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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 15

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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The Angels with the Last PlaguesPrelude to the Bowl JudgmentsThe Seven Bowls of the Wrath of GodThe Angels with the Last PlaguesThe Hymn of Moses and the Lamb
Revelation 15:1Revelation 15:1-1Revelation 15:1Revelation 15:1Revelation 15:1-4
Revelation 15:2-4Revelation 15:2-4Revelation 15:2-4The Seven Bowls of Plagues
Revelation 15:5-8Revelation 15:5-1Revelation 15:5-8Revelation 15:5-8
The Bowls of God's WrathThe Bowls of God's Anger
Revelation 16:1First Bowl: Malignant SoresRevelation 16:1Revelation 16:1
Revelation 16:2Revelation 16:2Revelation 16:2Revelation 16:2Revelation 16:2
Second Bowl: The Sea Turns to Blood
Revelation 16:3Revelation 16:3Revelation 16:3Revelation 16:3Revelation 16:3
Third Bowl: The Waters Turn to Blood
Revelation 16:4-7Revelation 16:4-7Revelation 16:4-7Revelation 16:4-7Revelation 16:4-7
Fourth Bowl: Men are Scorched
Revelation 16:8-9Revelation 16:8-9Revelation 16:8-9Revelation 16:8-9Revelation 16:8-9
Fifth Bowl: Darkness and Pain
Revelation 16:10-11Revelation 16:10-11Revelation 16:10-11Revelation 16:10-11Revelation 16:10-11
Sixth Bowl: Euphrates Dries Up
Revelation 16:12-16Revelation 16:12-16Revelation 16:12-16Revelation 16:12-14Revelation 16:12-16
Seventh Bowl: The Earth Utterly ShakenRevelation 16:15
Revelation 16:16
Revelation 16:17-21Revelation 16:17-21Revelation 16:17-21Revelation 16:17-21Revelation 16:17-21

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. The seven bowls which are introduced in Revelation 15:0 and described in Revelation 16:0 are the third in a set of three cycles of divine plagues sent for the purpose of redemption (cf. Revelation 9:20-21; Revelation 14:6-7; Revelation 16:9, Revelation 16:11). Each cycle gets progressively more severe: 1/4, 1/3, and total destruction (the judgment and isolation of evil). This is possibly based on "the cursing and blessing" section of Deuteronomy 27-28.

B. There is a literary relationship between these cycles. The seventh seal is the seven trumpets. The first four trumpets are also directly parallel to the first four bowls.

C. The seventh bowl is the fall of Babylon, which is a symbol of fallen human society organized and functioning apart from God. In John's day it was Rome. In Daniel 2:0 each successive world empire becomes more and more anti-God until the last world-wide, anti-God empire in which the Messiah is born which is Rome (see Introduction to Daniel 8:0, www.freebiblecommentary.org.

D. Chapters 15 and 16 draw their imagery from the Exodus experience of Israel (as did Rev. 12-14). This end-time deliverance from evil is seen as the ultimate Exodus (i.e., deliverance).

E. The beasts and the whore of Babylon (rebellious human society) are defeated at Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16), while Satan is defeated along with Gog and Magog (rebellious humans) at the very end (cf. Revelation 20:7-10). The Second Coming of Christ in Revelation 19:0 is an extension and fulfillment of the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl judgments. This is God's answer to the martyrs' question of Revelation 6:9-11.

F. The difficulties in interpreting these end-time battles are:

1. The type of literature in which they are expressed, apocalyptic/prophetic.

2. They are dealt with in successive stages, cycles, or dramatic acts.

3. There is fluidity between the groups and symbols.

4. There is difficulty separating first century fulfillment from end-time fulfillment.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What does the "sea of glass" symbolize?

2. Why does God show John a vision of the heavenly tabernacle?

3. List the similarities between the seals, trumpets, the bowls, and the plagues of Egypt.

4. How are the kings of the east in Revelation 6:12 related to the kings of the whole earth in Revelation 6:14?

5. What or where is Armageddon? (Revelation 16:16)

6. To what does the "great city" refer? (Rev. 6:19)

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 15:1-3a 1Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. 2And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

Revelation 15:1 "in heaven" This is the third in a series of signs John saw in heaven. See Special Topic at Revelation 12:1.

"great and marvelous" This phrase occurs only here and points toward the OT allusion in Revelation 15:3, which may come from one of several places (i.e., Deuteronomy 32:3-4; Psalms 111:2; Psalms 139:14; or Hosea 14:9).

