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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Revelation 15

Introduction

2. Preparation for the bowl judgments ch. 15

John recorded what he saw in this chapter to heighten further his readers’ expectation for the climactic judgments of the Great Tribulation that we read in chapter 16 (cf. Revelation 8:1-5). This chapter continues supplementary revelation begun in Revelation 12:1 and the emphasis on preparation for the final judgments of the Great Tribulation begun in Revelation 14:1.

"Following the sign of the seven angels with the seven last plagues, the fifteenth chapter has two visions, the first one picturing the victors fresh from their triumph and the second describing the white-and-gold clad angels who hold the seven bowls." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 228.]

". . . it is not the image of a domestic bowl which John wished to conjure up in our minds, but the cup of God’s wrath, of which the prophets frequently spoke and to which John himself has already referred (in Revelation 14:8; Revelation 14:10)." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 231. Cf. Isaiah 51:17, 22.]

Verse 1

The announcement of the seven last judgments 15:1

This verse serves as a superscription for chapters 15 and 16 and even, perhaps, for the rest of the book. One writer argued that Revelation 15:1 concludes the previous revelation rather than introducing what follows. [Note: Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, pp. 137-40.] Most scholars disagree.

"And I saw" (Gr. kai idou) again introduces a new scene, this time in heaven (cf. Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:11; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 15:5). The "sign" John saw signified God’s final judgments on earth-dwellers during the Tribulation (cf. Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:3). The former signs were the woman and the dragon.

"They [the signs] point beyond themselves and disclose the theological meaning of history." [Note: Mounce, p. 285.]

This sign, however, is both great and marvelous, especially awesome. It is awesome because it signifies the climax of the outpouring of God’s wrath on nature, humankind, the dragon, and the two beasts. The sign itself is the seven angels who control seven plagues. As with the seals and trumpets, angels were God’s agents in pouring out His wrath in this series of judgments. These angels were now ready to do their duty (cf. Psalms 103:20). They appear seven times as a group (Revelation 15:6-8; Revelation 16:1; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9) and nine times individually (Revelation 16:2-4; Revelation 16:8; Revelation 16:10; Revelation 16:12; Revelation 16:17; Revelation 17:7; Revelation 21:9). John simply introduced them here. They do not begin to act until Revelation 15:6 (cf. Revelation 8:2; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 21:2).

The bowl "plagues" that follow have many similarities to the plagues that God sent on Egypt, as we shall see. All seven of these judgments reprise in varied ways the plagues of Egypt. These similarities suggest that God’s purpose in both series of judgments is the same: to punish godless idolaters and to liberate the godly for future blessing and service.

Some interpreters believe the bowl judgments are the same as the seal and trumpet judgments. One advocate of this position wrote as follows.

"The bowls go back in time before what is depicted in ch. 14 and explain in greater detail the woes throughout the [inter-advent] age culminating in the final judgment." [Note: Beale, p. 786.]

He explained their being described as "the last" this way.

". . . they portray the full-orbed wrath of God in a more intense manner than any of the previous woe visions." [Note: Ibid., p. 788.]

Verse 2

John again "saw" (cf. Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:5) the sea of glass that was similar to crystal (Revelation 4:6; cf. Exodus 24:10; Ezekiel 1:22), though here he wrote that it also had fire in it. The sea most likely represents chaotic evil (cf. Revelation 4:6). The fire suggests the judgment that is about to come. Another view is that the fiery sea represents the persecution by the beast during the Tribulation. [Note: McGee, 5:1017.] The people standing on this sea appear to be the Tribulation martyrs (Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 7:9-17; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 14:1-5; Revelation 14:13). They had overcome the beast, his image, and the number of his name, three specific entities that combine to heighten appreciation for their victory.

God probably intended that we see allusions to the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea here. Jesus Christ will lead these believers in a great deliverance, as Moses led the Israelites long ago. However, these overcomes stand on the sea, not beside it, as they give thanks to God (cf. Exodus 15). Harps denote dedication to the service of God (1 Chronicles 16:42; cf. Revelation 5:8; Revelation 14:2).

