The red light never went on before – except during the drills and tests. This time the buzzer sounded, and the red light blared in the control room. Men scrambled to stations as they looked anxiously at dials and fiddled nervously with switches and dials. The pressure valves were stuck shut, and the water behind the massive dam was now piling up. There was no relief for the pressure, and the back pressure on the wall was already well into exceeding tolerances. Transfixed, each man, on his own station – the control room quiet was shattered by the loud crackle of the Motorola handset. “Engineer six, what is your status?” the com signal echoed. “Holding, five. Pressure building. No surface fissures…. Wait…cancel that. I am seeing the beginning of cracks…Yes, five, she is losing integrity. Repeat… she is losing integrity…” The men knew it was a matter of moments from the largest disaster anyone in that room had ever seen.
There is a moment – just after the bullet is fired, but before it strikes the target. There is a moment – just after the beautiful crystal glass has slipped from your fingers – and before it shatters on the ceramic tile floor… the story of this chapter of Revelation IS that moment. This is the story of judgment and wrath hanging in the air above the physical universe. This is a glimpse into the throne room before the final rush of God’s complete and total victory over mutinous humanity. It is the moment before the dam broke above the on the feeble defenses of the arrogant. It isn’t the story of the destruction – that will come. It is the story of the moment before – the moment just before the deluge.
The glimpse into this moment is very revealing. It reveals the feeling in the room as judgment is set to fall. It reveals the swift nature of the end of rebellion and sin. It reveals something about how God feels about sin and rebellion. Most of all, it is given to the church because it uncovers a strange encouragement – God knows how hard the mutiny has been on all of us.
Key Principle: Opening Heaven’s window and pulling back the curtain on this moment before judgment is unleashed should help us understand two essential truths: First, we must accelerate sharing the message of God’s escape from wrath. The Gospel offers the way of escape. Second, seeing Heaven frozen in that moment should encourage us – God knows the effects of sin have been hard for us to navigate.
This Polaroid of Heaven exposes a moment that shows God’s judgment as holy and as necessary as the revelation of His coming rewards. Heaven’s story is incomplete without the revelation of God’s wrath. Why? Because disconnecting the penalty of judgment from the mutiny of man removes the real sense of the heinousness of sin – and diminishes God’s absolute right as Creator to insist that all things belong solely to Him. Strangely, the Bible writer doesn’t so squeamish about God’s rights and man’s mutiny. The Bible defines what God considers His responsible duty – to stamp out all effects and power of sin and rebellion. John wasn’t embarrassed to report that is exactly what He will do. He knew and wrote of God’s absolute right to judge and crush all rebellion.
Read with me the few verses that show the picture of this moment before destruction:
Revelation 15:1 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. 2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. 3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.” 5 After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 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. 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. 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.
John thought this sign was something “great and marvelous” because it ended the war introduced in the Garden of Eden. Seven angels were paraded out with saucers of wrath. It wasn’t the size of the saucer, but the fact that when they were emptied – all of man’s insurrection would be crushed, and God’s holy right over His wayward Creation will be publicly and permanently restored. All legal requirements will be satisfied. All opposition will be stopped.
Don’t rush through the passage. Take a moment and think about the picture we see. We must be careful to recall three important principles in the background – the “wall setting” of the picture we want to gaze upon:
- The small size of the chapter is not an indication of the importance of the principle exposed in the writing – because it is by far the shortest chapter selection from this book. It is important to remember that good writing expresses the author’s thought process well – great writing does it with an economy of words and stark clarity of imagery. The Gettysburg address wasn’t long, but it was powerful enough to shape an army.
- The chapter represents a moment in time when the pressure that was pent up over thousands of years on earth was relieved by an explosion. This is a frozen frame of the moment before the break. There was a crack in the surface of the great dam of human history. The conditions were all fulfilled, and the stage was completely set for the small fissure to explode, ending in a massive flood of destruction. The just demands of God’s Holiness pushed down for all the generations since Adam will be completely satisfied in a public display. God will get to sign the end of His story by crushing evil and replacing it with His holiness.
