Revelation 15 & 16 – Chapter Study
As we’ve been seeing for the last few weeks, chapters 10-14 contain background, or what Bible students call “parenthetical visions” John had.
Some movies do this – the story is going along and suddenly we’ll get a glimpse into the thinking of one of the characters.
Of course, in real time, it all takes place in a couple seconds, but in what we see, they relive or remember some past event, or we see how their imagination takes the situation they’re in and completely re-writes it.
Then at the end of that little diversion we slingshot back in to the present moment.
That’s kind of what’s happening here. Let’s recap the outline of Revelation we’ve seen so far.
Ch. 1 is John’s introductory vision of Jesus in Glory!
There he’s told what the outline of the book is going to be - Revelation 1:19
Write the things which you
have seen, = the Vision of Jesus in glory in
and the things which are, = the things of the churches in chapters 2 & 3
and the things which will take place after this. = his visions of the future in Chapters 4-end
The confirmation of this breakdown come sin the very first verse of ch. 4 where John uses the same words - Revelation 4:1
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
Chapters 4 & 5 are John’s visions of heaven’s preparation to invade earth.
Then, beginning with chapter 6, John begins giving in chronological order the events of the Tribulation period, the last 7 years of history prior to Jesus’ Second Coming.
This chronology is halted with chapters 10 through 14 – except for a brief return to it at the end of chapter 11.
In chapters 10-14, John is given supporting visions that fill in the details of specific things that will take place during the Tribulation.
Then, in chapter 15 the chronology is started up once again and carried all the way through the end of chapter 16.
Then, chapters 17 through the middle of 19 are more supporting visions, behind the scenes close-ups of what will take place during the Last Half of the Tribulation.
At that point, the last half of ch. 19 through the end is once again chronological.
It’s this back and forth between chronology and supporting visions that confuses a lot of people who read and study Revelation.
In chapter 14 John described his vision of the final judgment and took us all the way up through the end of the Tribulation and the battle of Armageddon.
Now he’s given further visions that describe God’s judgment in more detail.
1Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.
In chapter 12, John told of
two great signs he had seen in heaven – the woman who represented
Here he sees a sign in heaven that is not only great (mega)– it’s also “marvelous.”
The word means something that creates wonder – a marvel!
This is one of those supreme – “WOW DUDE!” moments.
In light of all John has seen so far, it’s hard to imagine anything being more stupendous – and yet that’s precisely what he says here – this vision filled him with an even more intense feeling of awe and wonder.
He saw 7 angels carrying the last 7 measures of God’s wrath to be poured out on earth.
And as we’ll see later, it’s fitting that since His wrath will be poured out, they carry it in bowls.
But before the angels deposit the contents of their bowls onto the earth, John catches a vision of a special group that now stands before the Lord in heaven.
2And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.
3They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:
“Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! 4Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.”
John sees those who have been martyred for their faith during the Tribulation standing on a special stage.
These martyrs were first presented to us in 7:9-17, but now that we’ve read ch. 13 and seen the career of the antichrist and false prophet we understand better why they were put to death.
They refused to take the mark of the beast or to worship him; and for this they have been put to death.
But the antichrist has not really overcome them, they’ve overcome him.
It may seem that his murder of them has meant his victory – but all he’s done is send the saints to heaven.
And now they’re out of his reach – he cannot touch them, torment them, or harm them in any way.
It’s notable that in the early church, when they celebrated the anniversary of a martyr’s death, they referred to it as his/her “victory day.”
The stage they stand on is the glass sea first spoken of in ch. 4.
It’s what stretches out before the throne of God and acts as the ground those who come before Him stand upon.
There’s a reason why John refers to it as a sea instead of as a floor.
It points us back to the temple and tabernacle.
Before the priest could enter in to the presence of God in the holy of holies, which represented the throne room of heaven, he had to pass by the bronze sea or laver.
This was a massive basin filled with clean water they would use to bathe themselves and make sure they were both practically and ritually pure before coming before God.
Several other passages of scripture point us to the conclusion the laver was a symbol for the Word of God which cleanses us spiritually just was water cleanses us physically.
Psalm 119:9 • How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
John 15:3 • You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Ephesians 5:25-26 • Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.
