Sermon: Seven Angels With Seven Plagues, Which Are The Last: Revelation 15

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 15:1–18

“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O Lord, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased. You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. The Lord will reign forever and ever.’” (Exodus 15:1–18, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Revelation 15

“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’ After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” (Revelation 15, ESV)

Introduction

I’d like for you to notice three things about this text before we go on to make application from it to our lives.

First of all, notice again the presence of recapitulation. Secondly, notice how this passage prepares us for the judgment scenes to come. And thirdly, notice how this passage pauses to gives us a glimpse into the world of the redeemed.

Recapitulation 

First of all, let us simply recognize the presence of recapitulation.

Recapitulation is the fancy word used by Bible scholars to describe the repetition that we encounter in the book of Revelation. The book is not ordered chronologically, as some suppose, so that what is said in chapter 15 will actually happen after what was said in chapter 14. No, the book moves in cycles, telling, and retelling the story of redemption, giving special attention to the time between Christ’s first coming and the time of the end. But we should recognize by now that the repetition that we encounter in Apocalypse is far from monotone. The book does not simply say the same thing over and over again,  but with each cycle reveals something new. With each pass some aspect of the history of redemption is emphasized that was not emphasized before. Here is one of those places where the presence recapitulation is very obvious.

In verse one we read, “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1, ESV).

For now simply notice that this new heavenly vision shown to John will describe to us the outpouring, or finishing, of the wrath of God at the end of time. And if you are paying careful attention to book of Revelation you should say, “but haven’t we already been told about the outpouring of God’s wrath?” And the answer would be, yes.

In fact the vision of Revelation chapter 14 concluded with a depiction of the outpouring of the wrath of God upon the ungodly. Look at 14:19:

“So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” (Revelation 14:19–20, ESV)

The final judgment was also depicted back in Revelation 11:15-19 with the sounding of the seventh trumpet. The song that the twenty-four elders sang in 11:17-18 proves the point. They sang,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” (Revelation 11:17–18, ESV)

The final judgment was also depicted with the breaking of the sixth and seventh seals back in Revelation 6:12-17 and 8:1-5. Listen to 6:12:

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:12–17, ESV)

What is this except a description of the last day when the wrath of God will be poured out upon the ungodly? In 8:1 the description of the final judgment is more subtle, but it is there. “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1, ESV). I argued that the silence in heaven was the kind of silence appropriate for those witnessing something as terrible and awesome as the final judgment. No celebrating, on the one hand. No objections on the other. But only solemn silence. 8:5 says, “Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:5, ESV). This is a portrayal of the final judgment.

And so it is not hard to see that the book of Revelation does recapitulate, not only in its portrayals of the final judgment, but in other respects too, particularly its portrayals of the redemption of God’s elect. The book is constantly giving us different view points on the preservation and salvation of God people, and also the judgment, both partial and full, of those not in Christ who do stubbornly persist in their sins.

By this time you might be tempted to complain, saying, “Pastor, you also recapitulate often on the subject of recapitulation.” I do so because it is important. I would argue that most of the errors made in the interoperation of the book of Revelation are made because people fail to recognize this literary feature. Also, I do it because I believe it to be beautiful. God, in his grace, shows us what is true concerning the time between Christ’s first coming and the time of the end over and over again. And with each pass more texture and detail is added to the story. Truly, the book of Revelation is like a painting wherein the artist comes to the canvas time and time again, first to lay down a base, then to add detail, then to shade, and then to texture.

Preparation

Secondly, notice how this passage prepares us for the judgment scenes that are to come.

In verse one John describes “another sign in heaven”. This sign, he says, is “great and amazing”. And what does he see? “Seven angels with seven plagues”. These, he says, “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1, ESV).

