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Heaven Prepares for the End

Tom Pennington Revelation 15:1-8


Before Christ, there were Greek philosophers who taught that the idea that God would someday inflict His wrath on people was something only for the unenlightened to believe. That attitude has continued throughout history; in the second century, there was one of the most profound heretics in the history of the church, a man named Marcion – he argued that a dichotomy existed between the loving, heavenly Father in Jesus' teaching and the wrathful Jehovah of the Old Testament; he rejected the Old Testament. After he was excommunicated from the church, he was everywhere, spreading his brand of the quote-unquote Christian faith, and created many converts. Last century, C.H. Dodd, a scholar who was renowned, taught that the wrath of God is not the personal reaction of a holy God, but rather, "an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe." But scripture teaches that wrath is God's response to sin – it is an aspect of His person.

But when we refer to God's wrath, what exactly is it that we mean? Alan Cairns, in his excellent Dictionary of Theological Terms, puts it this way – wrath is "the settled opposition of God's nature against evil, His holy displeasure against sinners, and the punishment He justly metes out to them on account of their sins." J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, describes it this way; it is "God's resolute action in punishing sin. It is as much the expression of a personal, emotional attitude of the Triune Jehovah as is His love to sinners: it is the active manifesting of His hatred of irreligion and moral evil." Charles Hodge puts it very succinctly when he puts it this way; God's wrath is God's "determination to punish sin." So, the wrath of God, then, is a divine reaction against evil, but have you ever considered what is it specifically that causes God to be angry? We can summarize the teaching of scripture by saying that there are really three human responses that make God angry – I say human, primarily; obviously, Satan and his demons as well – primarily human responses.

First of all, refusing to properly honor His person – Romans 1:18 says "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" – why? Verse 21 of Romans 1 says because "even though they knew God, they did not glorify [SR1] Him as God [literally] or give thanks but became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened." It rightly angers God when those He has created refuse to honor His person, because He alone is worthy of that honor.

It angers God when we disobey His will and commands. There are so many biblical examples, but here's one – 2 Kings 22:13, "Great is the wrath of Yahweh that burns against" the people of Israel, "because our fathers have not listened to the words of His book, to do all that is written." It angers God when people disregard His will and commands as revealed in His word. A.W. Pink writes "God is angry against sin because it is a rebellion against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God's government shall be made to know that God is the Lord; they shall be made to feel how great that majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatening wrath which they so little regarded."

So, God is angered by the dishonor of His person, or the failure to honor His person by disobeying His will and commands, and thirdly, by despising His love in the gospel. God, in His amazing grace, has provided His own Son as the means by which man can be reconciled to Him, and it angers God understandably when men spurn that offer of grace and love in the gospel. 2 Thessalonians 1, verses 7-9 talk about the return of Christ "in flaming fire, dealing out" vengeance on all of "those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is an affront to God – as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it is trampling on the blood of Christ,[SR2] and it angers God.

So, God has a settled opposition in His nature against such evil, and He must, by His very nature, deal with it. In Revelation 15 that we come to tonight in our study, John tells us that it's time; it's finally time for the ultimate and final display of God's wrath on this sinful world. Now, let me just remind you of where we find ourselves – here is an outline of Revelation 6-18 which deals with the seven-year tribulation. In chapter 6, you have the first six seals, then there's an interlude in chapter 7 that talks about the tribulation saints and tells us how many will come to know the Lord in those years. Then you have the seventh seal which contains the first six trumpets in chapters 8-9 – again, there is a second interlude which describes the little book and the two witnesses in chapter 10 and through chapter 11, verse 14. Then, beginning in chapter 11, verse 15 down through verse 19, you have the seventh trumpet; there's a third interlude that follows in chapters 12-14, and in those chapters, as we saw, John describes things that happen throughout the span of those seven years – they're not strictly chronological; they're an overview of things that are happening throughout that seven-year period. Tonight, we come to chapter 15, and in chapters 15-16, you have the seven bowl judgments, and the seventh bowl issues in the destruction of Babylon that is described in detail in chapters 17-18. So, that brings you to the end of the tribulation, and in chapter 19, we come to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the second coming, Armageddon, and the end.

