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(Revelation 15:1-8) A Pause in the Mercy of God

(Revelation 15:1-8) A Pause in the Mercy of God

Ref: Revelation 15:1–8

Smoke is filling the temple. Creatures of earth and heaven are falling beneath the weight of God's glory. Seven Angels are given seven vials that are filled with the wrath of God. Who are they for? What will happen next?


A Pause in the Mercy of God

Revelation 15:1-8

On Sunday, October 30, 1938, millions of radio listeners were shocked when radio news alerts announced the invasion of earth by a species from Mars. Millions of people panicked when they learned of the Martians' ferocious and seemingly unstoppable attack on humanity.

Orson Wells and his cast effectively fooled millions of radio listeners in their adaptation of a novel by H. G. Wells entitled, War of the Worlds. 

The script unfolded by interrupting a musical variety program normally run by the CBS radio network – at a time when most people, pre-TV, sat in the living room to listen to music and a variety of radio programs in the evenings. 

The musical program was interrupted with the news that at 8:50 p.m. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton.

The musical variety radio program then continued on but was again interrupted with a lengthy eye witness account of a reporter who was on site, who reported live as slimy Martians emerged from the huge flying saucer and then began shooting people with their laser guns.

Even though Orson Wells began by telling people his show was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel, and even though several times throughout the program it was repeated to be a fictional adaptation of the novel, people only caught bits and pieces and believed it was true without listening to the entire broadcast.

All across the United States, millions of listeners reacted.  Many in the New England area loaded up their cars and fled their homes.  People improvised gas masks.  People were hysterical. They thought the end was near.   Scores of people around the country flocked to churches to pray.

When they learned the truth, millions were infuriated and Orson Wells was actually catapulted to fame.

The idea wasn’t really new.

The British Broadcasting System a few years earlier than Orson Wells hoax had run a similar hoax giving a play by play of a mass riot that was sweeping through London – the result was widespread panic then too.

You’d think a hoax like that couldn’t happen again – people are too cynical now, right?

About 15 years ago, radio listeners to KSHE in St. Louis, Missouri, were startled to hear the regular programming interrupted by that jarring signal of the Emergency Broadcast System.  The radio disc jockey, John Ulett, came on and said, “Your attention please!  This is not a test!  The United States is under nuclear attack!  I repeat this is not a test!”

Instead of verifying the report through other outlets – or even turning the radio dial to confirm the news, scores of people left work, dropping whatever they were doing and raced away to be with family members when the bombs arrived, wiping out civilization as they knew it.   / Ray Stedman, Revelation: God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 271 & “Disk Jockey Falsely Reports Nuclear Attack”, (AP, 1/31/91)

This idea of announcing imminent danger can be traced all the way back to Aesop who lived 500 years before the birth of Christ.  His compilation of Fables includes the story of boy who cried wolf. 

A young shepherd boy was tending the villager’s sheep and was rather bored with the whole thing so he yelled wolf and then enjoyed watching the panic in the villagers who raced out to help him.  He repeated the hoax several times, even though he was severely scolded.  But then a wolf really did come . . . and he yelled for help and no one came.

What the villagers considered a hoax was this time, in reality, the truth.

For millions of people, the announcement of coming doom is considered just another wild and dramatic adaptation.

The church that takes the Bible seriously is just another version of CBS radio . . . “they preach that stuff to get attention . . . better ratings.”

Take the average person on the street to the Book of Revelation and the warning of coming world wars and global epidemics and tidal waves and hailstones the size of golf carts and water turning into blood and the average person will think you fell out of the hayloft and landed on your head.  They will either be thinking or maybe even come out and say, “Are you serious?  That’s all make-believe.  You must really love fiction.”

That’s what they said to Noah.

Trouble is, the human race will one day discover, too late, that God never amuses Himself with panic stricken people.

Every warning is true.

In fact, we arrive in our study of the future at that moment when the warning from God comes to an end.

Let me invite your attention to Revelation chapter 15 as John continues to preview things to come.

And in this chapter – the shortest chapter in the Book of Revelation, and in just 8 brief verses, the stage will be set for the final drama in human history. / Edward Hindson, Twenty-First Century Biblical Commentary Series: Revelation (AMG, 2002), p. 161

This is not fiction . . . this warning is real.

Ladies and Gentlemen, God never cry’s wolf.

Verse 1, Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.

Significant phrases here in verse 1 are the words, “seven plagues which are the last” . . . “ and the phrase at the end of verse 1, “the wrath of God is finished.”

The meaning and tense the Greek verb telew (telew) – “to finish” means to be brought to a conclusion, or to complete. / Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 847

There are those who believe the rapture will occur before these seven bowls of wrath are poured out upon the earth.  They reject the view that the church will be raptured prior to the beginning of the Tribulation period – which is called a pretribulation view. 