These seven plagues, as they are here called, will differ from the seven seals and the seven trumpets which we have already encountered in that some of those – the seals and trumpets – described, not the final judgment, but partial judgments – the kind of judgments that come upon men as they live in this world, but are not the final judgment. Indeed, the sixth and seventh seals did describe the final judgment, but seals one through five did not. Seal five provided us with a glimpse of the “souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne”, crying out for justice from beneath the heavily alter. Seals one through four described wars and famines and plagues. And these, we were told with the breaking of the fourth seal, were limited to 1/4 of the earth. And so while the judgments of God were indeed portrayed there in the breaking of the first four seals, it was not the final judgment that was portrayed.

The same can be said of the first six trumpets. The seventh trumpet did indeed take us to the time of the end, but the first six did not. The judgments of God described there were restrained by God to affect only one third of the earth. And so intensification is communicated, but trumpet judgments one through six were not about the full and final judgment to be poured out on the last day.

Not so with these seven plagues. These “are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1, ESV).

In verses five we read, “After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.” (Revelation 15:5–6, ESV)

These angels that John introduced in verse one are now described in verse five as coming out of “the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven” which was opened.

Remember that the tabernacle that Israel constructed in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses and after the exodus was constructed according to the heavenly realities shown to him on the mountain. Exodus 25:40 says so. Acts 7:44 and Hebrews 8:5 emphasize this. So the earthly tabernacle and temple were not the originals but were earthy copies which represented heavenly realities. Here John is seeing the heavenly reality.

These angels are seen proceeding from “the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven”. The tabernacle was called the “tent of witness”, or “tabernacle of testimony”, because it was there that Ten Commandments were kept, and these Ten Commandments did serve as a testimony or witness against the people of Israel concerning their sin. Indeed, they function as a light unto their path, but also as a witness against them. The tabernacle was, therefore, both the place where God’s people were to approach him in faith (it was also called “the tent of meeting”), but it was also the place from which the judgments of God did flow when the people were found living in perpetual and unrepentant disobedience to the commandments of God. And so this one place – the tabernacle – was both a place of worship and refuge for the faithful (a tent of meeting), and the place from which the judgments of God did flow (it was a tent of witness).

The same is true of the heavenly tabernacle. Better yet, the earthly tabernacle was simply a visible representation of that which is true in heaven. God is a place of refuge for his people. He does meet with and shelter those who come to him through faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. But it is also from him that judgment flows.

And what will be the basis for his judgment? He will judge all who have transgressed his holy law. This law is contained within and summarized by the Ten Commandments, and it is also written upon the heart of man. The fact that these angels come out of “the sanctuary of the tent of witness” to pour forth “the seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished”, does show us that God will judge all who have transgressed his holy law.

God will judge all who have failed to give him the worship he so rightly deserves and have given to another instead. He will judge all idolaters. He will judge all who take his name in vain. He will judge all who violate his sabbath day. He will judge all who dishonor parents; all who murder and have hatred for others in their heart. He will judge the adulterer and the one who lusts. He will judge the thief and the one who is dishonest. He will judge the one who covets that which belongs to another. And he will send his angels before him as his ministers.

Notice that these seven angels who came forth from the sanctuary were “clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests” (Revelation 15:6, ESV). This is the way that Jesus was described as being dressed in Revelation 1:13. They are dressed like him because they represent him.

Verse seven: “And one of the four living creatures (do you remember them from earlier in the book of Revelation?) gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever….” (Revelation 15:7, ESV). The seven plagues are now described as “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God”. We will witness these seven bowls being poured out, one at a time, in chapter sixteen.

Verse eight: “And the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished” (Revelation 15:8, ESV). Clearly the outpouring of this final judgment will be very awesome and great.

Can you see, then, how all of chapter fifteen is preparatory. No judgement is actually poured our here, but preparations are certainly made. Literarily this serves to create a sense of anticipation leading up to this great and amazing event. Also, it seems to communicate something of the mercy of God. He, by his mercy, does not give us what our sins deserve now, but is patient and long-suffering.