John sees the saints standing on the glass sea.
In other words, the saints are standing on the Word of God.
It is their foundation, the basis for being able to come before God at all.
The difference in the glass sea here that John didn’t see in ch. 4 is that now it is lit with fire.
In light of what’s coming, the fire in the glass is more than likely a picture of the fires of judgment.
But again, that fire is here seen as under the feet of the saints – meaning they’ve overcome judgment; they’ve escaped it by virtue of their faith in Christ, which of course is built on God’s Word.
In their hands the tribulation saints have harps and they sing the song of Moses & the Lamb.
You remember the story of the Exodus –
sent Moses to deliver the children of
not long after their departure from
agreeing to let the Israelites go, Pharaoh changed his mind and rallied the
when God performed a dramatic miracle for them and divided the sea, making a
way of escape of the children of
The Egyptians followed, but God returned the sea to it’s place and drowned them, leaving the Jews safe on the other side.
So, standing on the farther shore and seeing the dead bodies of the Egyptians washing up on the shore as a testimony to the victory of God in delivering them not only from bondage, but from the fear of bondage, Moses and the Israelites sang – [Exodus 15:1-18]
1Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying: “I will sing to the Lord, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!
2 The Lord is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
3 The Lord is a man of war; The Lord is His name.
4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
5 The depths have covered them; They sank to the bottom like a stone.
6 “Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces.
7 And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble.
8 And with the blast of Your nostrils The waters were gathered together; The floods stood upright like a heap; The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, My hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with Your wind, The sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
12 You stretched out Your right hand; The earth swallowed them.
13 You in Your mercy have led forth The people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength To Your holy habitation.
14 “The people will hear and be afraid; Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed; The mighty men of Moab, Trembling will take hold of them; All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.
16 Fear and dread will fall on them; By the greatness of Your arm They will be as still as a stone, Till Your people pass over, O Lord, Till the people pass over Whom You have purchased.
17 You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O Lord, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.
18 “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
John uses an unusual phrase here in v. 2 when he says of these martyrs –
2And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name,
4 times we see the word “over” but the translators have done us a bit of disservice by not translating the exact word John used here.
They render it as “over” because it fits better with what we consider proper grammar.
But John bent language here precisely because there was a deeper spiritual truth to convey.
He could have used the Greek word for “over” but he chose the word “ex” instead.
“Ex” means out of; we get or word “exit” from it.
He says that he saw those who have the victory out of the beast, out of his image, out of his mark and out of the number of his name.
Their martyrdom has meant their deliverance from the kingdom and clutches of the devil.
And John’s use of this preposition would plant the idea of the parallel between what he’s seeing here and the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt.
Actually, bible students have noticed that there are many subtle parallels between the book of Exodus and the book of Revelation.
Just as Israel stood on the shore of the Red Sea so these saints stand on the sea of glass.
Just as it was the water that saved the Jews and judged their enemies – so it is the Word of God that saves martyrs judges the wicked.
And just as Moses and the children of Israel sang, so these saints sing, but they add some new choruses, because it is not only the Song of Moses, it’s the song of the Lamb too.
"Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, 0 King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, 0 Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested."
Notice the content of their worship – it’s about God! They sing His praises!
Their attention is on Him; on His person, on His righteous acts.
I love a lot of the modern praise and worship choruses that are being written today.
Musically, I think most of it is a good “head & shoulders” above the stuff of 20 years ago.
But lyrically, we have a long to go before we recapture the quality of the hymns our parents and grandparents sang.
Today – it seems many, if not most of the songs are me-oriented; they’re about me worshipping, me praising, me loving God.
Now please, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that’s automatically bad.
Plenty of the Psalms are the Psalmist’s pouring his heart out to God in this fashion.
But the problem with modern praise and worship music is that it seems most of it emphasizes what “I” am doing in worship and how “I” love to praise the Lord.
We need more songs that are what we find here – simple expressions of the greatness of God.
Count how many times the martyrs sing about “I” or “me” and how many times they sing about “You” and “God.”
"Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, 0 King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, 0 Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested."
God = 10 Martyrs = 0
One more thing before we move on - these saints have harps.
The only other musical instruments we find in heaven are trumpets.
This is going to make for an interesting praise band in heaven = horns and harps!
