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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 15

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Analysis Of The Chapter

This chapter Revelation 15:1-8 has a close connection in design with the previous chapter. In that, pledges and assurances had been given that all the enemies of religion would be cut off, and that the church would be ultimately triumphant, and particularly that that formidable anti-Christian power represented by the “beast” would be destroyed. This chapter commences the statement in regard to the manner in which these pledges would be accomplished, and the statement is pursued through the subsequent chapters, giving in detail what is here promised in a general manner. The vision in this chapter may be thus described:

I. The writer sees a new sign or wonder in heaven. Seven angels appear, having the seven last plagues that fill up or complete the wrath of God; representing the wrath that is to come upon the beast, or the complete overthrow of this formidable anti-Christian power, Revelation 15:1.

II. Those who in former times had “gotten the victory over the beast,” now appear standing on a sea of glass, rejoicing and rendering thanks for the assurance that this great enemy of the church was now to be destroyed, and that now all nations were to come and worship before God, Revelation 15:2-4.

III. The writer sees the interior of the temple opened in heaven, and the seven angels, having the seven plagues, issuing forth to execute their commission. They come clothed in pure and white linen, and girded with golden girdles. One of the four beasts before the throne immediately gives them the seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, to empty them upon the earth - that is, to bring upon the beast the predicted destruction. The temple is immediately filled with smoke, so that no one might enter; that is, no one could now approach to make intercession, and the destruction of this great enemy’s power is now certain, Revelation 15:5-8.

This chapter, therefore, is merely introductory to what follows, and its interpretation is attended with no particular difficulty. It is a beautiful scenic representation preparatory to the infliction of predicted judgments, and designed to introduce the account of those judgments with suitable circumstances of solemnity.

Verse 1

And I saw another sign in heaven - Another wonder or extraordinary symbol. The word “sign” here - σημεῖον sēmeion - is the same which in Revelation 12:1, Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:13, is rendered “wonder” and “wonders,” and in Revelation 13:14; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 19:20, “miracles.” The word is not found elsewhere in the Book of Revelation, though it is of frequent occurrence in other parts of the New Testament. See it explained in the notes on Revelation 12:1. Here it is used to denote something wonderful or marvelous. This is represented as appearing in heaven, for the judgments that were to fall upon the world were to come thence. Compare Revelation 11:19; Revelation 12:1; Revelation 14:1, Revelation 14:6,Revelation 14:13-14, Revelation 14:17.

Great and marvelous - Great and wonderful, or suited to excite admiration - θαυμαστὸν thaumaston. The subsequent statements fully justify this, and show that the vision was one of portentous character, and that was suited to hold the mind in astonishment.

Seven angels - Compare the notes on Revelation 1:4.

Having the seven last plagues - The article here, “the seven last plagues,” would seem to imply that the plagues referred to had been before specified, or that it would be at once understood what is referred to. These plagues, however, have not been mentioned before, and the reason why the article is used here seems to be this: the destruction of this great anti-Christian power had been distinctly mentioned, Revelation 14:0. That might be spoken of as a thing now well known, and the mention of it would demand the article; and as that was well known, and would demand the article, so any allusion to it, or description of it, might be spoken of in the same manner, as a thing that was definite and fixed, and hence, the mention of the plagues by which it was to be accomplished would be referred to in the same manner. The word “plagues” - πληγὰς plēgas, from, πληγή plēgē - means properly a wound caused by a stripe or blow, and is frequently rendered “stripe” and “stripes,” Luke 12:48; Acts 16:23, Acts 16:33; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:23. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament, except in the Book of Revelation. In this book it is rendered “wound” in Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:12, Revelation 13:14; and plagues in Revelation 9:20; Revelation 11:6; Revelation 15:1, Revelation 15:6,Revelation 15:8; Revelation 16:9, Revelation 16:21; Revelation 18:4, Revelation 18:8; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:18. It does not occur elsewhere. The secondary meaning of the word, and the meaning in the passage before us, is “a stripe” or “blow inflicted by God”; calamity or punishment. The word “last” means those under which the order of things here referred to would terminate; the winding up of the affairs respecting the beast and his image - not necessarily the closing of the affairs of the world. Important events were to occur subsequent to the destruction of this anti-Christian power Rev. 19–22, but these were the plagues which would come finally upon the beast and his image, and which would terminate the existence of this formidable enemy.