So, look again at that outline; in chapter 11, verse 15, the seventh angel sounds the seventh trumpet that really initiates the seven bowl judgments – but we don't learn about the contents of the bowl judgments until chapters 15-18. Chapters 12-14, again, are an interlude; chapter 15 picks up chronologically where chapter 11 left off. Chapter 16 describes the bowl judgments as they unfold on earth; chapter 15 describes the preparation in heaven for these final judgments that will come at the end of the tribulation and immediately precede the second coming. Just look at it again – notice chapter 16, verse 1; here's where the bowls begin to be poured out. "I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, 'Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.'" What follows is what's happening on the earth – but chapter 15, verse 1, is in heaven; notice, "Then I saw another sign in heaven." So, chapter 15 is in heaven, as preparation is made for the seven bowl judgments, and chapter 16 and following contain the bowl judgments as they are actually poured out on earth.

So, this really is a scene in heaven, preparing for the judgments that are coming – that's exactly what happened with the seven seals. There's a scene in heaven in chapters 4-5 before the seven seals, and there's a scene in heaven in chapter 8, verses 2-6, before the seven trumpets. So, this is the same thing – there's a scene in heaven; let's read it together, 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. 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. 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! 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." After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, 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. 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. 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 chapter, chapter 15, records the final preparation in heaven for the end of the tribulation, and for the ultimate outpouring of God's wrath against mankind and his rebellion – it is finally time. It's time for the harvest of the grain and the grapes that was previewed in chapter 14, now to unfold in the chronological sequence of events during the tribulation. So, chapter 15, then – don't lose sight of this – picks up again the flow of the chronological events. Chapters 12 through 14 are an interlude; chapter 15 picks up where chapter 11 left off – and it picks up with the preparation for the end, and that preparation for the end in heaven includes four extraordinary events or occurrences that take place in heaven. Let's look at them together.

The first event is an extraordinary sign – verse 1, "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous." John's attention is once again directed to heaven and there he sees another sign, one he calls "great," megas in Greek – we use that word transliterated into English and use it in various contexts; it was a mega-sign – and "marvelous," which means it produced marvel, it produced a sense of awe and wonder in all of those who saw it. What is this extraordinary mega-sign that produces awe in those who witness it? Verse 1 says "seven angels who had seven plagues," literally, seven angels having seven plagues. By having them, he means that it's their assignment to inflict these plagues on the inhabitants of the earth. The Greek word for plague is plegas – it's actually the Greek word from which we get our English word plague. Literally, it means a sudden, hard stroke with some instrument, or the wound caused by the blow – figuratively, as it's used here, it refers to a sudden calamity, being struck with something that causes severe distress. So, we could say, instead of seven plagues, these are seven divine disasters that will strike the world.

Now, why are these seven angels with their seven plagues such a great and marvelous sign? And the answer is at the end of verse 1 – it's because of their mission. Their seven plagues, notice, "are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished." It's interesting that the first six seals and the first six trumpets were also called plagues – but these are unique, these are different, because they are the last. Look at chapter 16, verse 17 – "the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple" – so, when the seventh bowl is poured out, a loud voice comes out of the temple "from the throne, saying, 'It is done," it's over. These seven angels will inflict the last seven catastrophic, divine disasters on this world before the second coming.

It just, honestly, amazes me that there are some who try to argue that the bowl judgments we'll study in chapter 16 were fulfilled in 70 A.D. in the destruction of Jerusalem. I don't want to be too sarcastic, but part of me wants to say, have you read chapter 16? To make that connection, you have to engage in massive redefinitions and rationalizations – five of the seven plagues that we're going to discover in the bowl judgments are like the plagues God brought on Egypt in Exodus 7-10, specifically, the first and third bowls, they're almost identical. And these bowls of judgment are intended to punish earth's rebellion – notice verse 1 again; these seven plagues "are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished." By the way, the Greek word translated wrath here is more like our English word anger, it is the venting, the expression of God's anger. In fact, the two words are used together to form a sort of intense expression; in chapter 16, you'll notice verse 19 – it says, "Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath," the wrath of his anger, it says in Greek. In chapter 19, verse 15, "He treads the wine press," Jesus does, "of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty."

