Tuesday, October 3, 2017
A SURVEY OF REVELATION 15
Scripture quotations are from English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Abbreviations: ESVSB = English Standard Version Study Bible
NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible
This brief chapter is an introduction to chapter 16, which describes the seven plagues in detail. This chapter gives the heavenly context for the earthly events. The first verse serves more as a title or summation, and the following verses unfold the scene in more detail.
The scene is referred to as a “sign.” That informs us that what we will see unfold is full of meaning and is to serve as a warning. The contents of the sign are the seven angels and the plagues that they have in store for the earth.
The narrative takes a step back and begins with praise to God. The praise locale is a “sea of glass.” A sea of glass is also mentioned in Revelation 4:6. That sea is before the throne of heaven. The sea in the present verse is “mingled with fire.” ( Ex. 24: 10 ; Ezek. 1: 22 , 26 ; Rev. 15: 2 ). A similar “sea” or “expanse” is featured in heavenly visions in Exodus 24:10 and Ezekiel 1:22 and 26. ESVSB states in its commentary on Revelation 4:6…
It is the “floor” of heaven and the “ceiling” of the created universe, and its transparent tranquility shows heaven’s peace in contrast to earthly turmoil.
Probably the two seas are the same. This would mean that the scene takes place before the throne of God. It is not apparent to me what might be the significance of the fact that the sea of glass is mixed with fire. It communicates beauty as well as foreboding.
The focus, however, is not on the glassy sea, but on the singers who are there. The various versions give two possible translations for the preposition “epi.” ESV, NIV, and New Revised Standard Version use “beside,” so that the singers are beside the sea. New American Standard and King James Version use “on.” The singers are on the sea. This is the usual meaning of “epi.” I think that, unless there is a compelling reason, this usual meaning should be kept. This makes the scene more unreal, but that sense of ethereal drama is consistent with the book.
The singers on the sea are the human heroes of Revelation: they are those who come out victorious in the great conflict that will take place before the second coming of Christ. Specifically, the verse describes them as those who have conquered. The wording is a little strange in Greek: “those who are conquering out of [or “away from”] the beast…out of his image…out of the number of his name…” Some of the versions simplify this to “normal” English: “…those who had conquered the beast [etc.]…” New American Standard Bible includes the preposition [ek], but uses “over”: “…those who had been victorious over the beast…” It does acknowledge in a footnote that “out of” is a more accurate translation. It seems to me to be significant that this preposition is used. It gives the picture that victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name is a victory that gets the person out of or away from the entities that harass the Christians. Moreover, the tense is a progressive present, so this is an ongoing victory. These are the people who are constantly escaping the beast and worship of the beast and the brand of loyalty to him. I think we should keep in mind that “escaping out of” is more than simply getting away from. It is escaping the intellectual and spiritual pressures that the Beast and his minions exert.
These overcomers are holding harps of God. I assume that they are “harps of God” in two senses. They have been given to these people by God, and they have a godly, or heavenly, quality about them. Musical instruments are a means of expressing the inner feelings that only music can convey.
The singers sing (possibly) three songs. They sing “The Song of Moses,” “The Song of the Lamb,” and they sing the song that is quoted in the text, which does not seem to be a quote from the other two songs. “The Song of Moses” could either be Exodus 15:1-18 or Deuteronomy 32:1-43 (as the notes in ESVSB state). ESVSB also assumes that “The Song of the Lamb” is Revelation 5:9-10.
“The Song of Moses” in Exodus 15:1-18 is a praise to God for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt through the Red Sea. In that passage, the victory over the Egyptian army is described. This victory is understood to be a redemption of the people of Israel because they were freed from slavery. The result is that the Lord, God of Israel is exalted above all other so-called gods. Moreover, the nations are in awe of Yahweh and fear Him. The nations that are mentioned are those that Israel will face, in one way or another, in years to come, such as Philistia, Moab, Edom, and the Canaanites. The second “Song of Moses” in Deuteronomy 32 takes a position far in the future (from the setting of Deuteronomy, which is in the last days of Moses). From that vantage point it describes the justice and loving care for the people of Israel. But it also describes their rebellion and his chastening of them and his final redemption of them. Thus, the two songs of Moses encompass the history of God’s people, Israel, in which God has dealt with them with love, mercy, and justice.
