Revelation 15

Chapter 15

Verse 1 marks another "sign" seen and so a new section The woman of God's people (12v1), the dragon which is Satan (12v3) and now the final judgements of God. "Great and amazing" stresses it's terror and wonder, like the "wonders" of the sign-plagues in Egypt sung of by Moses (v3). 7 angels and plagues denotes completeness. And as previously, the plagues symbolise the redemption of the oppressed people of God from the Satanic world order as Israel once from Egypt - all through the judgments. We will see the plagues are the same as the bowls being poured out (15v7, 16v1).
     The temporal note that these are the "last" confirms our conviction that the 7 are chronological not a recapitulation of the seals and trumpets (see discussion on 8v1ff). Beale argues that "last" simply refers to them being the last in the book, or perhaps the last in terms of spanning the last days. But this doesn't do justice to the explanation John gives - they rather than the previous judgments are last, and because by them God's wrath is finished. They therefore take place after the 7th trumpet is sounded (11v15) marking chapters 12-14 as a section. And the trumpets are sounded as the 7th seal is opened (8v1). All therefore detail the content of the scroll once that seal is opened - the final judgments of God and their significance in terms of world history. Just as the 7s are split into 4 symbolising their being worldwide, and 3 intensifying to  the end, these 3 7s stress the intensification of the final judgments to the end. One presumes the events of the end will be so shaking for believers that these details will be needed to reassure them and grant them perseverance.
     v2: The sea of glass before God's throne and separating him from his creation (4v6) is now seen mingled with fire, probably stressing the Holy wrath of God flowing from the throne and towards the ungodly from creation (17v15). The sea is calm because the evil and chaos it represents has been overcome. What is striking is that those who had "conquered" the beast and its image and it's number by their perseverance and faithfulness (see "conquer" in the 7 letters), are standing "beside" the sea - neither taking part in its wickedness, being subject to its fire nor separated from God. They are with Christ (5v6). And just as Israel sang when delivered from Egypt they now have harps of God with which to sing the same song. Again the Exodus is alluded to as the pattern of delivering the oppressed through judgment. And the divine ownership of the harps stresses God as the source of the joy and celebration.
     v3-6: The present tense of the song may imply this as the ongoing celebration of the new order. And it is not just the song of Moses but of the Lamb, which we've seen by the imagery to be the passover lamb by which the redemption is wrought as these judgments pass over the redeemed.
     The "great and amazing" deeds looks to v1, referring most specifically to the acts of judgment by which he delivers his people. He is "almighty" to achieve such a feat. And his ways are "just and true" in bringing justice to evil acording to what is true (16v7). These acts are not arbitrary. They are an expression of his rule over the nations. He is the perfect king. So the song rhetorically assumes all will come to fear him and glorify his name as a reflection of all this. He is declared as holy and so set-apart in his majesty, and all nations are predicted as coming to worship him particularly because of his righteous acts - ie. him doing right by his judicial standards in giving people what is deserved (16v6). We therefore see Moses Song fulfilled in the gospel as all nations do come. But we also see God's righteousness as a key attribute for which he is to be worshipped. Ironically it is the one in our culture for which he is most despised. People are all to ready not to fear him.
     Verse 5 is surprising. Throughout John has spoken of the temple in heaven. Now he sees the tabernacle. We must remember this is a vision. One can easily be replaced by the other. The tabernacle must be to the fore because of the Exodus background. It symbolises the post redemption presence of God. It's sanctuary is opened dramatically building tension, and out come the 7 angels of verse 1 with the 7 plagues (figurative of completion). This may imply that verse 1 was a summary of what follows rather than something seen at that point. The angels are wearing priestly garments required for God's presence (Ex 28v4-5). The linen stresses purity, but it brightness sets it apart from the earthly linen as heavenly. The golden sash is also found on the Son of Man (1v13). The sense is that these angels perform a priestly function bringing judgments in as answer to the prayers of the saints (8v3f) and identifying with the Son of Man. Perhaps as a representative of the creation, one of the living creatures gives the angels golden bowls of the wrath of God to be poured out on the creation. Being "full" highlights its extremity and the idea of dealing like a drunkard having drunk it (Is 51v22).

     The note that God lives forever and ever may be here to combine with what follows in developing awe. As when the tabernacle was built (Ex 40, Ezek 10v2f) it is filled with the glory of his presence and power in the form of smoke - alluding to his burning anger. Is there a sense that the bowls contain fire producing this smoke, which is why the sanctuary can't be entered until the bowls are poured out and the smoke dissipates? More specifically we're told it can't be entered until the plagues are finished. So more likely the smoke reflects God's wrathful presence which will only then be spent. What's striking is that in Exodus 40 none could enter at all because of sin. Now they can through Christ when God's judgements are finished. What relief.