Verses Revelation 15:3-4 make up one long composite OT allusion from several possible places.

"the wrath of God" See full note at Revelation 7:14.

"is finished" This is an aorist passive indicative of teleô to finish or fulfill. The bowls are a complete and final judgment on incalcitrant unbelief! There is no more hope of repentance and faith, only judgment and isolation!

It is theologically possible that the sequence of the seals, trumpets, and bowls was a way of showing God's hope of human repentance, but in the end, His total judgment, removal, and isolation of evil is justified! Hell is the only option left.

Revelation 15:2 "I saw something like a sea of glass" This is first mentioned in Revelation 4:6. Because of its use in Revelation 21:1, it seems to be a metaphor for God's holiness, which kept sinful mankind from approaching Him (i.e., possibly a metaphor for the waters of heaven). One day this barrier will be removed. The OT allusion is to either Exodus 24:10 or Ezekiel 1:22; Ezekiel 10:1. See full note at Revelation 4:6.

"mixed with fire" This is a new element not found in Revelation 4:6. There have been numerous theories.

1. it is the reflected setting sun on human history

2. it represents fire which stands for God's judgment

3. it is the blood of the martyrs

4. it is connected to the victory at the Red Sea and the Song of Moses since the OT background of chapters 15 and 16 is the plagues of the Exodus (cf. Exod. 7-12; Exodus 15:0)

NASB"those who had been victorious" NKJV"those who have the victory" NRSV"those who had conquered" TEV"those who had won the victory" NJB"those who had fought against"

At first this seems to refer to the martyrs, but Revelation 12:11 shows that it must apply to those who have experienced natural deaths but who have not worshiped the beast (cf. Revelation 20:4).

NASB"from the beast and from his image and from the number of his name" NKJV"over the beast, over his image and over his mark" NRSV"the beast and its image and the number of its name" TEV"over the beast and its image and over the ones whose name is represented by a number" NJB"the beast and man, and against his statue and the number which is his name"

The beast is first mentioned in Revelation 11:7. From chapter 13 it is obvious that there are two wild beasts; one is the incarnation of Satan (i.e., a parody of Christ) and the other is his false prophet (i.e., a parody of the Spirit). From Revelation 13:18 we know that his number is 666, which is not so much a number of a person as it is of the fallenness and inadequacy of human society (i.e., government) apart from God.

"standing on the sea of glass" Some translations have "on" (NASB, NKJV), and some have "beside" (NRSV) or "by" (TEV, NJB). The Greek preposition's basic meaning is "upon." This metaphor speaks of those overcomers being close to God. The "sea" in Revelation stands for a separation between a holy God and sinful creation. This sea is completely removed in Revelation 21:1 when full fellowship is restored (i.e., the fellowship of the Garden of Eden is restored).

For interpretive options on the meaning of "the sea of glass" see note at Revelation 4:6.

"holding harps of God" Angels are described as having harps in Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 14:2. In this context it refers to believers who are synonymous with the 144,000 of chapter 14. As the angels worshiped with music before the God in heaven, now too, the victorious believers!

Revelation 15:3 "And they sang the song of Moses. . .and the song of the Lamb" This shows the unity of the old covenant and the new covenant in this song of redemption. The song of Moses is an allusion to Exodus 15:1-19, where Moses thanks God for the defeat of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. However, it is possible that John had Deuteronomy 32:0 in mind because the first phrase may be an allusion to Deuteronomy 32:3-4. The song of the Lamb has previously been noted in Revelation 5:9 and Revelation 14:3. Notice that it is a song of corporate, not individual, salvation (cf. Genesis 3:15).

"the bond-servant of God" This is an honorific title for OT characters like Moses, Joshua, and David. It may be the origin of Paul's "servant of Christ."

Verse 3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 15:3-4 3b"Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4"Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed."

"Great and marvelous are Your works" This is a composite allusion to Psalms 40:5; Psalms 92:5; Psalms 111:2; Psalms 139:14 and Hosea 14:9.

"O Lord God, the Almighty" This is an allusion to the three most used OT titles for God (cf. Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 16:7).

1. "Lord" refers to YHWH, the Savior, Redeemer, Covenant God.

2. "God" refers to Elohim, the Creator, Provider and Sustainer of all life on earth.

3. The "Almighty" refers to El Shaddai, the Patriarchal name for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Exodus 6:3).


