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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Revelation 15

THE GROUP OF THE SEVEN VIALS (Ch. 15 and 16)

The fourth group delineates the conflict waged by the three enemies of the kingdom of God against it; the sixth, how they are one after another vanquished. The fifth forms a sort of prelude to the latter. The kingdom of God has no absolute past; all the old deeds of God become new again in it, whenever the circumstances recur, which called them forth. Thus, here, the Egyptian plagues revive again, by means of which in ancient times the beast, whose fury had once more begun to exhibit itself in the days of John, was visited in its first form of manifestation, and was at last crushed.

The Seer beholds seven angels, who have the last seven plagues, ch. Revelation 15:1. In the presence of these angels and their work the just made perfect sing, with anticipative confidence, the praise of God, Revelation 15:2-4. Then the seven angels proceed forth from the temple of God, and seven vials are given to them filled with the wrath of God, Revelation 15:5-8. How the seven vials, one after another, are poured out, and what effects proceed from them, is represented in ch. 16, at the close of which we find the power of the world lying shattered to pieces on the ground.

Verse 1

Ch. 15 Revelation 15:1. And I saw another sign in heaven, great and wonderful; seven angels, that had the last seven plagues; for with them is finished to wrath of God. A great and wonderful sign (comp. the expression, “a great sign,” in ch. Revelation 12:1, and “another sign” in ch. Revelation 12:3) this vision is called, not in respect to the others, but considered by itself; not in contrast to the others, but as a part of the whole. This book consists of simply such signs. The words indicate, that a new scene begins. That the sign is called great and wonderful on account of the height of the matter denoted by it, is evident from the intentionally corresponding expression in Revelation 15:3, “Great and wonderful are thy works.”

The question, whether the seven angels here are identical with the angels to whom the seven trumpets were given, is a frivolous one. As seven angels are mentioned quite indefinitely, we are alike without grounds for considering them either as identical or as different.

For the present, John sees merely the seven angels, and only afterwards the temple and their proceeding out of it. That they are there represented as coming out of the temple, does not imply, that they had been shut up in the temple. Their connection with the temple serves merely to express a thought, which still could not he distinctly expressed here.

The angels have the seven last plagues. The instruments of these plagues, the seven vials, are only said to have been given to them at Revelation 15:7. How John should have already known, that they had the seven last plagues, is not said. But they no doubt had their signature, which was revealed to him by the Spirit. Their countenance alone must have bespoken them to be ministers of judgment. The eye as of a flame of fire speaks not less distinctly than the vials.

It has often been supposed, that this verse supplies the place of a superscription, introduces by a brief anticipative survey, what is reported at length in the description that follows. And undoubtedly, it is the case, that the verse to some extent supplies the place of a superscription. But it is not the less certain, on the other hand, that it is not reported on the appearance of the angels by way of anticipation, but that a preliminary view of the seven angels was already granted to the Seer. What was perceived by him in Revelation 15:2-4 implies this; it must have been intelligible to him, if he had not previously seen the great and wonderful sight of the seven angels. It is to what these were destined to accomplish that the song of praise refers, which was raised by those who stood on the sea of glass mingled with fire. Only in the presence of the seven angels could they sing as they did. The song forms a commentary on the appearance of the angels. We have an air without words, if these did not precede. Ch. Revelation 8:2 is quite analogous. There the prophet sees the angels with the seven trumpets. Then in Revelation 15:3-5 follows a sort of prelude, the vision of the angel with frankincense. Thereafter commences the work of the seven ministers of divine vengeance.