For in them is filled up the wrath of God - That is, in regard to the beast and his image. All the expressions of the divine indignation toward that oppressive and persecuting power will be completed or exhausted by the pouring out of the contents of these vials. Compare notes on Revelation 10:7, where the word rendered “filled up” - ἐτελέσθη etelesthē - is rendered “finished.”

Verse 2

And I saw as it were a sea of glass - In Revelation 4:6, a similar vision is recorded - “And before the throne there was a sea of glass, like unto crystal.” See the notes on that passage. The sea of glass here means a sea clear, pellucid, like glass: an expanse that seemed to be made of glass. There it was entirely clear; here it is mingled with fire.

Mingled with fire - That is, a portion of the sea was red like fire. It was not all clear and pellucid, as in Revelation 4:6, but it was as it were a tesselated expanse, composed in part of what seemed to be glass, and in part of a material of a red or fiery color. In the former case Revelation 4:6, the emblem was designed to represent the pure worship of heaven without reference to any other symbolic design, and hence, the sea is wholly clear and pellucid; here, in connection with the purpose of furnishing an appropriate symbol of the divine majesty, there is united the idea of punishment on the foes of God, represented by the fiery or red color. If it is proper, from conjecture, to suggest the meaning of this as an emblem, it would be that the foundation - the main element - of all the divine dealings is justice or holiness - represented by the portion of the sea that seemed to be glass; and that there was, in this case, intermingled with that, the image of wrath or anger - represented by the portion that was fiery or red. The very sight of the pavement, therefore, on which they stood when worshipping God, would keep before their minds impressive views of his character and dealings.

And them that had gotten the victory over the beast - Revelation 13:11. That is, they who had gained a victory in times of persecution and temptation; or they whom the “beast” had not been able, by arts or arms, to subdue. The persons referred to here, I suppose, are those who in the long dominion of the papal power, and amidst all its arts and corruptions - its threats and persecutions - had remained steadfast in the truth, and who might thus be said to have gained a victory - for such victories of piety, virtue, and truth, amidst the corrupting influences of sin and error, and the intimidations of power, are the most important that are gained in this world.

And over his image - See the notes on Revelation 13:14-15. The meaning is, that they had not been led to apostatize by the dread of the power represented here by the “image of the beast.” In all the attempts of that power to subdue them - to intimidate them - to induce them to give up their attachment to the truth as it is in Jesus - they had remained steadfast in the faith, and had triumphed.

And over his mark - See the notes on Revelation 13:16. Over all the attempts of the beast to fix his mark upon them, or to designate them as his own.

And over the number of his name - See the notes on Revelation 13:17-18. Over all the attempts to fix upon them that mysterious number which expressed his name. The general sense is, that in times of general error and corruption; when the true friends of Christ were exposed to persecution; when every effort was made to induce them to become the followers of the “beast,” and to yield to the corrupt system represented by the “beast,” they remained unmoved, and adhered firmly to the truth. The number of such in the aggregate was not small; and with great beauty and propriory they are here represented as rejoicing and giving thanks to God on the overthrow of that corrupt and formidable power.

Stand on the sea of glass - That is, before God. They are now seen in heaven, redeemed and triumphant.

Having the harps of God - Harps that pertained to the worship of God; harps to be employed in his praise. See the notes on Revelation 14:2.

Verse 3

And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God - A song of thanksgiving and praise, such as Moses taught the Hebrew people to sing after their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. See Exodus 15:0. The meaning here is, not that they would sing that identical song, but that, as Moses taught the people to celebrate their deliverance with an appropriate hymn of praise, the redeemed would celebrate their delivery and redemption in a similar manner. There is an obvious propriety here in referring to the “song of Moses,” because the circumstances are very similar; the occasion of the redemption from that formidable anti-Christian power here referred to, had a strong resemblance to the rescue from Egyptian bondage.

And the song of the Lamb - The hymn which is sung in honor of the Lamb, as their great deliverer. Compare the notes on Revelation 5:9-10, Revelation 5:12-13.

