RAMONA LOWE
THE BOOK OF REVELATION ARTIST
   The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2


Page 114

Prelude to Doomsday

(Revelation 15)

     The fifteenth chapter of Revelation is, by far, the shortest chapter in the book, serving primarily as a prologue to the sixteenth chapter and the somber recital of the seven great bowls of wrath and the seven last plagues on the earth.  Nevertheless it is of vital importance in its own right, providing another beautiful glimpse of the joy and glory at the heavenly throne.

     The chronological framework of the seven-year history inscribed in Revelation is contained especially in Chapter 6 (the seal judgment), Chapters 8 and 9 (the trumpet judgments), and Chapter 16 (the bowl judgments).  The seal and trumpet judgments occupy essentially the first three-and-a-half years, the bowl judgments the last three-and-a-half years.  However, the seventh seal releases the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:1, 2) and the seventh trumpet calls forth the seven bowls (Revelation 11:15; 15:1, 7), continuing to reverberate across the skies as the bowls are emptied on the earth.  The seventh trumpet is also equivalent to the third “woe” (Revelation 11:14; 12:12).  Chapter 7 constitutes a parenthetical revelation, interjected chronologically between the seal and trumpet judgments but also looking forward to the trumpet at the end of the tribulation period.  Chapter 10 similarly appears at the end of the trumpet judgments and also previews the remaining years of the tribulation.  Chapters 11, 12, 13, and 14 are parenthetical chapters which expound agelong themes.  Their perspective is that of the midpoint of the tribulation period but they also look back to the very beginning of the conflict between God and Satan and forward to its termination.  In particular they outline key events and personages from the beginning of the tribulation period to its climactic end, even looking forward to the eternal ages to come.

     Chapter 15, likewise, is partly parenthetical even though it provides the prelude to the resumption of the chronological plagues of Chapter 16.  It contains backward glances to
God’s former judgments and also anticipates the glory to come, as it introduces the seven last judgments of God’s bowls of wrath.

Song at the Glassy Sea

     The chapter opens with a marvelous vision of the future, made all the more beautiful and glorious by its stark contrast with the unprecedented vision of slaughter and judgment in the last verses of the fourteenth chapter.  Both of these are scenes brought by God before John’s amazed eyes: “And I looked, and behold . . .” (Revelation 14:14).  “And I saw . . . great and marvelous, . . .” (Revelation 15:1).  The apostle would assure us again that he was not fabricating these visions. “I saw them!” he insists.

Revelation 15:1.     And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.

     This is the third “sign” (Greek semeion) identified as such by John in Revelation. The same word is rendered “wonder” in its two parallel occurrences in Revelation and is frequently elsewhere translated “miracle.”  Even in the latter usage, however, its primary thrust is that of a sign.  Certain miracles were signs of the unique power of God, and their purpose was both to attest to that power and also to teach a spiritual lesson suggested by the sign.  Even the miracles performed by the false prophet (Revelation 13:13, 14) were intended by him as signs of his own mighty power.

     The first divinely-given sign in Revelation was that of the great woman and the second that of the great dragon (Revelation 12:1, 3).  Both of these were also “miracles” or “wonders” because they were specially-created pictorializations in the heavens, depicting the principal characters in the agelong conflict between the seed of the woman and the old serpent, Satan.

     In the same way, this third sign is a miraculous scene in the skies, a preview of the great drama about to be played on earth and the majestic choir that will be prepared to sing the chorus at its triumphant conclusion.  When the woman’s conquering seed finally consigns that old serpent to the great pit (Revelation 20:2, 3), all those whom the beast had sought to destroy will reign with Christ instead (Revelation 20:4).

     It is noteworthy how often in Scripture God has sealed His revelation to His prophets and ministers by such a threefold sign.  This was done for Joseph (Genesis 37:5-11; 40:8-22; 41:15-40), for Moses (Exodus 3:2; 4:2-5; 4:6, 7), for Joshua (Joshua 4:22-24; 6:20; 10:10-14), for Gideon (Judges 6:36-40; 7:13-15), for Saul (1 Samuel 10:1-7), for Elijah (1 Kings 19:9-13), for Elisha (2 Kings 2:14, 22, 24), for Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:20, 29-35; 36:8-11), for Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1; 3:22, 23; 8:4) and others.  Thus also did John receive this special threefold sign (amidst all the others he had seen – note John 20:30, 31), and he has attested it to us.

     This third sign was “great and marvelous,” a phrase used elsewhere in Scripture only once again, and that just two verses hence.  The sign was great and marvelous because the works of God which it depicted will be great and marvelous (Revelation 15:3).  These seven last plagues are the greatest plagues.  The seals visited great plagues upon the earth, the trumpets still greater plagues (Revelation 9:20), but these are the greatest and most awesome of all.

     God had been speaking to men in His wrath, but they would not heed.  Now He would vex them in His sore displeasure (Psalm 2:5).  That these are the last plagues proves again that they are not mere reiterations of former plagues.  The seals and trumpets and bowls are sequential, not parallel.  In these plagues God’s wrath is finally filled up (Greek teleo, translated “fulfilled” in verse 8, and “finished” in Revelation 10:7).