Now, God's wrath and the wrath of the Lamb were already at play in the seal judgments – you go back to chapter 6, verse 16, and the people on earth recognized, "This is the wrath of the Lamb," this is the wrath of God. But the wrath of God against those living during the tribulation is completed when these seven plagues are done – Joel 1:15 says, "Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty." The prophet Zephaniah talks about the final judgment that's coming – look at Zephaniah near the end of our Old Testament. Zephaniah 1:14 – he's talking about what we're studying together in Revelation, and he says in verse 14:

Near is the great day of Yahweh, near and coming very quickly! Listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and the high corner towers. I will bring distress on men so that they will walk like the blind because they have sinned against Yahweh, and their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to deliver them on the day of the Lord's wrath, and all the earth will be devoured in the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a terrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.[SR3]

It's the end of the wrath of God. Heaven prepares for the end with this extraordinary sign of the seven angels and their plagues.

Secondly, we notice here an extraordinary song in verses 2-4, an extraordinary song. Those described in these verses face an entirely different future than those on the earth. The scene that John describes here is a beautiful one; it's marked by victory, it's marked by peace, it's marked by joy, it's marked by eternal rest, it's marked by praise and thanksgiving, by celebration and adoration – it is the song of the redeemed. Now, when it comes to this song, first of all, I want you to notice the place where this takes place – verse 1 says they are "in heaven" – but in verse 2, John adds "and I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire." It's clear, by using that language, that John means this scene, this song is unfolding in the presence of God Himself in the heavenly throne room. If you look back at chapter 4 – chapter 4, you remember, where we saw the vision of God on His throne – chapter 4, verse 6, says "and before the throne, there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal, and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures." So, he's talking about the very presence of God – and John struggles to describe what he saw. But stretching out in front of God's throne is something that reminded him of a sea made of glass, and the glass sparkled like crystal – if you can imagine taking a finely cut crystal jar vase and turning it around in the noon sun and seeing the facets of that crystal reflected off of the sun, and the light and the colors are displayed everywhere – that's the idea. It's like Exodus 24:10 – it says, then "the elders of Israel … saw the God of Israel, and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself." Ezekiel 1:22, "over the heads of the living beings" – they're supporting the throne of God – over their heads, "there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads." This picture of a sea of glass adds to the scene of the awesome majesty of God Himself and the scene around Him – imagine what it would be like, with all the colors that we've seen already displayed in heaven, imagine this sea of glass like crystal that magnifies and reflects the magnificent colors of God's throne across all of heaven – and this sea is described, this sea of glass is described as calm as glass, is the idea. It's a sea of glass in the sense that it's like a sea, but it is without a ripple, it's completely calm – that seems to imply the calmness that surrounds God and the calmness with which He executes His rule. It doesn't matter what's happening on earth – God is unruffled; He rules in perfect serenity and calmness.

But here, you'll notice this sea of glass is mixed with fire – that points to the reality of divine judgment. Back in Daniel 7, when we studied that together, verses 9-10, Daniel says, "I kept looking until the thrones were set up" – this is to judge the Antichrist at the end – "I kept looking until thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool, and His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out before Him." The picture is of God, who's had enough – it's like Hebrews 12:29 says, "our God is a consuming fire." God is patient – He is incredibly, amazingly patient – but when His patience is exhausted, it's like a river of consuming fire flows out from Him to destroy those who will not honor Him, who will not trust His Son.

The place of this song, then, is in heaven – but notice the choir; this group is clearly identified in verse 2, "those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name." This is the same group we met back in chapter 14 – these are believers who are saved during the tribulation and who faced death because of the persecution of Antichrist. And yet, notice they are described as victorious – that means to prevail against, to defeat, to conquer, to vanquish – they were victorious over, and delivered from, the beast, that is, the Antichrist, his image that was set up by the False Prophet, and the number of his name. In other words, these believers who came to faith during the tribulation through one of those amazing offers of the gospel that we've seen displayed in this book, they conquered the Antichrist and the False Prophet and Satan himself – how? They conquered their threats, their coercion, their intimidation, their manipulation, their economic sanctions, and even in death itself. But don't miss how they were victorious – it was by being faithful unto death. Here's the irony – Antichrist will think he's been victorious over the Christians that he kills; chapter 13, verse 7, "it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them." He will think, I have overcome – but from God's perspective, those dear saints alive at that time who will give their lives for the gospel, they will be victorious over Antichrist, the False Prophet, and even Satan who empowers them. Chapter 12, verse 11 – "they," that is, the believers of that time, "overcame [Satan] because of the blood of the Lamb, because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life, even when faced with death" – they were victorious. Verse 2 says these Christian martyrs that came out of the tribulation are "standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God" – amazingly, these martyrs are standing on that final stretch of the glass pavement that reaches to the very throne of God; they're close to God. And they were given harps – just like the 24 elders back in chapter 5 representing the church, just like the 144,000 Jewish witnesses in chapter 14 – they, too, are given harps to sing the praises of God. That's the choir.