A Pause

Thirdly, let us recognize how this passage pauses to gives us a glimpse into the world of the redeemed.

Verses two through four seem out of place, don’t they? But this is intentional. In verse one the seven angles with seven plagues are introduced. In verses five through eight they become the focus again, as they are prepared to pour out the wrath of God upon lawbreakers. But in verses two through four the focus is on the redeemed. There we read,

“And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’” (Revelation 15:2–4, ESV)

You should be used to this kind of thing by now. Remember the interludes that we found inserted in between seals six and seven and trumpets six and seven? The focus in both the seal and trumpet cycles was mainly upon the ungodly and God dealings with them, but before the end of these cycles we encountered a pause where the focus of attention was shifted to the redeemed of God and their salvation in Christ Jesus.

Between the breaking of the sixth and seventh seals we found, inserted in chapter seven, a vision of the 144,000 sealed by God, and then a vision of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9, ESV), giving praise to God – the vision was of the redeemed in heaven. Between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpets we found, inserted in chapter eleven, a vision of two faithful witnesses, preserved by God as they ministered on earth. These interludes, or pauses, served two purposes. One, they gave a sense of delay, as if to say, the end is not yet. Two, they gave an answer to the question, “what about the people of God? How will they fair in the midst of these trials, tribulations and judgments?” The answer is that God knows and is able to keep those who belong to him.

Something similar is happening here in 15:2-4. Preparations for the outpouring of God’s wrath are being made. We will see the outpouring of God’s wrath portrayed in chapter sixteen. But before we get there, God’s word does provide us with a picture of the redeemed. And where are they? They are safely home and at peace.

God’s people are “not destined…for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9, ESV). As God’s people we will indeed experience tribulation in the world, but we will not come under his wrath. Why? Because Christ has stood in our place, has taken upon himself the punishment that we deserved, and we do trust in him! If you are in Christ – if you are sheltered by his wings – you will not come under the wrath of God.

This, I think, was the thing being symbolized in the previous passage too. In 14:14-16 we saw a depiction, first of all, of the harvest of the righteous unto salvation on the last day, and then we saw a depiction of the harvest of the wicked unto condemnation.

And here in this passage preparations are being made for the outpouring of the wrath of God by the “seven angels with seven plagues”, which are the “seven bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.” But before even one of these bowls of the full and final wrath of God is poured out, we see that God’s people are safely home.

These are seen standing beside (or upon) “a sea of glass mingled with fire… with harps of God in their hands.”

Think about the imagery here. It is really quite beautiful. And you must think about the imagery, not only with the rest of the book of Revelation in mind, but the whole of scripture. Where are these worshippers of God standing? They are standing beside (or upon) “a sea of glass mingled with fire”.

Remember that this sea of glass was first mentioned in Revelation 4:6 as being before the throne of God in heaven. On earth there is turmoil, but in heaven there is perfect tranquility. The turmoil of this world cannot effect heaven. God is not disturbed by his enemies. God is not affected from without. His heavenly kingdom and his heavenly purposes are never in danger.

Also, remember that not long ago in the Apocalypse John saw “a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” (Revelation 13:1, ESV). Again, the seas of this world are tumultuous. The beast rises from there, works for the dragon, and represents political powers that persecute the people of God. And so the people of God do suffer as they sojourn in this world. They are threatened constantly by tumultuous seas and the evil that rises from there.

But here the saints are seen, no longer battered by stormy seas, no longer at war with the beast who rises from there, but they are peace. The sea that they now stand upon is like glass. All is right. All is as it should be.

The sea is said to be “like glass mingled with fire.” Fire symbolizes judgment. The picture is that of a tumultuous sea made calm because the one who stirred up the sea by rising out of it has been judged by God and eternally condemned. And so there the people of God stand. They are peace. No longer are they threatened or persuade. They have harps in their hand to give worship to God. These are the ones “who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name.” These are the elect of God as seen in glory.

