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THE ANGELS OF THE SEVEN VIALS
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE pledges and tokens of Divine retribution being thus given, the execution of it is speedily to begin. Seven angels are commissioned to go and inflict upon the beast and his coadjutors the seven last plagues, so called because the wrath of God is accomplished by them.
Revelation 15:1.—No sooner is this command given than the glorious host of martyrs around the throne of God, whose blood had been shed by the beast, sing the song of anticipative triumph, and praise the justice of God, as about to be displayed in the overthrow of the beast. The temple in heaven is then opened, and the seven angels, charged with the execution of Divine justice, go forth from it in splendid apparel. One of the four living creatures which support the throne of God gives each of them a vial, or cruse (bowl), filled with material to execute the wrath of God. The temple is immediately filled with smoke, rising from the fire which burns fiercely round the Al mighty, as the emblem of His anger (Psalms 18:8), and also of His power to destroy. By reason of this, no one is able to enter into the temple, and, of course, no one is permitted to intercede for those who are about to be punished. Punishment, therefore, is certain and inevitable (Moses Stuart).
Revelation 15:2. Sea of glass.—(See Revelation 4:6). Gotten the victory.—R.V. “come victorious from.” Omit “and over his mark.”
Revelation 15:3. Moses … Lamb.—Types of material and spiritual redemption. Of saints.—Should read either “of the nations” or “of the ages.”
Revelation 15:6. White.—Or bright.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 15:1-8
Final Judgments.—The vision which perhaps, under all circumstances, most nearly corresponds with the present is that of Isaiah (chap. 6). There the prophet beheld the vision of God. His train filled the temple, and the house was filled with smoke, and a message of judgment was given to the prophet. That message declared that the sin of the people had reached a climax; they had trifled with convictions, and henceforward the words of God’s servants would harden rather than awaken them—“make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes,” etc. (Isaiah 6:9-10), till the desolating judgments had fallen. The general drift of the present vision is similar: the days of warning are over; the plagues which now fall will fall on those who have trifled with convictions; the sanctuary, which was opened as a refuge, is now closed; none can enter till the plagues have descended. The time has come when the judgments of God fail to stir the conscience which has been deadened by sin; the day when the gracious influences towards repentance were felt has passed. The word that has been spoken is about to descend in judgment (John 7:48).
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 15:3. The Song of Moses and the Lamb.—God’s world, God’s Word, and God’s people, are all full of song. In God’s world there is nothing, animate or inanimate, without the capacity of making sound. The very flints have music in them. “There’s music in the sighing of a reed; there’s music in the gushing of a rill.” In God’s Word we are told that at the creation “the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy.” Moses uttered the deliverance of his people in song, saying, “I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” Deborah taught the people a song, whereby they might praise the Lord for the avenging of Israel. When the new creation dawned, in the birth of Jesus, angels broke through the veil, and were seen and heard by our fellow-men, singing together, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill to men.” David’s life was a song. When Paul and Silas lay chained in the dungeon, they sang praises in the night. The visions of heaven assure us that the ransomed ones are full of song. Our text gives us the theme of their song: “Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.” Why so much singing? Why a world full of it, a Bible full of it, a heaven full of it? Because there is nothing but music that can find expression for the deepest, the most thrilling, emotions of our nature. So often our feeling is too deep for words, the force of passion strikes us, and keeps us, dumb. Sometimes feeling is too deep for looks—nay, even for tears; it seems to dry up the very fountain of tears. But the man who can find no words has often learned that the tongue of the dumb can sing.
“Music! Oh, how faint and weak
Language fades before thy spell!
Why should feeling ever speak,
When thou canst breathe its soul so well?”
I. Who are these heaven-singers?—Answering that question in the language of symbols this book of Revelation tells us: “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, standing on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.” “LO, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands.” These rejoicing ones were once sinners of this our earth. They are no company of unfallen angels, whose songs could have no thrilling tones, that tell of sad memories. The song the ransomed sing is a song that only sinners can sing, as the name upon their foreheads is a name that only redeemed sinners can wear. Every bird that flies through God’s sunshine—thrush, and robin, and linnet, and nightingale—has his own note, which none but he can sing. Every intelligent creature, every son of God, has his own book of psalms. And there is a style, a tone, an inimitable pathos about a sinner’s song that will make his voice for ever distinct among the eternal harmonies. And it is pleasant to think that these heavenly singers have been gathered out of all ages and out of all nations. However the forms of music may vary in different periods and different climes, it will be found at last that when the hearts of men sing they make but one chorus. Black and white, bond and free, Jew and Gentile, sing in harmony together the “song of Moses and the Lamb.” If we inquire, What are these sinners now? the answer comes, The redeemed of the Lord; the purchase of the Saviour’s blood. Monuments of the grace of the Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Ransomed for ever. Sinners who once were justified through faith in the Lord Jesus; who long were being sanctified in the power of the Holy Ghost; and who now are glorified, with something of the glory that Jesus had with the Father before the world was. The work now being carried on in us, in them is finished. While it is being wrought we can sometimes sing, but oftener we must weep; when it is finished we shall weep no more. All