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Revelation 15: The inexorable culmination of divine retribution approaches

Unsplash/Javier Miranda
Unsplash/Javier Miranda

Throughout various wars and conflicts, military figures have indicated that victory or a resolution is close at hand. When working on finding a solution to some long-standing problem, scientists and researchers have announced that they are near making some groundbreaking discoveries. When progress is being made toward achieving a specific social or political objective, activists will state that the end is in sight.

In Revelation chapter 15, the shortest chapter in the book, the apostle John declares that he sees the finish line. Seven angels are mentioned here as part of a series of coming events known as the “seven bowls of wrath,” or the “seven last plagues.” These plagues represent the final stage of God’s judgment to be poured out upon an unbelieving and disobedient world. The previous chapters of the book of Revelation have described a variety of catastrophic events, but the seven last plagues are presented as the culmination of God’s mighty hand of anger and fury. (These plagues will be taken up in chapter 16.)

It’s hard for most people to comprehend God as angry. It is true that God is loving, just, and extends His offer of grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation, but in numerous places in the Bible, God is depicted as incensed and outraged at humanity’s rebellion against His rightful and benevolent sovereignty.

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During the time of Noah, when evil prevailed, the fire of God’s anger became so hot that he cleansed the entire earth with a universal deluge. No one was spared except Noah, his family, and the creatures that were safe on the ark (Genesis 6). When the Hebrews defied God by making and worshiping a golden calf, God became so indignant with their actions that he told Moses he wanted to destroy them and start a new nation through him. But Moses pleaded with God not to destroy them, and God relented. Nevertheless, God was still so irate he punished the people by sending a plague among them (Deuteronomy 9:7-8).

The apostle Paul wrote that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18).

Yes, God does become angry at willful belligerence. His anger builds with every dismissal of, every scoffing at, every persistent expression of incredulity with, and every insurrection of, his authority. It cannot and will not stand. As the Scriptures say, “God will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7). He will not wink at, sweep under the rug, or write off sinful unrepentance.

Jonathan Edwards, the eminent 18th-century American revivalist, described God’s anger in this way:

“The wrath of God is like great waters that are damned for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given, and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course when once it is let loose.

“It is true that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld, but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath…

“The wrath of God burns against them; their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared; the fire is made ready; the furnace is now hot; ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.”

This is something of what John sees as seven angels are witnessed holding the last seven plagues. The full and final fury of God’s exasperation with humankind is about to spill over. Here is what the Bible says:

“Then I saw in Heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“‘Great and marvelous are your works,
    O Lord God, the Almighty.
  Just and true are your ways,
    O King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
    and glorify your name?
    For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you,
    for your righteous deeds have been revealed (Revelation 15:1-4).

Besides the seven angels with the seven last plagues, representing the imminent destruction of the roguish rebels on earth, John said he also set his eyes on a scene of serenity in Heaven.

He saw a “glass sea mixed with fire.” This must be the same “sea of glass” seen before the Throne of God in chapter 4. Its surface then was crystal clear and calm, but now its surface is mingled with fire, most likely a symbol of the fiery trials of the Tribulation Saints whom John said he saw standing by the glassy sea.

These people standing by the glassy sea with fire are those who experienced tremendous suffering and martyrdom under the tyrannical reign of that unholy trinity known as the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.

In his commentary, Exploring Revelation, John Phillips wrote about these folks who courageously faced off with the Beast. He describes something of what would have likely been their response to the Antichrist’s threats of menace and carnage:

“‘I’ll make you suffer!’ screams the Beast. ‘You’ll make us Saints!” reply the overcomers. ‘I’ll persecute you to the grave,’ roars the Beast, ‘You’ll promote us to glory!’ reply the overcomers. ‘I’ll blast you!’ snarls the Beast. ‘You’ll bless us!’ reply the overcomers. The Beast’s rage against these noble martyrs will all be in vain. He will utterly fail at last.’”

Observed in Heaven, having overcome every intense challenge with their faith intact and their allegiance to Christ unbroken, the Tribulation Saints play harps and sing in praise to God the “Song of Moses” and the “Song of the Lamb.”

It seems most probable that the “Song of Moses” refers to the song that the children of Israel sang on the shore of the Red Sea, just after the sea miraculously parted, and they successfully escaped Pharaoh and his army. This song was seen as a celebration of their freedom and an expression of thanksgiving to God for their deliverance (Exodus 15:1-22).

The “Song of the Lamb” would, no doubt, be about their freedom and redemption by the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. These people in heaven sing both the “Song of Moses” and the “Song of the Lamb.”

Henry Morris, in his commentary, The Revelation Record, says:

“There is surely no conflict, as some have taught, between the dispensations of Moses and the Lamb. The written law was given by Moses, and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17); both are integral components of God’s will for man.”

This is so true. These believers who have come out of the Tribulation and sing the “Song of Moses” and the “Song of the Lamb,” highlight the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The song they sang is a praise and an acknowledgment of God’s greatness, his marvelous works, his justice, and his righteousness. Both Jew and Gentile alike are saved in the same manner, “by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

The Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, was an extraordinary event in American history where numerous heroes gathered together to celebrate their country. This occasion marked the 200th anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence.