Instead they hold to what they call a pre-wrath view because, among other things, they believe that this scene previewed in chapter 15 is when the wrath of God really begins to be poured out.  So they hold that the rapture will occur prior to this point, allowing the church to be rescued from the wrath to come, as God promised the church in Revelation 3:10. 

But John the Apostle does not write here that the wrath of God begins with these plagues. 

Instead, John writes that these plagues are the last expression of the wrath of God during the Tribulation.

In other words, this is the last of three series of cataclysmic events, including plagues that have carried the wrath of God against fallen mankind.

The first series began to be poured out with the 7 seals in chapter 6; the second series involved the 7 trumpet judgments in chapters 8-11.  The earth has now for several years been deluged with horrific disasters, epidemics and death.  In fact, already nearly half the world’s population is dead.

And now, with this final series, you have the image of 7 bowls of wrath poured out upon the earth as the wrath of God is brought to a conclusion in the Tribulation and Christ returns to reign on earth for a thousand years, as we’ll see later.

With this warning in verse 1 – that the wrath of God is about to enter a final chapter of horrifying devastation – the scene suddenly shifts to heaven and we’re shown a scene of incredible rejoicing.

A Vision of Choirs

The Choir’s Location

Notice verse 2.  And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beasts and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.

We’ve seen this sea already in chapter 4 and now again where the throne of God is set upon and surrounded by what John says looks like a sea of glass.

Imagine this transparent crystal shimmering and reflecting the glory of God’s brilliant throne.  Moses also had a vision of it when he and the leaders of Israel saw under the feet of God what appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself (Exodus 24:10); Ezekiel described is as “something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22). / John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody, 2000), p. 124

This expanse of glass, as it were, like a tranquil sea – not a small pond, by the way, but a sea – reflecting the throne of God, shining with all the reflected glory and light of God Himself. / Stewart Custer, Revelation: From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004), p. 168

And there before Him, standing on this sea of glass are martyrs who’ve been faithful to Christ – having died at the hands of the Antichrist before whom they would not bow.

In verse 2, John adds a visual description to this sea of glass that didn’t appear in chapter 4.  He writes (2a), and I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire . . .”

Fire is often associated in the Bible with God’s judgment.  Hebrews 10:27 refers to “the terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”  In Hebrews 12:29 we’re told that our God is a consuming fire.

Here the impending judgment of God is swirling around the platform of clear glass . . . mixing red fiery color to the crystal sea upon which His throne stands. 

It becomes a terrifying description of His anger and judgment which will pour down in one, final devastating series of events.

The reason these saints are singing instead of fainting is because of their relationship with God through Christ.

They have no reason to fear – they’re safe in His justifying grace on their behalf.

Sometime ago I had to go to the courthouse downtown Raleigh and see somebody regarding my excessive haste and focus for the sake of the ministry. 

I knew one of the judges who normally held court downtown as a federal judge.   

So I came downtown, and after I had given my investment to the great state of North Carolina, and I stopped by his courtroom.  I had told him I was coming by and he told me to stop by and say hello. 

He was sitting up there behind the desk of that paneled courtroom – in his black robe – the bailiff standing near him armed to the teeth.  Court was actually in session. 

I stepped inside at the back of the courtroom . . . people were everywhere, I didn’t want to disturb anything but he spotted me and motioned for me to come forward.  I said, “Me?”  “Yes sir, approach.”  I came down the aisle, walked through the swinging door and past 4 guys sitting there with their feet shackled together, wearing orange jump suits.  I looked at them and they looked at me . . . saying, “How ya doing” didn’t seem to fit.  So I kept walking . . . I got up to the bench and he stuck his hand over the desk and shook my hand and said “Hey Pastor.”  Talk about feeling special.  He then announced, “Court in recess”, hopped up and told me to follow him back to his chambers, which I did.

You don’t argue with a judge in his own courtroom.  We chatted for a while, prayed and he came back out and resumed court.

I’ll bet he never shook the hands of those 4 guys.  And I don’t think they were ever invited into his chambers.  I’m guessing here, but there was probably never any fellowship between them. 

To those men he was a judge.  To me he was a judge but he was also my friend because of our common faith in Christ.

Although you have a picture of judgment swirling red like fire around the bench of The Superior Judge of the universe, these saints are filled with joy because they are His friends – through Christ.

John describes these believers in verse 2, as the victorious ones over the beast – the Antichrist – and his image and the number of his name; that is the mark of the beast which they would not allow to be put upon their right hand or their forehead; a number which represented the sum of the Antichrist’s name – which totaled six hundred and sixty six; even though refusal meant death!