Notice the lyrics in verses 3-4 – verse 3 says, "and they sang." This is the third time, by the way, in Revelation that the saints in heaven have responded to the imminent accomplishment of God's eternal plan, including even His judgment, with songs of celebration – why? Because God wins, and He deserves to be honored and adored; He deserves for His plan to be done. Verse 3 goes on to say, "And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" – this future song will actually be based on two other songs. The song of Moses, that is, its thought and language come from Moses; this new song will reflect the song sung during the time of Moses to celebrate God's victory over His enemies – what is the song of Moses? Well, some have suggested Deuteronomy 32, the song that Moses wrote near the end of his life, because it uses some similar expressions like "just and true," and it described the ultimate subjugation of the nations, just as this song does. But I think there's an even better choice, and that's Exodus 15, which celebrated God's victory over the Egyptians at the Red Sea, just as this is a song of victory over the worst of God's enemies, the beast, the Antichrist – and both Exodus 15 and Revelation 15 use the term plague. The song of Moses rehearses God's faithfulness to His chosen people Israel, and I think that's because it's a recognition that many of the overcomers, many of those who will trust in Christ will be Jewish, like the 144,000 Jewish witnesses, and many who will believe through their testimony. So, it's the song of Moses, celebrating God's victory over His enemies for His people.

But there's also the song of the Lamb; the song for which the work of the Lamb is responsible. It's a song that's prompted by the work that the Lamb accomplished. So, the song of the martyred saints is not just an Old Testament song; the song of the Lamb reminds us that the ultimate victory that's ours, over sin, Satan, and his forces, is only ours because of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The song of Moses celebrates the historical deliverance of Israel and the deliverance of God's saved, redeemed Israel in the tribulation – the song of the Lamb celebrates not only future historical deliverance, but the final and ultimate deliverance of God's people through the work of Jesus Christ.

Apparently, John invites us to recall from memory the song of Moses from Exodus 15, because it's not really reflected in these words here, but he records at least a portion of the song of the Lamb – let's look at it together. The focus of these lyrics is, first of all, on the mighty works of God – verse 3 says, here's what the song said, saying, "Great and marvelous," great and awe-inspiring "are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty." When the martyred saints watch God's works unfold on earth, and when we read about the bowls in chapter 16, we are led to the conclusion that God's works are mega – they're megas, and they're marvelous, in the sense that we are caught with awe, we are overwhelmed with awe; all we can do is marvel. He can accomplish such great and awesome works because, notice verse 3 says, He is the "Lord God, the Almighty," the all-mighty. I love that expression – you realize that when we talk about God being omnipotent, being all-powerful, we're saying a number of things; we're certainly saying that God has as His nature the capacity to do whatever is consistent with His nature and He chooses to do. Can you imagine having no limits on what you decide to do? God has no limits – but it means something else; it means that when He acts, He exhausts not one single shred of energy. You see, you and I can do certain things that might be considered great at a human level, but what do we do in accomplishing those things? We fully exhaust our energy – God never does; in fact, He never exhausts the smallest bit of His power and energy. When all-mighty God decides it's time to judge this world, nothing can prevent His plan, and the saints celebrate the mighty works of God – both, obviously, in redemption, in the song of the Lamb, and in judgment, as He deals with His enemies.

These lyrics also focus on the just sovereignty of God – verse 3 goes on to say, "Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!" In context, God's ways are referring to His ways of judgment – when He acts in judgment, His predictable patterns are righteous, or just, and they are true, that is, they are in keeping with truth. It's like we talked about Jesus this morning – when God acts, He doesn't act capriciously, He doesn't fly off the handle – God's wrath is a settled commitment to deal with sin, and He does so always in perfect truth and justice. God is righteous and true to His own character, and in keeping His promises to judge an unrepentant world – and He has the legitimate authority to do so, because notice, He is "King of the nations." He is the rightful sovereign over the entire world. This may very well be a reference to the Lamb, to our Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father promised to give the nations as His inheritance.

