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This and the following chapter acquaints us with a fresh vision, which St. John had of the pouring forth of the vials, or the inflicting of the seven last plagues and judgments upon the world; upon the Heathen world, say some; upon the antichristian world, say most; I saw seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God; where, by seven angels, understand the ministers and executioners of the wrath of God; by the seven plagues, understand the last dreadful judgments that should be inflicted, which would make a final end of him, whoever he be, that they should be poured forth upon, one after another.
Where note, 1. How the patience, forbearance, and long-suffering goodness, of God, is wonderfully seen in his carriage towards sinners; though he punishes the wicked sometimes, to let them see that his justice is not asleep, yet he doth not stir up all his wrath, nor poureth it out all at once upon them, but gradually; desirous of and waiting for their repentance, even when he has begun in justice to punish them.
Note, 2. Whereas it is said, in them (that is, in the present seven plagues) is filled up the wrath of God; we learn, what final impenitency, and incorrigibleness under former judgments, will produce at last; namely, judgment to the uttermost: ripeness in sin will at last make men ripe for ruin; and when they have filled up the measure of their sins, God will fill up the measure of his wrath; in them is filled up the wrath of God.
There seems here to be an illusion to the Israelites' deliverance out of Egypt, and to the song of Moses upon that occasion, recorded Exodus 15:1-18. As they were delivered out of literal Egypt, so these from mystical Egypt, both nests of idolatry and false worship; a deliverance from both which deservedly called for a song of thanksgiving.
I saw a sea of glass mingled with fire; that is, a great number of pure, zealous Christians, their multitude being represented by the sea, their purity by glass, and their zeal by fire.
Who had gotten victory over the beast, and over his image; that is, who overcome all temptations of idolatry, both from the Pagan and antichristian emperors, called the beast and his image.
Having the harps of God in their hand, in allusion to the musical instruments used in the temple-service, and denoting hearts fitted for, and tuned by, the Spirit of God: to praise him with cheerfulness for preserving them from being overcome by temptations to idolatry.
Learn hence, That such as are sincerely gracious, are truly thankful to God for all his benefits and blessings, but especially for their preservation from sin, and their getting victory over temptations.
Observe next, the work of solemn praise and thanksgiving, which these purified and preserved souls were engaged in and employed about: They sung the song of Moses and the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord.
Where note, 1. The title of the song, namely, the song of Moses and the Lamb. The song of Moses, that is, a song much like unto that of Moses and the Israelites after they had passed safely through the Red Sea, Exodus 15:1-18 and the song of the Lamb, so called, because it was a song indited by the Spirit of the Lamb, and tending to advance the glory of the Lamb.
Note, 2. The matter of the song, which is divided into two parts,
1. The church's confession and declaration of those works which Christ doth: Great and marvellous are thy words, just and true are thy ways; that is, they are great and wonderful works, fit only to be done by him who is the Lord God Almighty; just and true, well becoming him who is King of saints.
2. The use which the church makes of these works; and that is, 1. To record, celebrate, and publish them. 2. To oblige and bind themselves faster and closer to him in his worship and service: Who shall not fear thee, O Lord! and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy.
Observe farther, The titles which are here by the church given unto God. 1. The Lord God Almighty. A title full of comfort to the saints in their greatest straits, and full of terror to their enemies in the midst of their abundance. 2. He is styled King of Saints, they receiving special protection from him, and he exercising a particular care over them. 3. He only is said to be holy, that is, essentially and causally: essentially in himself, and causally with respect to us: all holiness is originally in him, all holiness is derivatively from him, therefore should the praise thereof be given to him.
Observe lastly, The duty inferred from all those glorious titles which are here given to God, and for all the great and marvellous works done by him: Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? As if he had said, "All ought to do so, and there is great reason for so doing." As God is to be feared, because he is full of power and justice, so then especially should his people fear him when he is taking vengeance on his enemies, his own and his church's adversary: Who shall not fear thee? for thy judgments are manifest.
