Let us continue our exposition of the book of Revelation. Last year, we ended with Chapter 14 where the last Symbolic character was the Son of Man who Jesus Christ himself exacting his judgment of the wicked (Revelation 14:19). This closes the cycle of sevens and beginning at Chapter 15, John starts with another cycle and this time they are seven bowls of God’s wrath.
Now for those who were new to the series and needs help in understanding this book of Revelation. Let me remind ourselves again the key to understanding these events is by way of recapitulation. It is like watching a movie again and again but from a different perspective or camera view. The closes illustration I can think of which is similar to this is the Justice League movie. The first release of the movie was directed by Joss Whedon and a lot of its fans and critics did not like this particular cut. They complained about the director’s treatment and it seems Whedon took a lot of shortcuts. The movie did not allow for character development. In short, it was lacking in-depth. I remember watching this movie with the family and it was forgettable. Nothing spectacular.
But due to popular Zynder released his cut last month via HBO and his version of the film still took the same timeline but added more scenes for character development, and overlaid his own treatment and tone. It was a far better movie than Weldon’s and even though I remember watching it first then but watching this new version makes much more sense and the details were more enjoyable to watch. It was like watching the movie for the first time.
So John recorded several events his books but wrote it down in several cycles. If most of us can recall there were the seven seals, seven trumpets, then seven symbolic characters, then finally the seven bowls. They all happened at the same time period namely, the first and second coming of Christ but they all give different details to the vision given to John. Each have their own perspective and view point but provides greater detail in harmony with the whole.
The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath visualizes for us the completion of God’s punishment over wicked and unrepentant and the vindication of God’s people who suffered persecution here on earth. It is fulfilment of God’s justice against his enemies and the triumph of God’s people over the prince of this world. This is picture John wants us to see and receive encouragement from. And our preaching will comprise of three points: 1)The Victors’ Song; 2) The First Five Bowls of God’s Wrath; 3) The Mount of Gathering and the Seventh Bowl. As usual, we will begin with the first point then next week we will continue with the second point then the week after that we will end with the third point.
Before we begin, let us pray:
“Grant, Almighty God, that we may remember ourselves to be pilgrims in the world, and that no splendor of wealth, or power, or worldly wisdom may blind our eyes, but may we always direct our eyes and all our senses towards the kingdom of thy Son. May we always fix them there, and may nothing hinder us from hastening on in the course of our calling, until at length we pass over the course and reach the goal which thou hast set before us.” ~ John Calvin
The Victors’ Song
Verses 1-4: “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also 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. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
There are several things we need to understand from these verses. Let me explain again that the clause “Then I saw another sign in heaven” is John’s signal to his readers that he is starting a new cycle of vision. Again, the previous cycles were the seven seals, then seven trumpets, and seven symbolic characters. We also need to take note the shift in the scene. Previously in Chapter 14 we ended with the last symbolic character, the Son of Man, exacting judgment over his enemies. That scene was on earth but now John tells us the vision is in heaven. This again reminds us of the reality that heaven is not a place in the future but a simultaneous realm that existing together creation here on earth. “In the beginning God created the heavens (plural) and the earth (Genesis 1:1).” Heavens here means not just the sky or atmosphere, nor the space beyond it, but more so the invisible realm where God himself sets his throne. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” Paul here refers to himself in third person and he mentions a similar experience John wrote about in Revelation 15:1 and made explicit reference to “third” heaven, So this is what we understand from this clause.
Now, John saw seven angel with seven plagues. Clearly, this is an introduction to chapter 16 where John lays down all seven plagues as the seven bowls of God’s wrath. We need again to remind ourselves about the use of symbolic numbers in Revelation. Obviously, the use of the number seven was not literal. Yes there were angels present and they were seen by John but the apostle did not see literally seven of them. Also ,the angels were not figurative. John did not imagine seeing angels but are actually only people or someone. No, there were actually angels but they were not literally seven in numbers. The proper view of the seven is symbolic. It communicates perfection and completion. The seven angels carry out the execution of the seven plagues, and the plagues are the perfect judgment over the wicked. As John expressed in the next clause, “…seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” Again, seven symbolizes the perfect judgment of God and here the seven plagues are his last which means the end of the last days. All of creation which is under God’s wrath will soon end with God’s judgment.