- Finally, this moment was recorded for seven churches, and later for believers throughout the ages. It isn’t the revelation of a theoretical time – it is the exposure of the coming day. In the next chapters we will see the undoing of every rebellious human institution: religion, economy and philanthropy. Man will fold in on himself as the wall of wrath tears through all that he built in the village below the dam of God’s pent up wrath. Why would God tell this story? Doesn’t He realize that a vengeful God will not be nearly as popular as a, “ALL TOLERANT ONE”? He does, but He has a bigger plan… more on that later in the teaching.
Look again at Revelation 15. We are staring at the snapshot of those who have been victorious over the beast standing together in celebration of God’s character. They are singing the “Anthem of the Rescued” in the presence of God. Just as the saints stand before the temple of God, the bowls of wrath are poured out on pagan and rebellious humanity – those who follow the beast. The massive day of battle destroys the military might of man. The fall of Babylon – the economic, political and spiritual systems are also pummeled and destroyed in an hour. Satan’s centers of control are unraveled – and this is the moment that unleashed it all. Is that not part of what the Tribulation is about? Remember the Tribulation has several purposes in the Bible:
- First, it is to get the stubborn nation of Israel to bow in trust to her estranged husband – the Father in Heaven that selected her as His own special love.
- Second, it is God’s final evangelistic run at mutinous mankind – with a team of 144,000 witnesses that will gather the last of the great harvest among the nations.
- Third, it is to dislodge and destroy the godless, pagan system at its peak – in the hands of the Antichrist and his false prophet on the way to exposing and castigating the Dragon that empowers their work.
God back to the verses, one by one. Look carefully at the words of this chapter’s opening:
Revelation 15:1 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.
John wrote that he saw “another sign”, connecting it with the sign of the war between the dragon and the woman in Revelation 12 – the attempts by Satan to destroy Jesus, and then the Jewish people in human history. The word for sign is “SEMION” a distinguishing marker or event. This word occurs seven times in the book of Revelation – all beginning in 12:1 and ending at the end of the Tribulation in 19.. (12:1,3; 13:13,14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20). As one commentator put it: “This is verbal art”.
Revelation 15:2 And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.
When John wrote that he saw something like a “sea of glass”, he referred to an image building on the transparent crystal platform or pavement God’s heavenly throne sits upon, referred to in Revelation 4:6. He saw God’s magnificent throne – lest anyone would mistake where all judgments of the Tribulation initiate. God is in command of the end, and He was at the beginning.
Surrounding the throne in this snapshot are those who had victory over the beast. They fought his mark, the number of his name, and they gave all for the Kingdom of God – surrendering even their lives. It may be hard to be a believer today in a culture that is turning its back on the face of Jesus – but it will be MCUH HARDER then. They will know suffering and death. They will give all for the cause, because they love the Savior more than they love anything here on earth. Don’t forget that the WORD VICTORY is that which described those who were KILLED. Faith was the victory and death was not a failure – it was their graduation and HOPE.
Can we say that Jesus is more important than our life? Is Jesus more significant to you than fortune, fame, power and pleasure? Is the delight of Jesus bigger in your heart than the delight of your children, your spouse – your SELF? They lived that truth! The end of the verse says that the singers held harps before God. Their lives supplied the sheet music of praise in the Heavens!
15:3 And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!
The song of Moses is a rescue anthem – a song of thankfulness for God’s miraculous guidance, skillful and timely protection and wondrous provision for His people. Moses saw it. The Lamb knew it.
- Great and marvelous are Your works (megala kai thaumasta): huge and awe inspiring are your accomplishments – remember “No one stands over the Grand Canyon to boost their self-image!”
- Righteous and true are Your ways (dikaiai): totally just are your plans or paths.
There is no debate about what comes next. The pressure was about to break from Heaven, and the choir was well contented that it was neither hasty nor reactionary – the priestly dressed angels knew their jobs and the clock was now counting down.
15:4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”
The purpose of the judgment was clearly stated – to get people to RECOGNIZE GOD AS GOD. Man should revere the name of their Creator. Whether in the university classroom or the science laboratory – the mystery of life should be tied up in HIM. He alone is distinct from all others. No man can hold that place in another man’s heart. No man can hold the throne of his own heart for himself and not be judged.
- God alone is to be honored as highest.
- God alone is to be worshiped.
- God alone will be seen in the final acts of judgment.
- Men’s strength will collapse.