Saying, Great and marvelous are thy works - See the notes on Revelation 15:1. The meaning is, that great power was evinced in redeeming them; and that the interposition of the divine goodness in doing it was marvelous, or was such as to excite wonder and admiration.

Lord God Almighty - This would seem to mean the same thing as the expression so common in the Old Testament, “Yahweh, God of hosts.” The union of these appellations give solemnity and impressiveness to the ascription of praise, for it brings into view the fact, that he whose praise is celebrated is Lord - Yahweh - -the uncreated and eternal One; that he is God the creator, upholder, and sovereign of all things; and that he is Almighty - having all power in all worlds. All these names and attributes are suggested when we think of redemption; for all the perfections of a glorious God are suggested in the redemption of the soul from death. It is the Lord the Ruler of all worlds; it is God - the Maker of the race, and the Father of the race, who performs the work of redemption; and it is a work which could be accomplished only by one who is Almighty.

Just and true - The attributes of justice and truth are brought prominently into view also in the redemption of man. The fact that God is just, and that in all this work he has been careful to maintain his justice Romans 3:26; and the fact that he is true to himself, true to the creation, true to the fulfillment of all his promises, are prominent in this work, and it is proper that these attributes should be celebrated in the songs of praise in heaven.

Are thy ways - Thy ways or dealings with us, and with the enemies of the church. That is, all the acts or “ways” of God in the redemption of his people had been characterized by justice and truth.

Thou King of saints - King of those who are holy; of all who are redeemed and sanctified. The more approved reading here, however, is “King of nations” - ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἐθνῶν ho basileus tōn ethnōn - instead of “King of saints” - τὼν ἁγιῶν tōn hagiōn. So it is read in the critical editions of Griesbach, Tittmann, and Hahn. The sense is not materially affected by the difference in the reading.

Verse 4

Who shall not fear thee, O Lord - Reverence and adore thee; for the word “fear,” in the Scriptures, is commonly used in this sense when applied to God. The sense here is, that the judgments about to be inflicted on the beast and his image should and would teach people to reverence and adore God. There is, perhaps, included here also the idea of awe, inasmuch as this would be the effect of punishment.

And glorify thy name - Honor thee - the name being put for the person who bare it. The sense is, that, as a consequence of these judgments, men would be brought to honor God, and to acknowledge him as the Ruler of the earth.

For thou only art holy - That is, in these judgments he would show himself to be a holy God; a God hating sin, and loving righteousness and truth. When it is said that he “only” is holy, the expression is used, of course, in a comparative sense. He is so pure that it may be said that, in comparison with him, no one else is holy. Compare the notes on Job 4:18; Job 15:15.

For all nations shall come and worship before thee - That is, as the result of these punishments inflicted on this dread anti-Christian power, they shalt come and worship thee. Everywhere in the New Testament the destruction of that power is connected with the promise of the speedy conversion of the world.

For thy judgments are made manifest - To wit, on the beast. That formidable power is overthrown, and the grand hindrance to the universal spread of the true religion is now taken away. Compare the notes on Isaiah 26:9.

Verse 5

And after that I looked - After I had seen in vision the redeemed thus referred to, celebrating the praises of God, I saw the preparation made for the execution of these purposes of judgment.

And behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony - Not the whole temple, but only that part to which this name was given. The word “tabernacle” - σκηνή skēnē - means properly a booth, hut, tent, and was the name commonly given to the tent or tabernacle that was erected in the wilderness for the service of God. See the notes on Acts 7:44. The same word came naturally to be applied to the temple that was reared for the same purpose in Jerusalem. It is called the “tabernacle of testimony,” because it was a testimony or witness of the presence of God among the people - that is, it served to keep up the remembrance of him. See the notes as above on Acts 7:44, where the same Greek phrase is used as here - rendered there “tabernacle of witness.” The word “temple” here - ναὸς naos - does not refer to the whole of the building called the “temple,” but to the holy of holies. See the notes on Hebrews 9:3. This was regarded as the unique dwelling-place of God; and it was this sacred place, usually closed from all access, that now seemed to be opened, implying that the command to execute these purposes came directly from God himself.

In heaven - That is, that part of heaven which corresponds to the most holy place in the temple was opened; to wit, what is the unique residence of God himself.

