Read Revelation 15—“The Redeemed and the Wrath.” We want to review, in a general way, what we have seen so far in Revelation as a background for understanding chapter 15. In chapters 1 through 3 of Revelation, we see the church under the symbol of seven lampstands as a light in a world of darkness. But, Jesus is seen in the midst of the lampstands, reminding us of his promise, “... lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age [world]” (Matthew 28:20).
In chapters 4 through 7, we see the seven seals removed from the book of human destiny to reveal the trials that will afflict the people of God. Yet, we see God's people preserved and protected, reminding us of the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “... In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
In chapters 8 through 11, we see the seven trumpets sound as God avenges His people with warning judgments against the ungodly designed to cause them to repent, and we are reminded of the words of Jesus in Luke 18:7, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?”
In chapters 12 through 14, we are shown the reason for the conflict God's people experience in this world. It is because of a more profound conflict between Christ and Satan that is taking place behind the scenes. Satan, having failed to destroy Christ, seeks to destroy His people.
He employs persecuting governments represented by the beast of the sea, false religion represented by the beast from the earth, and the seductions and sensual enticements of this world represented by Babylon to lead people away from God. Those who bear the mark of the beast, those who have given their allegiance to Satan, will ultimately be cast into the winepress of the wrath of God.
But, those who are sealed with the name of God on their foreheads, those who are servants of God, will be gathered to God in the final harvest. These great scenes in these various sections
of Revelation are not designed to prophesy nor to reveal specific historical events, but to show God's people what they may expect to experience in their life in Christ.
Chapters 1 through 3 say that the church will struggle as a flickering light in a world of darkness, but those who are faithful till death will receive the crown of life. Chapters 4 through 7 say that the church will experience trials in this life, but even those who are killed will finally be found in the presence of God.
Chapters 8 through 11 inform us that God is not unaware of the trials of His people, but that He does hear our prayers and he does respond with judgment against the wicked. And that even in the most desperate hours of the church's existence at the end of time, when it looks like Satan has won, God's people are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Chapter 12 through 14 show that the gates of Hades cannot prevail against the church, that all the forces of Satan combined cannot destroy God's people. The saying will still be true, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).
As you can begin to see, we are not going to learn about Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, the Arabs, Europe or war in the Middle East in the book of Revelation. We are going to learn about something far transcending the petty politics of pagan political powers.
We are going to learn about victory in Jesus. We are going to gain the courage to stand up and be counted for Jesus. We are going to gain the strength to say, “Get behind me, Satan.” We are going to find abundant reasons to keep pressing the battle in Jesus' name and to understand that our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places, against the world rulers of this darkness.
We are going to be made keenly conscious of the fact that there are spiritual realities and eternal truths that stand behind the transitory and illusory images of the dying and failing world order. And now, with that kind of background, we are ready to begin with Revelation 15.
John said, “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete” (Revelation 15:1). John said, “... I saw another sign.” In Revelation 12:1–2, he saw the sign of the radiant woman and her child, the people of God and Christ. In the second sign in Revelation 12:3, he saw the great red dragon that opposed them, Satan himself. Now, he sees another sign that is great and marvelous for it will reveal the wrath of God poured out on the ungodly, vindicating the redeemed and showing the ultimate powerlessness of the dragon.
In Revelation 15:2–4, John said, “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 son 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.’ ”
So, before we see the wrath, we see the redeemed. We see that they are victorious. We see the throne of God as if it were a sea of glass mingled with fire. Back in Revelation 4, when we saw the first vision of the throne of God, we saw a great sea of glass before the throne, but now we see something added. We see a sea of glass mingled with fire. It suggests to me the thought that the redeemed have gone through the fiery trials of life, and now have been able to cross through the sea into the saving presence of God Himself.
The sea reminds us of the occasion when God was leading Israel out of bondage in Egypt into the promised land. They came across the Red Sea on dry land, and when they reached the other side of the sea, they stood beside the sea and Moses joined with the multitudes of Israel singing the song of Moses, a song of victory, a song of triumph. It is recorded in Exodus 15:1–18. It begins with the words: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!”
We are a people who have been redeemed from bondage. As we see the scene in heaven, we see not only those who have been redeemed under the old covenant. those who were faithful to God, to the law of Moses, but we also see those who have been faithful to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Together, the redeemed of all of the ages join in a mighty chorus praising God for His redemption. So we see that they have come through the trials of life across the sea into the very presence of God Himself.
Notice, in Revelation 15:3, what they sing as they stand victoriously in the presence of God: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways O King of the saints.” What are you seeing? Back in Revelation 13:4, the people of the world saw the beast that came up out of the sea that had one of its heads wounded so that it was about to die. But, it revived and came to life, and it says of the people, “So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and the worshiped the beast,saying ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’ ”
Here, the people marveled at the beast, they marveled at those persecuting powers, governments, that have oppressed the people of God. They were amazed because of their seeming ability to resist all efforts to destroy them. But, now we have been transcended by the people of God. Now, they stand victorious in the presence of God, not marveling at the beast and his power, but saying, “Great and marvelous are your works ... O King of the saints!”
