All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
(Rev 15:1) – 1 And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven plagues, which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.
“seven plagues” (seven bowls – Rev 16)
Just as with the “seven seals” (Rev 4-5) and the “seven trumpets” (Rev 7), we’re presented with a scene in Heaven before the “seven plagues” are revealed. I believe the reason for this is so that Christians may be encouraged. These seals, trumpets and plagues, reveal trials and tribulations in the world, especially for followers of Christ. We live in a world that opposes everything we stand for. Persecution of Christians has continued since the early days of the Church, and it’s going to get worse and worse as we get closer to the return of Christ. We see the culmination of that in the next chapter (Rev 16).
Therefore, no matter how difficult things are in this life – persecution or otherwise – these scenes in Heaven are meant to be a reminder of what we have to look forward to. The endurance of our faith in Christ will be wonderfully and eternally rewarded. No matter how hard things get for us in this world and this life, let us take heart and keep our eyes focused on eternity in the presence of the Lord.
“the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God”
This refers to the judgment of God against the kingdom of darkness (beast of Rev 13), the kingdom of this world (“image of the beast”) and all those who belong to it. This is the Day of Judgment of the whole world and its anti-Christian system. This is it. This is the end.
With these “seven plagues,” the “wrath of God” is “finished.” Meaning, all of these plagues, these “bowl” judgments, take place at the time of Christ’s return. I disagree with other amillennialists who believe that these plagues are spread throughout the Church age. I believe that these occur exactly as the language here indicates, at the end of history when Jesus returns in judgment and His followers enter the Eternal Kingdom. We’ll discuss this in more detail when we get to chapter 16.
(Rev 15:2) – 2 And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire; and them that come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing by the sea of glass, having harps of God.
NASB – 2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.
“sea of glass”
I believe this is symbolic for the peace and tranquility of Heaven, the peace that we have in Christ and in His eternal presence (see commentary Rev 4:6). The context certainly suggests that.
“mingled with fire”
This no doubt has the testing and suffering of Christians in view. Our faith in Christ is tested in this life, and those who endure in their faith will be rewarded for all eternity. We have peace in Christ now, and we will have peace in eternity, but along the way it’s in the midst of fire, the fire of trials. Peter speaks of this very thing in 1 Peter 1:5-7:
(1 Pet 1:5-7) – 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. ESV
“those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name”
Those who are victorious are those who are victorious through their faith in Christ. We have victory in Jesus. What is it that we are victorious over? The Apostle John answers that question. We’re victorious over “the beast,” which is the kingdom of darkness; we’re victorious over the “image” of the beast, which is kingdom of the world; and we’re victorious over the “number of his name,” which is the symbolic mark that identifies unbelievers with Satan and his kingdom (see commentary on Rev 13).
(Rev 15:3) – 3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages.
The Israelites sang the “song of Moses” after God led them through the Red Sea in deliverance from Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Ex 15). Thus this is a song of deliverance. That deliverance in Exodus is a type of the deliverance that we have in Christ. Through Jesus we’re delivered from the penalty of our sins and from this evil world:
(Gal 1:4) – 4 who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father:
This is the only place in the New Testament where this “song of the Lamb” is mentioned. But it’s a song of deliverance that the redeemed in Heaven are seen singing.
It’s important to note that Egypt is a type of the world. In Christ we are delivered from the kingdom of darkness (Col 1:13), which is the beast, and we’re delivered from the kingdom of the world, which is the image of the beast.
“righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages”
“ages” (“nations” – NASB, ESV, NET, NIV)
In context, this statement probably refers to the righteous judgments of God against unbelievers, against the Christ-rejecters of the world—as seen in the seven bowl judgments (plagues) introduced in this chapter, and described in chapter 16. God is righteous and just in all that He does. This is something that no one will ever be able to dispute—not now, not ever.
(Rev 15:4) – 4 Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy; for all the nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy righteous acts have been made manifest.
“all the nations shall come and worship before thee”
I believe this refers to that time after the present world ends, where the people of “all the nations” stand before the throne of Christ (Matt 25:31-46; Jn 5:22; Rev 20:11-15) and gives glory to God—both saved and unsaved. Paul says the same thing as John in these verses, but in more detail:
(Ro 14:11-12) – 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. ESV
(Ph 2:9-11) – 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ESV
That this is the correct interpretation is confirmed by the first part of the verse: “Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name?” The answer is nobody. Thus this refers to all people, both believers and unbelievers. God’s “righteous acts” will be recognized and acknowledged by everyone.
