1 Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.
2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and 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. 3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:
“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!
4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.”
5 After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever; 8 and the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were ended.
Chapter fifteen provides a transition into the final cycle of plagues and a metaphorical telling of the collapse of the forces opposed to God’s will. The seven angels with the seven bowls should remind us of the seven angels with the seven trumpets in Revelation 8:6-11:13 and the seven seals in Revelation 6:1-8:5. Since the seven bowls are actually poured out in the following chapter I’ll look at the parallels between the bowls, trumpets and seals as well as the similarities with the plagues in Exodus at that point. For this brief chapter I’ll focus on this brief pause to worship prior to the unveiling of the judgment of God upon the earth.
Throughout Revelation there is this pause and restraint that interrupts the descent into judgment. While these portions of Revelation may not occupy the imaginative space of the horsemen of the apocalypse, the great dragon, the beasts and the numerous other images of the book of Revelation they are important to the rhythm and understanding of the book. Amid all the chaos that appears to be unleashed upon the earth they are continual reminders to the faithful that God is in control and that their faithful witness is how they will conquer the seemingly unconquerable forces that are arrayed against them. They will stand with Moses and the faithful of all ages proclaiming the praise of God and the Lamb.
The sea of glass follows the image of the rivers of blood up to the horse’s bridle, and as the faithful gather to sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb we are reminded of when Moses and Miriam and the people of God sang on the far side of the Red Sea as Pharaoh and his armies were submerged in the sea in Exodus 14. The song which the faithful sing is not the song of Moses, recorded in Exodus 15, even though it reflects some similar themes but instead the song of Moses and Lamb. The Lamb is joined to the messenger of God who told the people how to celebrate the first Passover. In the story of Exodus there is an extended pause for worship and ritual prior to the final judgment on Egypt. Here the faithful gather around the glass sea to sing songs of praise before the seven golden bowls are distributed.
The song reflects the most hopeful vision of the prophets where all nations will come and worship before God. Texts like Isaiah 2: 2-4, Isaiah 66: 23, Jeremiah 16:19 and Zechariah 8:22 all point hopefully to the time when all the earth realizes the Lordship of the Creator. A time when no one worships the beast or the dragon or any other idol, but all can realize that God alone is holy.
In Revelation 8: 3-5 the prayers of the saints are offered up with incense to God and earlier in Revelation 6:9-11 when the fifth seal was opened the martyrs had cried out “how long will it be before you judge the earth.” God sees, hears and now responds to this earlier offering. God’s wrath at those who have oppressed not only God’s people, but God’s creation will no longer be contained. Earlier the prayers of the faithful were offered on the altar, now from the temple come the seven bowls filled with God’s wrath.
The language of the temple of the tent of witnesses also harkens back to the tabernacle created for the journey through the wilderness. While earlier we have heard the temple referenced we now are referred to the central portion of a heavenly tabernacle. The tabernacle was built on a model given to Moses in the book of Exodus and many Jewish people believed it was an earthly model of God’s heavenly temple. Yet it is also the place of worship for a people and a God on the move and as the movement of Revelation continues we will see that God is on the move to have God’s kingdom dwell on earth. The tabernacle on earth and the tabernacle in heaven are temporary structures to serve until the time when there is no longer a need for a temple in the city of God for God dwells in the midst of the city.