29 - The Temple of Doom - 2
- The Vengeance of God
And 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. (15:2)
- In this remarkable vision, John saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire.
- The sea was not an actual ocean, because in 21:1 he “saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”
- What John saw was a transparent crystal platform before God’s throne, shimmering and glistening like a tranquil, sunlit sea.
- John saw this same sealike crystal platform in 4:6: “Before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal.”
- Moses also had a vision of it when he and the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself” (Ex. 24:10).
- Ezekiel described it as “something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal” (Ezek. 1:22).
- But the tranquil beauty of the sea was mixed with the fire of God’s judgment, which was about to be poured out on the earth.
- Those who reject God’s grace and mercy face “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27), because “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
- Fire is frequently associated in Scripture with God’s judgment (cf. Num. 11:1; 16:35; Deut. 9:3; Pss. 50:3; 97:3; Isa. 66:15; 2 Thess. 1:7–9; 2 Pet. 3:7).
- John saw gathered around the throne of God those who had been victorious over the beast. These are the believers redeemed during the Tribulation (6:9–11; 7:9–17; 12:11, 17; 14:1–5, 12–13).
- They will be victorious over the beast because of their undying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 20:4–6 describes their resurrection and reward.
- In 13:7 it says of the beast (Antichrist), “It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.” But Antichrist’s triumph will be short-lived, and in the end the Tribulation saints will be granted triumph over him, prevailing under the pressure to which the world succumbed (cf. 13:4, 14–17; 14:9, 11; 19:20).
- Not only will the Tribulation saints triumph over the beast, but also over his image and the number of his name.
- The beast’s crony, the false prophet, will perform many lying wonders to deceive people. One of them will be to set up an image of the beast, which he will order everyone to worship on pain of death
- The false prophet will also require everyone to receive a mark representing either the beast’s name, or the number of his name. Those without that mark will face execution and will be unable to buy or sell
- But the Tribulation believers will, by God’s power, eternally triumph over the whole enterprise of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. Even those martyred for their triumphant faith will receive their glorious rewards (20:4).
- That the Tribulation saints are seen holding harps of God indicates that they are rejoicing and singing praise to God. Harps were also associated with praise earlier in Revelation (5:8; 14:2), as they are frequently in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16, 28; 2 Chron. 5:12–13; Neh. 12:27; Pss. 33:2; 71:22; 144:9; 150:3).
- These believers rejoice because their prayers for God to take vengeance on their persecutors (6:9–10) are about to be answered.
- The appearance of the Tribulation saints makes the point that God sends His wrath as an act of vengeance on those who mistreat His people. Jesus warned:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:6–10)
- Unbelievers will be condemned to eternal hell for mistreating God’s people, because that mistreatment reveals their evil, impenitent hearts: “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ ” (Matt. 25:41–45)
- The apostle Paul wrote, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). #. The Old Testament likens persecuting God’s people to poking a finger in His eye (Zech. 2:8).
- The psalmist also wrote of God’s vengeance for His people:
O Lord, God of vengeance,
God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth,
Render recompense to the proud.
How long shall the wicked, O Lord,
How long shall the wicked exult?
They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly;
All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.
They crush Your people, O Lord,
And afflict Your heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger
And murder the orphans.
They have said, “The Lord does not see,
Nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.”
Pay heed, you senseless among the people;
And when will you understand, stupid ones?
He who planted the ear, does He not hear?
He who formed the eye, does He not see?
He who chastens the nations, will He not rebuke,
Even He who teaches man knowledge? …
They band themselves together against the life of the righteous
And condemn the innocent to death.
But the Lord has been my stronghold,
And my God the rock of my refuge.
He has brought back their wickedness upon them
And will destroy them in their evil;
The Lord our God will destroy them.
(Ps. 94:1–10, 21–23)
- The believers pictured here will have undergone the terrors of the Tribulation and suffered painful, violent deaths as martyrs. Yet despite having endured the most intense persecution the world will ever know, their faith, which is a gift from God, will endure. #. Eventually, they will stand triumphantly before the throne of God, watching as God takes vengeance on their persecutors.
- The Character of God
- And 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!
