Revelation 15 Commentary

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“Chapters 15 and 16 are one unit; preaching and teaching from any text in this unit should consider the function of the unit as a whole. The seven last plagues are announced in 15:1, and the last plague is referred to in 16:21. Although the action proceeds by pouring out the ‘bowls/plagues’ on the earth, God in his wrath/justice is the theologically operative image. When the last plague occurs, this time there is no ‘canceled conclusion.’ The ‘It is over’ of 16:17 (NEB) is final. This series concludes with the fall of Babylon/Rome, which is the end of history; the next scene will introduce eschaton itself.”

“This text, like the rest of Revelation, provides a graphic model of spiritual warfare for us: we overcome by being physically defeated, by enduring the world’s suffering. The conquerors provide us a model of unwavering faithfulness to God and to his purposes. ‘The Beast has conquered them in martyrdom but in that same martyrdom they had conquered the Beast, for he had been utterly unable to make them deny Christ. This is their victory: loyalty to Christ in tribulation.’

“For Christians struggling against the imperial cult in John’s day or subsequent forces of the Antichrist in history, ‘this song affords great encouragement. The last word of history is not with Satan and his Antichrist, but with the Lord and his Christ.’ The Church has nothing to fear, in this age as well as the age to come, for God reigns forever (or, over all peoples, depending on which variant reading one prefers). As Ladd puts it, ‘Even when evil is strongest on the earth, when God’s people are most violently attacked by Satan, God is still the ‘King of the ages’ (Rev. 15:3).’

“Like Israel in the Exodus, God’s people will again triumph; the certainty of the new redemption is rooted in our confidence in the old one. For John, the songs of Moses and the Lamb were not two separate songs, as if Old Testament redemption and New Testament redemption were discontinuous and incompatible ideas. Jesus as the Lamb has provided the climatic act of redemption, akin to the paschal lamb of the first Exodus, so the song of Moses is also the song of the Lamb. That the overcomers stand on the sea (15:2) may indicate afresh the triumph of the Exodus that subdued even the sea (Ex. 15:8; Ps. 78:13; 89:9-10).”

v.1 “The bowls, like the seals and the trumpets, are administered by angels. But John makes it clear that what he sees is a symbolic portrayal of judgments; like the woman and the dragon, this scene of angels preparing to pour out bowls is a ‘sign’ in the heavens (12:1, 3; 15:1). Thus when he declares that these seven plagues are the ‘last plagues,’ completing God’s anger, he probably does not imply that Revelation arranges all judgments in literal chronological sequence (though this book does emphasize completion of God’s purposes; 10:7; 11:7). Rather, ‘last’ implies that these bowls begin John’s final sequence of judgments. They are the last in terms of John’s narrative – based on the sequence of his visions rather than on the sequence of history. Note that in 15:1, 8, the completion of these plagues forms an inclusio around the entire scene of heaven in 15:1-8, thereby framing this section with an emphasis on the plagues.”

v.2 “A ‘sea’ appears in John’s vision, the same heavenly sea as 4:6. Beside the sea stands the congregation of those who have conquered, the victorious martyr church of 7:1-8 and 14:1-5 (identified by their rejecting the mark of the beast and by their harps). As the congregation is the 144,000 of the new Israel, so the sea is the sea of the transcendent world before God’s throne and also the Red Sea of biblical memory. As Israel once stood on the banks of the Red Sea and celebrated God’s liberating act of the exodus, the church will stand on the shore of the heavenly sea and sing the song of Moses and the Lamb.”

vv. 3-4 “At the Red sea, God’s people celebrated after the fact; in Revelation, the final victory is not yet realized (on earth) but is already accomplished and celebrated in heaven, the ultimately real world, and can thus already be celebrated in this world, where the worship of the earthly church participates in the worship of the heavenly sanctuary. The juxtaposition of songs of celebration with scenes of terrible judgment is thus not gleeful gloating, but neither is it merely a promise of future celebration. The message is not that ‘now is the time of trouble, but someday we will be able to celebrate.’ Rather, Christian worship anticipates the eschatological victory and celebrates it in the present. Christian worship, especially its eucharistic dimension, points ‘backward’ to the past and understands the present in its light (the ‘new exodus’), points ‘forward’ to the future victory and celebrates its reality in the present, and points ‘upward’ to the transcendent reality of God’s world, participating in the worship of the heavenly sanctuary that unites past, future, and present.”

