Jesus Wins! – Part 28: The Crystal Sea

//Jesus Wins! – Part 28: The Crystal Sea

Jesus Wins! – Part 28: The Crystal Sea

 

Rev. 15

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.”

After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And 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 sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. [1]

Revelation has a consistent pattern we have been seeing since we began our study. That pattern reappears in our text today in Revelation 15. The basic pattern is this: heaven is opened; seven things happen to reveal aspects of the war between the trinity of darkness and the Holy Trinity.  Revelation chapter 12-14 showed us six things about the whole spiritual history of the universe, ending with the harvest of the saints to glory and of the earth-dwellers to wrath. The seventh thing of that previous section interlocks with the introduction of the seven bowls here in chapter 15:2-4. The 7th thing and introduction to the new section is in 15:2-4, the song of Moses …and the song of the Lamb.

We saw an interlocking of visions at the beginning of chapter 8 where the 7th seal also introduced the next section of the 7 trumpets.[2] Each of John’s visions from chapter 4 through chapter 16 cycles through the same period of history (the time between Jesus’ first and second coming) and covers the same events from different camera angles. Each cycle of visions in chapters 4-16 is an expansion of Daniel’s vision in Daniel 2 where he sees a great rock, uncut by human hands, smash its way through all the major kingdoms of the earth. John’s visions in 4-16 reinforce to God’s oppressed people on earth that our sovereign God is working all things on earth for his glory and our good.

The seal, trumpet, and bowl visions teach us something about how God is judging the earth-dwellers and blessing his people. The vision of the seven seals gave us the camera angle showing how God brings limited judgments on the earth to distract and restrain earth-dwellers from such a level of violence that would wipe out the church. The seven trumpets served to both warn unbelievers of the ultimate judgement to come and to harden their hearts toward God in the same way the plagues upon Egypt in the Exodus both warned Pharaoh and further hardened his heart. Chapters 12-14 gave us the obligatory camera shot from the blimp circling above the stadium to show us all the key players and the big picture of history. Finally, the seven bowls will emphasize God’s destruction of all the wicked people and powers who refuse God’s gospel. The same sequence of judgment (partial restraint, warning, and complete destruction) shows up in each camera angle of the events of the last days.[3]

SEA OF TRANQUILITY (1-2)

Now, we come to the end of these cycles of judgment. John’s language tells us this is the end of these cyclical visions. “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.[4] It is possible John is speaking of specific judgments that come immediately before Christ’s second coming. But it’s not the most likely explanation. The word “last” (ἔσχατος) “more likely indicates the order in which John saw the visions and not necessarily the chronological order of their occurrence in history.”[5]

This section connects to the spiritual history of chapters 12-14 (as noted by the interlocking seventh vision here in 15:2-4). Chapter 12 began with John writing, “And a great sign appeared in heaven….”[6] Chapter 15 begins with “Then I saw another sign in heaven.” Once again, heaven is opened, and John will describe 7 things. Remember, John has ALL these visions on one Sabbath day – one right after the other. What has taken us 28 weeks so far has been perhaps 28 minutes for the apostle. There is a link between the picture of the woman and dragon and the picture of the bowl judgments which suggest the bowls again relate to the entire period of the church age, rather than final end-time events.[7] Also, this section is painting with the same colors as the trumpet plagues. They both use the theme of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the plagues poured out upon Pharaoh and his idol-worshipping people.

Verse 2 shows us an interesting scene: “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.[8] We have seen the sea of glass, like crystal in Revelation 4:6. John saw it stretched out before God’s throne as symbol of God’s sovereign rule over the untamable oceans. Now, we see the church standing beside the sea. This is a picture of the coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness, completing the pictures of God’s two harvests in chapter 14. God has gathered all his people and poured out horrible judgment on the earth-dwellers. Now, the whole church (all nations, 4) sings a song of deliverance.