- Their armies will evaporate.
- Their economic strategies will dissipate into the air.
- Their lofty arrogance and pagan slurs will vanish in the heat of God’s presence.
- The Creator will once again be the One and Only God – and that was cause for the choir to sing aloud!
15:5 After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 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.
John saw angels coming from the Most Holy Place of Heaven’s Tabernacle (the heavenly reality modeled in history by an earthly Temple and the Tabernacle before it). The seven angelic reapers of judgment stepped out of their Temple service – dressed as priests. The work of judgment is HOLY WORK. It is the work of rescue and restoration. It is the work of reconciling the universe to its Creator.
15:7 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.
The bowls of judgment are a specific type – the phiales – or flat lipped bowls. These are shallow saucers that were familiar items associated with various functions of the temple worship, such as wine and blood sacrifice. The picture was of a wide plate with a rim – something that could be quickly emptied. It is the swiftness of the judgment that will shock men on earth. In one hour, Babylon will fall flat before God.
The word wrath (thumos) used here is a boiling or flaming anger. Instead of the common word orge (anger from a settled disposition). Thumos is used only 11 times, and 10 of the 11 are in Revelation. It is God’s overflowing anger towards sin contained in the bowls.
15:8 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.
John described a moment right after the angels came out of the Temple, saying that great smoke from the power and presence of God filled Heaven’s Temple so that neither angels nor human beings could go back into worship until the completion of the judgment. No created being, for that stretch of time, will have access to the presence of God on His throne until the end of the Tribulation judgment – for God will not be dealing with people in mercy but in judgment.
When the Tabernacle (Ex. 40) and First Temple (1 Kings 6-8) were dedicated, God’s glory and presence was seen in the smoke that filled them. Now it was different. This was no mere display. Commentator William MacDonald offers: “The fact that no one can enter the temple until these seven plagues are completed may mean that no priestly intercession can now delay God’s wrath.”
That’s the story. A choir singing, a parade marching, smoke billowing…Heaven on the edge.
Earlier I asked why this moment was frozen in time and recorded for seven churches, and later for believers throughout the ages. Why show the believers of the ages the eventual overthrow of every rebellious human institution? Should we feel relieved that God finally got even? No, I don’t think that is the purpose at all.
I think we don’t understand how God feels about the destructiveness of sin, and how He longs to see the conditions that we have come to accept as NORMAL stomped out completely. He looks at us through the eyes of that child services worker that interviews the repeatedly raped child who acts like it is perfectly normal. He is enraged by our pain, and longs for the end – but He must elect to wait until the whole story unfolds showing who He is to all creation. To intrude early would undo all the work that went in to making the story clear.
God hates sin the way a child of an alcoholic hates that bottle. It destroyed everything. It took the fun out of life and the joy out of the relationship. God hates sin, and cannot wait to crush it!
He hates sin because it KILLED the joy He had walking with US, and eventually it KILLED HIS SON to supply the blood that transfused us with new life. All that keeps us hopeful is that He is ready and able to crush it. Keep your eyes on the sky – He is growing restless to pull us free from its grasp.
It seems we have not only become dulled to God’s feelings about sin in our modern world, but we have also lost our distaste for HELL. The UN has had much to say about a population explosion – but there is one place where the explosion of population should deeply concern and sicken us – the population of HELL. It was said that D.L. Moody reduced hell’s potential population by as many as two million. Billy Graham may have also done that. Yet, hell is still getting too many, and God offers this warning that wrath will come, to remind believers of the need to get busy with the Gospel. Hell is real. Wrath is coming. Judgment is not a fairy tale.
There is yet a third reason that the wrath of God is so carefully choreographed for the believer in this book –zand it is this thought that I want to finish on… It also relates to sins devastation. It is not about those who are going to hell, but for the benefit of those who have already been living in it here on earth. It is to answer the tears of God’s people that have walked through the fires of fallen humanity. It is to encourage you.
That’s right! God told the story of the moment before judgment so that you would be encouraged when things are working against you in this life:
- When you are honest and the boss fires you but keeps the liars – the fall flexes its muscle.
- When you are betrayed though you have been faithful and right – demons dance.
- When you eat right, exercise, drink proper amounts of fluids, and then get news of a disease that is beyond your control and beyond the doctor’s expertise – the weeds of the garden are taking root in your life.