But John refers to them with heavenly perspective that the martyr’s were the victorious ones.  They were the winners.

Every time the Antichrist’s guillotine fell, he said, in effect, “I have won another victory.”

In the world’s eyes, these believers were considered the losers.  They were captured, imprisoned, reviled and hated.  And they were put to death – why?  Because they confessed Jesus Christ as Lord alone. 

And against the antichrist they had seemed powerless, helpless, stripped of everything and even life itself.  Yet upon their arrival in heaven they are crowned as the victorious ones. / Stedman, p. 273

God turns defeat upside down.

You see the perspective of heaven here? 

The Antichrist is under the delusion that he is demonstrating absolute power and ridding himself of his enemies while in reality, all he is doing is running a shuttle service to heaven.

The Antichrist thinks he’s worthy of worship, but from the perspective of heaven, one author wrote, he’s nothing more than an elevator boy – delivering saints up to glory. / Ibid

I love that. 

Down on earth the Antichrist seems to be winning.  In the presence of God the victory celebration has already begun.

The Choir’s Lyrics

Verse 3 gives us the titles to their two hymns of praise.  And they sang the song of Moses, the bondservant of God, and the song of the Lamb.

More than likely this song of Moses is from Exodus 15 where the children of Israel celebrated in song at the Red Sea after escaping with their lives from Pharaoh.  

This was the song of their exodus from slavery toward the Promised Land.

This song from Exodus 15:1-19 was stamped upon the memory of every Jew. It was sung at every Sabbath evening service in the synagogue.  To this day, at every orthodox Jewish service one of two prayers they will pray refers to this Song of Moses. / William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 2 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 119

We have already been introduced to the song of the Lamb – and here in Revelation chapter 15 we have another stanza or two added to the great anthem of those redeemed from slavery to sin and brought into the Promised Land.

The song of Moses was sung at the Red Sea;

The song of the Lamb is sung at the crystal sea.

The song of Moses was triumph over Egypt;

The song of the Lamb is triumph over Satan.

The song of Moses sings of how God brought His people out;

The song of the Lamb sings of how God brought His people in.

The song of Moses is one of the first hymns in Scripture;

The song of the Lamb is one of the last. / Adapted from John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 187

The wonderful British expositor, John Phillips wrote that the lyrics of these great hymns begin with –

How great thou art.  Notice verse 3.  Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty.

Not only how great Thou art, but –

How good Thou art; notice next, Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations.

How great Thou art;

How good Thou art and then,

How glorious Thou art.  Verse 4.  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?   / Outline from Phillips, p. 187

Listen to them sing. Not one word of their suffering.  Because it is now seen with the perspective of heaven.

Not one word of complaint . . . because they now stand before the throne of their great and good and glorious Savior.

Would you mark the fact that there is not even one word about themselves.  Every pronoun has to do with God.

Great and marvelous are Your works

Righteous and true are Your ways

Who will not fear and glorify Your name?

Listen, this choral outburst is focused upon and flooded with the exaltation of God.

One author wrote generations ago, “In the perfect presence of God self is wholly forgotten.  Heaven is a place where we finally forget about ourselves and remember only God.” / Barclay, p. 120

And just why does this choir of redeemed Tribulation saints sing?

This is why they sing;

4b. Because You alone are holy.

4c. Because All the nations will come and worship before You.

4d.Because Your righteous acts have been revealed.

By the way, this is not referring to some sort of mass conversion of all the nations.

This is further textual evidence that during the millennial kingdom, now just a few months away, people from every tongue, tribe and nation will have believed in Christ alone for salvation – survived the Tribulation – and now they enter the Millennial Kingdom to worship and serve King Jesus. / Mark W. Wilson, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Revelation (Zondervan, 2002), p. 95

Isaiah 2, Micah 4 and Zachariah 14 all refer to the nations who will come to worship the reigning sovereign Lord. 

What John sees next is really amazing.

A Vision of Angels

Notice verse 5.  And after these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened.

The word temple is naos – a reference to the Holy of Holies – the place of the ark of the covenant which housed inside that golden box the 2 tablets of the law written by the finger of God, and kept inside the Holy of Holies.

The Angel’s Apparel

So, in this vision, the Holy of Holies is opened, v. 6. And the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes.

They look like Christ did in chapter 1 – why?  They represent Him in this act of judgment.  You remember, Jesus Christ is either the Great Redeemer or He will one day become the Grim Reaper. 

Judgment has been given to him by the Father (John 5:22)

And you notice these angels are dressed in linen robes – that was the dress of the High Priests.  Thus the angels present the image they are at this point the representatives of God.