The prophet sees the angels who have the seven last plagues. Why they are so called is expressly stated: “because by them is the wrath of God finished.” We have here a clear and certain proof for the division of the Revelation into groups. After these seven plagues no others can come. If the wrath is finished (comp. Isaiah 9:20; Daniel 11:36; Lamentations 4:11) no further manifestations of it can possibly enter. Bengel’s remark, “after the completion of the seven plagues, the holy displeasure of God toward the other enemies does not therefore cease,” is only an evidence of embarrassment. The subject of discourse is of the last plagues generally, of the finishing of the wrath of God, without any limitation as to the object. The song, also, which the conquerors sing on the sea of glass, shows that matters can proceed no farther on the same scene. It implies, that the end is absolutely reached. And if still in the chapters that follow (Revelation 17-20), there are delineated frightful judgments of God, the only possible explanation is, that a co-ordinate series is introduced, that at ch. 17 we have a new beginning. By these seven plagues the worldly power is completely annihilated. But this does not hinder, that in the following portions other aspects of this great drama should be exhibited; nay, it is necessary that this should be done; a group must still follow, to disclose what we naturally expect after the vision of the three enemies in Revelation 12-14. These plagues are all inflicted on the first beast and his worshippers; of the fate of the second beast, and of the great author of the seduction, Satan, we learn nothing here. And even in regard to the first beast, we still do not receive a complete answer to the questions which naturally arise out of Revelation 12-14. The beast is here always represented as a whole, and as the object of the judicial severity of God. But in ch. Revelation 13:1 mention is made of the heads and horns of the beast. What becomes of these, of the former in so far as they are still present and future, we expect some disclosure to be given. We expect to find represented, not merely the judgments on the beast, the ungodly power of the world in general, but the judgments also on its individual phases. Now, all this we do find in Revelation 17-20, to which the present group stands in the relation of a prelude.

The “last” judgments of God are represented also by the two groups of the seven seals and the seven trumpets.

This is as certain as that they each bring things to a termination, have their issue in exhibiting the ungodly world prostrate on the ground. The difference between the present group and these earlier ones is merely, that the former take for granted what is described in Revelation 12-14—that here the judgments alight on the ungodly power of the world, while there the object of the judicial severity of God is more generally delineated. There ungodliness, here the ungodly power of the world. It accords with this, that the seven plagues are here brought in. This designation of the judgments of God has respect to the plagues of Egypt (comp. Exodus 9:14), the object of which was not the ungodly world in general, but specially the ungodly world-power. The plagues and the beast necessarily go together. Because the name of plagues was formerly appropriated to denote the judgments of God on the first phase of that power, so here also the judgments that were impending over it are called by the name of plagues. [Note: That the word has here the limited sense indicated above, is clear from the correspondence of the references to the Egyptian plagues, which pervade the whole description, and is also confirmed by ch. 11:6. It is only in an exceptional way, that in ch. 9:20, the judgments of the trumpets are denoted by plagues. The general phraseology does not exclude the particular. If this finds place here, then the plagues, even apart from the explanation we have given, cannot be called the last with reference to earlier ones; for no earlier plagues had been spoken of.]

As compared with the two earlier groups the shortness of this, in its representation of the judgments of God, is peculiar. These follow stroke upon stroke. The meaning of this racy shortness—which has the same end in view as elsewhere the full delineation—which is but one of diverse ways to impress the mind, and is here the more in its place, as the exhibition of the important sixth group hastens on—has been quite misapprehended by those, who conclude from it, that the seven plagues, which accompany the worldly power through whole centuries, and each of which brings together in a condensed form what is constantly repeating itself anew, as often as the worldly power renews its hostility toward the kingdom of God, shall have to run their course in a very brief space of time.

The expression, “is finished” is used by way of anticipation; it shall be finished, when all the seven shall have taken effect.

Verse 2

Revelation 15:2. And I saw as a sea of glass mingled with fire, and them that had gotten the victory of the beast and of his image, and of the number of his name, that they stood on the sea of glass and had the harps of God. The sea denotes the great flood of the wonderful works of God, of his righteous and holy ways, of his judicial acts manifested among men. The glass denotes their blamelessness and purity; and the sea being mingled with fire, indicates that it is chiefly about the manifestations of God’s wrath, his punitive righteousness, that the vision is occupied (comp. on ch. Revelation 4:5-6). The meaning of the symbol is given by the song, which those standing on it sing. Both the symbol and the song anticipate what is to be accomplished by the seven angels with the seven last plagues; precisely as in ch. Revelation 11:15-18 in immediate prospect of the last catastrophe, the blessed in heaven rejoice, and the four and twenty elders give thanks, that the Lord now comes in his kingdom. The sea of glass is the product of the deeds of the seven angels, who have not as yet begun their work. But to the eye of faith, whose part it is to anticipate the future, the sea is already there. That those, who stand on the sea of glass, have to do with the impending work of the seven angels, that the sea is a symbolical embodiment of their work, and that their song celebrates it, is clear, not only from the narrative beginning with the angels, and again returning to them after the interlude of Revelation 15:5, but also from the correspondence between the words in Revelation 15:3, “great and wonderful are thy works,” and those in Revelation 15:1, “a sign great and wonderful.”