Verses 2-4

The praise of the Tribulation martyrs 15:2-4

Verse 3

These martyrs sang two songs, as seems clear from the repetition of the words "the song." Moses recorded two songs in praise of God’s faithfulness and deliverance of the Israelites. Of these the one in Exodus 15 seems slightly more appropriate for these martyrs to echo than the one in Deuteronomy 32 because it is a song of victory. Nevertheless they both contain similar emphases. The song of the Lamb seems to be a song not recorded elsewhere in Scripture, though some commentators have suggested several different Psalms. Probably this song follows in Revelation 15:3-4. In the case of both songs, the genitive "of" is probably subjective: Moses and the Lamb were responsible for these songs, not the subjects of them.

"Moses celebrated a deliverance by the Lord which adumbrated a greater deliverance to come. The greater redemption eclipsed the former by a similar degree as the second redeemer transcended the first. Moses and the Lamb are no more to be bracketed than the promised land of Israel is to be equated with the kingdom of God. The unity of God’s purpose and the continuity of God’s people under both covenants include a disjunction of his action in Christ and of his people’s experience of redemption." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 235.]

The first part of this song extols God’s works and ways. Specifically, God’s works in judging His enemies are in view. His might makes judgment possible. His ways of judging are just and faithful. His sovereignty makes His judgment necessary and certain.

Verse 4

It is inevitable that everyone fears God and glorifies Him. The rhetorical questions make this crystal clear (cf. Revelation 13:4). This will happen after He finishes judging (cf. Psalms 86:8-10; Jeremiah 10:7). One reason for this fear and glory is God’s unapproachable majesty (Gr. hosios). Another is the fact that everyone will worship Him when Christ returns because He has purged the earth. He will reveal His righteous acts when He judges the earth. The martyrs do not refer to what they did in overcoming the beast but to what God is and did.

Verse 5

"After these things I looked" (Gr. meta tauta eidon) indicates a transition to a new vision and a new subject: the bowl judgments. These are in a category of their own. John saw the heavenly temple opened. This gave the seven angels who carried the bowl judgments egress from God’s presence. He is the one who sends them. The "tabernacle of testimony" refers to the temple as the building that housed God’s law, which the earth-dwellers disregard. God was now going to hold them to it and judge them by it.

Verses 5-8

The preparation of the agents of judgment 15:5-8

Verse 6

The seven angels now came out from God’s presence (cf. Revelation 15:1). Each of them had received a plague (judgment) from God. Beale regarded these seven judgments as figurative of complete, severe judgment and not seven literal woes. [Note: Beale, pp. 803 and 812.] The angels’ clean linen garments represent holiness and righteousness (cf. Revelation 19:8; Revelation 19:14), and their golden sashes mark them as on a punitive mission (cf. Revelation 1:18). Their clothing befits their purpose, which is to purify the earth. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 242-43.]

Verse 7

One of the living creatures (Revelation 4:6) gave each angel a bowl full of God’s wrath. It is interesting that God described the prayers of the saints as being held in bowls in Revelation 5:8. These prayers thus connect with the outpouring of these judgments in a suggestive cause and effect relationship. The two sets of bowls in chapters five and here are different, however, and they contain different things. The priests in Israel’s earthly temple also used bowls in their worship (1 Kings 7:50; 2 Kings 12:13; 2 Kings 25:15). The reference to the living God "who lives forever and ever" adds more solemnity to an already solemn scene (cf. Revelation 10:6; Deuteronomy 32:40; Hebrews 10:31).

Verse 8

The smoke probably symbolizes the presence of God (cf. Exodus 19:18; Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:11-14; 2 Chronicles 7:1-3; Isaiah 6:4; Ezekiel 11:23; Ezekiel 44:4). No one could enter God’s presence until He had finished judging the earth-dwellers. This indicates the climactic nature of these judgments.

This chapter is really more of a prelude to chapter 16 than a conclusion to chapters 12-14. Chapters 12-14 record prophetically historical information about the Great Tribulation but not in the chronological sequence of the three sets of seven judgments (seals, trumpets, and bowls). Chapter 15 is similar to Revelation 8:1 in that it prepares for the next set of judgments, the bowls. It prepares for the resumption of the chronological progression of events on earth that ended temporarily in Revelation 11:19.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/revelation-15.html. 2012.