Revelation 15.

THE SEVEN VIALS OR BOWLS OF GOD’S WRATH.

INTRODUCTORY.

The two closing scenes of the previous chapter are the harvest and the vintage. But in both it is assumed that the Lord has come. The white cloud on which the divine Reaper sits betokens His presence (Rev. 14:14). Then in Joel, where the harvest and the vintage are united (Joel 3:13), the Lord sets up His judgment seat in the valley of Jehoshaphat (v. 12). In Matthew 13:36-42 the actions are more carefully distinguished, but both assume the actual presence of the Lord. He has come to deal with evil on the earth. It is not Babylon, the organised religious system in direct opposition to God, that is judged under the figures of the harvest and the vintage, but the world at large and by the Lord Himself. The judgment of Babylon precedes the harvest and vintage; in fact, must do so. The doom of Babylon is under the seventh Vial (Rev. 16:19), and synchronises with the third of the series of events noted in Revelation 14:8. Hence, the doom of the worshippers of the Beast (v. 9), the blessedness of the righteous dead (v. 13), the discriminating judgment of the harvest (v. 14), and the unsparing vengeance of the vintage (v. 17) are events which have their place after the Bowls of wrath have been poured out. The pouring out of the seventh Vial completes the wrath of God, to be followed by the wrath of the Lamb. The seventh Vial does not introduce the personal presence of the Lord into the scene. There is an interval, a brief one no doubt, between the close of the Vial judgments and the Coming of the Lord. In the Vials we have God’s wrath upon the guilty scene — upon specific subjects of judgment. In these the Lord does not appear. But He comes after the Vials to reap the harvest of the earth and to tread in vengeance the winepress of wrath, not in Edom only (Isa. 63:1-6) — the centre of bitter past hostility to Israel (Ps. 137:7) — but the world at large (Rev. 19:15; Zeph. 3:8). The harvest and the vintage come after the fall of Babylon.

The two chapters should be read and studied together. These Bowls of wrath are really the filling up in detail of what is stated in general terms in the ten opening words of Revelation 11:18. There are no specific judgments under the seventh Trumpet, under the seventh Vial there is. The termination of the Vials completes God’s wrath. The wrath of the Lamb next follows — personally executed judgment.

ANOTHER SIGN. Rev. 15.

Rev. 15:1. — “And I saw another sign in the Heaven, great and wonderful: seven angels having seven plagues, the last; for in them the fury of God is completed.

We have had the “great sign” of the woman, Israel (12. 1), then “another sign,” that of the dragon (v. 3), now we have “another sign” spoken of as “great and wonderful.” Those three signs are each seen in the Heaven — the dwelling place of God and angels. What makes the third one of such solemn import, even more so than the two preceding, is, that corresponding to the third Woe, the fulness of God’s wrath is poured out upon the Beast, the diabolic persecutor of the woman. The first sign directs attention to Israel, the second to the real instigator of the evil, the dragon, and the third to the apostate civil power, who under Satan blasphemes God and persecutes Israel.

“Seven angels.” There are three numbered groups of angels: of four (Rev. 7:1), of seven (Rev. 8:2; Rev. 16:1), and of twelve (Rev. 21:12). In the ministry of judgment under the Trumpets and under the Vials there are two distinct groups of seven angels. Those connected with the Trumpets are evidently a highly honoured company, as they are spoken of as those “who stand before God,”* and are likewise introduced by the definite article “the seven angels” (Rev. 8:2). Not so the Vial angels.

{*See remarks on Rev. 8:2.}

“Having seven plagues, the last.” The Seal judgments were succeeded by the Trumpet series, and now the seven Vial plagues are about to be poured out, in which the pent-up and concentrated wrath of God is fully expressed. These providential judgments are the last. Emphasis is laid upon this expression of finality; not that the Vials close up the story of divine wrath, but they bring to an end the providential judgments of God. Further strokes of the divine vengeance are most surely inflicted, but these are by the Lamb in Person at His Coming (Rev. 19; Matt. 25:31-46).

For in them the fury (or wrath) of God is completed.” The reason is here given why these seven plagues are the last. “For” therein the wrath of God is exhausted, that is, His providential dealings in judgment with a wicked and apostate scene.* On the conclusion of the Vials, the wrath of the Lamb, even more terrible than the wrath of God, is openly expressed on the subjects of vengeance. “Commission to act is given to Christ as soon as the ministration of the Vials ends.” The secret providential dealings of God are brought to an end with the Vials, or Bowls of wrath, after which the Lamb in Person publicly assumes the government of the world. But as the nations at His Coming are in armed rebellion — apostate and wicked beyond all human conception — the wrath of the Lamb burns in its fierceness. The wrath of God is finished in the Vials, to be succeeded by the wrath of the Lamb.

