Revelation 15 introduces
us to seven angels with the seven last plagues. These plagues fill
up and bring to completion the wrath of God. This wrath was revealed
in Jesus Christ's death on the cross. (Study 12) Since the revelation of
that wrath was our redemption, we can be assured that the filling up of
that wrath will showcase redemption like nothing else in history. As we
study these seven last plagues we will see how true that is.
However John does not give us the details concerning these bowls of wrath immediately. He begins by giving us a preview to them. To fully appreciate the bowls of wrath we must study this preview of Revelation 15.
John refers to the seven angels as “another great and marvelous sign in heaven”. The word “another” points out that John has already told us about other signs. In Revelation twelve “the woman in heaven” is spoken as a “great sign”. In that same chapter the dragon is also referred to as a “sign”. The way John designates these three signs suggests a ranking of them. Since the angels with the seven plaques are said to be “great and marvelous” they outrank the other two as a sign. We might well ask: what’s John’s point?
The Jews of Jesus day where proverbial sign seekers. (see Matt. 12:38f; 16:1f; John2:18f; 6:30) The disciples asked Jesus for the sign of His coming and the end of the age. (Matt.24:3) In His reply Jesus refers to two signs: 1) the signs and wonders done by the false christs and false prophets, (24:23) and 2) the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. (24:30) We should note that Jesus does not refer to wars; famines; pestilences; or earthquakes; as signs. Yet today’s popular views of Revelation speak of these very things as “signs of the times”. If Jesus didn’t call these catastrophes signs; should we? However John does speak of the angels with the plaques as a sign. How are we to understand the word “sign” in these Revelation references?
Today’s popular seven year tribulation view of Revelation holds the dragon and the woman, of Revelation 12, to be figurative. This sets a precedent as to how we should understand anything that is referred to as a sign. If the two lesser signs are figurative, textual consistency would demand that the greater sign is also figurative; unless the text stated otherwise. Therefore to interpret the sign of the seven last plaques as literal violates the rules of good exegesis, and could well lead to a misunderstanding of Revelation.
John continues his preview by describing “a sea of glass mingled with fire”. He sees those who have the victory over the beast standing on the sea. These victors are singing the song of Moses and the Lamb.
I maintain that throughout Revelation the sea is figurative language for society. (That it is mixed with fire is still a puzzle so it will demand further study.) The sea appears as glass indicating all societies turmoil and tempests have ceased. Those who have gotten the victory over the beast stand on that tranquil sea. The stance obviously portrays that victory.
That victory is marked by a song: the song of Moses and the Lamb. The song of Moses marks the unprecedented Old Testament deliverance from physical bondage. The song of the Lamb marks the unprecedented New Testament deliverance from spiritual bondage. Thus the victors song marks the deliverance and victory that will result from the outpouring of the seven bowls. It will be a victory like no other: and it will be both physical and spiritual.
John’s preview is a snapshot of the results of the outpouring of God’s wrath. The preview assures us that God’s wrath is good news. The outpouring of this wrath will manifest God’s glory like never before. John endeavors to describe it to us. He speaks of it as the temple in heaven being open. The glory and power of God fill the temple like smoke. That glory is so powerful that no one is able to enter the temple while the vials are outpoured.
No wonder Revelation 16:1 shouts DO IT! A voice from the temple commands: “Go! Pour out the vials of God’s wrath upon the earth!” (Rev. 16:1 my translation) The heavenly hosts can’t wait for the crowning act of God’s will to be accomplished; and His purpose being brought to completion.
As Christians we have misunderstood and misread God’s will and purpose. God is not out to break our will. God’s purpose is to redirect our will! In Revelation 15:5 John declares: "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened." God’s purpose in pouring out the vials is to redirect man’s will. Therefore with the outpouring of those vial’s will come an understanding of God that theology has missed to date.
It is Christ’s work of grace that is being signaled out in the words "the tabernacle of the testimony". What did Jesus accomplish by His death, resurrection, and His ascension to the Father? We assume that we know and understand what was accomplished. However the outpouring of God’s bowls of wrath will reveal God in a manner that we never dreamt possible.
As an introduction to the seven vials let us consider the words of John 14:1-3. We have understood the word “place” as a location. Is Jesus speaking about a location or position in John 14:1-3?
The words Jesus spoke in John 14:1-3 were given before His death, not after His resurrection. If He had spoken them after His resurrection; prior to His ascension, we might have a case for reading it as we do.
Notice the context of His words. Judas has just departed in order to betray Jesus. Jesus is aware that His time for dying on the cross has come, so he tells His disciples that they can’t come with Him. (John 13:33) Peter insists that he will follow Jesus to death if needs be. Jesus then predicts that Peter will deny Him. So Jesus knows that with His departure will come failure on the part of the disciples. Knowing this Jesus comforts His disciples by explaining to them that there is a purpose in His departure.