5After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.
This is a bit of an unusual way to refer to the heavenly temple but John is being precise in describing what he saw.
In Exodus 25:8-9 and Hebrews 8:9 we read that God told Moses to build the earthly tabernacle of meeting exactly as he had received instructions because it was a copy or model of the real thing in heaven.
When John says “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven” he’s referring to the throne room of God – something he’s already been inside of in his visions.
But now his perspective is from the outside.
The temple refers to the central house or building of the temple complex, which is here referred to as the tabernacle; which would be the whole sacred enclosure.
The testimony refers to the Ten Commandments which were housed in the ark of the Covenant inside the central temple; the ark of course representing the throne of God. [Picture of the tabernacle]
So the tabernacle is here referred to as the tabernacle of the testimony.
Here John sees the heavenly temple the earthly one was merely a model of – its doors swing open, and out step the 7 angels who will be the agents of the final plagues.
These plagues, as v. 1 says, are the consummation of God’s wrath to be poured out in judgment on the earth.
It’s crucial we catch what John is saying here.
Though we’ve already encountered this same idea a few times before, John is seeing another expression of it here and this is probably the most dramatic.
This is when heaven’s doors open – like the gate of a castle – to allow the coming forth of the army, led by the King as He goes forth to conquer.
For centuries - no, even longer, for millennia, the people of God have prayed and longed for the day when evil would be defeated and righteousness would prevail on earth as it is in heaven.
As John watches, he sees the doors to the throne room of heaven swing wide – this is it!
He knows that heaven is now going to invade earth and the age-old rebellion of satan and mankind will be brought to an end.
In the visions prior to this, John has watched while that rebellion has reached it’s most graphic and evil climax.
The earth has been pummeled again and again by wickedness, and it doesn’t seem to John that it could get any worse.
Then, in the darkest hour – a light dawns – the doors of heaven swing wide.
Don’t forget the title of this Book: It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though we see a lot of rather strange and sometimes downright bizarre, stuff, keep in mind that the real focal point, what all the visions aim at, is the glorious appearing and victory of Christ.
6And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.
Take careful note of where these angels come from – they come out of the temple.
If the earthly temple was a model of heaven’s temple, and we know that in the earthly temple the throne of God was the ark of the covenant, then that means these angels come forth from the presence of God.
They are agents of His throne – executing His judgments under His authority.
They don’t act as spiritual vigilantes; they’re only carrying out the will of God.
John describes their clothing as pure bright linen.
Linen was the cloth of the high priest’s uniform.
The reason God instructed linen be used in the priestly garments is because it resists perspiration; standing as a symbol that God doesn’t want the worship of His people to be a thing of self-effort and strenuous labor.
The focus is to be on Him; His excellence and goodness, not what we’re doing in the act worship.
So linen speaks of righteousness in action.
The pure bright linen these angels wear is another pointer to the fact that they’re the agents of God – they’re simply doing His bidding, empowered by Him to accomplish His will.
Since gold is the royal metal, the band across their chests adds to the impression that these angels are royal emissaries.
7Then 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.
The word for bowls here refers to a rather broad, shallow saucer, almost like a large soup bowl.
These bowls were used mostly in a ritual way for pouring out drink offerings.
The thing about the way these bowls were used, is that their contents were quickly poured out.
Their wide brim meant it was impossible to trickle the contents in a slow stream.
It all came out in one rapid flow – and this pictures perfectly the way these last plagues will be visited on the earth – they are pretty much dumped out.
8The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
As soon as the angels depart from the temple, the glory of God is redoubled there.
As in the ancient temple when God came to inhabit it, the glory of God becomes so thick, no one is able to even enter it, let alone stand. [Exodus 40:34-35 2 Chr. -14]
It’s fitting the glory of God would be renewed like this at this time.
There’s something in the heart of man that tends to twist the wrath of God into something base and unworthy of Him.
As God’s wrath is now coming on the earth in it’s most pure and perfect form, the tendency might be to think of God as some kind of impetuous and ticked off tyrant.
But the glory in the temple reminds us that these 7 angels and the contents of their bowls are nothing less than the total righteous expression of a holy and perfect God.