“The Song of the Lamb” from Revelation 5 summarizes the great work of God in Jesus Christ. He died and his blood was a ransom for people of all the nations. These ransomed people have become “a kingdom and priests” (Revelation 5:10) who will “reign on the earth.” Thus, the Lamb’s song takes a world-wide view of the people of God. In both cases—the songs of Moses and the Lamb’s song, the redemption and ultimate victory of the people of God is extolled.
The words of the singers, which are quoted in 15:3b-4, are echoes of the songs of Moses and the Lamb. First, the deeds of God are praised as “great and amazing.” It is appropriate in the worship of God to praise God for His attributes, such as wisdom, power, and so forth. It is also appropriate to praise God for His deeds. In some ways, the deeds of God flow from the attributes. If God is perfectly good and loving and all-powerful, then God will rescue humans from their dire condition of sin. He will do so out of His goodness and loving nature and because His power enables Him to do so. The paradox of this rescue is that the Son of God had to submit to being utterly powerless in order to rescue us from sin. Yet, that powerlessness became the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). So, the singers on the sea of glass praise God for what He has done.
They also praise Him that His ways are “just and true.” In a world that is crooked, filled with lies and deception, God adheres to justice and truth. In the current political atmosphere of the United States, it is a blessing to know this.
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders attacked the Trump nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget—Russell Vought. The senator had discovered that the nominee had gone on record that Jesus is the only way to salvation and this excludes Muslims. This statement was in the context of theological discussions about Islam in a Christian college. Sanders regarded such a stance to be unjust and un-American, because it discriminated against non-Christians. He considered himself, a Jew, to be among those who Mr. Vought was discriminating against. In his misguided zeal against non-discrimination, Mr. Sanders revealed a deep ignorance of the message of the gospel, which offers salvation to all persons without respect to their background or position in life. The truth of the gospel is that salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ. That certainly does discriminate against other religions, but does so with regard to salvation, not with regard to personal or political privileges. So, I can announce that one’s relationship to God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But I can also announce that all persons may speak their mind, vote their conscience, associate freely, and so forth. My faith in Jesus gives me no superiority in the marketplace, in the forum, or in other settings. These are points that Mr. Sanders was horribly—and dangerously—wrong about. (These comments are not meant to be an endorsement of Donald Trump.)
The singers continue by asking the rhetorical question of who would not fear and glorify the Lord’s name. In a world where names are given children because they are either euphonious or evocative (names like Chance, Shantee, Shay) it is difficult to relate to the Biblical culture in which names are revered. Just as the Lord is to be feared and glorified, so is His name, which communicates His person.
The singers imply that all will fear and glorify His name because, first of all, He is alone is holy. That which is holy is set apart. The utensils of the Temple were dedicated to use in the Temple and not for use in the home or workplace. The One who is totally separate from the world is the Lord God. He is not tied to the biosphere, the mechanics of the universe, nor to the motivations of a sinful world. He is utterly separate. He is also perfect in righteousness and judgment. His holiness is so thoroughly descriptive of Him that we can reverse the association and say that whatever is of God is holy for God makes it holy. Thus, anything or person who is holy is only by derivation from and association with God. Thus, the fact that God is holy strikes a certain fear in humanity, for it reminds us that God is utterly separate from us. The very name of God is to be feared as the representation of that which transcends us. Moreover, we glorify the name of God because we acknowledge that He is holy and worthy of praise.
The answer to the question, “who will not fear…and glorify your name,” includes the fact that “all nations will come and worship you.” Though all the nations have gone their own way and have created their own gods, the perfection and holiness of Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is something that all should know about and respond to with worship. In fact, the singers remind us that the Lord’s “righteous acts have been revealed.” The fact that this is in the same sentence with “all nations” implies that this revelation has been disseminated around the world. The witnesses to what God has done in Jesus Christ have obeyed the Great Commission and have made disciples in all the nations. Those disciples indeed worship God through Jesus Christ. Moreover, in an eschatological sense, the final outcome of God’s work in the world is a world-wide Kingdom of God in which all the nations come to God to worship Him. From the Hebrew perspective, “coming” implies going “up to Jerusalem” to worship the Lord. (See Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3.) As ESVSB comments on Isaiah 2:3: “the Gentiles will abandon all other religions for the true God.”
