” This construction draws our attention to the fact these are the last of God’s judgments of this period.  It is in these last plagues that God’s wrath finds its culmination and accomplishes His purposes.

·        The Sea of Glass (2a)

·        The phrase “as it were” in the NASB qualifies this statement. John didn’t see a real sea, but a broad expanse like a sea of white transparent glass or stone that has a glassy appearance and reflects an image.

·        But why this picture? What does this teach us?
1.      The glassy expanse like a sea is designed to communicate the concept of the reflection of God’s glory. Perhaps also it stands as a symbol for the Word of God and its many promises and truths that reflect God’s character or person, plan, principles, and purposes.
2.      In Rev 4:6 it was likened to crystal and stood for the perfect righteousness of God (Hab 1:13, Isa 59:2).
3.      Here in Rev 15:2 it is seen mingled with fire, which, as a symbol of judgment, stands for the perfect justice of God and his actions with men.
4.      It is also seen upholding the saints who stand firmly upon it. This reflects the immutable faithfulness of God in His grace and love to His people through His perfect plan of salvation in Christ. This plan, like a rock, upholds man and brings sinful man into God’s presence if he will come to God through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

·        The Saints Who Were Martyred (2b)

·        Because of the reference to the beast and his work which sets the context, these are clearly the martyred dead of the Tribulation.  These martyrs are seen standing on the glassy expanse. As mentioned, this reminds us their victory and position is a result of who and what God is to the believer as revealed in the Word. He alone can uphold us.

·        John sees these saints holding harps of gold. This is part of their reward as mentioned in Rev 14:13 (a position before God, abiding in worship and praise to God’s glory).

·        The Songs of Moses and the Lamb (3-4)

·        These are two distinct songs.
·        The Song of Moses emphasizes the power and faithfulness of God both in Exo 15:1 and Deu 32:44.
·        The Song of the Little Lamb emphasizes the redemptive work and plan of God in Christ. It lays stress on Christ’s submission to the plan of the Father.

·        The Sanctuary Opened in Heaven (5-6)

·        “And after these things I looked.” “After these things” refers to the sign, the seas of glass, etc. This implies an interval of time between these two sections. John distinguished these two sections, for though their theme is much the same (vindicating God’s holiness as the cause of the Tribulation judgments), their emphasis is different.

“I looked”  is “to see and understand.” John not only saw this with his eyes, but he spiritually grasped the meaning of this vision (as should we).

·        “The temple.” refers to the Holy of Holies,  the very abode of God and His personal presence.

·        “Of the tabernacle of the testimony.”, of special importance here is the witness of the Ark of the Covenant, which was within the temple (Rev 11:19). Note the following points regarding the Ark of the Covenant:

1.      The ark stood for the divine presence of God.
2.      By its contents, the ark stood for God’s faithfulness. It contained: (a)the law or the tables of stone, which represented the whole law and guided the people as a way of life and pointed them to Messiah; (b) Aaron’s rod that budded, which portrayed resurrection and God’s choice of leaders; (c) the pot of manna, which portrayed the person of Christ and God’s daily provision, but it also taught them happiness comes only from the Lord and not the details of life (Deu 8:3, Mat 4:4).
3.      The ark stood for God’s holiness, grace, and love through the tables of stone within, the cherubim above and on either side of the top of the ark, and by the mercy seat, which formed a lid for the ark.

·        This opening of the temple in Revelation 15 symbolizes the parting of the veil, but in reverse order. Here, rather than access to God, it symbolizes the outpouring of God’s perfect justice and wrath for rejection of Christ. Here the veil is pulled back, not to let man in, but to pour out God’s justice.

·        “And the seven angels … came out of the temple.” As the ministers and agents of God’s holy justice, these angels proceed from the presence of God acting on behalf of God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice.

·        The Seven Golden Bowls Given to the Angels (7-8)

·        The “four living creatures” are undoubtedly cherubim who manifest and protect certain aspects of God’s glory and essence, especially His holiness. They are seen here engaged in this role by distributing the bowls to the seven angels. Previously these seven angels were given the responsibility for these last plagues. The giving of the seven bowls sets forth their authorization to use the plagues and describes the overall nature of what the plagues would be like, i.e., like a bowl which is overturned causing the contents to be poured out all at once or suddenly.

·        “Full of the wrath of God.” The word “full” means “be full to the brim.” and stresses the full devastating character of each bowl.

·        “And the temple was filled with smoke.” The “temple” of course is the heavenly temple, the very abode of God, the Holy of Holies of God’s presence. It is the perfect holiness of God’s divine essence that causes the temple to be filled with smoke. As the setting in Isa 6:3-4 shows us, the smoke represents the holiness of God; here it is acting in divine justice against sin. Our passage in Revelation tells us this smoke proceeds from two sources:
·        "From the glory of God.” “Glory” stands for God’s divine essence and particularly God’s righteousness and justice.
·        “And from his power.” This refers to God’s sovereign omnipotence, His inherent and sovereign power to execute and carry out the demands of His holy character.

·        “And no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues … were finished …” The smoke, which points to the awesome holiness of God, will make access into the presence of God impossible. This strongly stresses the principle of Hab 1:13 a, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil and You cannot not look on wickedness with favor …” It also reminds us of Rom 3:23, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The smoke illustrates the truth of God’s righteousness; He is unable and unwilling to have fellowship with sin. Further, the seven golden bowls proceeding from God illustrate the concept of God’s justice acting to judge sin in the world.

·        Note that this smoke continues until the plagues are finished, until God’s holy character is satisfied and God deals with sin. This teaches us that God will so completely turn to anger and justice in these final moments that all else seems to cease. Absolute and undiluted wrath will be the business of these final days. It will be as the Psalmist says in Psa 76:7, “You, even You are to be feared; and who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry.”

·        This chapter has prepared the way for the judgments to follow as cause and effect or root to fruit. The judgments of chapter 16 stem from the ineffable holiness of God. “It is an ominous sign of impending doom for those who persist in their blasphemous disregard of the sovereignty and holiness of God.”194

193 Alan Johnson, Zondervan Bible Commentary, electronic version.
194 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 230.

References and Credits
·         Revelation 13 Study - Stan Feldsine
·         The basis for this study came from:
·         Credit to: J. Hampton Keathley III

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