And they sing a song. Notice that it is said to be “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb…” (Revelation 15:3, ESV).

The original song of Moses was read at the beginning of this sermon from Exodus fifteen. But do you remember what happened in Exodus fourteen? It is there that we find the story of God’s parting of the Red Sea at the hand of Moses so that the people of Israel could pass through to escape Pharaoh who had pursued them into the wilderness with his army. The song of Moses was a celebration of God’s deliverance of his people through tumultuous waters and from Pharaoh, who, in Ezekiel 29:3, is referred to as “the great dragon”.

But the song sung here in Revelation fifteen is not exactly the same as the original song of Moses. For one, it is called “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3, ESV). This song is ultimately about Jesus. Secondly, this song is about the accomplishment of things far greater and far more universal than what was accomplished at the Exodus by the hand of Moses.

The ten plagues leveled against the Egyptians at the hand of Moses, as awesome as they were, were nothing at all compared to the seven plagues given by God and Christ to the seven angels, for they are the last, and with them the wrath of is finished.

Moses delivered Old Covenant Israel from Egypt. Christ delivered New Covenant Israel from sin and death.

Moses defeated Pharaoh. Christ has overcome the dragon himself, the beast and false prophet.

Moses led the people through the tumultuous waters of the Red Sea. Christ will still all waters at his return so that nothing will threaten his people at all for all eternity.

The deliverance brought about through Moses did cause the Egyptians to give glory to God as well as the sounding nations, but at the return of Christ all will bow the knee to confess that he is Lord, either willingly or by compulsion.

This is why we hear the redeemed sing: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3–4, ESV).

The salvation provided for Old Covenant Israel by the hand Moses pales in comparison to the salvation provided for the elect by Christ. The first Exodus was but a precursor to the second. It served as a shadow of better things yet to come.

Application

How then should we apply these truths?

I wonder, how will you fair when the seven angels with the seven plagues of God come forth from the heavenly tent of witness to judge fully and finally on that last day? How will you fair when your life is compared with God’s holy law? Will you stand or will you fall?

If you are trusting in your own righteousness, you will not stand, but will fall, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one…Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19–20, ESV). But if you are found believing in Christ you will stand. You will be made to stand by the grace of God, being justified in Christ, having been washed of yours sins and covered in his righteousness. Be sure that you are in Christ on that last day. Be sure that you are in Christ before you breath your last, for there is no room for repentance after death.

Friends, acknowledge your sin, turn from it, and look to Christ today for the forgiveness of your sins, and then remain in him. Your sins will be judged.  The question is, who will take the judgment? The cup of God’s wrath will be poured out upon your sins. God’s wrath will either be poured out upon you, or it has been poured out upon Christ. The cup of God’s wrath will be drunk to the dregs. Will you drink it? Or has Christ absorbed it in your place? You must believe upon him, friends. You must turn from your sins and cry out to Christ, saying, “have mercy upon me!”

And for those of you who are in Christ I wonder, do you stand in awe of the salvation that has provided for you in Christ Jesus?

Imagine standing amongst the freshly redeemed Israelites under the Old Covenant. Imagine standing on the opposite side of the Red Sea, having just passed through, and having witnessed the waters fall in upon the mighty Egyptians. Imagine looking upon Moses by whom your deliverance was accomplished. Remember the plagues. Remember how you did plunder the Egyptians as you left. Indeed, you would have stood in awe of the salvation that the Lord had provided for you.

How much more should we stand in awe of the redemption accomplished by Christ, for it is far greater. Christ has redeemed us, not from Egypt, but from the domain of darkness. He has defeated, not Pharaoh, but the evil one himself. He has led us through, not the Red Sea, but the waters of God’s wrath. And he brought us, not into the promised land, but has guaranteed our place in the new heavens and the the new earth. How could we not stand in awe of the salvation our Lord has provided, and give thanks?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s