Even this wrath is perfect! Yes, God’s wrath is glorious!
There’s a scene in Braveheart that might capture this for us – at least partially.
It’s the scene where the forces of Scotland under leadership of William Wallace are facing the forces of England across a large, green field.
After some intrigue, Wallace rallies the Scots and they plunge across the field to engage the English.
The bloodshed is horrific – and watching the movie you get something of the sense of horror of medieval warfare; when battle was done face to face with a sword, dagger, mace, or club.
As the battle winds down, it’s clear the Scots have won the field, and Wallace, in triumph, heaves his big sword skyward to come sailing down, point first into the bloodied soil of a now free Scotland.
The director used that dramatic scene to convey the sense of the righteousness of the Scottish campaign for freedom, for liberty from the brutal and unjust tyranny of the English.
It was a violent scene – and many who saw the movie were disturbed by it, thinking it contained a needless amount of gore.
Maybe so – I won’t disagree, other than to say that it was a very realistic depiction of warfare for that time.
But even more – and this is my point – the cost of liberty, the dear price paid to secure it was made abundantly clear.
Wallace’s bloody sword stuck in the earth, point-down, hilt-high, swinging slightly back and forth was a symbol of the righteous cause of the Scots.
Violent & righteous!
John sees God moving definitively to liberate Earth and humanity from the tyranny of a brutal despot.
It won’t be a pretty campaign, for the despot will not just roll over and play dead; he will resist God.
So God comes across the field of battle and engages him, as we’ll see in Rev. 19, in a sword fight.
There is no doubt in that last battle on which side righteousness lies.
1Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”
Chapter 15 is really the set-up or prelude to the seven bowls.
It shows their origin and intent.
Here in chapter 16, we see them actually poured out – so the chapter begins with a loud voice from inside the temple telling them to start pouring.
Now, we’re going to read these 7 last plagues rather quickly with not a lot of comment simply because for the most part they’re pretty straightforward.
But before we do, I wanted to recap something briefly.
We read here of 7 bowls.
Prior to this we read of 7 trumpets blown by 7 angels and before that the breaking 7 seals on the title deed to earth.
It’s important to note that the 7th seal IS the 7 trumpets; and the 7th trumpet ends up becoming the 7 bowls.
With the seals and trumpets, we read of the first 6 breaking or sounding, then there’s a pause before the 7th and last.
But with the 7 bowls, there is no such pause; they all come in rapid succession.
Actually, while the NKJV begins each bowl with the word “Then . . .” making it look like it followed after the previous bowl, each actually begins with the word “And . . .”
John could be describing a one-at-a-time sequence of judgments, or he may simply be describing a simultaneous out-pouring of all the bowls.
Also, some of the judgments mentioned here seem like repeats of some of the previous trumpet judgments.
The difference is that the trumpet judgments were limited in scope – a third of earth’s population was affected, and so on.
Oh, and one final thing – I’ve made mention of the view of prophecy that is growing so rapidly today called Preterism.
Preterism is the view that virtually all of Bible Prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans.
They believe that all but the very last chapters of Revelation have already been fulfilled.
I think you’ll see that apart from some highly imaginative and extremely loose interpretations, there’s no way one can squeeze the contents of ch. 16 into the destruction of Jerusalem.
2So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth, and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.
The first bowl is a terrible sore that comes on those who’ve taken the mark of the beast.
They’ve been marked by the beast – so now God marks them as well, with a sore.
The adjectives John uses to describe it paint it as a truly horrible affliction.
It’s not something those who have it get used to; it’s not something they learn to live with.
It’s so annoying it ever bothers them – and it needs constant attention, like a wound that won’t stop oozing puss.
Rather a fitting affliction really – for they thought the mark would initiate them into a grand new day for humanity.
They saw it as their pass into ease and comfort.
Well, now they’re saddled with a gross burden that nearly dominates their lives.
3Then [And] the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.
This moves us to conclude that the bowls must come close to the end of the Tribulation.
How long could the world last without any sea life?
We’re not talking here just about fish, but seaweed and plankton as well.
Plankton is responsible for the production of 90% of the oxygen in the atmosphere.
Kill the plankton and guess what – the air will soon become thin.
Note that John likens the water to that of the blood of a dead man.