These lyrics focus, thirdly, on the right response to God, in verse 4 – notice the response, "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?" It's a rhetorical question that calls for what answer? No one! To fear and glorify God's name is to exalt the total revelation of who God is. Robert Thomas, in his excellent commentary on Revelation, writes this: "After the purging of the earth through these plagues, the survivors will respond positively to God – universal fear of God will replace a blatant unwillingness to repent, and defiant blasphemy, and the repudiation of His everlasting gospel." This is what God will accomplish. Notice the reasons why we should all fear and glorify God's name – verse 4 says, "for," because, here's why, "You alone are holy." This is an interesting expression, though, because this is not the normal New Testament Greek word for holy – this word is not so much about God's moral purity as it is about His uniqueness, His unapproachable majesty. Truly, as we sang a moment ago, there is no one like God; there's no one who has the majesty, the awesomeness, the greatness of God – He's unmatched, incomparable. "You alone are holy."

A second reason in verse 4 – for, because, here we go, another reason – "for all the nations will come and worship before You." After the tribulation, as Christ's millennial kingdom begins, all the nations will worship the God of Israel as the one true and living God. Zechariah 14:16 says, "Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts." Those who are saved and redeemed from the nations will worship the true God. Isaiah 66:23 – "'And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,' says Yahweh." And again, this is the song of the Lamb, and so, where does our mind go? It goes to Philippians 2 where God says, because You humbled Yourself, because You were willing to humble Yourself to become a servant, to become the lowest of the low, to die the ignominious death of a criminal on the cross for Your people – because You humbled Yourself, God also has "highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name," the name Lord, "so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow … and every tongue confess that He is Lord."[SR4]

"All the nations will come and worship before You" – and then verse 4 goes on to say, "for Your righteous acts have been revealed." All people should fear and glorify God because of His just verdict against the world and His execution of the sentence of condemnation. And remember who is accomplishing this; don't forget who we're talking about – it's the Lamb who had been slain. He's the one, remember, who takes the scroll, the title deed to the earth in chapter 5, and begins to break its seals, who unleashes all of this on the world – this is the work of Jesus Christ. Look at Psalm 94:1 – here's the cry, the heart cry of God's people.

O Lord, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth, render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves. They crush Your people, O Lord, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans. They have said, "The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed." [We live in a world like that, don't we?] Pay heed, you senseless among the people, and when will you understand, stupid ones? He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who chastens the nations, will He not rebuke, even He who teaches man knowledge? The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath.[SR5]

Go down to verse 21 – speaking of mankind again,

They band themselves together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death, but Yahweh has been my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. He has brought back their wickedness upon them and will destroy them in their evil; Yahweh our God will destroy them.[SR6]

Don't misunderstand – remember the little book John ate when he learned of these prophecies? It was sweet in his mouth, but it was bitter as he digested the reality of what it meant. So, we don't find some sadistic delight in the destruction of the wicked – instead, like God, we find delight in God doing what's right, what's just. The tribulation saints and the martyrs will celebrate God's sovereignty over the nations, they will celebrate His justice against sinners, and they will praise Him for His rightful glory – and all of that will center in the Lamb who has been slain. Believers will praise God and praise the Lamb, that They are sending Their wrath to serve justice on those who have abused and martyred God's people and who still remain, in spite of offer of grace after offer of grace, stubbornly unrepentant – it's time.

