Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 15, Heaven Prepares to Deliver God's Full Wrath

Having witnessed heaven prepare the world to receive the outpouring of God's full wrath, in this chapter John watches as heaven prepares to deliver it.

v.1 "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete."

This is the last set of seven judgments delivered during the tribulation, and is unquestionably the worst of all. “For in them,” John says, “the wrath of God is complete." That is, they contain the full bounty of all of God’s righteous indignation, fierce anger, and fury against all that is evil; and by them, He will hold nothing back, nor will He keep any of His power hidden.

We must always keep in mind that the long patience of God that permits sin does not mean that He will excuse sin. God has plainly said: "I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity" (Isa.13:11). So to the same degree that God is merciful, He is also holy, and because He is holy He must judge sin.

v.2-4 "And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: 'Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.' "

This group John sees in heaven are the men and women hunted down during the Tribulation and murdered for their refusal to accept the mark of the beast. Thus, they have victory over the beast for having clearly passed through death in possession of their souls (see—Matt.10:28).

The “sea of glass” probably alludes to the beautiful “sea of glass like unto crystal” that John saw earlier before the throne of God (Rev.4:6). Why the sea is mingled with fire is not explained, but here are several suggestions. Either the image intends to show these martyrs standing in victory over that frightful persecution by the beast and over all the fiery trials brought against them for keeping the commandments of God; or it’s a symbolic representation of the coming judgment of God.

Whatever the case, it’s upon this sea that they sing two songs of deliverance. The “song of Moses”, the same song the nation of Israel sang after God miraculously delivered them safely across the Red Sea from the oppression of Egypt, and then in full view, destroyed the armies of Pharaoh behind them (Ex.15:1-21). And the “song of the Lamb”, which speaks of our redemption in Jesus Christ and our miraculous deliverance from death to life (check—Rev.5:9-12). On the victory shores of heaven, the Tribulation martyrs can sing both songs. For they have, by physical death, been delivered from the oppression of Antichrist whom God is about to destroy behind them in the sea of His full wrath. And at the same time by the blood of Jesus Christ, they have been delivered from the death of trespasses and sins, and made alive in Him (Eph.2:1).

v.5-8 "After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. And out of the temple came seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands. Then 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. The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed."

This concluding passage brings us to what I consider one of the most sobering and compelling scenes in all of Revelation. As heaven prepares to deliver the final awful judgments of God upon the world, God retreats alone into His temple.

Picture the scene, dear ones.

Seven angels come forth in procession from the temple to an awaiting living creature, where each angel is given a golden bowl of plagues to deliver upon the earth. All the while, behind them the temple fills with the "smoke" of God’s glory and power as He conceals Himself inside the temple, allowing none to enter it until the plagues are delivered, and each plague has completely run its course.

So why would God choose to be alone? One would think that, now at the threshold of this world's purging and the uprooting of the Adversary's kingdom, a king’s reaction would be the opposite in the face of battle. That he would openly delight in the vanquishing of his enemy.

Perhaps the answer is at Golgotha. The one other place where God poured out His full wrath to achieve complete victory, yet likewise retreated until the judgment had passed. Where Jesus Christ the Son and Lamb of God, being made sin for us, hung in darkness, and in the absence of the Father cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt.27:46).

God is holy and therefore God must judge sin. Nonetheless, God is also love. Perhaps He retreats into His temple alone because He takes no pleasure in judgment, regardless how great the victory.

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