     The word “plagues” conveys the idea of judicially inflicted pains, rather than sicknesses.  It is frequently translated “stripes” (as in Luke 12:47). In Revelation 13:3, 12, 14, it is translated “wound.”  The great sign in the heavens pictures the overflowing wrath of a long-suffering judge finally breaking forth in fury, inflicting the severest punishments and deadliest blows which He can administer.

     The seven angels administering His judgments are themselves also symbolic, being part of the sign.  They probably represent all God’s holy angels, since all are vitally concerned with this final fulfillment of God’s great purposes (1 Peter 1:12).  Seven specific “presence angels” (Revelation 8:2) had been given the seven judgment trumpets, but these angels of the last plagues evidently signify all angels.

     However, there is an intriguing way in which these might be seven specific angels who could, at the same time, represent all angels.  There were seven specific angels assigned to guard seven specific churches in Asia, the very ones to whom John was addressing the Apocalypse itself (Revelation 1:11).  These angels were the “seven stars” in the right hand of the Son of man (Revelation 1:13, 16, 20), a position of unique significance and importance.  Yet there is no question that these seven churches represent all churches, and thus their seven angels represent all angels (Ephesians 3:9-11).  It may be that these seven angels could continue to represent all angels in their watch-care over the people of God on earth by thus administering the seven final judgments which will finally restore the earth to its rightful purposes under its good and faithful stewards.  This possibility is further suggested by the fact that one of them shows John the judgment of the false bride, the harlot church (Revelation 17:1) and another shows John the eternal home of the Lamb’s bride, the true Church (Revelation 21:9).

     Whether or not these seven church angels are also the angels of the seven last plagues does not, of course, affect the significance of this third great sign in the sky.  Furthermore, this is only a part of the sign.  A very special part of God’s people also are pictured there.   

Revelation 15:2.     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.

     As John continues to gaze at the great and marvelous heavenly sign, he sees also a remarkable assemblage of redeemed men and women.  As noted above, the seven angels represent all those holy angels whose ministry is to the “heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14) and this particular body, coming out of the last half of the great tribulation, is the final installment, as it were, of the saints to be translated to heaven.  Their lives in the flesh have been terminated by martyrdom during the very period when the seven last plagues are being visited on earth.  It had been decreed that all must receive the mark of the beast and worship his image, on pain of death (Revelation 13:15-17).  On the other hand, God had decreed that any who did worship the beast and receive his mark would be cast into eternal torment (Revelation 14:9-11).  Physical death with eternal salvation or physical life with eternal damnation – that had been their bitter choice, and multitudes had opted for the brief continuation of their wretched lives on earth, enduring all the judgments of God rather than the executioners appointed by the beast.

     These, however, had gained the victory over the beast.  They overcame him because they “loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).  Their actual gathering must await their resurrection at the end of the tribulation (Revelation 20:4-6), but John could already see them, “as it were,” in the heavenly sign along with the symbolic angels.

     The sign also included, as it were, a remarkable sea of glass mingled with fire, with the martyred saints standing on it (the Greek epi could also be translated “by”).  Although there was an actual crystal sea (Revelation 4:6) at the throne set in the temple in the heavens when Christ returned to the air, it must be remembered that the particular sea in the sign only symbolized the real sea, where the saints will sing together at the end of the tribulation.

     There had been a sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23), and the temple was also equipped with ten lavers (2 Chronicles 4:6), but both sea and lavers were used for washings in connection with the sacrificial offerings.  The sea in the heavenly temple obviously pictures something more than this, however, since there is no need for cleansing the heavenly priests.  The beautiful “sea of glass like unto crystal” of Revelation 4:6 is not really explained, but its purpose is at least partially clarified in its symbolic representation here.  It has a memorial signification of great import to all the people of God through the ages, as seen in the next verse.  It also speaks, through the mingled fire, of coming judgment.

     This particular assemblage has also been given harps, or lyres.  The trumpets of the angels and the harps of the saints (Revelation 5:8; 14:2) are the only heavenly musical instruments, at least as described in Revelation (“musicians and pipers,” as well as “harpers and trumpeters” will be common in wicked Babylon, however, as noted in Revelation 18:22).  In any case, there will surely be an abundance of music and singing in the holy city and the new earth.

Revelation 15:3.     And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

     Gathered by the glassy sea, the redeemed saints in the sign are seen and heard by John to be singing two great anthems of victory and praise, the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.  It is this fact that gives us the necessary clue to the symbolic import of the sea itself, for the song of Moses had first been sung long before by the shores of a sea of deliverance and judgment.

     In the new earth there will be “no more sea” (Revelation 21:1), but there will be the beautiful crystal sea surrounding the throne of God as a fitting memorial of what the mighty sea had once accomplished for God’s purposes and God’s people in the first earth.  Water, for example, was used for cleansing – hence, the laver in the tabernacle and the sea in the temple.  There will be no more need for cleansing in the new earth, however.

