Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 15:1–4

Revelation 15:1–4
Then I saw another great and astounding sign in heaven: seven angels who have seven final plagues (they are final because in them God’s anger is completed).
2 Then I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and his image and the number of his name. They were standing by the sea of glass, holding harps given to them by God. 3 They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and astounding are your deeds, Lord God, the All-Powerful! Just and true are your ways, King over the nations! 4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are holy? All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
(NET Bible)

The demonstration of righteousness is just beginning!

I was never fond of getting a spanking, and my guess is that some of you feel the same way. Such experiences, however, may cloud our emotions in relation to understanding and accepting God’s acts of judgment. The conquering saints pour out praise to God for his “righteous acts” (15:4), which are his acts of crushing judgment against his enemies.

Why do we not respond with worship and praise when God judges rebellion? Have we been so blinded by contemporary culture that we think we can sit in judgment of God?

Revelation 15:1 serves as a summary for the whole of 15:1–16:21.[1] The avenging angels do not enter the scene until 15:8, and the bowls of judgment do not start until 16:1 (my next post).

When John says, “I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire” (15:2), try to imagine the flickering of flames within the crystal before the throne of God — an ominous symbol of what is coming!

Grant Osborne describes the song sung by the conquering saints (15:3b–4): “The whole celebrates the saving deeds of God and the worship that results from it. No details of victorious deeds are mentioned here because they have been recounted in chapter 14. . . . To the wonder of his judgments in line one [15:3b] is added the justice and truth behind those judgments in line two [15:3b].”[2]

The second part of the song (15:4) emphasizes both God’s holiness and the theme of the nations coming to Zion to worship God (Isa. 2:2–4; 45:23; 60:1–3; Jer. 16:19; Zech. 8:20–23; Rev. 15:4; 21:24, 26). Osborne ably summarizes the latter theme: “For the OT the coming of the nations to Zion was final proof of the glory and might of Yahweh [God], and this theme is central to the Apocalypse as well. Of course, this does not imply universalism [universal salvation] for most among the nations will refuse to repent (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9, 11).”[3]

John next sees seven angels, dressed as priests, emerging from the temple “holding the seven plagues” (15:6, NLT), which they have clearly received from God. The word translated “plague” can refer to a blow which one receives (Luke 10:30; 12:48) or to the figurative extension of that idea: “a sudden calamity that causes severe distress . . . plague.”[4] The latter meaning is the one used in the Book of Revelation.

Next, the seven angels each receive a golden bowl from one of the four living creatures, and the bowl is filled with God’s wrath (15:7). Any ruler could be wrathful and yet his enemies could always hope he will die before inflicting harm, but those who oppose “God who lives forever and ever” (15:7) have no such hope! They can run, but not forever.

John’s final glimpse shows a temple so filled with God’s glory and power that no one can enter it[5] (15:8). No one dares to try!

We must get our heads straight!

Those whom God struck in Revelation 8, 9, and 14 have not only rebelled against God, but they have also killed multitudes of Christians in obedience to the commands of the beast. By judging them, God vindicates his own reputation for holiness and justice and he vindicates the obedient behavior of the believers who have fallen before the rage of the beast. When God behaves in a manner consistent with his character, we should each stand up and shout praise, because that means God will also do for us just what he promised in Christ.

Osborne tells us, “The righteous justice of God in judging his enemies is a time for joy, not sorrow.”[6] After recovering from his own severe experience of God’s judgment, the mighty Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar (634 – 562 B.C.) said: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just” (Dan. 4:37). He got the point!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 560.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 564-565.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 568.

[4] BDAG-3, pl?g?, plague, q.v.

[5] Similar incidents may be found in Exod. 40:34–35; 1 Kings 8:10–12; Isa. 6:1–4 and Ezek. 10:2–4..

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 574.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!