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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 15

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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This chapter is introductory (like chaps. 12, 13, and 14) to the final outpouring of the Almighty’s wrath upon the enemies of His Church. In chaps. 12 and 13 we had these enemies presented to us; in chap. 14 we had the assurance that, formidable as they were, they should neither be able to hurt the righteous nor to protect the wicked. In chap. 15 the last ministers of the Almighty’s vengeance are introduced, and we are invited to listen to the song with which they are sent forth upon their mission. The series of the Bowls opens with two visions, the first in Revelation 15:2-4, the second in Revelation 15:5-8, of this chapter. The Seals were introduced by no vision immediately connected with them: the Trumpets were introduced by one vision (chap. Revelation 8:1-5). Two visions introduce the Bowls, and thus again illustrate the climactic character of this book.

Verse 1

Revelation 15:1. The angels spoken of have seven plagues which are the last; and the reason is assigned why they are so named, for in them is finished the wrath of God. God’s last and most terrible judgments are at hand.

Verse 2

Revelation 15:2. The next thing seen is a glassy sea mingled with fire. There can be no reason to doubt that this is the sea already spoken of at chap. Revelation 4:6. The difference is, that it is now ‘mingled with fire,’ the same fire as that of chap. Revelation 14:18, the fire of judgment (comp. on chap. Revelation 4:6).

Those that occupy this sea are next described as they that come victorious out of the beast, and out of his image, and out of the number of his name, words in which the remarkable use of the preposition ‘out of’ is well worthy of notice (comp. on John 17:15). In the persons referred to we must include all Christians of all times who have been victorious over the three things mentioned. There is nothing to suggest the thought of a mere selection from that number.

For the harps of God which they hold in their hands see chaps. Revelation 5:8, Revelation 14:2.

Verse 3

Revelation 15:3. Not only do they harp: they mingle song with their harping.

They sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying. The epithet ‘servant of God’ applied to Moses awakens the remembrance of all that God did for Israel through Moses the great representative of the Old Testament Dispensation. The Lamb is not less clearly the sun and centre of the New Testament Dispensation. Or the matter may be otherwise looked at. Moses delivered men from the first head of the beast, i.e under him began that deliverance out of a persecuting world which is finished in Christ. The song, therefore, includes everything that God had done for His people alike in Old and New Testament times. How clearly does it appear that the beast cannot be Nero! Only one generation, not the whole Church, could sing of deliverance from him. There is nothing to indicate that the song is similar to that of Israel at the Red Sea, Exodus 15:0, or to that of Deuteronomy 22:0, yet in all probability the former was in the Seer’s view.

In the words of the song it seems only necessary to notice that for the reading ‘king of saints’ of the Authorised Version king of the nations is to be substituted. The change is important, as throwing light upon that aspect of the Almighty which is here thought of. Not His love towards His ‘saints,’ but His terror towards His enemies is celebrated. He beautifies His people with salvation, but He visits the ‘nations’ with His wrath. Revelation 15:4. In this verse the song begun in Revelation 15:3 is continued in the following words, Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name, for thou only art holy? for all the nations shall come and worship before thee, for thy righteous acts have been made manifest. The ‘righteous acts’ of God referred to are not such as have been exhibited alike in the publication of His Gospel and in the destruction of His enemies. The whole context imperatively requires that we shall understand them of the latter alone. If so, we are guided to the true meaning of the word ‘worship’ in this verse, and we have at the same time a striking illustration of the manner in which, throughout the Apocalypse (and the Fourth Gospel), we meet with a double marvelling and a double worship, that of faith upon the one hand, and of fear upon the other. It may be at once allowed that there is no passage in the Apocalypse which seems to speak so strongly of the conversion of the world as that now before us. Yet there is a ‘worship’ of awe, of terror, and of trembling, as well as a ‘worship ‘of faith and love; and the whole analogy of this book (as well as of the Fourth Gospel, which in this respect most strikingly resembles it) leads directly to the conclusion, that the former alone is spoken of when the worship of the ungodly is referred to. So in Philippians 2:10 ‘things under the earth’ bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. However, therefore, we may be at times disposed to think that mention is made in this book of the conversion of the wicked, it will we believe always appear upon more attentive consideration that nothing of the kind is really spoken of. Yet we are not on this account to conclude that the Apocalypse dooms to everlasting ruin all but the selected number who constitute in its pages the true Church of Christ. Its language appears only to be founded on that style of thought which meets us in the Old Testament when the Prophets speak of the enemies of Israel. Israel shall conquer and overthrow, but not necessarily destroy, them. Through their very subjugation they may receive a blessing. Thus may it be in the case before us. All that we urge is, that in the words of this verse judgment alone is in view. If judgment lead to penitence it is well; but the eye of the Seer does not travel so far into the future.

Verse 5

Revelation 15:5. And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of witness in heaven was opened. When at chap. Revelation 11:19 the ‘temple of God that is in heaven’ was opened there was seen ‘the ark of the covenant’ reminding of mercy here the same ark is seen, but now it is in ‘the tabernacle of witness,’ i.e in the tabernacle containing the tables of the law by which God witnessed against Israel. At present, therefore, there is only judgment in view, and God is to take immediate part in it.

Verse 6

Revelation 15:6. The seven angels that have the seven plagues now issue from the temple, that is, from the innermost shrine of the heavenly sanctuary. Their clothing, according to the later and more correct reading of the Greek, has seemed to many to be absurd: they are clothed with a stone pure and lustrous. But the same idea meets us in Ezekiel 28:13 (‘every precious stone was thy covering’), and we have already seen with how much freedom the Apocalyptic Seer employs the figures of his book (comp. on the ‘white stone’ of chap. Revelation 2:17). Probably, too, it is not necessary to think of a clothing with actual stones however beaten out. The conditions may be sufficiently fulfilled by the thought of a garment covered and sparkling with precious stones (comp. chap. Revelation 17:4). The girding is that of chap. Revelation 1:13, so that we can hardly be wrong in supposing that priestly garments are alluded to, and that the precious stones worn by the high priest are thought of as multiplied till they constituted a garment for the whole body. The seven angels thus issue from the temple to be priests of destruction instead of salvation (comp. chap. Revelation 14:6).

Verse 7

Revelation 15:7. One of the living creatures next gives to the seven angels seven golden bowls. These living creatures, it will be remembered, are the representatives of redeemed creation, so that in the action here described the redeemed appear as giving the summons for the execution of judgment upon their enemies. It will be noticed that the Greek word rendered ‘vials’ in the Authorised Version we translate, with the Revised Version, ‘bowls.’ The objects so designated were not vials but those sacred bowls, rather broad than deep, in which the incense, lighted by coals from the brazen altar, was offered on the golden altar within the sanctuary. They are called ‘basons’ in the Old Testament. They are thus much better adapted than vials to any sudden and terrible outpouring of the wrath of God.

Verse 8

Revelation 15:8. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power. This smoke is no smoke of incense, nor is it simply the thick cloud of the majesty of God. It is the smoke by which He is surrounded as the righteous Lawgiver, that which proceeds from the fire of His wrath. The figure seems to be derived from Exodus 40:34-35.

And no one was able to enter into the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished. The meaning of these words is perhaps best to be ascertained by comparing them with Exodus 19:21. God cannot be approached at the moment when He is revealing Himself in all the terrors of His indignation.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 15". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/revelation-15.html. 1879-90.
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