That picture of worship and the of the seven bowl-carrying angels in priestly garments flows out from the divine throne of glory in the sanctuary of the tent of witness (1,5).[9] The church worships at the tranquil sea whose powers of chaos have been tamed by God. It was from the sea that the dragon summoned the great beast of political power and religious oppression. The tranquil sea is mixed with fire as a picture of the fiery trails through which the saints have passed in the same way the Israelites fled death through the parted Red Sea that swallowed Pharaoh’s army in judgment. Israel was led through the wilderness by God manifested in a pillar of fire. Fire is a symbol for God’s holiness (Heb. 12:29), God’s Shekinah glory (his presence), and of his holy judgment (Rev. 8:5).

The singing saints are “those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name….[10] The beast’s “image” represents Satan’s desire to be worshiped in the same way Roman Emperor Domitian demanded worship, in the same way demons like Apollo and Zeus demand worship. The beast’s “number” is the symbol of man’s idolatry and demonic interaction – a trinity of imperfection.

SONG OF DELIVERNACE (15:2-4)

The redeemed saints sing “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb”.[11] The Old Testament color painted here comes from Exodus 15 where Moses led the people of Israel in a praise song of deliverance from Egypt. Moses and the people stood safely on the other side of the Red Sea and celebrated their deliverance. In Exodus 15:2, 14 Moses sings, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. …The nations will hear and tremble….”[12]

Like Moses and the Israelites, the entire people of God from every tribe and tongue and nation sing their song celebrating Messiah Jesus as the overcomer and Lord of the exodus. Luke referred to Christ’s coming death as an exodus, which Jesus discussed with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Lk. 9:30-31). It is fitting language since Jesus sacrificed himself as the Passover Lamb whose blood redeems his people from slavery to the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is a song of the much greater deliverance of which Israel’s was but a type and shadow.

The content of the song is not directly taken from Exodus 15, but from various other Old Testament passages like Deuteronomy 28:59-60 and 32:4, Psalm 86:9-10, and Exodus 34:10. Many of the saints who praise God for their deliverance have come by way of demonic persecutions and cruel death. They fought God’s holy war against the world, the flesh, and the devil by putting on the whole armor of God and standing against evil with God’s truth, righteousness, and trust in the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:10-20).

At the cost of their comfort, they stood their ground and worshiped the Lion-Lamb rather than the demonically-inspired idols of false salvation. Their willingness to worship God in Christ Jesus is their victory. These are the ones who, on earth, were the humble, the miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed, and the desperate – those who were brought to nothing so that Jesus’ grace would be sufficient for them and his strength could be made perfect in their weakness. Their overcoming was in their nothingness and Christ’s “everythingness.”

It’s difficult to read this text and not see the intended association between the church of the New Testament and the Old Testament people of Israel. That the church sings Moses’ song of deliverance, that their salvation is linked to the Exodus, and that the heavenly temple is described with the language of the tabernacle makes it difficult to assert that ethnic Israel and the New Testament church have separate identities and separate futures. The true seed of Abraham have always and only been those who looked to the person and work of the Promised Seed, Messiah Jesus, as the sole source of their rightness with God (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 3:29). Notice also that these saints all hold harps with which to sing their praises, contradicting the teaching that musical instruments were only a part of Old Covenant temple worship and are forbidden for Christian worship in our day.[13]

This song of deliverance is written like a Hebrew psalm. It contains the parallelisms common to Old Testament poetry.  Look at verse 3: “Great and amazing are your deeds, /O Lord God the Almighty! /Just and true are your ways, /O King of the nations![14] “The expression ‘Lord God, the Almighty’ directly followed by ‘true and just’ occurs in the same order in 16:7, where it highlights God’s justice in judging the unrighteous (‘true and righteous’ has the same focus in 19:2).” [15] The song has a judicial emphasis.

Verse three’s concluding title, You, King of the nations, is parallel to Lord God, the Almighty, which explains further that God sovereignly directs his people’s history because he is the sovereign over all nations with whom they come into contact.[16] This song is an extension of the song sung when the seventh seal was broken in chapter 11. It began, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever![17]

Like the psalm following the 7th trumpet that heralded the final judgment, this too is a song of final judgment. I recall my collage Old Testament Survey professor telling me that the Old Testament simply reflected Israel’s racism; they used God to justify their genocide. To him, God was a God of love and would never command entire people groups to be slaughtered, much less do it himself. Aside from the fact that view was ruled a heresy in the second century, it remains a popular view today because God’s wrath is just such a downer for all of us with a sin nature that is naturally opposed to God’s holiness.