Note that the praise from the victorious saints of God sets the stage for the seven last plagues. Throughout the book, praise and honor is given to God even as horrific scenes of judgment are described. The message of the book is that God is worthy of praise and is just in His judgments. See a statement of this in the midst of plagues in 16:5-7.
The narrative has set a background of praise from the heroic martyrs. Now it states that the origin of the seven angels is the “sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven.” The “tent of witness” is the heavenly tabernacle from which Moses copied in order to build the Tabernacle that is described in Exodus. (See Hebrews 8:2-5 and 9:11-12 and Exodus 25:40.) The “sanctuary” (sometimes translated “temple”, Greek: naos) probably is the inner room, the Holy of Holies. For example Revelation 11:19 uses “naos” to designate the place where the Ark of the Covenant is located, and the Ark was in the inner room of the earthly tabernacle (Exodus 26:33).
The following is speculation on my part. It is possible that the outer room (the “Holy Place”) of the earthly tabernacle is a copy of the heavenly environment of the Holy of Holies. Since we do not have mention of this outer room, to my knowledge, in a description of heaven, it is possible that the earthly tabernacle (and temple) portrayed the work of Christ as the Holy of Holies and the heavenly environment as the Holy Place. The outer room had a table for the bread of the presence, 12 loaves from the 12 tribes. They represented the offering of the 12 tribes unto God as a people who were dedicated unto God. It also had a table of incense, symbolizing the worship of God. And it had a lampstand, symbolizing the eternal light of God, who reveals Himself. In heaven the redeemed people of God stand before God (see Revelation 7:9ff). The worship of God goes on day and night (see various references to worship throughout Revelation). And, of course, God’s immediate presence enlightens all of heaven (see, for example, chapter 4). The Holy of Holies is revealed to contain the Ark of the Covenant (see 11:19). I believe that this Ark, which is the pattern for the earthly Ark, is the symbol of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff and Hebrews 9:11-28).
It is from this inner sanctum, where the blood of Christ was applied and Christ confirmed the covenant, that the angels come bearing the seven last plagues. Though God’s wrath is poured out on unrepentant humanity, it is not because God has not showed mercy and grace. The cross of Jesus Christ and the Ark of the Covenant witness to all that God loves people and is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (II Peter 3:9)
The sanctuary is opened so that the seven angels can come out. These angels have already been mentioned in verse 15:1. Their identity is that they bring with them the seven plagues. They are described as wearing “pure, bright linen.” Throughout Scripture garments often play a significant role in describing a person. John the Baptist wore camel’s hair (Mark 1:6), which evokes a primitive toughness. The Tribulation saints have robes that are white because they are washed in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14) The angel(s) at the tomb had “dazzling” (Luke 24:4) and “white” (Mark 16:5) clothing. The white signifies purity and the “dazzling” signifies light. Similarly, these seven angels wear robes that are clean or pure to represent their moral purity. And they wear bright robes that signifies the light of heaven. They also wear golden sashes around their chests, representing a priestly function, perhaps.
A new actor comes onto the stage in this verse—one of the “four living creatures.” These are described in Revelation 4:6-8. They are constantly praising God. But they also play a role in the events initiated by opening the seven seals (Revelation 6). Specifically, as the first four seals are opened, one of the living creatures calls upon one of the infamous “four horsemen of the Apocalypse.” We can take the roles of the four living “creatures” (which can be translated “animals”) in two ways. First, we find them performing various functions that seem somewhat unrelated. This reflects that they simply are assigned various tasks, just as a soldier might be called upon for various missions, but whose identity is more bound up in his or her name, rank, and serial number. Second, the fact that they are constantly speaking and singing praises to God and to the Lamb (4:8, 5:9-10) in heaven is tied to the fact that they play roles in the bringing of judgment to earth. These creatures have magnificent insight into the glory, holiness, and worthiness of Almighty God and the Lamb. That insight is contrasted to the darkness and sinfulness that is found on the earth. They are, therefore, qualified to be instruments of judgment.