     More to the point in this instance is the fact that the sea had been used by God as a vehicle for the deliverance of God’s people and for judgment on their enemies.  This was the theme of the original “song of Moses” (Exodus 15:1-21).  “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea . . .  Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation . . . The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.”

     Portions of this song, first composed over 3,500 years earlier, are thus peculiarly appropriate for these tribulation saints, and they might well recall the ancient song of Moses and the great deliverance of those first Israelites, when the same Red Sea which saved them also destroyed the armies of mighty Pharaoh.  The horse and rider which were inundated in the sea of water might even be paralleled by the sea of blood extending to the horses’ bridles (Revelation 14:20) which they had seen.

     There was also another song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:30), now preserved as Deuteronomy 32:1-43, which might well also be sung appropriately by these tribulation martyrs.  Another possibility is the ninetieth Psalm, the psalm attributed to “Moses, the man of God.”  However, the most appropriate seems to be the actual song at the Red Sea, praising God for His great salvation.

     Long before even that deliverance, there had occurred an even greater judgment and redemption by the waters of the sea, “when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, . . . wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:20).  The same waters which had destroyed an ungodly world had saved the believing remnant from destruction by that world.  It is interesting also that the waters of baptism, symbolizing death to sinfulness and resurrection unto holiness, are compared both to the waters of the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1, 2) and to the waters of the great Flood (1 Peter 3:20, 21)

     Thus will the sea at the heavenly throne perpetually call to remembrance the waters of the Flood, the waters of the Red Sea, and the waters of baptism, all speaking both of God’s judgment on the wickedness of rebellious men and His great salvation for those who trust Him and obey His Word.  This last company of persecuted believers had experienced these also, in high degree, and so could join heartily in singing the ancient song of Moses.

     But also they could gladly join all the other redeemed hosts (Revelation 5:8-14) in the great anthem of the Lamb.  It was only because of His gracious work on their behalf that God was able to save them.  They had been able to overcome the beast and the dragon not only because of their willingness to witness and to die for their faith, but first of all “by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

     There is surely no conflict, as some have taught, between the dispensations of Moses and the Lamb.  The written law was given by Moses, and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17); both are integral components of God’s will for man.  The contrasting “but” of John 1:17 is not in the original.  The redeemed saints could with equal faith and enthusiasm sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

     Though neither of these songs, as recorded in Exodus 15 and Revelation 5, contains the precise ascriptions cited in this passage, the exalted words are perfectly consistent with both.  His works (whether the mighty miracle at the Red Sea or the even greater miracle at Calvary and the empty tomb) are indeed “great and marvelous.”  His ways (whether the destruction of rebellious Pharaoh or the sacrifice of His sinless Son on the cross of substitution) are surely just and true.  Whatsoever God doeth is right, and whatsoever He saith is true.

     He is the “Lord God Almighty” (a term used five times in Revelation, and nowhere else).  “Almighty” (Greek pantokrator) is a synonym for “omnipotent.”  He is also long-suffering, desiring men to come to repentance, but one day soon He will assume His great power and reign (Revelation 11:17).  He is Creator of all – therefore Sovereign of all!

     But also He is “King of saints.”  This title is used in no other passage, and a few of the manuscripts render it “King of nations,” others “King of ages.”  However, neither of these two titles appears anywhere else either, and the King James rendition, based on the Received Text, best fits the context.

     As king of all the saints (a term applied in the New Testament uniquely to true believers in Christ), the Lord Jesus will soon lead them forth to battle (Revelation 19:7-16).  At this juncture He has not yet become king over all nations (note the next verse), but the saints all gladly acknowledge His rule, knowing from full experience that He is both just and true.

     The crystal sea, speaking of a past watery judgment and deliverance, is also “mingled with fire,” speaking of the impending fiery judgment and deliverance.  The Apostle Peter likewise, first reminded men of a former watery cataclysm, purging the heavens and the earth, which were of old, and then warning them that “the heavens and earth, which are now,” have been “reserved unto fire” (2 Peter 3:5-7).  Water and fire do not commingle on the earth, but the great heavenly sign shows them mingled in heaven, both testifying of God’s power and righteousness as well as His grace and truth.

Revelation 15:4.     Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.

     This stanza continues the song of the martyred saints, reflecting the themes of both the song of Moses and that of the Lamb.  “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).  “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Revelation 5:12).

     The earth-dwellers had proclaimed: “Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” (Revelation 13:4).  These had made war with him and so could now answer, “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord?”  Power over all nations had been given to the beast (Revelation 13:7), but soon all nations must bow to the Lord.  God the Lord is the only true Holy One (Greek hosios; not the usual word for “holy,” stressing absolute rightness).  God alone is completely right – by very definition – and therefore, sooner or later, all must some day fear Him, glorify Him, worship Him.

     His judgments (that is, His “righteous deeds and righteous words”) shall soon be universally acclaimed as such.  Someday everyone will understand and acknowledge that even God’s punishments are deserved and righteous in the fullest degree.  The terrible plagues that are about to burst on the earth are incalculably destructive but are wholly merited and perfectly designed for God’s righteous purpose.  “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23).

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