(Rev 15:5) – 5 And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:
NET – 5 After these things I looked, and the temple (the tent of the testimony) 21 was opened in heaven,
NET Notes: “….the heavenly equivalent of the tent or tabernacle that was with Israel in the wilderness.” (Ex 27:21; Ex 29:4; Lev 1:1; Nu 1:1; Acts 7:44)
(See commentary on Rev 11:19)
(Rev 15:6) – 6 and there came out from the temple the seven angels that had the seven plagues, arrayed with precious stone, pure and bright, and girt about their breasts with golden girdles.
ESV – 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.
“stone” vs. “linen”
Nearly all translations read “linen.”
There is an obvious contrast between the “seven plagues,” which are unclean, and the “pure, bright linen” that the angels were clothed with—which points to the fact that they belong to God and serve Him. I believe that this is meant to show that the plagues are only for those who are unclean – clothed with sin – rather than for the redeemed who are clothed with “pure, bright linen”—those who belong to God and serve Him (Rev 19:14: 3:4-5,18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13-14). Therefore, these plagues are not inflicted upon them. This is a judgment only against those who reject Christ. Believers will be resurrected by this time.
As for the “golden sashes around their chests,” this describes Jesus in Rev 1:13 (see commentary). Therefore, I believe this is meant, at a minimum, to show that these angels are representing Him, that they are doing the work of the Lord, that this is His judgment.
(Again, for a more complete picture, please read my commentary on Rev 1:13)
(Rev 15:7) – 7 And one of the four living creatures gave unto the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.
“four living creatures”
(See commentary on Rev 4:6)
“full of the wrath of God”
NET – “filled with the wrath of God”
After thousands of years of sin and evil, of false religion and false gods, of the philosophies of the world, and of rebellion against the true God and Jesus His Son and the Christian faith, God will at last have His day of “wrath” against all these things that belong to the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of this evil world.
I believe the description of being “full” of, or “filled” with the wrath of God, points back to verse one: “for in them is finished the wrath of God.” This is it. This is that time when God’s wrath is fully and finally let loose on the world—defeating all His enemies, conquering the world system, and indeed, conquering the kingdom of darkness (Rev 16). This happens via Christ’s return in judgment.
(Rev 15:8) – 8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and none was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished.
Ellicott’s Commentary (bold mine):
(8) And the temple . . .—Translate, And the temple (the same word—naos—is used as in Revelation 11:1) was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his might; and no one was able to enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be finished. As in the wilderness (Exodus 40:34-35), and as at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:10-11), the tokens of God’s presence filled the temple, so it is now, but with a difference: it is smoke, not cloud, which is the symbol of God’s presence. But the vision which perhaps, under all circumstances, most nearly corresponds with the present is that of Isaiah (Isaiah 6); there the prophet beheld the vision of God. His train filled the temple, and the house was filled with smoke, and a message of judgment was given to the prophet; that message declared that the sin of the people had reached a climax: they had trifled with convictions, and henceforward the words of God’s servants would harden rather than awaken them. “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes,” &c. (Isaiah 6:9-10), till the desolating judgments had fallen. The general drift of the present vision is similar; the days of warning are over: the plagues which now fall will fall on those who have trifled with convictions: the sanctuary which was opened as a refuge is now closed: none can enter till the plagues have descended. The time has come when the judgments of God fail to stir the conscience which has been deadened by sin; the day when the gracious influences towards repentance was felt has passed. The word that has been spoken is about to descend in judgment (John 7:48). “Who shall not pray, with an agony of earnestness, From hardness of heart and contempt of Thy word and commandment, good Lord, deliver us?” (Dr. Vaughan).
Great commentary on this verse!
When God pours out His judgments on the earth, the time for intercession for others will be passed. The time for praying for the salvation of others will be passed. When God pours out His wrath, the last soul will have been saved and the Church complete. This is it. The end has come.
The fact that this scene takes place before even the first plague is released, reveals that all of these plagues take place at the end of the age, at the end of history. We have to remember that the original manuscripts do not have chapter divisions. Recognizing that fact here is especially important, because it’s clear that the last verse of this chapter continues with the first verse of the next chapter. Therefore, the idea that these judgments are spread throughout the Church age, cannot be reasonably argued.