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VI. THE SEVEN ANGELS WITH THE LAST PLAGUES (Chapter 15)
With this chapter the successive order of the visional events were resumed, as connected with the end of chapter thirteen, where the prolepsis of chapter fourteen had broken the continuity of the visions by projecting the symbols into the final scenes of the judgments of God executed against the apostate city and the oppressors of the saints.
In order to re-establish connection between chapters thirteen and fifteen, observe again that the first beast (of the sea) symbolized the Roman empire, personified in the ruling emperor; and the second beast (of the land) symbolized his Palestinian minions who compelled the inhabitants of Palestine to worship the image of the imperial beast, and caused all who refused to thus receive the mark of the imperial image-worship to be killed. In the course of these visional events the faithful saints were slain, and chapter thirteen ended with the full and complete roll of the martyred saints. The interposed prolepsis of chapter fourteen introduced a vision of the whole martyred number, symbolized by an hundred forty-four thousand "redeemed from the earth,” and the visions were projected beyond the intervening chapters to the end. That chapter (14) therefore must be studied as an interlude preview of the final consummation of all events. But chapter fifteen reverted to the vision of events in the order of the sequence and succession that was interrupted at the end of chapter thirteen, thus re-establishing the orderly connection.
The contents of chapter fifteen may now be arranged as follows:
(1) The sign of the seven angels--15:1-2. (2) The song of Moses and the Lamb--15:3-4. (3) The temple of the tabernacle of the testimony-- 15:5-8.
(1) The sign of the seven angels--15:1-2.
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 - -15:1. The “sign in heaven” carried the same import as observed in previous comments on other visions and in the Lord’s own preview of the destruction of Jerusalem in Mat_24:31 . What was here envisioned in heaven (the sphere of authorities) was carried out on earth (among the inhabitants of Palestine) with special reference to Judah and Jerusalem.
The seven angels with the seven vials and plagues formed a visional recapitulation of the seven seals and trumpets of the first series of visions--the difference existed in the central figures of the visions. The first series surrounded Christ, the Lamb; the second series surrounded the church, his Bride. The second series, though repetitive, was also a progressive development of the events in an enlargement of judicial punishments inflicted on the empire-beast. The seven plagues in the hands of the seven angels were contained in seven vials, as mentioned in verse 7, and this chapter had the effect of an introduction to the pouring out of the plagues contained in the vials of the following chapter.
In reference to the seven vials, verse 1 stated that in them is filled up the wrath of God, which indicated the fulfillment of time. The function of the seven angels therefore was to execute the seven plagues in the series of cosmic woes to be poured out on the earth--the land of the Jews. The visions of these final plagues, or woes, anticipated the overthrow of apostate Jerusalem, referred to previously as the fall of the harlot Babylon. Later, the same seven angels were seen showing to John the new Jerusalem emerging as the spiritual Jerusalem in contrast with the old apostate Jerusalem.
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 - -15:2. Here was the vision of a crystal sea, with the transparency of glass, signifying that the impending events were soon to be manifest. The mingling of fire in the crystal denoted the consuming judgment of God soon to descend upon the beast and his minions. Standing on the crystal sea were the host of martyrs “that had gotten victory over the beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name . . . having the harps of God,” and they sang “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.” The reference to the song of Moses indicated that the elements of this vision were formed from the deliverance of Israel and were a comparison with the Red Sea, which swallowed up Pharaoh and his hosts. The saints had “gotten victory” over the emperor-beast as Israel was victorious over Pharaoh; and as Israel sang the triumphant “song of Moses” standing by the sea; so these saints also, standing on the sea, sang “the song of Moses and the Lamb.” It was Pharaoh there, and the emperor here; the victorious Israelites there, the triumphant saints here; it was oppressed Israel delivered from Egypt there, the persecuted saints “redeemed from the earth.”
The reference to the Egyptian Pharaoh in comparison with the Roman emperor was made clear by the mention of “the song of Moses, the servant of God” and “them that had gotten victory over the beast, over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name”--the language identifies Pharaoh Rameses and Nero Caesar.
The mention of the victorious host having the harps of God, as in chapter fourteen, could not be literal any more than the angels and martyred saints could be physical. The harps here, as in preceding visions, were the symbol of the perfect melodious harmony of the grand symphony of redeemed voices singing. “the song of Moses and the Lamb” in exultant victory, standing on the crystal sea; as Israel in the exodus sang “the song of Moses,” standing by the sea.
