Commentary on Revelation 15

Notes (NET Translation)

1 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).

The word “plagues” is the first of multiple connections between this passage and the exodus from Egypt. The phrase “God’s anger is completed” means that this will be the last outpouring of God’s wrath.

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.

This verse joins the heavenly scene of chapters 4-5 with the victors of chapter 13. The sea of glass is now mixed with fire, perhaps to indicate God’s presence or the impending judgment. The saints standing by the sea of glass recall the Israelites standing by the Red Sea (Ex. 14). It symbolizes that the saints are conquerors over the beast, his image, and his number. The harps place the saints among the heavenly chorus (cf. 4:8; 14:2).

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.”

Like Moses after the exodus from Egypt, the saints sing a song of victory. The song(s) of Moses can be found in Ex. 15:1-21 and/or Deut. 31:30-32:43. But the song of Moses in these verses is a collage of many OT passages (Ps. 86:9-10; 98:2; 111:2-4; Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 10:7; 16:19; Amos 3:13; 4:13). The song celebrates redemption history from Moses to the Lamb.

The hymn begins by extolling God’s “deeds” and his “ways.” The first are cause for wonder and praise. The second emphasizes God’s justice and faithfulness. We need not limit this ascription of praise to any particular event. All God’s redemptive works are great and marvelous. They are met with awe, not simply because of their magnitude, but also because of their intrinsic righteousness. In keeping with the OT, God’s righteousness is most often seen in his saving acts on behalf of his people. (Mounce loc. 5329-5332)

5 After these things I looked, and the temple (the tent of the testimony) was opened in heaven, 6 and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, dressed in clean bright linen, wearing wide golden belts around their chests.

The “tent of the testimony” recalls the tabernacle from the wilderness period (Num. 17:7; 18:2). The tent represents the presence of God, indicating the plagues have been divinely commissioned. The white linen and golden belts symbolize their royal and priestly duties.

7 Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, 8 and the temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and from his power. Thus no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues from the seven angels were completed.

The only other mention of bowls in Revelation is found in 5:8 where they were filled with the prayers of the saints. Here the seven bowls are filled with the wrath of God. John may be making a connection between the prayers and God’s retribution. The language of the temple being filled with smoke and God’s glory alludes to Isa. 6:1-4 (cf. Ex. 13:21; 14:19, 24; 19:18; 24:15-16; 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-12; Ezek. 10:2-4). No one could enter the temple during the outpouring of the seven plagues.

There are several different interpretations of this: (1) Some believe that the temple is closed because there is no longer a place for intercession, either for divine mercy for the nations (R. Charles, Bruce, Mounce, Krodel) or for vindication and vengeance for the saints (Beale 1999: 807). (2) Others (Swete, Lohse, Lohmeyer, Chilton, Roloff, Thomas, Giesen) say no one can approach him until his wrath is complete. (3) Several (Beckwith, Caird, Beasley-Murray, Johnson) state that the temple is closed due to his awesome holiness, majesty, and power. The second and third are the more likely. On the basis of the OT parallels, the divine glory has made it impossible for anyone to enter the temple, and at the same time none is allowed until the seven plagues τελεσθῶσιν (telesthōsin, were completed). With this verb beginning (15:1) and ending (15:8) the section, the theme of God “completing” his judgment is strongly stressed. (Osborne 572)

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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