A third event in heaven shows seven extraordinary servants in verses 5-7. Verse 5 says, "After these things I looked" – this is John's familiar transition to a new vision – "and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened." Now, remember the author of Hebrews – and we've seen it already in Revelation – the author of Hebrews reminds us that the earthly temple that you read about in the Old Testament, and even in the New Testament times, was merely a copy of heavenly realities. And we're told at this point in redemptive history, that heavenly temple, specifically the Holy of Holies, will be opened – the one in heaven, the real one. The One who gave His law to Moses as a testimony, the law that was kept in the Ark of the Covenant, is about to punish earth's lawbreakers. You know, for those of us in Christ, I love that picture – I'm reading a book on the atonement, and I love that picture that inside the Ark of the Covenant was the tablets of God's law – and there, in God's presence, the throne room of God, the Holy of Holies, there was His law. But the high priest came in on the day of atonement and sprinkled blood as a covering on that mercy seat, so that when God looked, He didn't see the broken law; He saw the blood, He saw the innocent one who had paid the price as the substitute for those who had shattered God's law. Here, we're told, that for those who have not trusted in the Lamb who had been slain, it's time for God's broken law to be avenged.

Verse 6 says, "and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple" – the primary point is that these angels come out from the very presence of God, from the heavenly Holy of Holies; they are on a mission for God Himself. And they are "clothed in linen, clean and bright" – they're clothed by, characterized by righteous acts and righteousness. Clean and bright, by the way, are the same words we'll find in chapter 19, verse 8 of Christ's bride. "And girded around their chests with golden sashes," these stately golden sashes hung from one shoulder to the opposite side of the waist – these are majestic, created beings of God. Verse 7 says, "Then one of the four living creatures" – remember, these four living creatures are first introduced back in chapter 4; they are, I believe, and as we looked at it together, a distinct class of angelic beings not mentioned in other places in scripture; they are the exalted guardians of God's throne. As Robert Thomas puts it, "they are an exalted angelic order, engaged in worship, who bear a special relationship to those angelic beings described in Ezekiel and Isaiah."

And the living creatures are often associated with the outpouring of God's wrath – verse 7 says, "one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever." The Greek word for bowls, by the way, describes shallow bowls, more like saucers or like pasta bowls that are flat; not some deep bowl, not – we're not thinking like a pitcher with a narrow neck where the contents are slowly poured out in a steady stream. Instead, these are wide-mouthed bowls where the entire contents can be suddenly, catastrophically dumped and poured out all at once, like a flood. These bowls are full of the wrath of God; they are filled to the brim with the white-hot anger of Almighty God. The idea that these bowls are full speaks of the devastation of the judgment that's coming, as well as its eternal finality. And the God here who is filled with this righteous anger is the one true and living God, unlike the gods of the nations, and this God lives forever and ever. I love the Greek expression, literally He lives into the ages of the ages – not just into a couple of ages, but the ages of the ages. Sinners will never outlive His decisions because this Judge never dies. You know, these are hard things – it reminds me of what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10:31, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." People treat God so lightly, with such disrespect – they have no idea who they are dealing with.

There's a fourth and final event that unfolds in heaven in preparation for the bowl judgments – it's an extraordinary sight in verse 8. "And the temple was filled with smoke" – in scripture, smoke is historically a sign of the presence and majesty of God; you see it, for example, the smoke that was on Mount Sinai; you see it in the smoke filling the tabernacle, the smoke filling the temple, again and again. In the book of Ezekiel, in Isaiah 6, in so many places, smoke represents the presence and majesty of God. And just as the shekinah glory cloud filled the temple so that no one could enter it in the Old Testament, the same thing will happen in heaven at the end of the tribulation. Notice this smoke, verse 8 says, originates "from the glory of God and from His power" – specifically, the displays of His glory and power that are about to be demonstrated in the seven bowls of judgment. Verse 8 says, "and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished." This visual display of God's glory and power will be so great, so intense, that no one, not even the holy angels, will be able to enter the heavenly temple until He has finished pouring out His divine wrath on all who have rebelled against Him and His Son and who have rejected His free offer of grace in the gospel. This is the preparation in heaven for the end.

So, how should we respond to God's settled disposition against sin, and the display of His wrath that is coming? There are several ways – first of all, fear God. Fear God – Matthew 10:28, Jesus taught this, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy [or to punish] both soul and body in hell." Fear Him. Luke 12:5, "I will warn you whom to fear; fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!" Fear Him.