His departure would bring them into a place that only the death and resurrection of Jesus could provide. His departure relates to provisions, care, and supply, like they’ve never known before. Before Jesus Christ's death for us we did not have access to the Fathers provisions, because man was considered a servant not a son. (John 15:15 Gal. 4:1-7) However after Christ's work of grace we are no longer servants but sons, and since we are sons we are heirs, and joint heirs with Christ to everything in God's house. God's complete house – economy - is yours!
What is your need? Jesus has prepared a place where that need can be meet. God's economy is such that it provides for your every need. Why not step into the position He has provided for you? Are you sick or diseased, spend time in His healing room. Don't rush your visit, find and meditate on the words of your great physician. Are you feeling troubled in heart, weary, or carrying a heavy burden? Spend some time resting with the Comforter: namely the Holy Spirit. Do you need advice or direction? Relax in the parlor and listen to Jesus your Counselor. Are you hungry or thirsty, then enter the dining room and feast on the bread of Life, and drink deep of Jesus, the living water.
I trust you get the point: The place that Jesus prepared for us is the position we have with His Father. We are heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He was the Overcomer, so that we could be also. He is victorious, we can be the same. Jesus is the way and the door to the place that He has prepared for us. Stop argueing about what is or isn't yours in Christ. Through Him your Father’s house - economy – belongs to you.
Yes at present we may not see every prayer answered, and every desire fulfilled. So then we make excuses for God! Is that an answer? There are many dwelling places in God’s economy. Are we thinking that one prayer should fix all? Our problem is that we don't dwell in those dwelling places. We want to rush in and rush out with a quick fix. Like James states: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts."
Well God is going to change that. It is being done in the sixth seal revival movements happening right now. In the winepress it will continue to build in intensity. The culmination comes with the outpouring of the vials.
God's passion for you knows no limits. Allow me to illustrate His love and passion for you.
Picture a daughter returning home from school. As she approaches her home she looks up and terror grips her. Less then ten feet away stands the community bully. She instinctively knows he is not there to treat her with respect or dignity. Then she remembers, her father is at home, All she needs to do is cry out to him for help. But before the cry is even formed: the bully rushes and knocks her down. Her books and notes flying in every direction. She is overcome by a terrifying silence. Somehow she manages to scramble to her feet. Frantically she rushes toward the door of her home; desperately hoping the door is unlocked. She is in mid stride when she is rushed from behind. Her breath is knocked out of her. She is not so quick to get up. Instinctively she realizes that her hesitation leaves her vulnerable. A victim of the bully.
Nothing happens! Has the bully gone? She lifts her head. She is overcome by what she sees. The bully is just ahead of her. In his last rush he to lost his balance and fell. He is frozen in a crouching position. His eyes are riveted on her father, standing within arms reach. The bully isn’t sure if he should finish standing up, or admit defeat by falling back to the ground. The expression on her father’s face creates an overload of emotion. She has never seen her father with such tense lines and muscles fixed in anger. For a few seconds the terror she feels at seeing that expression is even more intense then when she first saw the bully. No wonder the bully is seemingly frozen in time. She would be to - desperately hoping to avoid all expressions of that anger. Then she sees her fathers eyes. Her terror and fear is melted and gone. Suddenly she feels like laughing with hysterical excitement, and sobbing with uncontrolled abandonment. She has never before seen his eyes so vivid with light and sparkle. In those eyes she can see a tenderness beyond description. A care and concern that is emotionally overwhelming. It would be impossible to put it in words. Her father’s eyes are an expression of the deepest care and concern she has ever seen. How could she ever have thought He was angry with her? Instantly she also realizes her father isn’t angry with the bully. Instead there is a longing to embrace the bully and cause all his frustrations, fears, and abuses to be melted away. But just as quickly she realizes that the bully can't see the expression in her fathers eyes. He can only see the tense lines and fixed muscles of anger.
What do you see when you look at your heavenly Father?
We need to get to know our Father on a more personal basis. We need to spend time in His house, the place that Jesus prepared for us, getting to know Him and His passion. I wish to say it again: I think it is unfortunate that we have come to see Revelation in the light that we see it. Revelation is a book in which Jesus portrays Himself as the Lamb. We haven’t seen a Lamb. We have only seen the tense lines. Muscles flexed in anger. I invite you to look again in His wonderful face. Don’t let the things of earth dim His glory and grace.
Revelation 16:1 states: “And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.” According to Revelation 15:6 these angels themselves came out of the temple. Now we are told that a voice from that same temple orders them to go and pour out their vials. This is the same temple which John saw filled with the smoke of God's glory and power. (Rev. 15:8) The order and the angels originate from the same place: the temple in heaven. Is that temple a source of violent destruction?
The source of an action or deed tells us the kind of action or deed it is. Jesus said: "A good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Matt. 7:17 & 18) In Matthew 12:33 Jesus states: "Either make the tree good, and the fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit." So I ask you, given the source of the vials, what kind of vials are they? If the source of the vials is the glory and power of God can the fruit they yield be anything different?