The living creature gives seven bowls to the seven angels. It is natural to assume that each angel receives a bowl. The bowls are “golden.” This is a reflection of the immeasurable wealth of heaven and, therefore, a reflection of the glory of God. If one goes to an extremely wealthy person’s house, every element of the house—the yard tools, the vacuum cleaner, the commode, everything—is first class. Whereas us poor folks go to Walmart and buy what we can afford, the wealthy buy the best. So, these bowls are first class bowls. The most significant thing about the bowls, however, is that they are filled with the wrath of God. This wrath is “thumos,” which is God’s fury.
In verses 1 and 6, the seven angels are said to have the seven plagues. Now an angelic being gives to them bowls of wrath. One should not make too much of this, but there seems to be a separation and mixing of two concepts in this passage—the plagues and the wrath of God. I would interpret as follows: The each of the seven angels has the authority to inflict one of the plagues upon the earth. Each angel, in addition, is handed a bowl full of God’s fury. So, each plague will be inflicted upon earth with the fury of God. God has authorized that the utmost expression of His anger will be exhibited in these plagues.
The God who owns this fury is the God “who lives forever and ever.” This God lived before anything else existed, for He created all things. Anything else that might be called “god” owes its existence to this God, the God of creation. This God will continue to exist for all time. That means that our eternal life is backed by the power of an eternal God. The fact that we receive eternal life through faith in Jesus (John 3:16) means that we will be upheld for all eternity by the God who lives forever and ever.
When the seven angels step out of the “sanctuary” and are handed seven golden bowls of the fury of God, there is a heavenly response. The sanctuary is filled with smoke so that no one can enter it. In Exodus 40:34-35, as the Tabernacle was completed, God’s glory filled the Tabernacle so that Moses could not enter it. Similarly, the glory of God filled the Temple when it was completed and the Ark of the Covenant was placed within the Holy of Holies (I King 8:10-11). Now, in this last days scene, the sanctuary in heaven is filled with the smoke of God’s glory and power. In the first two instances, the entrance of God’s glory seemed to express two things. First, it was a stamp of God’s approval on the structures that had been built. Second, it was an expression of God’s presence—first in the Tabernacle and then in Solomon’s Temple.
I have discussed, in my comments on verse 15:5, that the sanctuary of heaven is where the Ark of the Covenant is located and where the blood of Jesus was applied. Thus, this Holiest of Holies is where human redemption was sealed. It is the place where human access to God—“the new and living way”—has been procured. This center of our salvation is filled with the glory of God so that no one can enter. For a brief season, God’s wrath must be poured out through the seven last plagues. In that season, the glory of God takes precedence and the sanctuary has a “closed” sign on it. For God’s wrath has been stored up in the winepress (14:19). Even as that wrath is poured out, God is understood to be characterized as glorious.
Linked to God’s glory is God’s power. The sanctuary is filled with the smoke of God’s glory and power. The power reminds us that nothing and no one can resist God’s purposes. The plagues will remind the people that almighty God is the one with whom they are dealing.
Chapter 15 is a prelude to the actual plagues that are described in chapter 16. The chapter is divided into a title (verse 15:1) and two parts within the body. The first part, verses 15:2-4, describes the song of those who have been victorious in the face of the persecution from the Beast and his empire. The song is one that praises God for His acts. The second part, verses 15:5-8, describes the preparation for the administration of the seven last plagues. The seven angels exit from the sanctuary and are given bowls filled with God’s wrath. Then the sanctuary is filled with the smoke of God’s glory and power. Thus, even as the seven last plagues are poured out upon humanity, we are reminded that we serve a great and glorious God.