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.”
b. The song sung by the glorified saints before the throne is an anthem of praise to God. The ultimate motive of God’s wrath is His holy, righteous character, which demands that He judge sinners. It is God’s holy nature, soon to be revealed in judgment against their persecutors, that elicits this song from the redeemed.
c. The song of Moses is the first of several songs recorded in the Old Testament.
a. The Israelites sang a song of praise when the Lord gave them water in the wilderness (Num. 21:17–18).
b. Moses taught the children of Israel a song of remembrance shortly before his death (Deut. 31:19–22; 32:1–44).
c. That song of Moses is not in view here, because it deals with Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s punishment of the nation before her restoration.
i. The context of Revelation 15 is not one of unfaithfulness, but of faithfulness that triumphs.
ii. Deborah and Barak sang a triumphant victory song celebrating Israel’s defeat of the Canaanites, whose forces were led by the notorious Sisera (Judg. 5:1–31).
iii. There was a song sung to the Lord as part of the restoration of true worship in Hezekiah’s day (2 Chron. 29:27).
iv. In addition, David and others wrote the Psalms, the hymnbook of ancient Israel, and Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon.
d. The historical setting for the song of Moses comes from the time of the Exodus. As the bond-servant of God, Moses was called to lead the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt.
e. God delivered them from Pharaoh’s pursuing army by parting the Red Sea, stacking the water on either side of a path, thus allowing the Israelites to cross safely on dry land.
f. After they were safely across, the collapsing waters drowned the Egyptian army. On the far side of the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a song of praise to God for their deliverance. (Ex. 15:1–18)
g. The song of Moses was a song of victory and deliverance for the righteous, and at the same time of judgment and wrath on God’s enemies.
h. The Tribulation saints, gathered in triumph in a place of safety and security, will echo the same song of deliverance sung long ago by the people of Israel.
i. In addition to singing again with new meaning the song of Moses, who led Israel in the redemption from Egypt, the redeemed saints before God’s throne also will sing the song of the Lamb, who is their eternal Redeemer. That song was first heard in 5:8–14:
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And 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. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying,
“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
j. Like the song of Moses, the song of the Lamb expresses the themes of God’s faithfulness, deliverance of His people, and judgment of His enemies. Commentator John Phillips compares and contrasts the two songs:
k. The song of Moses was sung at the Red Sea, the song of the Lamb is sung at the crystal sea; the song of Moses was a song of triumph over Egypt, the song of the Lamb is a song of triumph over Babylon; the song of Moses told how God brought His people out, the song of the lamb tells how God brings His people in; the song of Moses was the first song in Scripture, the song of the Lamb is the last. The song of Moses commemorated the execution of the foe, the expectation of the saints, and the exaltation of the Lord; the song of the Lamb deals with the same three themes. (Exploring Revelation, rev. ed. [Chicago: Moody, 1987; reprint, Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1991], 187)
l. The words of the song recorded here do not match exactly either the song of Moses in Exodus 15, or the song of the Lamb in Revelation 5. But the themes and many of the key terms are similar. This song adds some new stanzas to the triumph song of God’s redeemed people, yet every one of its lines finds an echo in the Old Testament.
m. Great and marvelous are Your works is reminiscent of Psalm 139:14, “Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” The title Lord God, the Almighty, celebrating God’s omnipotence, essential to the triumphant power of the last judgments, appears frequently in Revelation (cf. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22), and the title “God Almighty” was the name by which God revealed Himself to Abraham (Gen. 17:1; cf. Gen. 35:11; 48:3; Ex. 6:3). The exclamation righteous and true are Your ways reflects the Old Testament truth that “all [God’s] works are true and His ways just” (Dan. 4:37; cf. Deut. 32:4; Hos. 14:9). God is called the King of the nations in Jeremiah 10:7. The phrase Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? is also drawn from Jeremiah 10:7 (cf. Ps. 86:9). The truth that God alone is holy is an oft-repeated Old Testament theme (cf. 1 Sam. 2:2; Pss. 22:3; 99:5, 9; 111:9; Isa. 6:3; 57:15; Hab. 1:12). The phrase for all the nations will come and worship before You quotes Psalm 86:9 (cf. Jer. 10:7), while the phrase Your righteous acts have been revealed echoes such Old Testament passages as Judges 5:11; 1 Samuel 12:7, Psalm 103:6; Daniel 9:16; and Micah 6:5.
n. The song of these redeemed saints extols God’s character as the omnipotent, immutable, sovereign, perfect, and righteous Creator and Judge. Because He is all that, God must and will judge sinners; if He ignored their sin, He would not be holy, righteous, and true to His nature. The prophet Habbakuk, speaking to God, put it this way, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?” asks Job 8:3. Psalm 19:9 answers, “The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.”
o. The song closes with joyful anticipation of the millennial reign of Christ, when all the nations will come and worship before God. In the words of the psalmist, “All the earth will worship You, and will sing praises to You; they will sing praises to Your name” (Ps. 66:4). In the earthly, millennial kingdom, “it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths” (Zech. 14:16). After God’s righteous acts of judgment have been revealed during the Tribulation, the time anticipated by Isaiah will come: “ ‘And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 66:23). That time will mark the first phase of the fulfillment of Philippians 2:10–11: “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and … every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
3. The Plan of God
a. After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, and 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.
b. 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. 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. (15:5–8)
c. Each of the angelic players in this unfolding drama will fulfill his assigned duty according to God’s plan. It has always been God’s purpose to judge sinners and destroy sin.