tears are wiped away. If we can inquire, Where do these singers stand? the answer cannot be given except by symbol; for of the realities of heaven no man knoweth, no man can know, until the mortal has given place to the immortal, and the eyes of the earthly have changed for the eyes of the heavenly. They stand “on a sea of glass, mingled with fire”; perhaps we should understand, “on the shores of a sea of glass, mingled with fire.” The image is suggested by the thought of the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. For them all its waves were stilled; a sea of glass lay on either side their God-made road. And when the evening shadows lengthened and the “cloudy pillar” changed to fire, it flushed all that glassy sea and made it appear as a “sea of glass, mingled with fire.” The symbol seems to suggest their possession of rest and their memory of conflict. The restless sea, always rising and falling, often desolating and ruinous, is the Bible emblem of the troubles, and anxieties, and sorrows, of the earth. Man is born to trouble. But yonder is the sea of glass. The waves are stilled now. The “weary are at rest.” The cloud-flecked sky can find only a broken image of its beauty in the waving sea; and God finds only partial and broken images of Himself in the restless, anxious lives we have to live. A whole firmament of glory shall shine out of a still sea of glass; and a whole image of God may beam forth from that life we shall live in the land of heavenly rest. But memory will mingle the glassy sea with fire. As the sea is the emblem of trouble, so fire is the emblem of conflict. The shores of the glassy sea are only won through a great fight of affliction by him who is girded with the whole armour of God. In many an earthly mansion the shields, and breast-plates, and helmets, and swords, are hung up in the great halls, to remind the peaceful sons of the old battles out of which their forefathers wrung their liberty and rest. Who knows? There may be, somewhere in God’s heaven, an armoury where every new soldier that has battled through may lay up his weapons and his armour. Certainly fire memories shall mingle with the eternal rest; memories of the fires of battles with sin, and memories of the refining fires of God’s chastisements. And home will be to us the sweeter for nights tented in the strangers’ ground, and bivouac amid the storm and the cold—months beleaguered by watchful foes, and battles fought hardly for holiness and God.
II. What are the singers’ songs?—Evidently their hymn is a blending of their old earth-song with a new heaven-song. Not, indeed, so altogether new and different. We, too, can sing, even here, the Song of Moses and the Lamb; but not just as they sing it. We can only put as much meaning into our singing as we have had experience to prepare us for. They have an experience which cannot be ours as yet—an experience of victory, and victory’s reward; so they can sing with meanings which we cannot reach. Their song is our song, with more soul in it. The subject of their song is not redemption alone, but God’s entire dealings with man in revelation. It is not the song of the Lamb only. It is the song of Moses, too. Redemption is, indeed, the one word that expresses all God’s dealing with the race. His one work has always been the work of recovery—recovery of men, of families, of nations, from outward and bodily evils, from mental mistakes, from moral bondages. Ever since Eden God has been delivering, rescuing, and saving man, and His whole work seems to reach its climax in the deliverance and redemption of human spirits from the yoke and thraldom of sin by Christ Jesus. We lose much by separating the work of God on our race into parts. It is really one sublime, one perfect whole. Some gifts of His, like acts of His, seem, indeed, to rise up into view, mountain-like, and demand unusual attention; but from Eden to the judgment day there has been one purpose, never forgotten, never remitted, never undervalued: it is the world’s full redemption from sin. We may not think of our God resting in eternal peace until every foe of man is slain, suffering and crime are ended, Satan is bound, and death, the last enemy, shall die. One day a saved earth will sing, “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” For the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. The models of this entire deliverance are “Moses” and “the Lamb.” Moses representing God’s triumph over evil in its outward manifestations, and the Lamb representing God’s triumph over evil in its inward manifestations. Moses’ triumph at the passing of the sea I need but recall to mind; it said for all the ages that “nothing is too hard for the Lord,” and no outward troubles need overwhelm us. The “Song of the Lamb” reminds us that God has triumphed, and is triumphing, over inward evil. It is the most mournful part of the work of sin that it has defiled human souls, and blurred the image of God on them. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the Divine deliverer from inward sin, from soul-sin. No fetters of national slavery dropped from aching wrists when Jesus died, the sacrifice and ransom price. No Roman armies, panic-stricken, fled from Palestine when He died, the nation’s champion. No royal proclamation flung open prison doors when He took the sinner’s place. No waving flags, no enthusiastic shouts, proclaimed a nation’s resurrection when He died on Calvary. But then the “prince of this world was judged, and cast out.” Then “Satan fell like lightning from heaven.” Then captive souls were set free. Then the gospel of God’s saving love was proclaimed to the poor. Then the heaven of holiness for sinners came within their reach. Well may we anticipate the heavenly song, and join now the chorus of the white-robed host, saying, “Thou hast redeemed us unto God by Thy blood, and hast made us kings and priests unto God.”
The Divine Righteousness.—Good men, in all ages, have been deeply impressed with the Divine righteousness. They have ever conceived of their salvation as exhibiting and establishing the Divine righteousness. It is not proper to speak of justice or righteousness as being satisfied. The Bible speaks of it as revealed, manifested. Righteousness can be satisfied with nothing short of the rightness of those in whom it is interested. Men mistake the Divine by treating justice as some abstract quality: it is one of the living forces of a Living Being; it is an expression of the Divine will. The revelation of God is this: “A just God and a Saviour.” A just God is proved by, illustrated by, His becoming a Saviour.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20