The expression, “standing on a sea of glass,” carries an allusion to Exodus 15:1, where Moses beside the Red Sea, with the children of Israel, sings a song to the Lord,—comp. “they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb,” in Revelation 15:3. The Red Sea, in which the Egyptians were drowned, and which therefore presents itself as an image of the righteous judgments of God, was a type of this sea of glass.

The subjects are the conquering, not those who have conquered, if viewed with respect to the present of the Seer, in which the victory was still in being. Bengel justly compares “these are they who come out of the great tribulation,” in ch. Revelation 7:14. The words are literally: the conquering out of the beast. This peculiar construction, quite unusual elsewhere, points to the circumstance, that before the victory they were in the power of the beast, and are rendered plain by ch. Revelation 11:7, where it is said of the beast, “and it shall overcome them and kill them.” [Note: Mark: “It is not without emphasis, that along with the conquering of the enemy, an indication should be given of his former power, from which they had vindicated themselves, and of a full escape being made by the victors from his power.” There is a similar pregnancy in Psalms 18:21, “Out of the horns of the buffalo thou hearest me.”]

The text followed by Luther, after “and of his image,” adds “and of his mark,” καὶ? ἐ?κ τοῦ? χαρά?γματος αὐ?τοῦ? , in opposition to the best authorities, and also to ch. Revelation 13:17, according to which the mark consists either of the name of the beast, or of the number of his name; so that the latter cannot be put co-ordinately with the other.

Harps in the hands of the glorified saints are also mentioned in ch. Revelation 5:8, Revelation 14:2; but harps of God, such as are consecrated to his praise, occur only here. [Note: The “instruments of the song of God,” in 1 Chronicles 16:42; 2 Chronicles 7:6, are not quite analogous. For these denote instruments, which accompany the praise of God. The words in 2 Chronicles 30:21, כלי עז ליהוח more nearly correspond.] Vitringa and others would transfer the scene to the earth, instead of placing it in heaven; but the parallelism of the section ch. Revelation 7:9, Revelation 14:1-5, decides against this. Accordingly, it is the just made perfect, who here, after having themselves overcome by blood and death, celebrate the earthly triumph of the cause, which they once themselves served on earth, and the judgments of God, by which he brings to destruction its enemy, the beast.

Verses 3-4

Revelation 15:3. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, and say, Great and wonderful are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou king of the heathen. Revelation 15:4. Who would not fear thee? [Note: Very important MSS. have merely φοβηθῃ?͂? without σε . But in the fundamental passage of Jeremiah, it is said, “Who would not fear thee?”And the simple, who would not fear, has something bald, comp. also ch. 11:18, 14:7, 19:5.] O Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou alone art godly. For, all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are become manifest.

From the expression in Revelation 15:2, “standing on the sea,” from the accompanying harps, which indicate the lyrical character of the song, and from its laudatory matter, we can only understand by the song of Moses the song recorded in Exodus 15, not the prophetical song in Deuteronomy 32. So also we are led to infer, from the mission of the angels, which is celebrated by this song. Their work was to renew the plagues of Egypt, the completion of which in the overthrow of Pharaoh was celebrated in that song of Moses.

The song is at the same time the song of Moses and of the Lamb. The latter does not belong to the Lamb as its author, but gives glory to him as the Saviour of his suffering people. It is for the sake of the Lamb, that the seven angels are sent forth by God for the destruction of the world, and for the relief of his saints. Hence the song of Moses will also be the song which celebrates the glorious salvation that was obtained for the church through his instrumentality. This is confirmed by a comparison of the passage from which the designation of Moses as the servant of God is taken, Exodus 14:31, “And Israel saw that great hand, which the Lord showed towards the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed on him and his servant Moses.” In Exodus 15 Moses is not expressly called the author of the song. By the analogy of Exodus 15:1, and by Revelation 14:1, where the Lamb stands at the head of his hundred forty and four thousand on Mount Zion, it may well be supposed, that the Lamb sings this song along with his people. The addition alone “of the Lamb” forbids us to expect a literal agreement with the song of Moses. It would let down the salvation effected by the Lamb, if it were represented as a mere repetition of the earlier one. A new salvation, a new song. Isaiah, too, who, in Isaiah 12, applies the song of Moses to the Messiah’s salvation, satisfies himself with some merely verbal allusions, the place of which is here supplied by the express reference to the song of Moses, that is wanting in the prophet. But it is common to this song of the Lamb and the song of Moses, that in both alike the power of the heathen world is the object of the judicial energy of God. The (Habakkuk 3) third chapter of Habakkuk also is such another variation of the song of Moses. It begins with the prayer, that God would revive his work in the midst of the years; and then praises God for the fulfilment of this prayer, since he had in a glorious manner made the old new again, which there, as well as here, is anticipated by faith.