In his introduction to this material, Rist refers to similar preparatory passages before the descriptions of the seven seals and seven trumpets (Revelation 5 and 8:1-5). He asserts that 8:1-5 and chapter 15 are “doublets.” Some Biblical scholars consider that certain passages that are similar are really two versions of the same event. For example some might consider the feeding of the 4,000 to be a doublet of the feeding of the 5,000.
VERSE 15:2: He notes that that in 8:1-5 prayers of the saints are offered up and that this is parallel to the song of the martyrs in 15:2-4. He understands that the “glass mingled with fire” is really a description of glass that is “fiery red in color.” He makes an interesting observation that the martyrs in Revelation 15 are parallel to the Israelites in Exodus. Just as the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea safely, escaping Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 14), so the martyrs have crossed the fiery sea of heaven to escape “their persecutor, the satanic Roman emperor…”
VERSE 15:3a: He contrasts the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11 with the martyrs of chapter 15. In chapter 6, the martyrs are crying out for vengeance, but, in chapter 15, the martyrs’ number is complete and “their enemies are about to be overwhelmed by God in his wrath.” So now they sing a song of praise.
VERSES 3b and 4: The song “bears little resemblance to the song of Mosesin Exod. 15.” It is a “catena of O. T. phraseology…” “Obviously, the author…was thoroughly imbued with O. T. phrases…” He considers that the line “All nations will come and worship you” is not in “harmony” with the view in Revelation that the nations will “refuse to repent.” He considers two possibilities: John was quoting a Christian hymn of the time, which contained the line, and left it in. Or, he believed that the nations would come, not in repentance, but in acknowledgment of God’s might and power.
VERSE 15:5: He is troubled by the phrase the “temple of the tent of witness” (as in old Revised Standard Version). He considers the juxtaposition of “temple” and “tent [or “tabernacle”] of witness” is not consistent with other uses. I have discussed in detail above my own understanding of this phrase. It is interesting to compare the various translations of this phrase (see below). KJV is King James Version, RSV is Revised Standard Version, NASB is New American Standard Version, ESV is English Standard Version, NIV is New International Version.
KJV: “temple of the tabernacle of the testimony”
RSV: “temple of the tent of witness”
New RSV: “temple of the tent of witness”
NASB: “temple of the tabernacle of testimony”
ESV: “sanctuary of the tent of witness”
NIV: “the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law”
Notice that only ESV uses “sanctuary” instead of “temple,” yet it seems to me that “sanctuary” is an accurate translation. I find the NIV translation to be intriguing, because it calls attention to the idea that the “tent of witness” is a place where the “ark of the covenant” was located. Thus, it is the place where God’s covenant is witnessed to by God and people. However, it misses the idea that the greater covenant—the New Covenant—which was ratified by the blood of Jesus, was so ratified in heaven. Rist misses this point also. However, he does offer another interpretation: that this “tent of witness” is analogous to the tabernacle of Exodus. In Exodus the tabernacle traveled with the newly liberated Israel. In Revelation, this use of “tent” or “tabernacle” might be “an allusion to the new exodus” of the new Israel who are “traveling through the wilderness to the eternal promised land, i.e., to God’s temple in heaven[.]”
VERSE 15:7: He comments that the “vials” or “bowls” that are given to the angels have various associations. The bowls might be for drinking or incense or for ashes after cremation. Thus, the bowls represent cups of anger to be drunk. They might also refer to the embers of burning incense such as were thrown on the earth in 8:5. Or, they might refer to the ashes of the dead, who die as a result of the plagues.
VERSE 15:8: He goes back to his explanation of verse 15:5 and refers back to Exodus 40:34-35. In that passage, the cloud covers the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord so fills the tent that it cannot be entered. He sees this connection with the present passage as confirmation that “for John the exodus of the Jews from Egypt…is a prototype of the divine deliverance of the loyal Christians from the power of the satanic beast representing the rule of the Roman state…”
Morris introduces the chapter by describing it as an introduction to the last plagues in which John “stresses the majesty of God who is over the whole historical process.”
VERSE 15:2: He considers that the fire refers to the “wrath and judgment” of the plagues. He notes that the martyrs are considered victorious. He says that, when people died for the faith, the church considered it their “day of victory.”