{*“The wrath of God,” as an expression occurs six times in the Apocalypse: Rev. 14:10, 19; Rev. 15:1, 7; Rev. 16:1; Rev. 19:15. In Rev. 19:15, 16 God’s wrath and the Lamb’s wrath are united in action.}

THE VICTORIOUS MARTYRED COMPANY OF JUDAH.

Rev. 15:2-4. — “And I saw as a glass sea, mingled with fire; and those that had gained the victory over the Beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name, standing upon the glass sea, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, bondman of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and wonderful (are) Thy works, Lord God Almighty; righteous and true (are) Thy ways, O King of nations. Who shall not fear (Thee), O Lord, and glorify Thy Name? for (Thou) only (art) holy; for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy righteousnesses have been made manifest.” In the earlier vision (v. 1) we had a solemn intimation of what is coming on the organised political (Rev. 16:10) and religious (v. 19) systems then dominating the earth, as also on those connected with them. On these the wrath of God in resistless force spends itself, while the civil and ecclesiastical leaders are reserved for special punishment under the wrath of the Lamb inflicted at His Coming in power. The vision of judgment in verse 1 is resumed in verse 5. In the parenthesis between the visions of wrath we are introduced into an exceedingly grand scene of victory and song (vv. 2-4). The awfulness of the Vials (v. 1) is an occasion for God to bring into bold and striking relief His thoughts about His suffering people, and that before a blow is struck at the enemy. They are here witnessed in a parenthetic vision after the announcement of wrath, and before its execution. Historically the Beast triumphed (Rev. 13:7) over the saints in the great Tribulation. They were not preserved from his brutal power. Now, however, we see the position reversed. The saints who had been martyred are here the victors on high, and the Beast on earth a subject of the fullest vengeance of God.

A SEA OF GLASS.

2. — “As a glass sea, mingled with fire,” like it in appearance. In the first of these heavenly visions (Rev. 4) the Seer beheld a sea of glass like crystal spread out before the throne of the Eternal, intimating a fixed state of purity in keeping with the holy character of the throne. The glassy sea like crystal* signifies the solid calm of that scene of unsullied light. But in the vision before us the crystal is omitted. In beautiful accord with the divine character of the scene detailed in chapter 4 it would be morally out of place in our chapter. Here the sea is “mingled with fire,” evidently referring to the fiery persecution under the Beast, a trial exceeding far in its combination of suffering anything hitherto experienced (Mark 13:19). The pagan persecutions of early times, and the still more exquisite and refined torments under papal Rome, come short of the horrors of the great Tribulation.

{*For the force of the imagery see remarks on Rev. 4:6.}

The victory of the conquering band standing on the sea of glass is assured. The Beast concentrated his power and energies to overthrow the faith of the martyrs. Paradoxical as the statement may seem, yet it is true that in death they triumphed. In the victory of the Beast we behold the triumph of the saints. They “gained the victory over the Beast, and over his image, and over the number of his name.” The victory was thorough and complete.

2. — “Standing upon the glass sea.” They stand in keeping with their new position as conquerors and worshippers; the elders sit, save when engaged in praise or other service. The glass sea in the early vision is unoccupied; here we witness the happy, victorious, and praising company standing upon it.

HARPS.

2. — “Having harps* of God.” The Authorised Version wrongly inserts the article before harps. There are two heavenly companies spoken of as having harps, the only musical instrument mentioned in the Apocalypse. First, the glorified saints who had been translated at the Coming into the air (Rev. 5:8); second, the martyrs under the Beast, a victorious company on the sea of glass (Rev. 14:2; Rev. 15:2). We gather that the harp singers of chapters 14 and 15 are the same company. It will be noted likewise that harp and song are conjoined in each of the three references. The words “of God” signify that they are provided by Him for His direct praise and worship — God’s harps; inasmuch as the instruments, the musicians, and the themes are His.