On the words, “Great and wonderful are thy works, Lord God Almighty,” comp. Psalms 92:6, “How great are thy works, O Lord, very deep are thy thoughts.” They are the works and purposes of God for the deliverance of his people, which can only be accomplished by the destruction of the wicked, their enemies. See also Psalms 66:3, “Say to God, how terrible art thou in thy works, because of the fulness of thy power must thine enemies feign to thee.” The works of God there also are his judgments on the proud heathen world. Their greatness and wonderfulness here consist in this, that he has given to the feeble the victory over the apparently omnipotent. Berleb. Bible, “Now the works of God come to their height, just as formerly the wickedness of the world had come to its height.” In the epithets, Lord God, Almighty, by which what is said of God is traced up to its necessity in the divine nature, it is implied, that this nature is the source from which the stream of the actions hits flowed; comp. on ch. Revelation 1:8. On the words, “Just and true are thy ways,” comp. Psalms 145:17, “The Lord is just in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” The justice or righteousness is manifested in this, that he gives to each their own, to his church salvation, to his enemies destruction. The truthfulness of God’s ways refers not merely to his faithfulness in keeping promise, but also to his omnipotence. The truthfulness of God would then also be affected, if he could not perform what he had promised to his church, or what the relation in which he stands to his church on earth, essentially demands.

The justice and truthfulness of the ways of God may be perceived by this, that he makes himself known as the king of the heathen. (Luther, by following an unsupported reading, and against the fundamental passage in Jeremiah, has: thou king of saints, a title not given to God in all Scripture). For, the heathen are the power which opposes itself to the glorification of his righteousness and truth. When once this power is laid prostrate on the ground, as it shall be at the end of the seven plagues, then every month shall be stopped from complaining against the justice and truthfulness of his ways. The designation of God rests on Jeremiah 10:7, “Who would not fear thee, thou king of the heathen?” We can have the less doubt of the reference to this passage, as with the first words of it also the following verse begins. The whole subject of that chapter of Jeremiah, which is, that not idols, but God must be feared, is by such a reference quickened into new life in the soul.

In seasons of tribulation on earth, when the worldly power appears to triumph over the church, she has often been led to doubt the greatness of God’s works, the justice and truth of his ways; to doubt whether he really were the king of the heathen. Now this doubt is put to shame; it is dispelled by deeds; the clouds, which veiled the glory of God from her eyes, are made entirely to vanish.

The fear in Revelation 15:4 comprehends reverence. That God is everywhere to be feared, and his name to be glorified, has its foundation in the truth, that he alone is holy. The word ὁ?́?σιος , godly, when used of men, denotes a tender and solemn regard toward God and the relations appointed by him; [Note: Plato, Gorg. p. 507, B: περὶ? μὲ?ν ἀ?νθρώ?τους τὰ? προσή?κοντα πρά?ττων , δὶ και ἀ?́?ν πρά?ττοι , περὶ? δὲ? θεοὺ?ς ὁ?́?σια . Plutarch. Demetr. c. 24: τοῦ?το δὲ? καὶ? πρὸτοὺθωοὺ?ς ὁ?́?σιον καὶ? πρὸ?ς ἀ?νθρώ?πους δί?καιον . Polybius 23. 10. 8, παραβῆ?ναι καὶ? τὰ? πρὸτοὺ?ς ἀ?νθρώ?πους δί?καις , καὶ? τὰ? πρὸτοὺθεοὺ?ς ὁ?́?σια .] when used of God, which, in the New Testament, it is only here and in ch. Revelation 16:5, it denotes regard to his own character and the government of the world as grounded therein. In ch. Revelation 16:5 also, the word is used in reference to his regard for justice, which he maintains through his judgments. It differs essentially from holy. For this, in the language of Scripture, denotes the absoluteness that is in God, and comprehends not merely sinlessness, but also omnipotence. Uprightness, ישר , when used of God, much more nearly corresponds to what is meant by godly. But God is called godly, not only in contrast to men, but also to the heathen gods, which violently broke through the limits of the moral order of the world. Indeed, according to the fundamental passage, Psalms 86:8-9, “Among the gods there is none like to thee, O Lord, and nothing is like thy works; all heathen whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and give glory to thy name,” the contrast with heathen gods is pre-eminently to be taken into account, which in this antagonism to the proper idea of the divine must necessarily be abolished. How much there is to do with the “Thou only art godly,” is most clearly exhibited in the representation of Nägelsbach in his Homeric Theology. He says there, at p. 31, “We never find holiness expressed as a constituent element of divinity, so long as this is considered by itself, or may be understood from the converse of the gods with each other. Never is an epithet applied to deity, which indicated the consciousness of anything like that which is meant by the Bible when it speaks of the holiness of the true God. The famous declaration of Herodotus: the deity is envious, finds an ample confirmation even in Homer. Among themselves, indeed, the gods are not envious of good fortune. And the representation given in Homer of human affairs has provided for the gods an instrument, as it were, in the furies, for avenging as guilt and sin uninterrupted good fortune, which, though in itself guiltless, yet appears as unnatural, and trenching on their prerogatives.