"Righteous and true are Your ways" In the midst of the suffering of the saints, this emphasis is tremendously important (cf. Revelation 16:7). This may be an allusion to Hosea 14:9.

NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB"Thou King of the Nations" NKJV"O King of the saints"

There are three different translations of this verse available in modern English.

1. "King of the ages" (ASV, NIV, REB) which is found in the ancient Greek MSS P47, אcf8i*,2, and C (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17; I Enoch 9:4)

2. "King of the nations" (NRSV, TEV, NJB) which is found in MSS אa, A, P, and most minuscules (cf. Revelation 15:4; Jeremiah 10:7)

3. "King of the saints" (NKJV) MSS 296, 2049 (Metzter, Textual Commentary, p. 753) which comes from a misunderstanding of a late Latin text

Option #2 is probably the original. UBS4 gives it a "B" rating (almost certain).

Revelation 15:4 "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name" This is the transcendent Holy One of creation (cf. Revelation 14:7; Jeremiah 10:7-10). Yet He offers salvation to any and all who will fear Him and glorify His name.

"For all the nations will come and worship before You" In OT prophecy all the nations will one day flow into Jerusalem (cf. Psalms 22:27; Psalms 66:4; Psalms 86:9; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 19:19-24; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 66:19-24; Malachi 1:11). John is using OT prophecy and imagery to describe a universal salvation. Jerusalem of the OT has become the heavenly Jerusalem of believing Jews and Gentiles. This book does not focus on Jews versus Gentiles as the OT did, but on believers versus unbelievers (compare Isaiah 45:23 with Philippians 2:9-11). See Crucial Introduction at the beginning of the commentary.

Verses 5-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 15:5-8 5After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 6and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. 7Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. 8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

Revelation 15:5 "the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened" In Revelation 4:1 a door in heaven was opened for John; in Revelation 11:19 the Ark of the Covenant appeared in the temple for believers to see. Now the entire heavenly tabernacle appears (cf. Exodus 25:9, Exodus 25:40; Exodus 38:21; Numbers 10:11; Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44). This OT allusion is developed in Revelation 15:5 and 9:23. This literary unit uses the Exodus and the Wilderness Wanderings Period as an OT backdrop. This symbolizes the second and ultimate exodus from bondage (bondage to sin).

Revelation 15:6 "clothed in linen, clean and bright" These seven angelic beings come from the very innermost part of heaven's temple, which shows their authority because they come from the very presence of God. In rabbinical Judaism there are seven powerful angels surrounding the throne of God, called "the angels of the presence."

Their dress is described as (1) "linen" (linon or linoun [P47]) which was worn by priests in Exodus 28:4 (UBS4, "B" rating) or (2) the ASV translates this as "precious stone" (lithon) which follows the Greek uncial manuscripts A and C, and may be an allusion to Ezekiel 28:13 as an angelic clothing of the Garden of Eden.

If the two basic presuppositions of textual criticism (see Appendix): (1) the most difficult reading is probably original and (2) the reading that best explains the variants is probably original, then "stone" is the probable choice.

"and girded around their chests with golden sashes" This is very similar to the angel found in Daniel 10:5 or to Christ Himself in Revelation 1:18. These are obviously very powerful angels representing God or Christ.

Revelation 15:7 "seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God" These shallow golden bowls are mentioned in Revelation 5:8, where they contain the prayers of the saints. There is a connection throughout Revelation to the prayers of His persecuted children and the wrath of God on unbelievers (see note at Revelation 7:14).

"who lives forever and ever" This is an oath based on the root meaning of the term YHWH (cf. Exodus 3:14). YHWH is the only living One; all else derives life from Him. See Special Topic: Names For Deity at Revelation 1:8.

For "forever and ever" see Special Topics at Revelation 1:6.

Revelation 15:8 "And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God" This was a common OT description of the presence of God (cf. Exodus 19:18; Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Isaiah 6:4). This is an allusion to the Shekinah cloud of glory which represented God's presence to Israel during the Exodus. But because of the contextual connection with the bowls, it may refer to the abundance of incense representing the prayers of God's children for justice.


"no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished" This possibly means that there was no stopping God's wrath once it had begun. This wrath is difficult to correlate theologically with Revelation 16:9 and 11, which implies that redemption is still the goal, even in the bowls it is still the hope and intent that fallen mankind, made in God's image, will repent and return to Him!

Revelation 16:0

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Revelation 15". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/revelation-15.html. 2021.
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