Our Nicene creed reads that our Lord Jesus Christ, “ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” Often we forget this reality about Jesus Christ, and God’s kingdom whenever we get preoccupied with the cares of this world. In times of prosperity we focus so much with the comfort and security it brings and we forget that God has placed his judgment over everything we see and experience in this life and his wrath will terminate these things. He will soon bring everything into an end. God will punish the wicked, Satan and his cohorts and we are now living the times where it will all happen.
This message of God’s justice becomes a reality check of all believers here on earth. God will soon bring judgment over all his enemies and everything will come it is chilling end. So Christian never bring to heart all these temporary benefits and the comfort it brings. Look at the Son. He is our Savior, Judge, and King. He is our comfort and peace. At the same time, let us remind ourselves when adversity comes our way that God rules his kingdom and while judgment comes which bring everything to an end, we are citizens of the kingdom that has no end. When we experience frustration and discouragement specially during times like these, let us remember and encourage one another of the invisible reality of God’s kingdom rushing forward until the end. Despite of our situation, we shall overcome, This is the message John wants us to learn from the succeeding verses.
John sees an encouraging reality for God’s people. He wrote: “And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also 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.” Now, the reference to the sea is precursor to the typology between the great redemptive act of God which Moses brings to Israel when they crossed the Red sea. Old Testament typology means the symbolic picturing of the events which God brings to fulfillment in Christ, and his church. We will dwell on this as we progress in our exposition of this book but suffice for now to say that the sea symbolizes the demonstration of God’s power to save.
The sea also usually alludes, or an indirect reference to evil work of evil men and angels, which set itself against God. And as we can understand from the passage the sea is now frozen and on fire. Freezing means the threat of evil has been neutralized and Fire means it is because God placed his judgment over them. Those who do evil against God’s people has no more power over them because they can only kill the body but not both body and soul. God granted eternal life to his people and death is only a passageway to heaven.
Because of this John reveals that despite of the seemingly defeated posture of the saints here on earth, but by the heavenly perspective given by John, we are actually overcomers! Like the slained Lamb standing at the throne of heaven, we too shall come to the presence of our great and amazing God! We are more than conquerors! As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Sickness, disease, economic turmoil, natural disaster and even war may very well bring us to the end of our earthly existence but take heart Christian, God will prevail! Jesus assures us with his words, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Let us comfort one another with these words.
What is the sign John gave us guaranteeing our victory over God’s enemies? – a Song of Praise and Thanksgiving. It is an important song in the OT because it is a victors or overcomer’s song. John made an explicit connection between Moses as the mediator of the Old Covenant while the Lamb, as Jesus, is the mediator of the New Covenant. This is what typology is all about. The events and persons in the Old Testament were pictures in history that comes into fulfillment in the New Testament as the person and work of Christ, the life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel of God. This is the way we interpret Scripture as John shows us here by way of example.
The next clause reads, “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb,” The parallel between Moses and Jesus is undeniable. And the song referred to here makes an explicit point of our victory. John uses the how much more argument similar to what Paul or even the preacher of Hebrews use in their epistles. We know God delivers Israel from perishing in the hand of Pharaoh and saves them by allowing them to cross the Red Sea. The army of Pharaoh all died under the waters of the Red Sea but God’s people made it through the other side (Exodus 14) and in chapter 15, Moses praised God for this great redemptive act. So the pattern in history is clear. God saves us and in response we praise Him for everything he has done.
So in Christ, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, saves us and he now sits at the right hand of the his Father. He now reigns victorious and rules over his by his Word and Spirit. In response, we worship him in Spirit and truth, in reverence and in awe. We sing together in the heavens with the saints these words:
“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
So Christian, let us worship the Lord and give thanks to him. Let us worship God in the midst of this sick and dying world.
ZCRC(Imus), God’s wrath will bring everything in creation to an end. His justice will prevail and place his judgment over his enemies. Truly, God delivers his people from the hands of the wicked. He grants us eternal life and in response we bring him praise and thanksgiving. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.