Because the wrath of deity in Homer has respect, not so properly to the sin as to the person of man, it is never appeased by a confession or renunciation of sin. The personally offended deity can at pleasure strike so high the worth of the offence committed against it, that all satisfaction offered by man will still remain below the estimate. Hence, even on this territory the gods continue standing in the sphere of common human nature, as they do also generally in all mental affections.”That God alone is godly is affirmed primarily on this account, that all heathen shall come and worship before him; and this again grows out of the circumstance, that his righteous deeds (ch. Revelation 19:8) or his judgments have become manifest. We might suppose that the coming of the heathen serves as a reason only in connection with this its foundation, q.d. for thy righteous deeds are made manifest in so glorious a manner, that all heathen shall come and worship before thee. But for this supposition we have no sufficient ground; the coming of the heathen also of itself is a proof of the declaration, that God alone is godly. For such a result could take place only in consequence of God making known his righteous character. And the fundamental passage of Psalms 86:8-10 quoted above, from which the expression “glorify thy name” is taken, is against the supposition, as is also the alone. There, too, the maintaining of the glory of God is made primarily to appear from the coming of the heathen—comp. Zephaniah 2:11; Zechariah 14:9, Zechariah 14:16. But the confidence in respect to the coming of the heathen is founded in the fact, that God’s greatness manifests itself in glorious deeds, corresponding to the word, “for thy judgments are become manifest.” It is the reference to this fundamental passage which has given rise to the future, “shall come and worship.”Otherwise, the preterites would have been used according to the general style of the song, which anticipates the future. Now also in reality the future has in great part been changed into the preterite. In consequence of the righteous procedure of God all heathen are already come. The “all heathen” receives its limitation from what follows, ch. Revelation 16:19; Revelation 16:21, according to which the heathen to the very last harden themselves against the judgments of God that fall upon them, and repent not to give him glory. The heathen referred to, therefore, are only those who among all sorts of people fear God and do righteousness ( Acts 10:35), persons of susceptible minds, who are capable of laying to heart the righteous deeds of God, and of receiving a deeper impression from his holy procedure toward men on earth. Minds of this description are at all times to be found on earth; minds feelingly alive to the fact, that God avenges the cause of Christ and his church on an indifferent and persecuting world, and that by mighty deeds he shows himself to be a God that judges in the earth.