The Bicentennial commemoration brought together prominent figures such as military personnel, astronauts, cultural exemplars, and political leaders. It aimed to promote patriotism and commemorate the nation’s history and phenomenal achievements. Various festivities were organized throughout the country, but one of the most significant gatherings took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

On July 4th, 1976, a grand ceremony titled “The United States of America’s Bicentennial Birthday Party” was held in “The City of Brotherly Love.” It included the reenactment of the signing of the Declaration, a vast parade showcasing America’s diverse history, and a spectacular fireworks display. The celebration attracted approximately 20 million visitors, including many national heroes and icons who participated and expressed their patriotic fervor.

During the merriments, numerous songs that praised America, such as “America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” were sung to honor the nation. After having faced so many trials and tribulations together in wars and other crises, the Bicentennial served as a unique and triumphant moment for Americans. It proved to be a time for patriotic solidarity and a heartfelt tribute to our country’s founding ideals, and a season to praise the accomplishments of its notable figures in history.

Nevertheless, one may be certain that even a celebration as majestic as America’s Bicentennial in 1976, only pales in comparison to what John said he saw when the heroes of the Tribulation period gathered together on the banks of the glassy sea, and most, if not all of them, having been martyred, celebrate with exuberance their deliverance and freedom, and sing praises not about their own achievements, but to their glorious and Almighty God.

What an incredible scene!

Last, verses 5 through 8 say the apostle saw something else remarkably incredible. The verses read:

“Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God’s Tabernacle, was thrown wide open. The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests. Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. The Temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power. No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues” (Revelation 15:5-8).

This is the third time the heavenly temple is mentioned in the book of Revelation. There are glimpses of it in chapters 4 and 8, and now chapter 15. Seven angels emerge from the temple dressed in pure white linen, their chests wrapped with golden sashes and holding golden bowls. The fact that they come from the temple is indicative that they have orders direct from God.

One of the four amazing living creatures, which were first seen in chapter 4 near the throne of God, passed to each of the seven angels a bowl, though we don’t know which one, whether the one with the face like a lion; the one who resembles an ox; the third who has a human face; or the fourth who is like an eagle in flight. These same creatures were also seen in Revelation chapter six active in signaling the seal judgments.

As the seven angels receive the bowls, smoke fills the temple. It is worth noting that when Moses completed the Tabernacle and Solomon finished constructing the temple, a cloud, also referenced as Shekinah Glory, was manifest, but smoke was not mentioned (Exodus 40:34-36). The cloud represents God’s leadership and presence among his people. It’s understood as a sign of divine approval and a reminder of God’s covenant and faithfulness to his people.

Smoke, however, is associated with God’s judgment.

For instance, the Bible mentions the smoke of God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, where the people were extremely far from God and his ways. Genesis 19:24, 25, 27-28 states:

“Then the LORD rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation … Abraham got up early that morning and hurried out to the place where he had stood in the LORD’s presence. He looked out across the plain toward Sodom and Gomorrah and watched as columns of smoke rose from the cities like smoke from a furnace.”

Only one chapter before this chapter in Revelation, smoke was connected with the final judgment. Revelation 14:11 said the wicked and those who worshipped the Beast “will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever.”

I have always thought that what happened to our great nation on September 11, 2001, constituted a judgment from God. Americans can rightly be described as overly materialistic people, placing a greater emphasis on the pursuit of wealth than spiritual or moral values. We are a consumer-driven nation where the accumulation of money and goods are seen as a primary measure of success. Consequently, although our money says that it is “In God We Trust,” we demonstrate that its affluence and prosperity that we actually depend on. Over the years, we have placed excessive importance on the so-called Almighty dollar.

Is it simply coincidental that on 9-11, the Twin Towers, also known as the World Trade Center — located in Manhattan, New York City — two buildings largely believed to be impregnable — two behemoth structures soaring upward — symbols to the whole world of our opulence and riches — like dual idols of commerce — suddenly were demolished with thousands of lives lost because a handful of men with box cutters overpowered two planes and made missiles of them?

The smoke from the devastation of the World Trade Center Towers that dreadful day reached extremely high altitudes. The impact of the airliners caused smoke and debris to rise thousands of feet into the air. According to reports, the smoke from the collapse of the towers reached heights of over 30,000 feet, as if it was drifting toward heaven. Was what happened on that frightful day God’s judgment for our turning away from Him and our preoccupation with the worship of things?

It is disheartening the way so many cannot discern the signs of the times. They are unable to see God’s providential hand in our circumstances. Truly, “they are never so blind as they who will not see.”

When the celestial temple is filled with smoke so that no one can enter the temple, it means God’s judgment has been decided. It is absolute and unamendable. No one can change it, and no one can go into the temple to persuade him not to do it.

God’s immutable hand of judgment is poised to strike. His angels are prepared to pour out the remaining vials of it with unwavering resolve.

Consider then these closing remarks taken from M.R. DeHaan’s book, Revelation:

“Here, then, we have a description of two groups: the unbelievers who meet the wrath of God and eternal judgment and the saints before his throne who acknowledge his justice and truth forever. To which company do you belong? You are either a saint or a sinner. You are either saved or lost. You are either on the way to heaven or on the way to eternal perdition. You may still settle the question. Settle it now.”

You must decide. Not deciding for Christ is the same as deciding against him.

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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