d. The “eternal fire … has [already] been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) and awaits those whom God will one day sentence to eternal punishment there. God’s holy angels await the time when they will play their role in God’s judgment of sinners (cf. Matt. 13:41–42, 49–50). Here, in a new vision, they are given the instruments of execution.
e. As it does throughout Revelation (cf. 4:1; 6:2, 5, 8; 7:9; 14:1, 14; 19:11), the phrase after these things I looked introduces a startling, dramatic new vision. Something is about to draw John’s attention away from the redeemed saints singing their praises before God’s glorious throne.
f. This new vision revealed to him the bowl judgments (16:1–21), but first John saw the angels who will carry out those judgments. As he watched, the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened.
g. The apostle had seen a similar sight in an earlier vision, which anticipated this opening, when “the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm” (11:19).
h. Naos (temple) refers to the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary where God’s presence dwells, emphasizing that God is the source of the plagues. The tabernacle was sometimes referred to as the tabernacle of testimony (Ex. 38:21; Num. 1:50, 53; 10:11; Acts 7:44) because the most important item in it was the ark of the covenant, sometimes called the ark of the testimony (Ex. 25:22; 26:33–34; 30:6; Lev. 16:13; Num. 4:5; 7:89; Josh. 4:16).
i. It was so named because it contained the testimony, the two stone tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments (Ex. 25:16, 21; 40:20; cf. Ps. 78:5).
j. In an earlier vision, God’s throne room was opened so the faithful could see in (4:1ff.).
k. In this vision, the heavenly tabernacle, of which the earthly tabernacle was only a copy (Heb. 8:2, 5), was opened to reveal the most severe earthly judgment ever on the unfaithful.
l. As John watched, the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple. The time has come in God’s sovereign plan for the seven plagues, which represent the final, deadly judgments, to be poured out on the world (cf. Heb. 10:31).
m. These seven angels will execute that plan. They were clothed in linen, clean and bright, the fabric representing their holiness and purity (see the discussion of 19:14 in chapter 15 of this volume; cf. Acts 10:30).
n. As befits such glorious, holy, majestic beings, the angels were girded around their chests with golden sashes, running across the torso from the shoulder to the waist.
o. After solemnly proceeding from the inner sanctuary of God’s heavenly temple, the seven angels received the means by which they will dump God’s judgment. One of the four living creatures (cherubim; an order of high-ranking angels; 4:6, 8–9; 5:6, 8, 11, 14; 6:1, 6; 7:11; 14:3; 19:4; Ezek. 1:4–25; 10:15; cf. 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 22:11; Pss. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16) gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.
p. Phialas (bowls) refers to shallow saucers. The imagery is not that of a stream being poured gradually out of a pitcher, but of the whole contents of the shallow saucers being hurled down in an instant flood of judgment.
q. Bowls were part of the temple furnishings (1 Kings 7:50; 2 Kings 12:13; 25:15; 1 Chron. 28:17; Zech. 14:20) and were associated with the sacrifices (Ex. 27:3; 38:3).
r. Those who refuse to drink the cup of salvation (Ps. 116:13) will be drowned in the judgments poured from the bowls of wrath. Because God lives forever and ever, He has the power to put an end to sin, so that it cannot exist again forever in His holy presence.
s. Out of the heavenly temple came not only the angels, but also smoke symbolizing the glory of God and His power.
t. Smoke, an emblem of majesty (Ex. 19:16–18), also symbolized God’s glorious presence in the Old Testament tabernacle or temple (Ex. 40:34–35; 1 Kings 8:10–11; Isa. 6:1–4).
u. This smoke also symbolizes God’s wrath; thus no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. The glory cloud will remain in the heavenly temple until the earth is completely purged, cleansed, and prepared for the King and His kingdom.
v. The scene described in this chapter establishes the background for the final, definitive judgments, poured out in chapter 16. Once the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus Christ because of what He did for sinners; in the future, wrath will be poured out on sinners because of what they did to Jesus Christ.
w. It is true that “The Lord is … patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9), and that even in His wrath, He will remember mercy (cf. Hab. 3:2). Yet mercy refused brings judgment.
x. By the time God pours out the seven bowls of His final wrath on earth, sinners will have been warned repeatedly to repent. They will have experienced numerous terrifying judgments, which they will acknowledge came from God (6:16–17).
y. They will have heard the saving message of the gospel preached by the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, the two witnesses, other redeemed Gentiles and Jews, even from an angel flying in midheaven.
z. Yet, tragically, they will harden their hearts and fall into calamity (Prov. 28:14). They will pay a fearful price for failing to heed the Scripture’s warning: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:15; 4:7).
MacArthur, J. (2000). Revelation 12-22 (119). Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.