VERSE 15:3: He comments on the mention of the song of Moses and the allusion to Exodus: “The great deliverance wrought under Moses forms the pattern for the great deliverance wrought by the Lamb.” He comments that, although the earth-dwellers “have marvelled at the beast and his wonders,” the works of God are truly marvelous. The song praises “God’s universal sovereignty…which must have been exceedingly important for his troubled readers.”
VERSE 15:4: Morris notes that KJV translates the final clause to say that God’s “judgments are made manifest.” He notes that this can also be translated “righteous acts” (and all the modern translations do so), but he believes “judgments” is appropriate here. He quotes R. H. Charles: “[the word refers here to] the judicial sentences of God in relation to the nations…” Morris adds: “At the last God’s judicial sentences will be made plain to all.” He notices, finally, that the song of the martyrs does not refer to them, but fixes its attention on Christ.
VERSE 15:5: He discusses the unusual “temple of the tabernacle of the testimony.” (KJV) I have discussed this at length in my own commentary and in the discussion of Rist’s commentary. Morris also sees an allusion to the wilderness experience of the Israelites. The tabernacle is “a symbol of the very presence of God Himself” in the wilderness wanderings of Israel. He also notes that the word “witness” calls attention to the martyrs, for the two words are the same in Greek.
VERSE 15:6: The seven angels have come from “the very presence of God,” and therefore the plagues have “the fullest divine sanction.” The appearance of the angels (and of their clothing) “symbolizes their spotlessness.” “It emphasizes the purity from which the wrath is poured out on the world.”
VERSE 15:7: Again, the fact—that one of the four living creatures relays the bowls of wrath to the angels—emphasizes the divine sanction, since the living creatures are always close to the throne of God. Morris, as does Rist, notes that the bowls are the same kind of vessel that held the prayers of the saints in 5:8. The prayers of the saints, “which seem so insignificant…have their part to play in bringing about the final state of affairs.”
VERSE 15:8: Morris interprets the fact that no one can enter the sanctuary until the plagues are completed: “When God’s good time has come nothing can stop final judgment.”
Ladd introduces the chapter by referring back to the structure of Revelation over several chapters.
· In 8:13 an eagle flies through the air and shouts three woes to the earth-dwellers.
· The fifth trumpet judgment is described in 9:1-12. This is described as the “first woe.”
· The sixth trumpet judgment is partially described in 9:13-21.
· In 10:6-7, it is announced that the “mystery of God” will be accomplished with the seventh trumpet. Then, several more incidents are described in 10:8-11:13, including the career of the two witnesses and a great earthquake. This completes the second woe.
· The seventh trumpet is sounded in 11:15. There follows what Ladd calls a “proleptic announcement of the coming of God’s kingdom” (11:15-18). After this is the material of chapters 12-14, which Ladd calls an “interlude.”
· Ladd concludes that, since there was no woe immediately after the seventh trumpet, the seven bowls “constitute the third woe.”
I recapitulate this structure as follows:
Trumpet 1: 8:7
Trumpet 2: 8:8-9
Trumpet 3: 8:10-11
Trumpet 4: 8:12
(Three woes announced: 8:13)
WOE 1: Trumpet 5: 9:1-12 (Woe 1)
WOE 2: Trumpet 6: 9:13-11:14 (Announcement of the completion of
the mystery of God: 10:7) (Woe 2)
Trumpet 7: 11:15-19 (proleptic announcement of the Kingdom)
WOE 3: Seven bowls of wrath: 15-16 (Woe 3)
Ladd clarifies that the “last” plagues and the fact that the wrath of God is “ended” must be qualified. Obviously God’s wrath—in the defeat of the Beast at the Second Coming as well as in the Great White Throne Judgment—will take place after the seven bowl plagues. In the context of the Tribulation, the seven bowls of wrath are the culmination—the “last”—of the outpouring of God’s wrath with the purpose of making “the worshipers of the beast bow before the sovereignty of God.”
