The Seven Bowls
“Then I saw another great and astounding sign in heaven: seven angels who have seven final plagues (they are final because in them Godʼs anger is completed).”
Revelation 15 introduces the “bowls of God’s anger”, starting in verse 7 and will continue through chapter 16 to 17:1, with another mention in chapter 21:9. The bowls are indicative of the same bowls that held the prayers of those suffering and martyred saints in chapter 5, who represent the true children of Christ throughout the ‘Great Tribulation’ of currently about 2000 years since the Church’s inception. The “last days” and “great tribulation” are synonymous terms. Remember, it was at Christ’s ascension that the Accuser lost his ability to accuse the righteous before God, and he was cast down, and confined to earth. Because of this, Revelation depicts the dragon as being ticked off, knowing time is running out for him, and he makes war on the Saints. This period is called the Great Tribulation, because it represents Satan’s atrocious abuse of God’s people in Christ. From Nero’s persecution of Christians, until Jesus returns, this suffering at the hands of the enemy is the high call of God’s people, as depicted by the souls under the altar crying out to God for vindication in chapter 5, and God replying that ‘it will be just a bit longer until the rest of His people suffer like they had’, this imagery of the bowls of wrath are the end of that time period, in connection with the bowls of incense, which are the prayers of His children. And now God is going to vindicate those who remained faithful to Christ, and refused to bow to the world beast system. Here, beginning in chapter 15, that moment has come. These bowls, like the seals and trumpets, are just another perspective of the same judgment depictions.
If you have read the previous chapter synopses, then you’ll recall that the seals, trumpets, and vials are merely three different allusive symbols used to tell of the same thing. Unlike the modern, speculative renderings of prophetic and apocalyptic literature suggest, these three aspects of Old Testament imagery are not literal, and do not flow in a linear fashion. As we’ve explained prior, each of these angles of telling the same story end with an earthquake, and more distinctly, the second coming of Jesus Christ. In other words, they all lead up to the end of days, where fallen humanity ceases to exist, and the two harvests, or judgments occur, and Christ judges and rewards the faithful, before sentencing those who trampled their feet upon His blood in rebellion to His will.
In verse 1 we have the 7 chief angels of heaven depicted as delivering seven final plagues upon the earth and rebellious humanity. As we have also covered before, this imagery is taken from the plagues on the Pharaoh and Egypt under Moses, where the Egyptians suffered at the hands of God, while God’s people stood in the midst of it all, protected. Notice they weren’t ‘taken out’ before His judgment. God has never ‘raptured’ His people out before His judgments on a sinful nation. He has only removed His people before final destruction, and so is the case in the allegorical narrative. The Church is very much in the midst throughout, and called up at His return to join Him in the clouds as joint heirs to His Kingdom, as promised in Romans 8:17. We gather and descend upon the Kingdom together with Him. Remember also, Romans 8:17 declares that Jesus would not glorify, (or give a new body), to anyone who did not suffer with Him in faithfulness. Suffering is an expectation of the Christian life. To have an expectation that God desires to remove His people from tribulation is not scriptural and is not exemplified anywhere in scripture. Ask Job.
“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God”.
The saints have overcome. This is the end for mortal humanity. The saints were defeated on on a world stage level viewpoint for refusing to compromise with the Beast. In other words, they died to the lusts of this world, and laid down their lives for doing God’s will. We see this in Revelation 13:7, where the Beast ‘overcame them.’ But Revelation 12:11 speaks of the eternal stage, where the Saints overcame the Beast through their martyrdom, just like Jesus. The Beasts of the scriptural narratives have historically focused on winning the battle, and always lose the war.
The ‘sea of glass’ speaks of the heavenly temple imagery that Solomon had Hiram fabricate in the earthly Temple furniture he made, and it comes from 1 Kings 7:23, where it was referred to as “The Sea of bronze.”
1 Kings 7:23
He also made the large bronze (copper) basin called “The Sea.” It measured 15 feet from rim to rim, was circular in shape, and stood seven-and-a-half feet high. Its circumference was 45 feet.