Verse 5

Revelation 15:5. And after that I saw, and the temple of the tent of the testimony was opened in heaven. The expression, “After that I saw,” indicates that here the main scene begins, and that what went before has only the character of an introduction, a prelude. That the building of this group is provided with such a portal, draws a broader line of demarcation between it and the preceding vision, and tends to make its independence more manifest. [Note: Vitringa: “For this reason, doubtless, among others, that the Spirit did not wish us to connect the vision of the vials with the former one, which we have seen had its termination in the destruction of the beast.”] What is signified by the opening of the temple, and the procession of the angels out of it, may be understood from the more specific description given of it: the tent of the testimony. (The temple of the tent of the testimony, q.d. the temple in its property as the tent of testimony; it is not said: the temple of the testimony, because in the Old Testament mention is made only of the tent of the testimony. The expression might the more fitly be retained, since the heavenly temple consists as little of stones as of wood). The tent of the testimony,—so was the tabernacle called, because it contained the ark with the testimony, the law of God which testifies against sin. Importance must here be given to this in the punishment of those who have impiously transgressed it; comp. on ch. Revelation 11:19. The word of the Lord, that no iota or title of the law shall fail, maintains itself in this, that the law is fulfilled on all those who withdraw themselves from a voluntary fulfilment of it. The commandments of God are not a dead letter, but a living force, which falls on the despisers of it, and crushes them to the dust. It is an elevated spectacle, when the temple of the tabernacle is opened in heaven—dreadful for the world, but joyful, though mingled with trembling for the church.

Verse 6

Revelation 15:6. And the seven angels went out of the temple, who had the seven plagues, clothed in pure white linen, and girt about their breast with golden girdles.

The angels have the seven plagues even before the seven vials are given to them. This is to be inferred, not merely from the words, “who had the seven plagues,” but also from their going forth out of the tent of testimony.

This implies, that they had already been intrusted with the work of vengeance.

In the clothing of the angels their mission is represented, the work which they had to accomplish. Even because they are angels, they come into consideration only in respect to their mission, and the clothing cannot, as in the case of Christ (in ch. Revelation 1:13), of Michael ( Daniel 10:5), refer to the person, but only to the business.

The linen clothing is not mentioned as “the attire of waiting and serving,” but on account of its shining whiteness. In ch. Revelation 19:8, the righteous deeds of the saints are denoted by pure and bright clothing. So here, the righteous deeds of the angels and indirectly of God—comp. Revelation 15:4. To the pure corresponds in Revelation 15:3 the “just and true are thy ways;” to the white, glittering, the “great and wonderful are thy works;”comp. the difference between washing and making white at ch. Revelation 7:14. The sea of the divine judgments and deeds of righteousness is compared in ch. Revelation 4:6 to glass and to crystal: as a sea of glass, like to crystal. To the glass, denoting blamelessness, corresponds here the pure; to the crystal, denoting terribleness, awfulness, glory, the white. The pure and white also holds in respect to the gold. It is employed here on account of its glittering purity, as in ch. Revelation 1:13, comp. ch. Revelation 21:18, “and the city is pure gold, like unto clear glass.” In Job 37:22 the bright pure splendour of the sun is called figuratively gold, and to it is compared God’s frightful majesty.

Verse 7

Revelation 15:7. And one of the four beasts gave to the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. That the vials are presented to the angels by one of the four beasts, is explained by ch. Revelation 16:1, “Pour out the seven vials of the wrath of God on the earth.” The cherubim act here us the representatives of the living creatures of the earth (comp. on ch. Revelation 4:6), on which the judgments of God are to alight. The agency of the cherubim in ch. 6 is quite analogous; see on ch. Revelation 6:1; Revelation 6:6.

The symbol of the vials rests on the passages of the Old Testament, which speak of the pouring out of the wrath of God; comp. the pour out in ch. Revelation 16:1. The pouring out has respect to the copiousness of the manifestations of God’s wrath. The vials serve the same purpose. They are regarded as vessels, from which it may be conveniently and copiously poured out. The two fundamental passages, in which the pouring out of the wrath of God occurs in reference to the heathen, are Zephaniah 3:8, “that I may pour out upon them mine indignation, all my fierce anger; for all the earth shall be devoured by the fire of my jealousy;” and Psalms 79:6, “Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name” (comp. the passage, which depends on this in Jeremiah 10:25). By the connection there, the heathen and the kingdoms are not the heathen nations generally, but those which had acted hostilely toward Israel, consequently the same as those, which are here threatened by the vials. The expression pour out points back to Revelation 15:3, “have shed their blood round about Jerusalem.”

The vials being of gold indicates, that the wrath does not stand opposed to righteousness, but rather forms the energetic exercise of it. The purity and the splendour are here also, as in Revelation 15:6, the properties of gold, that are taken into account.

The two fundamental passages lead us to regard the contents of the vials as of a fiery nature, and in the Revelation also fire is the common symbol of wrath.