He’s not saying it actually turns to blood, but that it becomes like the blood of a dead man.
The life is in the blood, but the blood of a dead man lacks life, and that is what John is saying here – all life in the sea is killed off.
The seas really are very much like the circulatory system for the planet. Pollute the seas and it won’t be long till the whole world is sick.
Some commentators like to point out the similarity to what John says here and red tides.
Under favorable environmental conditions, some plankton known as dinoflagellates experience population explosions, known as blooms.
Dinoflagellates have a red pigment and when their concentration are high enough they turn seawater red, forming red tides.
These plankton blooms can be quite destructive.
During the night when photosynthesis halts, such a high concentration of plankton can deplete the oxygen in the water, suffocating fish.
This mention of water turning
to something like blood jogs our memory to the plagues of
There are several similarities between the bowls and the plagues.
This 2nd bowl resembles the 1st plague • Exo -25
The 1st bowl was similar to the boil that afflicted the Egyptians in the 6th plague • Exo 9:9-11
As we move on to the 3rd bowl, we see that it’s an extension of the 2nd bowl -
4Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5And I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are righteous, O Lord, The One who is and who was and who is to be, Because You have judged these things. 6 For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due.”
Not only is saltwater contaminated, so is all fresh water.
Again, some commentators see this as a kind of red tide, for plankton exist in freshwater as well.
This may be a freshwater red tide – but however God affects it – the point is, the freshwater supply is polluted.
V. 5 refers to an “angel of the waters.”
I’m sure you’ve noticed in our study of Rev. the large number of references to angels and different tasks they’re assigned as part of God’s governing of Creation.
Here we find an angel whose given jurisdiction over freshwater.
This is provocative and makes us wonder if even now there isn’t a level to spiritual warfare that is taking place all around us.
Could God have established His holy angels at key and strategic locations to protect parts of creation from the polluting, corrupting, and destructive plans of the devil?
In Hebrews we read that the angels are serving spirits sent forth to serve God’s people.
In Daniel 10 we read of how Michael the archangel did battle with the forces of darkness in a crucial and strategic spiritual conflict.
This angel, which has jurisdiction of the waters, declares God’s righteousness in turning the water to blood; after all, the earth-dwellers have turned that time into a Last Day’s Holocaust that will make any previous period of history appear tame in comparison.
Hitler’s Final Solution saw about 6 million European Jews put to death during WWII.
Stalin managed to wipe out over 10 million Ukrainians and others he perceived as a threat to his reign of terror.
As horrifying as these atrocities are – they point up the fact that people can be convinced to massacre those they deem to be a threat to their own safety and welfare.
The antichrist will convince those loyal to him that it is their solemn duty to root out and execute any and all who won’t go along with his program – and there will be multiplied millions who will fall into precisely that category.
The blood will flow in great abundance – so God will return blood upon them by turning the drinking water to blood.
7And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
In ch. 6 we saw that the souls of the martyred saints under the altar asking when their tormentors would be punished.
It is probably their voice that is heard here for it is their blood that is being avenged by this 3rd bowl.
8Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. 9And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.
With no fresh water to drink, now it gets hot – REAL HOT.
In fact, it’s so hot, it actually gives a burn to those who are caught out in it.
This may be intense solar flares, or a reflection of the fact that something is happening to the atmosphere, allowing more of the sun’s harmful radiation in.
And at this point, the earth-dwellers are so far spiritual gone instead of repenting, they curse God for their agony.
10Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. 11They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.
Fifth bowl is a judgment of darkness.
This is reminiscent of the 9th
This judgment is focused and centralized on the capital of the antichrist.
He’s claimed to be the way and the light for humanity – so God smites his power-center with not just darkness – but blackness – the utter absence of light.
In this absence they can do nothing but stumble around and run in to things.
So bruised and still in torment from the loathsome sores of the first bowl, they can do little but moan and curse.
I like what
Listen – if there was ever a time when the people of earth will have more than adequate evidence for the existence, power and holiness of God, this is it right here – and what do they do with that knowledge? They blaspheme!
We’re going to end our study at that point tonight because the 6th & 7th bowl refer to the Battle of Armageddon and I want to take a little time to dig in to that with some detail next Wednesday.
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