The analogy drawn enforced the relation between the oppression and deliverance of Israel in the Old Testament, and the persecution and victory of the church in the New Testament. The symbols and apocalypses were parallel, and must be so applied. Otherwise the New Testament history of the early oppressions of the church loses force, and, the visions lose meaning, the symbols become enigmatic, the entire book becomes a dilemma, and its apocalyptic events anachronistic.
(2) The song of Moses and the Lamb--15:3-4.
1. Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints --15:3. The song of Moses had long been incorporated in the temple services, which the temple worshippers sang in choruses. This visional victory song of the saints, as previously stated, was patterned after the Old Testament exodus song of Moses, led by Miriam; but here the phrase and the Lamb was added- -the song of Moses and the Lamb.
The rhetoric of the song enhances the supreme excellence and glory of the object of its praise--the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb of God. The comparison of the irreverent familiarity of present times in addressing God, as if He were on equality with man is an inadvertent profanation. The eulogies of the song are sublime, as should be all prayer to God. The supreme title Lord God Almighty expressed omnipotence; the tribute great and marvellous was exclamatory of matchless majesty; the attributes just and true, were the acknowledgment of submission to His righteous judgment; the coronation name, thou King of saints, included the saints of all ages, hence has been variously translated thou King of the ages; and it ascribed to Him eternal existence and the Sovereign of all saints, through whose power they were freed from the dominion of the imperial beast.
2. Who shall not fear thee, 0 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 --15:4. The interrogation, “Who shall not fear thee?” was expressive of complete and unalloyed adoration, short of the late irreverent familiarity. The refrain thou only art holy was the superlative holiness inherent only in God. The declaration all nations shall come and worship before thee was promissory of liberation from Roman image idolatry and the freedom of all men to worship God. The judicial declaration for thy judgments are manifest had reference to the meeting out of retributive justice to the oppressors of the saints.
The song is a combination of many triumphant expressions of Old Testament psalmody of praise and adoration pertaining to Israel’s deliverance from enemy nations and lord of dominion, and again represents a parallel of apocalypses of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church.
(3) The temple of the tabernacle of the testimony-- 15:5-8.
1. And after that I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony was open-- 15:5. The phrase “after these things” referred to the things that occurred after the vision of the exultant song of triumph. The first part of this chapter served to announce the scene which was continued and completed in chapter sixteen. It was after. these preliminary visions of the seven angels that the procession forming the final events began.
The reference to the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was in comparison with the measuring of the temple in chapter eleven. The picture here portrayed was that of the temple transferred from Jerusalem to heaven and transformed from temporal to spiritual. The vision is based on all that the temple on mount Zion meant to the nation of Israel. “Who are the Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever” ( Rom_9:4-5 ). Thus the tabernacle stood for the most precious things in old covenant history. It was appropriate for the seven angels with the vials of plagues to be poured out on the harlot Jerusalem, ready for destruction, to come from the transformed temple in heaven.
2. 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-- 15:6. The attire of the seven angels for the execution of the plagues of judgment was described, as “clothed in pure and white linen” and as having “golden girdles.” This linen was not ordinary cloth, but was represented in another figure as “arrayed with precious stone, pure and bright”--they were garments with the composition of solid precious jewels. The golden girdle was like that of the son of man in chapter one. It is the symbolism of the glory and power of the Lord himself, and it signified the unlimited exercise of power to exeaute the will of the Lamb and the judgments of God.
3. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever --15 :7. The use of the article the before the four beasts indicated their identity with the creatures mentioned in chapter five. They should not be confused with the sea and land beasts, as applied to the persecutors. The word here has been properly translated creatures, or beings, as in chapter five, which called the signals for the horses and the riders in the visions of persecution. (See comments in chapter 5) The vision of this chapter was the last scene in which the four beings appeared and it was an appropriate representation that these heavenly beings should act as the intermediaries between God and the seven angels of the vials in the role of this scene of plagues. They were special ministers of the Lamb to order the procession of events in imagery of the vials and the plagues.
4. 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-- 15:8. The vision of the cloud-filled temple filled with the smoke from the glory of God, and from his power was the symbol of the invisible presence of God. As recorded in Exo_40:34-35 none could enter the tabernacle during the manifestations of God’s presence. So in this vision no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled- - that is, until the order of events resulting in the destruction of the old Jerusalem and the old temple had been accomplished, after which the new Jerusalem, and the new temple would be open to all true worshipers; when the tabernacle of God with men would be accessible to all nations of men. But until this succession of events occurred the entrance of the temple was barred, and none could appear in intercession before God to avert the doom of destruction pronounced on Jerusalem, that once “faithful city turned harlot,” and the fallen Babylon of apostasy.
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Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 15". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27