They are emerging from the Holy of Holies, representing the very place where the law of God has been kept.  They are given a mission to bring terror and judgment to earth then, because the law has been broken and mankind has disregarded the law of God and God long ago promised that He would never allow the guilty to go unpunished. (Exodus 34:7)

If what the martyred saints sang of God is true, that He is holy and just, then sin must be punished.

If God does not judge sinners He is unjust.  If God sweeps sin under the carpet of some distant galaxy then He is not holy.

He is, in fact, what we would call a crooked judge who winks at sin.

The Prophet Habakkuk asks in chapter 1, “Does God pervert justice?  Does the Almighty pervert what is right?”  And David answers in Psalm 19, “The judgments of the Lord are true, they are righteous altogether.”

The Angel’s Assignment

The angels have been given the authority of Christ to receive their goblets of divine retribution.  And with some ceremony that will be amazing to behold – and every one of us who believe by faith in Christ alone will be here watching this scene unfold in Revelation 15 – these seven angels will file out of the Holy of Holies, approach the throne of God where we’re told, v. 7.  Then 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. 

Chapter 16 will begin to reveal the contents of these bowls.

It will be absolutely horrifying.

The apostle Paul has already taught us that the wrath of God is being stored up – literally stockpiling, sin upon sin.

God could judge man immediately, but, as Paul has already written in Romans 2:4, God is forbearing. The word “forbearance” means, “to hold back; to delay”.

One of the gifts of grace toward unbelieving mankind is that God does not strike him dead at the first word of blasphemy.

God allows him to live and offers him pardon which he persists in refusing.

Robert Ingersoll was a lawyer, a brilliant orator and agnostic who lived mid-1800’s. 

His father had been a Presbyterian pastor for years and at one point served as an associate of Charles Finney the evangelist, even preaching for him when Finney was away.

Robert defied any accountability to God.  In fact, A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance called Ingersoll this daring blasphemer.

At the height of his fame, people would pay $1 a ticket just to hear him speak, which was an enormous sum of money in the 1800’s to spend on a ticket like that.

Often times, when he spoke against the existence of a personal God, he would stand on the stage before hundreds and even thousands of people, take out his pocket watch and say, “If there really is a God, let Him strike me dead in thirty seconds.”

Then, he would hold up the watch and count down the seconds.  People would gasp . . . some would faint.  You might wonder if there was a God privately, or speak to close friends about your doubts, but not publicly challenge Him to prove His existence.

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . he would say, “There is no God.”

If I were God, at the last second of that countdown, you would hear a clap of thunder and Ingersoll would disappear, all except his pocket watch which would fall to the stage.  Then, in a booming voice from above, I would say, “Anybody else?”

Today, Bob Ingersolls walk the streets of this world by the millions. They teach in your classrooms; they live in your neighborhood; they work at your job. “There is no God, like the Bible says. We can live our lives the way we want. We can sin and blaspheme and adulterate and fornicate and manipulate and pontificate! There is no God!”

And where is God?

Seated upon a sea of glass, taking notes.

Every word and thought and deed is recorded. (Rev.20:13) 

And God will eventually summon His angels and say, “Now . . . there’s no holding back . . . no more delay.” 

Those who’ve rejected the gospel of God will be judged by the law of God and with the law of God there is no mercy.

In fact, notice verse 8.  And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple, until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

This is a picture to represent the fact that “This means no one can stop the hand of God.  Once the time of final judgment has come, the time for intercession is past.  Christ is no longer knocking on the door;  He is entering to act in sovereign judgment. /Hindson, p. 164

This is a picture of the fact that no one can change their mind and somehow apply blood to the lid of the mercy seat inside the Holy of Holies.  There is no one to intercede. There will be no more mercy, no more delays, and no more opportunities to repent until the seven plagues have passed. / Daymond R. Duck/Larry Richards, The Book of Revelation (Thomas Nelson, 2006), p. 226

And the world would say, “Oh, right.  You’re into that scare tactic again . . . sounds like the War of the Worlds.”

It does . . . and it will be . . . Armageddon and a world at war is just around the corner.

This is no hoax . . . this is not some religious drama with special effects to scare people into a panic and into the church.

No, this is the truth.

God doesn’t cry wolf. 

But in His patience He warns . . . and by His grace He invites.

How long would you invite someone to your home before giving up?  A week . . . a month . . . a year. 

Noah warned and invited people to get a free ticket aboard the Ark for 120 years.  Christ has invited every generation to join His church for 2,000 years.

How long has He been inviting you?

Isn’t it about time you took His warning seriously and accepted His invitation personally? 

Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)

Saved!  Saved from many things . . . including the coming wrath of God.

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