Yes, God rules in the affairs of men. God is in control. The nations are nothing. The political powers of the age will come to their end, but God and His people shall be victorious and triumph. And so, the marvel is not in the nations of this world, the marvel is in the work of the Almighty God and in Him can be seen power transcending all else.
We come now to Revelation 15:5–7: “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 the 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 King James translation says, “vial,” but “bowl” is a better term because it refers to a rather deep kind of saucer–like vessel. So, there were seven bowls full of the wrath of God that were given to the seven angels. These angels came from the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven.
The word “temple” is a Greek word naos which is actually referring to the innermost portion of the tabernacle, the sanctuary of God. We would translate it as “the sanctuary of the tabernacle.” The writer of Revelation is seeing a vision that takes us past the temple of Solomon back to the tabernacle in the wilderness at the very time when the people had escaped from bondage in Egypt and were being led to Sinai where God revealed His presence to them in a powerful way to say, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God” (Leviticus 25:38). So, we see the angels coming from the sanctuary of the tabernacle of the the testimony in heaven and they are given golden bowls.
Where did we last see the golden bowls and what is their significance? Let us drop back to Revelation 5:8 for the first scene where we are told: “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Here are the golden bowls full of incense. What are they? They are the prayers of the saints.
Where next do we meet with the prayers of the same saints having any connection with what is taking place in heaven at it relates to earth? It is in Revelation 8:3: “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
Then, what happened? “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.”
What do we see? We are seeing the prayers of the saints reach the throne of God and they have effect upon the earth. The little old lady sitting in her room may not have the strength and the power to be able to go out into the world to make any great impression on it, but she can still lift her prayers too God and know that He hears her prayers and will respond.
The prayers of God's people have the power to affect the course of human history far beyond the power of any political potentate on earth. The powers of government are ordained of God for man's well being, but the prayers of the saints of God ascend to His throne and are heard. God does respond and God does answer the prayers of His people. Now that we have come to chapter 15 of Revelation, we again see the angels with the bowls, but they are now bowls of the wrath of God. God is going to avenge His people and God is going to now pour out His wrath upon an impenitent humanity.
Now, we come to verse 8: “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.” What do we see here? We see the sanctuary of God now being filled with smoke so that none were able to enter into the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished. And what does that say? It is calling to mind again the occasion back in the wilderness of Sinai when the tabernacle was erected. Once a year the high priest was allowed to go into the sanctuary, the innermost part of the tabernacle of God, in order to offer atonement for the sins of the people. but, what happens here? In Revelation 15, the vision is suggesting that now the sanctuary is filled with smoke so no one can enter the sanctuary to offer atonement for the sins of the people because these have been a rebellious people, an impenitent people, a people who have so continually hardened their hearts that God will not even permit atonement any longer for sin.
I believe the perfect comment on Revelation 15:8 is found in Hebrews 10:26 which says: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” In the imagery of Revelation 15:8, that is because the sanctuary is filled with smoke so nobody can enter until the wrath of God is poured out.
The writer of Hebrews continues in 10:27–31: “But a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
That is precisely what we have seen in Revelation 15:8 and which is going to be revealed to us graphically in detail as we begin chapter 16. “Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay,” says Jehovah God. Why? Because a rebellious people have so hardened their impenitent hearts that it is, as the writer of the Hebrew letter said, “For it is impossible ... if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance” (Hebrews 6:4–6).
So, the sanctuary of God, where He would come to forgive the sins of the people, is filled with smoke preventing any from offering sacrifice for sins because now the time of patience has ended. The time of judgment has come and the time of the justice of God is to be vindicated for the benefit of the righteous people of all of the ages.
God is about ready to pour out the bowls of wrath upon impenitent humanity. Will that be us? Will we have so hardened our hearts that God is unable to penetrate? Have we been sensitive to His love and His compassion and His tender mercy? What have we been doing with our lives?
As we read through Revelation, it becomes quite clear that there are only those who have been sealed with the name of the Father written on their forehead, who are servants of Almighty God.
And there are those who have the mark of the beast, who have in their lives become so characterized in the ways of Satan that they are marked. They can be identified as his people because they have chosen to worship the image of the beast. They have chosen to give their allegiance to Satan.
Where do you stand? The choice is obvious and clear. You may choose to serve God and join the victorious multitudes who cross the fiery sea into the presence of God, or you will be numbered among those who are left for the outpouring of the wrath of God.
That is the message of Revelation. It is a message that comes to the heart of each of us. If you are not a child of God, why not become one of His people? Become one who is victorious and triumphant, who is an overcomer, who can rule their own heart. Become one who is reigning with Christ in their life. Become one who has that power, because Christ has given them the power to say “no” to Satan and to the attraction of his ways. He has given you the power to follow the joy and the peace and the paths of God.