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 116

Smoke in the Open Temple


     This midpoint in Chapter 15 actually marks a change of scenes and themes.  John has been describing the great sign in the heavens, with its vision of the seven angels and the host of tribulation saints singing their songs of victory and praise at the glassy sea.  But now the narrative must return to the actual prosecution of the judgments which will warrant this future paean of glory.  John’s attention, therefore, is directed back to the actual temple and throne in the heavens where these actions are about to be implemented.

Revelation 15:5.     And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.

     The phrase “And after that” clearly indicates this change in perspective, as John was constrained to fix his attention once again on the actual temple scene in the atmosphere rather than the great sign in the skies.

     The unique terminology, “temple of the tabernacle of the testimony,” deserves close attention.  John had already been shown this “true tabernacle” (Hebrews 8:2), even recording the amazing fact that the long-lost ark of the covenant had apparently been translated there (Revelation 11:19), presumably at the time of the plundering of the earthly temple by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 52:12-23).

     Within the ark, of course, had been placed the tables of the Decalogue, and the whole was established within the most holy place of the tabernacle.  These were called the “two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18).  Consequently the ark was commonly called “the ark of the testimony” (as in Exodus 25:22) and even the entire tabernacle was often called “the tabernacle of the testimony” (Numbers 10:11), stressing that the most important aspect of the tabernacle was as a dwelling place for God’s Ten Commandments, the great “Testimony” which He “established in Jacob” (Psalm 78:5).  These Ten Commandments constitute the great “witness” of God to man, revealing both God’s own nature of perfect holiness to man, and also His standard of perfect holiness for man, created in the image of God.  All the Scriptures are divinely inspired, but the Decalogue is divinely inscribed, written by the very finger of God on tables of stone, placed temporarily in an earthly tabernacle as the peculiar treasure of His chosen people, but then enshrined eternally in the heavenly tabernacle, as a continuing “testimony” of God through the ages to come.

     The basic meaning of “tabernacle,” whether in the Hebrew or Greek words so translated, is that of “dwelling place.”  In Israel, it was also the tent of meeting, where God would meet with His people (actually only with the high priest, properly prepared and cleansed to represent the people), but it was primarily a dwelling place for the ark of the testimony.

     This is apparently the emphasis here in Revelation.  The “tabernacle of the testimony” is the beautiful heavenly home of the ark of God’s covenant.  But, then, what is “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony?”  Actually there are two different Greek words commonly translated “temple” in the New Testament.  One is hieron, referring to the entire precincts of the temple.  The other is naos, referring particularly to the sanctuary itself, the shrine as it were.  It is this latter word which is used here.  Thus the thought of the entire phrase is: “the inner sanctuary of the dwelling place of God’s ten commandments, His eternal testimony to man.”

     And now, at this climactic juncture in the history of God’s dealings with man, John sees all this opened.  In the earthly tabernacle, as later in Solomon’s temple, the ark was always hidden from man, behind the thick veil of the temple in the Holy of Holies.  “And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat; of which we cannot now speak particularly” (Hebrews 9:3-5).

     This holiest place of the tabernacle was not accessible to the people, or even to the priests.  Only the high priest, once each year, could enter it (Hebrews 9:7).  When the temple of Solomon was built later to replace the tabernacle, again Solomon placed the ark in the most holy place (2 Chronicles 5:7).  By this time, for some reason, “There was nothing in the ark save the two tables which Moses put therein at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of Egypt” (2 Chronicles 5:10).  Later towards the very end of Judah’s kingdom period, Josiah caused the ark, which had by then been removed and almost forgotten, to be restored to its place in the temple (2 Chronicles 35:3).  Not long afterwards, however, came the destruction and plundering of the temple, and nothing further is known of the ark and its precious contents after that.  The next appearance is here in Revelation, in the heavenly tabernacle.

     Thus, the temple of Herod, used by the Jews at the time of Christ, boasted beautiful outward form, but the most important contents of the first temple, the ark and the testimony, were missing.  Whether God actually met there annually with the high priest as in former days is doubtful, especially in view of the corrupt character of the high priestly family at the time of Christ.

     Nevertheless, the Herodian temple was still regarded by Christ as at least God’s house of prayer (Matthew 21:13; John 2:16).  At the time of His crucifixion, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Matthew 27:51), clearly symbolizing the opening of the holy place in view of Christ’s great sacrifice on the cross.  “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

     Thus, since Christ, there is no more need for an earthly tabernacle, or sacrifices, or high priest, by which to come to God.  In a figure, the holy place of His presence is always open to the believer, since Christ Himself is the tabernacle of God as well as the one sacrifice for sins forever and our eternal High Priest.

     It is significant that these rare glimpses into the heavenly temple which God has given us in Revelation also show it as an open temple.  There is nothing to keep man from God’s presence if He comes through Christ.  The human flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ is the veil that both contains the glory of God and conceals its unapproachable brilliance from sinful men.

     But the law of God is eternal, and it applies to the Gentile nations as well as to the chosen nation.  Here it appears again at the very end of the age as God prepares His final judgments on the earth.  The temple is open, not only to confirm God’s accessibility but also to reveal His awful holiness to a rebellious world.  Both Jew and Gentile have gone out of the way, and the law of offended holiness is their condemnation.  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.  Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:18, 19).

     All the world is guilty because all are under the law and have refused God’s remedy.  “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his  grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24).  Even if they have not read the law in the Scriptures, the same law is written in their consciences (Romans 2:14, 15), and the day has finally come “when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Romans 2:16).  The opened temple of the tabernacle, displaying the testimony of God’s ineffable holiness and righteousness in all its stark majesty, inscribed forever on tables of stone, must inspire awe in all the redeemed saints at the throne as they await the judgments.

