REVELATION - CHAPTER 15
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
15:1. “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.”
The very fact that what John saw is described as a sign, prepares us to recognize that the language is symbolic as well as literal. The use of the number seven in connection with the angels and the plagues, declares that these are the final judgments that will be poured upon a rebel earth before the Lord returns in glory to judge the nations, banish all unbelievers from the earth, and establish His millennial kingdom, for seven is the Biblical number of perfection or completeness. This is confirmed by the phrase “in them is filled up the wrath of God,” for “filled up” is literally finished, ended, climaxed, finally achieved, completely expressed.
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.”
The words “as it were” assure us that the “sea of glass mingled with fire” is symbolic, not literal; and it is a sign easily interpreted, for the sea is the symbol of the nations in their restless rebellion against God (Isa 57:20). But inasmuch as this sea is glass-like in its tranquility, its surface undisturbed by so much as a ripple, it represents the nations as they will be in the Millennium, basking in the blessedness of the reign of the Prince of Peace. Nothing will be permitted to disturb the blessedness of that era of peace that will bring earthly history to a close.
Its being mingled with fire confirms the interpretation, for fire is one of the symbols of the holiness of God. Its being mingled with the sea of glass declares that in the Millennium the holiness of God will cover the earth, e.g., “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD; and the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts....” (Zec 14:20-21). Unlike other ages, man will not be free to sin as he pleases, for in the Millennium, overt sin will be punished with death, “with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isa 11:4). See also Ps 2:9,11,12; 72:4; Isa 65:20; 66:23-24; Jer 31:29-34; Zech 14:16-21.
The company seen standing upon that sea of glass are believers out of the Tribulation age, as is clearly indicated by the fact that they are described as “them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name.” Their standing upon the sea declares that they will be reigning over the millennial earth, reminding us that in a soon-coming day we and they will reign with Christ.
Expositors differ, however, as to whether they are those who will have survived the horrors of the Tribulation, or whether they are the resurrected martyrs of that terrible age, or both. But the point is of relatively little importance, for the truth is that both will reign, the living survivors reigning on the earth; the resurrected martyrs reigning, with us, over the earth from the heavenly Jerusalem. (There is nothing in Scripture to support the view that there will be resurrected individuals on the millennial earth).
As verse 3 makes clear, their “having the harps of God” marks them as a worshiping company; and surely they will have ample cause to worship as they look upon a transformed earth over which they will reign, and from which their former persecutors will have been banished into hell; the beast and the false prophet, being cast directly into the lake of fire.
15:3. “And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints (nations, or ages).”
This reference to the song of Moses (Ex 15:1-21) draws attention to the very obvious parallel between the scene that evoked that song from the redeemed nation standing with Moses on the shore of the Red Sea, and that same nation, represented by those seen by John standing on the earth as the Millennium begins. Those with Moses looked back and saw there the scene of their past bondage and persecution, their former oppressors slain by the hand of God. So, in a day that can’t be far off, will the redeemed remnant of that same nation look back to the Tribulation that will have been the scene of their bitter persecution, but from which they too will have been delivered by that same God whose destruction of the Egyptians is but the foreshadowing of His destruction of those who will have been the oppressors of His own during those terrible seven years of the Tribulation era.
Well might this latter company express their worship in the same language as expressed the worship of their fathers in the days of Moses. The one deliverance is but the foreshadowing of the other. No spiritual mind will fail to discern in that period which climaxed Israel’s long years of bondage, and in which the plagues of God fell on their Egyptian oppressors, a picture of the Tribulation which will climax her present oppression by the Gentiles, and during which again the plagues of God will be poured out on the oppressors. He who denies the symbolism of the OT simply advertises his own lack of spiritual perception, and robs himself of much instruction.
But they sang also “the song of the Lamb,” recorded here in verses 3 and 4, reminding us that, as frequently in the OT, that victory in the days of Moses is a double type: (1) of the deliverance that will conclude the Tribulation; (2) the great deliverance of which all others are types - that accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary, where, as the poet has so beautifully expressed it,
In weakness and defeat,
He won the meed and crown,
Trod all His foes beneath His feet,
By being trodden down.
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.”
There could be no more appropriate song than this which will express the worship of the redeemed remnant passing out of the Tribulation judgments into millennial blessings. All the emphasis is upon God’s holiness, might, and justice, for the age being ushered in will be one in which the Lord Jesus Christ will govern with an iron rod, His inflexible rule making that era one of transcendent blessing. Unlike other ages in which the just punishment of sin has been deferred, that coming age of peace will be marked by immediate retribution, the instant execution of judgment contributing in no small measure to the tranquility of the millennial age.
15:5. “And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:”
This somewhat obscure rendering “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony” of the KJ version is generally considered to mean the most holy place of the temple in heaven. At the sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:19) the holy place in the heavenly temple is also opened, and the exultant worship of the twenty-four elders voices their joy at the Lord’s assumption of regal power as the Millennium begins. Here also we have what appears to be the joyous worship of the believing survivors of the Tribulation, as the Lord Jesus Christ begins His glorious reign of peace and blessing.
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.”
The repetition of the number seven (number of completeness or perfection) reminds us that these plagues about to be poured out, are the complete and perfect expression of the anger of a holy God Whose patience has come to an end.
The pure white linen garments of the seven angels declare the absolute holiness of these executors of divine judgment, for white is the color of holiness, and fine linen is the symbol of righteousness.
Their breasts being girded with golden girdles reminds us that in 1:13 John saw the Lord similarly girded; and as noted there, others have drawn attention to the fact that since the breasts are symbolic of love and affection, their being encircled with these golden girdles seems to speak of love restrained, and to declare that John was then looking upon Christ, no longer as the sinner’s Savior, but as earth’s Judge. There can be little doubt that the same thought is being expressed here in connection with the seven angels.
15:7. “And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials (bowls) full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.”
A rebel earth, that for six thousand years, has been filling its cup of iniquity to overflowing, is soon to have poured out upon it the wrath of a holy God Whose longsuffering is finally exhausted. The repetition of the number seven declares the fullness and completeness of that wrath; while the description “who liveth for ever and ever” proclaims the truth that the God with Whom we have to do is the eternal I AM. What folly for puny man, whose life is given by that same God, to rise up in defiance against Him!
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.”
This is reminiscent of the scene on Sinai when the law was given. “... there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud.... And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly” (Ex 19:16-18). It is significant that when Isaiah was being shown the nature of this same period between the end of the Tribulation, and the beginning of the Millennium, “the house (temple) was filled with smoke” (Isa 6:4), see also Isa 6:11-13.
In La 3:44 it is written, “Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through,” words which may indicate that in the present instance the smoke-filled temple, which no man could enter, signifies that the time has come when a patient God will no longer listen to intercessory prayer. It is impossible to conceive how dreadful those final judgments will be! It is indeed, “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (He 10:31).