Was opened - Was thrown open to the viewer John, so that he was permitted to look, as it were, upon the very dwelling-place of God. From his holy presence now came forth the angels to execute his purposes of judgment on that anti-Christian power which had so long corrupted religion and oppressed the world.

Verse 6

And the seven angels - See the notes on Revelation 15:1.

Came out of the temple - Were seen to come from the temple; that is, from the immediate presence of God.

Having the seven plagues - See the notes on Revelation 15:1. Each one entrusted with a single “plague” to be executed upon the earth. The meaning here is, that they were designated or appointed to execute those plagues in judgments. The symbols of their office - the golden vials - were given to them afterward, Revelation 15:7.

Clothed in pure and white linen - The emblem of holiness - the common representation in regard to the heavenly inhabitants. See the notes on Revelation 3:4; Revelation 7:13. Compare Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29; Mark 16:5.

And having their breasts girded with golden girdles - See the notes on Revelation 1:13. The meaning is, that they were attired in a manner befitting their rank and condition.

Verse 7

And one of the four beasts - See the notes on Revelation 4:6-7. Which one of the four is not mentioned. From the explanation given of the design of the representation of the “four beasts,” or living creatures, in the notes on Revelation 4:6-7, it would seem that the meaning here is, that the great principles of that divine government would be illustrated in the events which are now to occur. In events that were so closely connected with the honor of God and the triumph of his cause on the earth, there was a propriety in the representation that these living creatures, symbolizing the great principles of divine administration, would be particularly interested.

Gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials - The word used here - φιάλη phialē - means properly, “a bowl or goblet, having more breadth than depth” (Robinson, Lexicon). Our word vial, though derived from this, means rather a thin long bottle of glass, used particularly by apothecaries and druggists. The word would be better rendered by “bowl” or “goblet,” and probably the representation here was of such bowls as were used in the temple service. See the notes on Revelation 5:8. They are called in Revelation 16:1, “vials of the wrath of God”; and here they are said to be “full of the wrath of God.” The allusion seems to be to a drinking cup or goblet filled with poison, and given to persons to drink - an allusion drawn from one of the methods of punishment in ancient times. See the notes on Revelation 14:10. These vials or goblets thus became emblems of divine wrath, to be inflicted on the beast and his image.

Full of the wrath of God - Filled with what represented his wrath; that is, they seemed to be filled with a poisonous mixture, which being poured upon the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the seat of the beast, the river Euphrates, and into the air, was followed by severe divine judgments on this great anti-Christian power. See Revelation 16:2-4, Revelation 16:8,Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:12, Revelation 16:17.

Who liveth forever and ever - The eternal God. The particular object in referring to this attribute here appears to be, that though there may seem to be delay in the execution of his purposes, yet they will be certainly accomplished, as he is the ever-living and unchangeable God. He is not under a necessity of abandoning his purposes, like people, if they are not soon accomplished.

Verse 8

And the temple was filled with smoke - The usual symbol of the divine presence in the temple. See the notes on Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 6:4.

From the glory of God - From the manifestation of the divine majesty. That is, the smoke was the proper accompaniment of the Divine Being when appearing in majesty. So on Mount Sinai he is represented as appearing in this manner: “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly,” Exodus 19:18. The purpose here seems to have been, partly to represent the smoke as the proper symbol of the divine presence, and partly to represent it as so filling the temple that no one could enter it until the seven plagues were fulfilled.

And from his power - Produced by his power; and the symbol of his power.

And no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled - Until those vials had been poured out, and all that was indicated by them was accomplished. The meaning here seems to be, that no one would be permitted to enter to make intercession - to turn away his wrath - to divert him from his purpose. That is, the purpose of punishment had been formed, and would certainly be executed. The agents or instrumentalities in this fearful work had been now sent forth, and they would by no means be recalled. The mercy-seat, in this respect, was inaccessible; the time of judgment on the great foe had come, and the destruction of the grand enemy of the church was certain. The point, therefore, at which this vision leaves us is, that where all the preparations are made for the infliction of the threatened punishment on the grand anti-Christian power which had so long stood up against the truth; where the agents had prepared to go forth; and where no intercession will ever avail to turn away the infliction of the divine wrath. The detail follows in the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/revelation-15.html. 1870.
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