Ladd considers the scene to be a “proleptic vision of the conquerors of the beast.” The martyrs have conquered the Beast, his number, and his image by refusing to worship the Beast and to go along with his program. This brought their death but frustrated the purpose of the Beast to bring them to heel. He believes the sea of glass is the one that is described in 4:6, which is before the throne of God. Thus, they stand in the very presence of God. The fire represents the judgments upon the earth or the persecution of the martyrs.
He believes the reference to Moses and the Lamb means that the martyrs’ song is one of deliverance such as occurred in the Exodus from Egypt and such as will occur in the Tribulation. The latter is deliverance from the Beast. In spite of the intense persecution, the martyrs can still praise God as all-powerful and as a deliverer. He notes that the song is in “Old Testament language” because the Old Testament emphasized God’s deliverance from trouble and from the power of the nations. He considers the song to be “one of the most moving expressions of faith in the entire biblical literature.”
He notes that “out of context” the words might suggest universal salvation. However, he notes that the Bible looks forward to the day when God will reign and be surrounded “only by those who find their joy in worshiping him.” The ultimate Kingdom of God will include people from all the nations. He notes that the martyrs are focused only on “the sovereignty, justice and glory of God.” They are not concerned about personal vengeance or with their own victory over the Beast.
He considers that the reference to the temple symbolizes two things: the faithfulness of God because it is where the Ark of the Covenant is and the presence of God. He notes the peculiar expression, “temple of the tent of witness.” He interprets this as simply referring both to the wilderness tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon. Strangely, he says that the pattern of these two places of worship serve as a a pattern for the “dwelling of God in heaven.” In fact the earthly structures were patterned after the heavenly structure.
He believes the angels’ clothing have the purpose of enhancing their “splendor.” He does not believe that the clothing implies a priestly function.
The mention of one of the four living creatures means that the bowls and their wrath come from a creature whose station is close to the throne of God, therefore the “bowls have full divine sanction.” The use of the same word for these bowls and for the bowls of 24 elders, he thinks, may be a reference to the prayers of the saints. “The prayers of the saints have their role in bringing upon the world…God’s justice and wrath.” The emphasis on God’s eternity reminds us that, even though evil may seem to dominate, God’s purposes will prevail.
Ladd lists several Old Testament descriptions of the how the presence of God is so powerful that people cannot approach: Exodus 40:35, I Kings 8:10-11, Isaiah 6:4, Ezekiel 44:4. He says that these are not so much intended to portray God as unapproachable but rather to portray God’s “majesty and glory in comparison to all that is human and mundane.”
I am including a new commentary (and dropping several others). This new one is the Revelation, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, by Alan F. Johnson. Since my copy of this book is a Kindle e-book, I cannot give page numbers.
Johnson considers in what way wrath of God is completed by these bowl judgments. He notes that the context for these judgments begins with the seven trumpets and includes the three woes. Thus, these bowl judgments are the climax of the wrath that is first mentioned in 6:17.
The sea of glass “shot through with fire” reflects the glory of God. The ones who are on the sea are the martyrs that are mentioned again and again through Revelation.
He believes that a single song is referred to by the “song of Moses and of the Lamb.” He notes that the song of Moses, which celebrates the victory of the Exodus, was used in the ancient synagogue services on the afternoon of the Sabbath. It celebrates God’s sovereign rule of the universe, and he believes this is the emphasis of the song in verses 3 and 4. He notes that there are echoes of the Old Testament throughout the song. He believes that it might be drawn from an early Christian hymn. He also notes that the early church referred to the Exodus in its Easter liturgy.
The bowls, he believes, can be related to the bowls used in Temple worship to collect the blood of the sacrifices.
The smoke is a reference to the “shekinah cloud” that was in both the Tabernacle and the Temple. “It symbolizes God’s special presence and the fact that he is the source of the judgments.”
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News
Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Johnson, Alan F. Revelation. The Expositor’s Bible
Commentary, Revised Edition. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John.
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Tyndale New
Testament Commentaries. Vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen.
Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” Exegesis.
The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. XII. Nolan B. Harmon, Ed.
New York: Abingdon Press, 1957.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ.,