That God lives for ever (comp. on the expression: who lives for ever and ever, at ch. Revelation 1:18, Revelation 4:9-10, Revelation 10:6), was given even in Deuteronomy 32:40 as a pledge, that he would completely avenge his own and his people’s enemies. In Hebrews 10:31 it is represented as a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. With God’s eternity his omnipotence is inseparably bound up—see my Comm. on Psalms 90:2. To the wrath of the Eternal here corresponds the wrath of the Almighty in ch. Revelation 19:15. How dreadful the wrath of the Eternal and the Almighty in comparison of the wrath of impotent mortals!

Verse 8

Revelation 15:8. And the temple was full of the smoke of the glory of God and of his power; and no one could go into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. Smoke in the Revelation is always the product of fire, Revelation 8:4, Revelation 9:2, Revelation 14:11, Revelation 18:18, comp. Psalms 148:8; and must rather be regarded in this light here, as fire was all but expressly named in Revelation 15:7. For, when the golden vials are said to be full of the wrath of God, this can only be rendered visible by the symbol of fire. But fire, in so far as it belongs to God, constantly appears in the Revelation as a sign of his wrath. It is no contradiction to this view of the smoke, as proceeding from the fire of God’s wrath, that it is said to be the smoke “of (literally, out of) the glory of God, and of his power.” For, this does not properly denote the origin of the smoke, but the origin of the fact, that the temple was full of the smoke of God. In Habakkuk 2:14, also, “for the earth is full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as waters cover the sea,” the glory of the Lord is an angry one, manifesting itself in judgments. So also in the fundamental passage, Numbers 14:21; and here in ver. 10, and in ch. Revelation 16:19, where the wrathful glory of the Lord appears before the whole community. It is decidedly confirmed by Isaiah 6:4, “and the house was full of smoke.” The whole manifestation there bears a wrathful character. Isaiah cries out before an angry God, “Woe is me, for I am undone.” The message he receives is one of wrath. Of the same description, too, is the smoke in Exodus 19:18, “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.” The whole manifestation there also was an angry one—comp. Hebrews 12:18. It called aloud to Israel, that his God was a consuming fire, that no one could escape, who might venture to set at nought his commandments. Nowhere in Scripture is smoke a symbol “of God’s presence as rich in grace,” or “a covering of the divine majesty, so that no one might come too near, or approach at an unseasonable time.” (See my Comm. on Psalms 18:8, and for some further remarks on smoke as a symbol of divine anger).

The second part rests on Exodus 40:34-35, “Then the cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Comp. also 1 Kings 8:10-11, “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord; so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud. For the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” The cloud there corresponds to the smoke here, and produced the same effect; although we must still carefully distinguish between them, and not, like Vitringa, put the cloud in place of the smoke in both passages alike. That the cloud, as usual in other cases, bears also a threatening character in the pillar of cloud and fire, is plain from the correspondence between the fire by night and the cloud by day ( Numbers 9:15-16). It was out of the cloud that destruction came forth on the Egyptians ( Exodus 14:24). In the pillar of cloud the Lord came down to execute judgment on Miriam and Aaron ( Numbers 12:5). But there, as well as here, the threatening carries a promise in its bosom. If Israel is truly Israel, it affects only the enemies, and is to him a pledge of salvation (Num. 9:35). The God of energetic zeal for righteousness is his God. So long as Israel was the people of the Lord the pillar of cloud exclaimed to all his enemies, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” So here; that the temple is full of smoke, and no one is able to go into it, this is “a sign for believers, that the Lord in love to them was now going to complete the destruction of their enemies.”(Züllig). Besides, we see quite plainly in Isaiah 6 the reason why none could enter in. If God manifests himself in the whole glory of his nature, in the whole energy of his punitive righteousness, the creature must feel itself penetrated by a deep, feeling of its nothingness— not merely the sinful creature, as there in the case of Isaiah, but also the finite, according to Job 4:18, Job 15:15. Comp. on the words in ch. Revelation 1:17, “and I fell down at his feet as dead.” Bengel remarks, “when God pours out his fury, it is fit that even those who stand well with him should withdraw for a little, and should restrain their inquiring looks. All should stand back in profound reverence, till by and bye the sky become clear again.” Bossuet, too, “while God strikes, one betakes to flight, and rather endeavours to conceal one’s self than to enter into the place whence the strokes proceed. When he has ceased to send forth his plagues we may then again enter into his sanctuary to consider there the order of his judgments.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 15". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/revelation-15.html.