v. 3 “Their song is the ‘song of Moses…and the song of the Lamb,’ recalling the Exodus both in terms of Moses’ leading out of Egypt (cf. 11:8) and deliverance from God’s plagues by the blood of the Passover lamb. Some compare the song with Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43, which may in fact originate some of the imagery employed by later prophets and Revelation. […] Israel sang this song, led by Moses and summarized antiphonally by Miriam (Ex. 15:21), when God brought his people through the Red Sea and destroyed their enemies, the Egyptians. As God conquered Egypt in the sea, there figuratively slaying the primeval dragon (Ps. 74:13-14; Isa. 51:9), so here the 144,000 are the people of the new exodus, delivered and standing as conquerors on the sea of glass and fire. This song proved a fitting climax for the plagues on Egypt of old or Revelations equivalent (11:8), from which the righteous were shielded (7:1-8).”

vv.5-8 “The tabernacle of Testimony is a Greek translation for the Hebrew ‘Tent of Meeting’ (see Exodus 40:34, 35). The imagery brings us back to the time of the exodus in the desert when the ark of the covenant (the symbol of God’s presence among his people) resided in the tabernacle. The angels coming out of the temple are clothed in clean, shining linen with golden sashes around their chests. Their garments, reminiscent of the high priest’s clothing, show that they are free from corruption, immorality, and injustice. The smoke that fills the temple is the manifestation of God’s glory and power. There is no escape from this judgment.”

vv.5-8 “As with the judgments of the seals (5:1-2) and the trumpets (8:2), the plagues from the bowls (16:1-17) are introduced with a scene in heaven (15:5-8), reminding us that earthly disasters are not merely accidents, but methodically arranged events determined by God’s sovereign vindication of his saints. These angels of judgment, in contrast to destroying angels in some strands of Jewish tradition, are willingly obedient servants of God (cf. 17:1, 21:9); it is a throne angel that hands them the judgments to pour out on humankind (15:7).

“That this scene takes place in the heavenly temple is significant. The angels’ linen clothing (15:6) may simply reflect the tradition that angels normally wore white or linen (1 En. 71:1; Ps-Philo 9:10; John 20:12), but alongside the mention of golden breastplates (cf. Ex. 39:8; probably Rev. 1:13) undoubtedly reminds the reader that these angels fulfill priestly acts in the heavenly temple (15:5-6). Worshipers in temples normally wore linen or white, and this was required for service in the Most Holy Place (Lev. 16:4). The prerequisite for such service was righteousness (Rev. 19:8). Priests in the heavenly temple respond to the earthly priests (1:6) of the oppressed earthly temple (11:1-2), whose prayers (6:9-11; 8:3-6) have invited the judgments about to begin.

“That ‘smoke’ filled the heavenly temple (15:8, note contrast with the smoke of the world’s torment in 14:11) alludes to God’s glory filling his house in some Old Testament theophanies (Isa. 6:4; Ezek. 10:3-4). Under these circumstances the priests could not minister in the temple (1 Kings 8:10-12; 2 Chron. 7:2), nor could even Moses enter the tabernacle (Ex. 40:35); the glory exceeded human ability to withstand. God had filled the earthly tabernacle with his glory at this dedication and a time of celebration (Ex. 40; cf. 1 Kings 8); now he fills the temple with glory in response to the worship of his martyred conquerors through history, and responds with systematic judgments (probably also poured out throughout history). Judgment, as well as mercy, reveals God’s great glory.”

v.7 “The word used for the ‘bowls’ of divine anger (phiale, 15:7; 16:1-17:1; 21:9) is also used for the bowls that contained the prayers of the saints (5:8), suggesting a connection between the saints’ intercession and their vindication through the world’s judgments, as with the trumpet plagues (8:3-5). Probably these bowls, like those in 5:8, contain incense representing the prayers of the saints; it is also possible that the image here implies cups of judgment leading up to the final judgment of the wine cup of God’s anger (14:10, 19-20). That the judgments in this passage issue from God’s presence and follow worship by the conquering martyrs (15:2-4) probably implies that God has chosen to release his acts in history in response to the worship of faithful saints.”

M. Eugene Boring, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Revelation (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989) 172.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 389.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 383-384.

M. Eugene Boring, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Revelation (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989) 172-173.

M. Eugene Boring, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching Revelation (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989) 173-174.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 384-385.

Life Application Bible, study notes (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1991) 2323.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 386-387.

Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 384.

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