1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And 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, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. – Revelation 15:1-8 ESV
When reading the book of Revelation, one can begin to feel as if the onslaught of judgments coming on earth and its inhabitants will never come to an end. It seems as if each new chapter brings with it yet more devastating news of unbelievable and unbearable trials that will befall mankind. But in these chapters, Even in this chapter, John is given yet another sign in heaven, one he describes as “great and amazing,” that will involves seven plagues. These are the seven bowl judgments. But John is informed that these will be “the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1 ESV). There is a certain finality to this vision. He is being provided with a much-needed reminder that there is an end coming to all of God’s judgments upon the earth. There will be a climax to all that John has seen and that will be the second coming of Jesus Christ. The seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowl judgments are nothing more than a preface, preparing the way for return of the Son of God. And He will bring with Him the final phase of God’s judgments, completing that portion of the divine plan for the redemption and restoration of the world. Christ will return immediately after the seventh bowl has been poured out.
John is being given a much-needed reminder that this seemingly endless wave of judgments has not only an end, but a purpose. None of what he has witnessed has been indiscriminate or arbitrary in nature. These are not the actions of a petty and impetuous deity who simply enjoys taking out His anger on the weak and defenseless. These are the acts of a holy, righteous and sovereign God who is obligated by His very nature to deal with the insurrection raised against His rightful rule and reign. We have seen over and over again the unrepentant nature of those who find themselves suffering under His righteous anger. He brings well-deserved judgments upon them, but they refuse to repent and acknowledge Him as God. They stubbornly cling to their false god, willingly worshiping the Antichrist, giving to him the glory only God deserves. John has been shown the gracious and merciful nature of God as He provides 144,000 Jewish converts to Christ who spend their entire lives during the tribulation, spreading the good news regarding Jesus Christ and God’s offer of salvation made possible through Him. But the vast majority of the people of earth will refuse this offer. They will turn up their noses at God’s gracious gift, choosing to remain in open rebellion against Him, rather than humbly turn to Him in humble repentance and submission. So, the seven bowls will be poured out and the final judgments of God will be meted out. But His judgments, like His patience, have an end. As we have seen repeatedly, the number seven is the number of perfection or completion. Just as there were seven seals and seven trumpets, there are seven bowls containing seven plagues. They represent God’s perfect and complete judgment against mankind. This is not a case of overkill on God’s part. Everything He has done and will do is perfectly righteous, without fault and in keeping with His blameless character.
John sees a sea of glass, like the one he saw in chapter four, but this one is mixed with fire. The sea of glass, that extends before the throne of God, is meant to reflect the glory. of God. But here, John sees God’s glory mixed with fire, a symbol of judgment. The seven plagues are “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” You cannot separate God’s glory from His wrath and judgment. A holy and righteous God cannot and will not tolerate insurrection and insubordination on the part of those He has created. He is obligated by His very nature to deal with the blatant rebellion of mankind to His sovereign will.
4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. – Psalm 5:4-6 ESV
God does not view man’s sin as simply an alternative lifestyle or a decision to take a different path than the one He prescribes. He knows that sin is not only rebellion against His will, but an act of self-destruction, leading to death, not life. And sin, like a communicable disease, is contagious and deadly. It spreads like a cancer, infecting everyone with whom it comes in contact. It damages and destroys, and there is no end to its destructive influence. So, God must act. He must eliminate sin once and for all, and John is being reminded that this is exactly what God is going to do.
John sees, standing beside the sea of glass, a crowd of individuals who most likely represent all those who will come to faith in Christ during the days of the tribulation and suffer martyr’s deaths as a result. They are described as having “conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2 ESV). Having refused to take the mark of the beast and worship the Antichrist, they were executed. But now, John sees them, holding harps in their hands and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. These are most likely two different songs, but both containing praise for God’s salvation and redemption. In Deuteronomy 32, we have recorded one of the songs of Moses which speaks of God’s power and deliverance of His people.
For the Lord will vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
and there is none remaining, bond or free. – Deuteronomy 32:36 ESV
“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.’” – Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV
One of the things recorded in the song of Moses found in Deuteronomy 32 is the reminder that God is righteous and just.
“The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV
He always does what is right. He never acts unjustly or reacts to His people undeservedly. And that is exactly the message John hears in the song being sung by the martyred saints.
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations.” – Revelation 15:3 ESV
These saints vindicate the actions of God, proclaiming His righteousness and ascribing to Him holiness. They sing, “your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4 ESV), an unapologetic defense of all that God has done and will do. All the world will ultimately come to fear and worship Him for who He is, because He alone is holy.
And then John sees the seven angels carrying the seven plagues, coming out of the sanctuary of God. This is yet another, not-so-subtle-reminder, that these judgments are coming from the very throne room of God in heaven. They are divinely ordained and ordered. And one of the four creatures, who stand around the throne of God, give each of the seven angels a golden bowl containing the “full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever” (Revelation 15:7 ESV). It is a bit confusing that the angels are described as carrying the seven plagues, but are then given the seven bowls. And the bowls are described as holding the wrath of anger of God. As we will see in the very next chapter, the seven bowls will be means by which the plagues are poured out on the earth. So perhaps, what John is being shown is that the angels walked out of the sanctuary of God, holding the form of God’s judgment – the plagues – but were then given the means by which those judgments would come – by His anger. The plagues would flow forth, mixed with the anger or divine wrath of God. Again, the song of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 32, speaks of this wrath of God coming upon all those who stand opposed to Him.
“Rejoice with him, O heavens;
bow down to him, all gods,
for he avenges the blood of his children
and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
and cleanses his people’s land.” – Deuteronomy 32:43 ESV
God’s righteous anger will be “poured out” in the form of seven very real and very devastating plagues. The wrath of God will take concrete and recognizable form. And like the people of Egypt, who suffered from the plagues that God poured out on them, the people of the earth will know that God alone is God. They will unmistakably recognize the power of God Almighty as He makes His anger both felt and known. And John ends this chapter with the statement that “the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (Revelation 15:8 ESV). Access to God is completely cut off until the full extent of His judgment on earth is complete. This is a vivid and sobering reminder of God’s holiness. He is not to be trifled with. He is not to be treated flippantly or contemptuously. The sanctuary in heaven will be off limits to all until the full extent of God’s wrath is poured out and the final portion of His judgments are meted out.
And in the very next chapter, John will see each of those seven bowls poured out on the earth and its inhabitants. The focus will turn from heaven back to earth. The final days of God’s judgment have come and the return of His Son is closer than ever before.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.