Many people have tried to decide why bad things happen to good people. All of them have noticed that it is hard to face trouble when you don’t know where it is HEADING. An old Roman sailor’s proverb says, “When the pilot does not know for what port he is headed, no wind is the right wind.” In times of trouble, I can open God’s Word and see the end of the tunnel. It is a long tunnel – and many lives hang in the balance – but it is an encouragement that GOD KNOWS THE END of the story, because sin will be crushed from His holy Temple – and delivered by His holy corps of angels.
Here is the perseverance of the saints. God wins. God ends the pain of sin. God crushes its power and finally removes its pain. Separation from loved ones – gone. Persecution from angry men – finished. Reason rallies spewing hatred toward God and His followers – silenced.
- Go to the religions of the east, and learn of an endless cycle of reincarnation – punishment and reward as we climb the ladder through thousands of lifetimes – how exhausting and entirely impersonal. It is a scenario of living life trying not offend the thousands of gods and demi-gods on my way to the next rung of the ladder. The end for us is not attaining perfection; it is falling into the arms of the Perfect One.
- My Muslim friends may answer the question of “bad things” by saying, “Allah has willed it, and you must learn to accept his will.”
- My Jewish friends may echo Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book entitled, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? It became a NYT best-seller. His answer was that “God is limited in His power, and therefore He is not a participant in our lives. Instead, He is a spectator watching us with interest.” He says, “God wants to see good things happen to His people, but He is not always able to arrange it.“
How very sad! His conclusion is a less than able God in need of our forgiveness of Him for His shortcomings. The Rabbi says that it is our turn now to forgive God for His failures.
Our story ends differently. It ends with a powerful God that makes no apology for His Sovereignty. His choir sang the anthem of His Supremacy. His love for His fallen drove Him to action.
In Max Lucado’s book, The Applause of Heaven, the author tells about a young man, Robert Reed, who has cerebral palsy. He writes: “He can’t brush his teeth or comb his hair or bathe himself. He can’t dress himself, or button his shirt. He has to depend upon other people to do that for him. He can’t take a walk. He can’t go from one place to another by his own power. But his handicaps did not rob him of graduating from high school, & finally earning a degree from Abilene Christian College.” The writer says that Robert Reed decided that he would study to be a missionary. He taught a couple of years in a Junior College in St. Louis. and took five trips to different mission fields. Finally he settled in Lisbon, Portugal. Robert Reed found a hotel owner who would rent him a ground-floor room. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him after hours each day. He found a tutor who would teach him the language. And every day he wheeled out to the city park & passed out Christian literature to people who walked by. He spoke to them in his voice that sounded like a record player whose batteries are about to run down. He told them about the love of God through Jesus Christ. In 6 years Robert Reed won more than seventy people to Jesus. One of them was a young girl by the name of Rosa, who later became his wife. Lucado recalls, “I sat in an audience of thousands & watched as strong men grabbed his wheelchair, with him sitting in it, & lifted him to the platform so that he could speak to this vast audience of people….I watched him as he took his stiff fingers & tried to turn the pages of his Bible. And along with thousands of others, I wiped away tears of admiration. Here is one who could have complained, one who could have been bitter, one who could have asked `Why me?’ One who could have asked, `Why do bad things happen to God’s people?’” “But instead,” he said, “Robert Reed read in his drawn out way the Words of God & gave his testimony. And when he came to the end of it, he lifted up his bent hand & arm & said, `I have everything I need.’” Lucado adds, “His shirts are held together with velcro. But his life is held together with the joy of God.”
Lift up your head and see the power of God. Sin will be defeated. Death’s separation will be erased. Cancer will be a word long forgotten. Divorce will be a word from the ancient past. Rape, incest, murder, pornography, theft, cheating, lying –all will be erased from our existence – a distant memory of a war fought on far away fields long before. God hasn’t forgotten to rescue us – the pressure is building and Heaven’s dam is about to burst.
Opening Heaven’s window and pulling back the curtain on this moment just before judgment is unleashed should help us remember – God knows the effects of sin have been hard for us to navigate… and He hates sin. Don’t despair – sin is on short time as Heaven’s death row is emptied.