So, where should that fear lead you? Secondly, run from God's wrath to Jesus Christ – I could even put it this way; run from the wrath of God and from the Lamb to the Savior, Jesus Christ. The reason we need the gospel is the coming wrath of God – you know, some people think, what do I need to be saved from? You know, I have a pretty good life, I have what I need, and I enjoy my friends and I enjoy my work and I enjoy all the good things of this life – what do I need to be saved from? The answer is the coming wrath of God – that's why we need the gospel. Romans 5:9, "We will be saved, [rescued,] from the wrath of God through Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:9, "God has not destined us [who are believers] for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." Christian, the wrath of God is not yours – why? Because Jesus satisfied the wrath of God Himself – we celebrate it later this week on Good Friday. He absorbed the full fury of the wrath of God; He drained the cup of God's wrath to its dregs so there's none left for us. Run from God's wrath to Jesus Christ.

How does He rescue us from God's wrath? Well, I just mentioned it, but it's put this way in Romans 3:25, God publicly displayed Christ "as a propitiation in His blood" – in His death, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God. J.I. Packer writes, "Between us sinners and the thunderclouds of divine wrath stands the cross of the Lord Jesus. If we are Christ, that is, if we belong to Him through faith, then we are justified through His cross, and the wrath will never touch us, neither here nor hereafter – Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come." Only in Christ is found the solution to the desperate tension between God's wrath on the one hand and His love on the other – there is deliverance from the coming wrath of God in Jesus Christ alone; in His perfect life, His substitutionary death, and His resurrection. Your response to Jesus Christ is everything – here's how John 3:36 puts it. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son will not see life," and then he adds this, "but the wrath of God is abiding on him." You hear the thunder in the distance – it punctuates my point; for the believer, the wrath of God has been satisfied, but if you haven't believed in Jesus Christ, the wrath of God hangs over your head like a thunderstorm that never leaves you; it abides on you. To believe in Jesus Christ is to have life; to refuse to believe is to disobey the Son, and that means the wrath of God is already abiding on you, and someday it will be unleashed in its full fury. The early church father Ignatius wrote, "Either we must fear future wrath or love present grace, one of the two." Either you will face future wrath, or you will find hope in the grace of Jesus Christ today.

Number three – urge others to run from God's coming wrath to Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says, "We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." That's our mission – "we beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." 1 Thessalonians 1:10, we "wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." Urge others to flee from God's coming wrath to Jesus.

Number four – don't take your revenge on the sins of others. Romans 12:19, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." You don't need to deal with the injustices that come at you; you can leave that to the righteous Judge.

Number five – praise God for His justice, including the coming display of His wrath; that's what the saints in heaven do. Look back at chapter 11 – Revelation 11:16.

The twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth."[SR7]

Praise God for His grace toward you and toward all who will believe in His Son, and praise Him for His justice, that someday He will make everything right.

And you know what? We sometimes struggle with that concept of justice, but can you imagine how awful it would be if God was not righteously angered by the terrible sins that are committed in our world? What if God was not righteously angry when a child is abused? What if God were never moved, and His own great heart were never moved by the senseless murder of a living being, a human being made in His image? What if God was never angered by lying and deception and stealing and taking advantage of other people? What if God was never moved by any of those things that His law proscribes – what kind of a God would that be? Thank God for His justice, as the saints have and one day will. Heaven is prepared for the end – are you? Let's pray together.

Father, thank You – thank You for this reminder of Your character, even as we work our way through the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, a celebration of who You are and what You will accomplish. We thank you for the Lord Jesus, we thank You for the Lamb who was slain – He is worthy of our praise, He is our Savior; we love Him, we adore Him. We thank You that He has absorbed Your wrath on our behalf so that there's none left for us, and all we know is grace. Father, help us to respond, even as we've discussed this evening, and fill our hearts with praise, both for Your grace toward those who believe, and even that You are a God of perfect justice who is righteously angered by those things that should anger all of us.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

[SR1]The NASB verse says "honor" here, but Tom uses the word "glorify" instead, as it is given as the literal translation.

[SR2]Based on Hebrews 10:29.

[SR3]Zephaniah 1:14-18.

[SR4]From Philippians 2:9-11.

[SR5]Psalm 94:1-11.

[SR6]Psalm 94:21-23.

[SR7]Revelation 11:16-18.


A Preview of Jesus' Victory - Part 4

Tom Pennington Revelation 14:1-20

Heaven Prepares for the End

Tom Pennington Revelation 15:1-8

Seven Bowls of Wrath - Part 1

Tom Pennington Revelation 16:1-21

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