{*See remarks on Rev. 5:8.}

Each one of the rejoicing band is a skilful minstrel and each a joyous singer. Harp and song correspond; no jar, no discord to mar the harmony of the strains of the heavenly and triumphant host. Neither voice not heart can be out of tune when the leader of their song is Jesus, the Saviour and Lord (Heb. 2:12). There is a somewhat striking parallel between this triumphant company and Israel of old in the day of her deliverance and gladness. Egypt, the oppressor, smitten with plagues; Israel across the Red Sea, saved and emancipated, and singing on the eastern bank of the sea, the first song recorded in Scripture (Ex. 15); all this has its spiritual counterpart in the Beast, the enslaver of God’s saints smitten in a series of plagues; the godly remnant beyond the malice of the Beast, saved and triumphant, and singing the song of Moses on the sea of glass, the last song recorded in Scripture (Rev. 15).

THE SONG.

Rev. 15:3. — “They sing the song of Moses, bondman of God, and the song of the Lamb.” The songs are united. The song of Moses celebrates Jehovah’s mighty deliverance of His people, His acts of power, and His ways of grace with and for Israel from the beginning of their history till their final triumph. Grace and glory are celebrated in the magnificent song sung on the eastern bank of the Red Sea (Ex. 15) — pre-eminently the song of Moses.* But it was an earthly redemption, and won with power over the might of the enemy. The song of the Lamb intimates two main subjects: first, redemption from guilt and sin’s consequences by the blood of God’s Lamb; and, second, the exaltation of the Lamb to which this book bears ample testimony.

{*The prophetic song of Moses (Deut. 31:30; 32), when a hundred and twenty years old, cannot be entitled to the appellation, “The Song of Moses.” That the song of Exodus, and not the Deuteronomy one, is meant seems evident from the following considerations: The apocalyptic reference to the victors on the sea on which they stand; their conscious triumph over their enemy; the term “plague” common to the Mosaic and apocalyptic judgments on Egypt and on the Beast, as also the character of the plagues alike in both. These and other considerations which might be adduced prove conclusively that “The Song of Moses” is that of Exodus 15, and not the subsequent one on the eve of his death.}

The song of the martyred victors, the harp singers of Revelation 14:2, 3, the brethren of the spared Jewish remnant on mount Zion (Rev. 14:1), is not so elevated nor characterised by such depth as that sung by the elders (Rev. 5). The worship of the latter is more profound, yet both companies are partakers of the heavenly calling.*

{*“Their song is very peculiar. The song of Moses is triumph over the power of evil by God’s judgments. The song of the Lamb is the exaltation of the rejected Messiah, of the suffering One, and like Whom they had suffered; for it is the slain remnant amidst unfaithful and apostate Israel whom we find here. The song celebrates God and the Lamb, but by victorious sufferers who belong to Heaven.” — “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible,” in loco.}

 THE SUBJECTS OF THE SONG.

 3. — “Great and wonderful (are) Thy works, Lord God Almighty; righteous and true (are) Thy ways, O King of nations.” The opening words of the song, “Great and wonderful,” occur also in verse 1. The connection, of course, is different, but one cannot overlook the recurrence of the phrase in a scene admittedly closing up the manifested wrath of God upon public evil. The sign of closing judgment is “great and wonderful” (v. 1), so also are the works of God (v. 3). The time of the pouring out of the Bowls of wrath will be brief, but acts of stupendous and wonderful power will characterise it.

It will be observed that the works are ascribed to JEHOVAH, the Self-Existing, Sovereign, Independent One; ELOHIM, the Creator, the God of gods; and SHADDAI, Almighty in power, Almighty in resources, Almighty to sustain. As Jehovah He was known to Israel (Ex. 6:2, 3). As God He stands related to creation (Gen. 1). As the Almighty He revealed Himself to the patriarchs (Gen. 17:1). The order in which the divine names and titles are here employed differs from that of their revelation. God, Jehovah,* and the Almighty is the historical order. But the true, real Israel is before God in the victorious company on the sea of glass, and thus the representatives of the nation use the appropriate divine title first. How true God is to His own Word and Name! Jehovah from the early days of Exodus 6 still stands related to Israel. Jehovah and Israel! Ah, then the people can never perish; never cease to be remembered. What a tower of strength in the combination of these divine titles! How consoling in their application to believers in all ages! How awful to contemplate their exercise to the enemies of God and of His saints!