Observe here, 1. The vision which St. John had: he thought he saw the Holy of holies open to him, and seven angels coming forth with seven plagues, as the executioners of God's judgments upon idolatrous persons.
Where note, 1. The instruments employed by God for executing his wrath upon sinners, angels, seven angels; not that he needs them, but he is pleased to make use of them; and they are but instruments in his hand, his bow and his battle-axe, mere dead tools, who receive all their efficacy from the hand that uses them: their presence adds no strength to him, their absence makes the work no more difficult before him.
Note, 2. From whence these seven angels came, namely, out of the temple, out of the oracle, more immediately from the presence of God; implying, that they came forth to execute vengeance by God's special directions, and not barely by his permission: and consequently that the work was very acceptable and well-pleasing unto God which they went about.
Note, 3. How they are furnished, having seven plagues; namely, to inflict upon the idolatrous enemies of the church.
Note, 4. In and after what manner these angels were apparelled and appeared. 1. They were clothed in pure, white linen, to denote the holiness of their persons, as also the holiness of that work which they had then in hand. 2. This clothing of theirs was girded to them, expressing thereby their great readiness for, and their great alacrity and cheerfulness in, their work. 3. The girdle wherewith they were girded was a golden girdle, exactly answering the habit of the High-priest, when he entered into the Holy of holies to enquire of God, or came out with an answer from God.
From the whole learn, That when the Lord comes to pull down Babylon as well as to build up Sion, he will appear in glory: the angels are God's special ministers; when they go forth to pour out the vials of his wrath upon Babylon, they appear gloriously apparelled, glittering like the High-priest, and girded with golden girdles.
Observe here, 1. That what was called seven plagues in the foregoing verse, is here called seven golden vials full of the wrath of God; in this verse vials are full cups. Vials of wrath are prepared when the measures of a people's sins are filled up; full cups of sin are followed with full vials of God's wrath.
Next, these vials are said to be of gold, signifying, that these judgments proceed from a just God, with whom there is no corruption nor iniquity in judgments, he being holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works. These vials are also said to be full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever, as an aggravation of the same, it not being like the wrath of a mortal man, of short continuance, but of endless duration; it is the wrath of him that ever lives to maintain his wrath, and to uphold and sustain the sinner under the execution and infliction of his wrath, that the sinner cannot run from him.
O what a fearful thing is it to fall into the hands of the living God, whose wrath is both intolerable and interminable! the sinner can neither stand under it, nor flee from it.
Observe, 2. The executioners of this wrath are said to be seven angels. The angels which are merciful attendants upon the godly, are also at God's command the executioners of his wrath upon the wicked. These angels are here said to be seven, to signify that God's judgments upon his church's adversaries shall be heavy and great, one angel plagued all Egypt, and destroyed Sennacherib's mighty host, but here went out seven angels to destroy antichrist.
Observe, 3. The tremendous dreadfulness of this wrath, intimated by filling the temple with smoke; thereby signifying, that the wrath of God kindled against his enemies shall be unto them like a devouring and consuming fire, before the flame of which burst forth, a cloud of smoke appears. And the temple was filled with smoke form the glory of God and from his power.
Learn thence, that Almighty God is glorified in the destruction, as well as in the salvation, of sinners; his glory is as well seen in his smoking wrath against the wicked, as in his saving mercy towards the godly. The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; it follows,-- No man was able to enter into the temple; that is, to deprecate God's anger, and supplicate his mercy, or to avert the plagues threatened, and now just ready to be inflicted: when mercy has been long offered and despised, the Lord at last becomes inexorable, and will suffer none to intercede or plead with him: Jeremiah 15 .
Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind cannot be towards this people; cast them out of my sight, &c. The sins of a people may sometimes grow to such an height, that Almighty God will no longer be entreated; and when we know it, it is our duty to cease praying for them, Woe, woe, woe be unto such a people!
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 15". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20