Revelation 15:6.     And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.

     Emerging from the temple (not the tabernacle, or “dwelling place” itself, but from the immediate vicinity, inside the inner room of the divine residence), are seen the seven angels selected to administer the seven last plagues to the earth.  Each of these plagues will have to do with one or more of the “natural” physical processes of God’s creation. As already observed, not only in Revelation but also in other Scriptures, the angels are spiritual beings of mighty power and extensive knowledge, understanding the many factors which affect the rates and intensities of such processes and able to control them and change them when circumstances warrant and God permits.

    Their apparel is significant – white linen robes with belts of gold.  There are four different words in the New Testament translated “linen,” but this one, used only this one time, is linon, from which the English word itself is derived.  A few of the ancient manuscripts have the word lithos (“stone”) instead of linon, and thus many modern translations have the angels clothed in pure white stone instead of linen.

     It seems easier to understand how careless copyists could substitute lithos for linon, however, than to understand why these angels would be dressed in stone, so it is probable that “linen” is the correct rendering.  If, however, it should ever be proved that “stone” is the true original, then a possible interpretation could be that the plagues inflicted by the angels are based on the stone tables of God’s testimony against a perverse world.

     On the other hand it would be singularly appropriate for these angels to be arrayed in pure white linen, for this is the apparel of the redeemed and purified saints whom they represent and guard (Revelation 3:5, 18; 19:8, 14).  Further, it is the clothing of the Son on man Himself, as seen by Daniel in a vision (Daniel 10:5-7) and by John in person (Revelation 1:13, 14), including in particular the golden girdles.  The white linen speaks of righteousness; the belts of gold speak of riches and beauty.  As God is perfect in holiness and will purge all wickedness, so He is also altogether lovely and possesses all earth’s fullness, and so must eliminate eventually all ugliness and want.

Revelation 15:7.     And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.

     The seven angels already have the seven plagues.  Now they each receive also a golden bowl filled with God’s wrath.

     The word in the Greek is phiale, translated in the King James Version as “vial” and in most others as “bowl.”  Many think it refers to the shallow dishes used as censers for burning incense in the tabernacle or the temple.  Its precise meaning is still doubtful.

     Whatever may be the exact nature of the containers, they have been filled full of God’s wrath.  The overwhelming and terminal nature of the judgments might suggest that these bowls are massive urns, dipped deep into the fiery sea until overflowing with the wrath of an angry God.  Or perhaps they are censers, burning not with sweet incense but with fire and brimstone.

     The bowls of wrath are received from one of the four “living ones,” who are (as shown in Chapter 5) the same as the “cherubim.”  These exalted beings had been active in signaling the judgments of the seals (Revelation 6:1-8) and now again appear on the scene to initiate the bowl judgments.  The trumpet judgments had begun when the seven trumpets were given to the seven angels standing before God (Revelation 8:2) and it is likely that these also had been given to them by the living ones.  The four mighty cherubim, associated from the very time of creation with the immediate presence of God, are perpetually concerned to do His will and administer His holy purposes in the creation.

     But it is only God who has lived from eternity, “for ever and ever.”  This remarkable phrase (literally “for aeon after aeon”) occurs twenty-one times in the New Testament, three times referring to the continuing punishment of the unsaved, once to the unending bliss of the saved, and seventeen times to the unique nature of God, who alone has existed from past eternity to future eternity.  The one occasion when the phrase is applied to the saints is the very last: “. . . for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

Revelation 15:8.     And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.

     As the bowls had been filled with wrath, so the temple was now filled with smoke.  The term “smoke” (Greek kapnos) is used alike for the smoke ascending from a fire (as in Revelation 18:9), the smoke from sweet incense (Revelation 8:4), and the glory cloud from God’s holy presence, as here.

     Apparently, the temple had not been suffused with smoke heretofore, though God Himself dwells in light which no man can approach (1 Timothy 6:16).  But with the spilling over of God’s wrath, as it were, the brilliance of His holiness and the invincibility of His power – both about to be poured out without measure on a rebellious earth – generate billows of brilliant fiery clouds, impenetrable by any man or woman, even by the redeemed hosts near the throne.

     There had been similar occasions on earth.  When the tabernacle was established and dedicated to God’s service, “a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the clouds abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, 35).  Similarly it was at the time Solomon’s temple was dedicated, “when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10, 11).

     Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly temple encountered a similar scene.  There he saw the seraphim (possibly identical with, or at least closely allied with, the cherubim), crying out: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.  And the posts of the door [that is, “the foundations of the threshold”] moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:3, 4).  Similarly “a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself” surrounded the four living creatures (or, the cherubim again) as the glory of the Lord approached Ezekiel by the river of Chebar (Ezekiel 1:4).

     This glory cloud of celestial smoke, known by the ancient Hebrews as the “Shekinah” glory, is thus associated in Scripture with the intimate presence of God at times of great crises in God’s dealings with men.  No man can ever approach God in His ineffable omnipotent holiness, but the glory smoke assures man of the divine presence and the certainty of the divine accomplishment.

     When the seven angels emerged from God’s presence with His commission to administer the seven last plagues on earth, and when they had received from the chosen cherub the overflowing bowls of the divine wrath in which these judgments were to be imposed, then the glory cloud once again filled God’s holy heavenly temple.  This time it would not henceforth be removed at all until the earth was thoroughly purged and the eternal service of the new priesthood of redeemed men could begin its service in the heavenly sanctuary.

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