{*“By My Name JEHOVAH was I not known to them,” i.e., Israel (Ex. 6:3), means that it was not known as a title of ordinary relationship. To Israel, of course, the name was familiar, but not known formally in special relation to them as a people.}

But the ways of God also form part of the song. His tenderness, His grace, His love, His wisdom, and every gracious, moral feature manifested in His dealings with His saints pass before the victors in review. The holiness and pity of God to His saints form a tale that never can be fully told. The conspicuous acts of Jehovah were displayed before the eyes of Israel. These acts of power did not call for an intimate knowledge of Jehovah’s character; they were self-evident to all. But the ways of God — those dealings flowing from what He is — could alone be discerned by the spiritual, hence we read, “He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). His ways here, however, are ways of judgment, and that judgment, however variously expressed, is “righteous and true.” The ways of God in His dealings with His people are ever just and true, but equally so in the chastisement of His enemies; this latter is specially in view in the passage before us.

3. — “O King of nations.” In the text of the Authorised Version we have saints instead of nations; the latter, however, is inserted in the margin. Without doubt, the correct reading, on competent authority, should be nations, not saints. Christ is King of kings, King of the earth, King of Israel, King of the nations, but is never spoken of as “Our King,” and never as the King of saints. Believers in the present dispensation have kingly rule and authority conferred upon them (1 Cor. 4:8; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Rev. 1:6); its exercise is yet future. We shall reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12). The nations comprising the Roman earth are about to come under judgment, hence the appropriateness of the title “King of nations” (see Jer. 10. 7). We gather that in this song of praise both God and Christ are worshipped, the former in the greatness of His Being, but in relation to Israel, and the latter in His ways of judgment with the Gentiles or nations.

Rev. 15:4. — Then the victors in their song throw out a universal interrogation. “Who shall not fear (Thee), O Lord, and glorify Thy Name?” The threefold repetition of the conjunction for supplies three reasons, each grounded upon the character of God, why all should comply with the interrogative claim to fear the Lord and glorify His Name. (1) “For (Thou) only (art) holy.” The word here rendered “holy” is not the word usually applied to God in speaking of His holy character. It is used here and in Revelation 16:5 of Him, otherwise it is applied to men as denoting the sum of moral qualities of a divine character. But in the two apocalyptic references it signifies that the sum of qualities in God alone entitles Him to the exclusive worship of the creature. The word “holy” as employed here denotes therefore all in God entitling Him alone to worship. In the Septuagint we have the same word in “the sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:3). How fitting the application of this word to the Lord at a time when the world wonders after and worships the Beast, a worship and homage to which God alone is entitled, as signified by this word “holy.” (2) “For all nations shall come and worship before Thee.” The prophecies of the book are generally cast in the present tense, but the one before us is an exception. The future is employed. As a result of these ways of judgment by the “King of nations” the iron will of the peoples is broken, and they turn from human props and confidences to God, and worship in His presence. It will be the time and fulfilment of such Scriptures as Psalm 100; 148; Isaiah 2:2-4; 56:6, 7; Zechariah 14:16, 17, etc. (3) “For Thy righteousnesses* have been made manifest.” The manifestation of God’s righteous acts of judgment is indicated in the plural “righteousnesses.” God declaring Himself in judgment is surely a powerful reason why His Name should be glorified.

{*The same word in Rev. 19:8. Only in our text it is applied to judgments on the wicked, whereas in the other Scripture it is employed to set forth the righteousness or righteous acts of the saints. In a footnote to Revelation 19:8 in “The New Translation (Morrish, London) the learned translator says: “In Hebrew the plural of acts expressing a quality is used for the abstract quality itself. This may be the case by analogy here (also in Rev. 15:4). So Psalm 11:7, where in Hebrew it is ‘righteousness,’ but it is actual, not imputed.”}

THE MINISTERS OF GOD’S WRATH EQUIPPED FOR JUDGMENT.

Rev. 15:5-8. — “And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of witness in the Heaven was opened. And the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in pure bright linen, and girded about the breasts with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls, full of the fury of God, Who lives to the ages of ages. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one could enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.” The opening words of this vision constitute a technical expression signifying a complete break, introductory of an entirely new subject (see Rev. 4:1, R.V.). Thus the Vial plagues are altogether unique, and form a body of special judgments by themselves. There are two important respects in which they differ from the Seal and Trumpet chastisements: the throne in “the Heaven” is the source and authority of these latter, while the temple is the scene from whence the Vials of wrath are poured out. The fact that the temple takes the place of the throne changes the situation entirely, and introduces a severer course of dealing, one flowing from what God is in His righteous and holy character. Hence the second marked difference of the Vials from preceding judgments is that in them the wrath of God against the organised systems of evil is finished up or completed. “After these things” is a technical formula several times found in the Apocalypse.