This was the wash basin in the Temple. But here it is reapplied as a ‘sea of glass’ mixed with fire, possibly in contrast to the image of the ‘lake of fire’ for the damned, as if the purified saints stand upon the Dragon and the damned, with them under their feet, unharmed by the judgment of Christ, while the unrepentant are tormented. But we see them presented here with the priestly order of harps, preparing to worship God in His final victory over the enemy.
They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and astounding are your deeds, Lord God, the All-Powerful! Just and true are your ways, King over the nations!
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are holy? All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Notice here they sing the ‘new song’ spoken of in chapter 14:2-3. Remember, they were given a new song never sung by any other before them. Here it is noted as the “song of Moses and of the Lamb”, pointing the seven churches, to whom the book was written, to recall the victory song led by Moses after the deliverance from Egypt at the Sea of Reeds. This is just another of many allusions to Moses from the Old Testament in the Book of Revelation, such as the 7 plagues, the “sea beast”, called Leviathan, and so forth. Here the 144,000 are the people of the new exodus; the redeemed of the Lord. This is a fitting climax image of the righteous standing on the sea of glass in contrast to Revelation’s ‘Egypt’, where the saints are shielded while the wrath of Christ is poured out upon His enemies. The saints are praising God for His justice and vindication of the oppressed in calling His deeds and ways marvelous. He is Just, Faithful, and True. All were welcomed to come, but the many refused. And it says that “the nations’ come to worship Him. This is terminology in this context of the remnant of all nations who repented and followed Christ. This is in contrast to the context of the destruction of the nations, referring to all who are not found faithful or serving Christ. One must understand the coming of Christ is the end game for mortal beings. There is not going to be a literal 1000 years with humans and redeemed saints co-existing, and the resurrection of the damned afterward. That is literalism, and is not what the allegory of Revelation is teaching. Since nothing else is literal, why would we take this literal? The 1000 years merely represents the “day”, or age of the Lord. It has become His world and the enemy is put away. Remember, all of the book uses Old Testament symbolism to convey an encouraging message to the suffering believers. This is a book of contrasts between two types of peoples: God’s people and the world’s.
“After these things I looked, and the temple (the tent of the testimony) was opened in heaven, and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, dressed in clean bright linen, wearing wide golden belts around their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the temple was filled with smoke from Godʼs glory and from his power. Thus no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues from the seven angels were completed.”
The plagues begin, but as with the seals, and trumpets, they are first presented here from the heavenly perspective. They will be finally poured out in chapter 16. Revelation can be a difficult book to teach because it is filled with judgment, suffering, and wrath. But the beauty and point of the book is Christ, and the eternal reward He brings to those who have proven their loyalty to Him in faithfulness to His law. John has created this allegorical vehicle to deliver a message of promise and vindication for Jesus to His people. But the reality of it is that it is encouragement to persevere in a world headed for God’s wrath. As Paul said, “Behold, (or recognize), the goodness and the severity of God; goodness to those who obey and love Him; severity on all who don’t.”
In verse 6, the angel’s linen clothing is alluding to the Jewish tradition that angels wore white linen, as well as the priestly aspect of priests dressing this way, with the golden breastplate (urim and thummin). The depiction is these angels are fulfilling priestly acts in the heavenly scene. As we’ve discussed in earlier chapters, white linen is metaphorical for “righteousness/ purity.” This is the prerequisite for service to God.
In 15:8 we have smoke filling the heavenly temple. Where have we seen this imagery before in the Old Testament? Exodus 40, at the dedication of the Tabernacle, and also in the Isaiah 6:4, Ezekiel 3 and 4, as well as in the Temple of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 5:14. This imagery was representative of God’s glory, and was not withstand-able by mortals. We must have glorified bodies to be able to stand in God’s physical presence and in witnessing Him fully. In this application of God’s presence, He fills the heavenly Temple with His glory in response to the worship of His martyrs. God is responding here with systematic judgments. Both His judgments and mercies reveal His greatness.
Here, no one could enter the temple physically until these judgments were complete. The completion of judgment on the earth ushers in the resurrection of the Saints to enter into God’s rest and Kingdom. They have now been glorified and stand by their Lord and Savior in the clouds to descend and to enter into their eternal dwelling in the presence of Jesus Christ. In chapter 16, we will break down these judgment perspectives, just as we did the seals, and trumpets. After all, the three aspects are what again?!? Different perceptions of the same thing.