5. — “The temple of the tabernacle of witness in the Heaven was opened.” We have already remarked upon the interesting fact that in all this part of the Apocalypse, from Revelation 11:19 to chapter 19, the temple, not the throne, as in the earlier part of the book, is the source from whence action on earth proceeds. Both here and in chapter 11:19* the temple is opened in “the Heaven,” the residence of God and of angels. But in the earlier reference the ark of the covenant is seen, the token of God’s presence with and interest in His people, as also the pledge and witness of His purpose and grace. Here it is the tabernacle of witness, or testimony. This was a testimony really to the rights of God then openly denied. The former, i.e., “the covenant,” was the sign of security to Israel. The latter, i.e., “the witness,” of judgment according to the nature of God on the enemies of God and of His people. The “temple (or house) of the tabernacle of witness” is a singular expression, and alone occurs here. We understand by the term naos, meaning the structure or building itself, to the exclusion of court, etc., God’s dwelling place, where He is approached and worshipped. Now inside the golden furniture and tables of stone constituted the witness, or testimony, but as they were found within the temple, or house, this could be spoken of in a higher and fuller way than “the tent of the testimony” merely (Acts 7:44). It was “the temple of the tabernacle of witness.”

{*In the early part of the chapter (11) the temple in Jerusalem is referred to (Rev. 11:1). “The temple of God in the Heaven” must not be understood as a literal one. The point is what it symbolically represents.}

What a strange sight meets the gaze of the Seer! Not the priests ministering in the holy place, or the high priest in the holiest of all, but “the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple,” not priests the ministers of grace, but angels the ministers of judgment. They are commissioned and equipped for their service by God Himself, and come out from His immediate presence fully empowered to maintain the rights and vindicate the character of the God of Israel in judgment. The temple of old was a witness of grace, here it is opened for judgment. The wickedness of man deserved it, and the holiness of God demands it.

The righteous character of their mission is signified by the pure and bright linen in which they are clothed (compare Rev. 19:8), while the golden girdles round their breasts set forth that divine righteousness and faithfulness characterise their action (see Isa. 11:5; Rev. 1:13). Why girded at the breasts, and not, as usual, at the loins? Because the wrath about to be poured out is measured by the Holy nature of God.

Rev. 15:7. — “And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden* bowls** full of the fury of God, Who lives to the ages of ages.” The living creatures are the executors of the judicial government of God. There are three distinct steps in this work of judgment. First, the angels are commissioned and equipped in the sanctuary (v. 6). Second, they then receive golden Bowls full of God’s fury from one of the living creatures (v. 7). Third, not a step in the act of judgment can be taken till God authoritatively gives the command (Rev. 16:1). How calm and measured are the ways of God in judgment! The Ever-Living, Eternal God is the God of judgment. Who is He Who is about to plague the earth and visit it with His utmost fury? He “Who lives to the ages of ages.

{* Gold, brass, and linen, viewed as symbols, each sets forth the truth of righteousness. Gold is intrinsic, divine righteousness (Rev. 1:12, 13; Rev. 3:18; Rev. 21:18-21). Brass is righteous judgment, or, as another has expressed it, “Righteousness in dealing with man in his responsibility” (Rev. 1:15; Rev. 2:18). Linen, righteous acts or deeds; human righteousness (Rev. 15:6; Rev. 19:8).

**"The word means bowls or cups, and is taken from the vessels used for pouring out drink-offerings, etc., before the Lord." — "Lectures on the Book of Revelation," by William Kelly.}

The temple was darkened with smoke from the glory of God — not incense but smoke filled the temple. Nothing could be seen and none could enter. God’s glory was moved to intense action. Intercession was of no avail. Neither incense nor blood could arrest the coming storm of divine judgment. The temple was given over, not to worship or intercession, but to the fiercely burning wrath of God. The smoke here is not that of incense, but of fire, the symbol of divine consuming judgment (Isa. 6:4; Ex. 19:18). The house filled with smoke* intimated that none then need seek Him in grace. He could not be seen or found by any in the temple. Judicial action was then in question, and till the seven angels had completed their allotted work of judgment God was for the time being hidden in the thick darkness of His own glory and power in righteous vengeance on the corrupt mass on earth.

{*In the dedication of the tabernacle Moses could not enter into the tent of testimony (Ex. 40:34, 35), and when the temple and its services were inaugurated (1 Kings 8:10, 11) the priests could not enter. In both the glory of the Lord filled the house. Here, however, it is not the glory but the smoke of it, that is, the glory of God in judgment.}