I would imagine that good old’ Dr. Lester had a great deal of difficulty with these songs in Revelation, given their expression of the same nature of God found in so many of those “objectionable” passages. After all, the glorified saints are celebrating the final judgment of the earth-dwellers, not just the judgment of the devil and his minions. But this song of deliverance teaches us God’s judgment is the very thing that saves God’s people from the oppression of the earth-dwellers and the devil. Like Israel escaping Pharaoh’s army when the waters of judgment swallowed the horses and riders, the saints of heaven stand beside the calm waters praising God for the seven plagues he pours out upon the whole earth, which the psalm calls “your righteous acts … revealed” (15:4).

We have a difficult time imagining singing praise songs about God’s wrath because we are not just afflicted by the world and the devil. We are also afflicted with a sin nature, the flesh, the Old Adam 1.0 hardware that is constantly in conflict with our Last Adam 2.0 software. The effects of sin may occasionally hit home as we suffer its consequences. But the constant presence of it causes us to live with the drive for “I’m not as bad as THAT person” righteousness. We live with the works righteousness, the quest for fig leaves, we inherited from the Old Adam. Consequently, on this side of glory without our new sin-free hardware, we can only partly understand God’s total hatred of sin and his need to pour out his wrath upon it. So, Paul wrote:

12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. [18]

THE GLORY OF DIVINE WRATH (15:5-8)

The last four verses of the chapter show us God’s holy hatred of sin is a glorious thing. We tend to think of the temple of God as the place where God graciously tabernacles with his people. It’s the place where God’s people find God’s comfort. When the prophet Isaiah went to the temple to seek comfort over the death of Israel’s king, he saw instead a picture of God’s holy hatred of sin and God’s judgment of idolatry.

Isaiah saw the seraphim screaming out the holiness of God so loudly they shook the temple with their voices. He saw Messiah seated on the throne. He saw the glorious train of God’s robe filling the space “and the temple was filled with smoke.[19] The holy presence of God unraveled the prophet as he came to grips with his sin that could only be cleansed with a burning coal from the sacrificial altar. Then God gave him a message of judgment to preach. Isaiah was instructed to tell those deaf to God to continue in their deafness. He was to tell those blind to God to continue in their blindness. God commanded:

Make the heart of this people calloused; /make their ears dull /and close their eyes. /Otherwise they might see with their eyes, /hear with their ears, /understand with their hearts, /and turn and be healed. [20]

God’s judgment upon the earth-dwellers is that they will continue to harden their own hearts as he pours out his bowls of judgment upon the earth. Like Pharaoh and his people when the plagues come, the earth-dwellers cling even more tightly to their demonically-inspired idols. What John and we see is the heavenly scene as the plagues are poured out. We see God’s wrath to be so overwhelming that no creature can stand in his presence – not the angels dressed in priestly robes, not John, not the vast number of the redeemed singing his praises. The saints no longer need to enter the sanctuary and plead for justice and deliverance because God is executing his judgments on their oppressors.

God’s holy righteous character does not change. His loyalty love for his people does not change. His mercy for sinners who flee to Christ does not change. Verse 7 says God “lives forever and ever.” So, shall all of you live forever and ever. But the question is, “HOW shall you live?” Will you live with a calloused heart, deaf ears, and blind eyes as an eternal, hideous object of God’s glorious hatred and punishment of sin? Or, will you live in the glorious presence of God’s love and mercy?

We bid you come this morning. May God replace your calloused heart, your deaf ears, and your blind eyes with trust into the perfect law-keeping life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of the ascended and enthroned Messiah Jesus. God’s Spirit call to you. God’s people call to you.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. [21]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:1–8.

[2] Beale, 784.

[3] Phillips 432.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:1 (emphasis added).

[5] Beale786.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 12:1.

[7] Phillips, 433.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:2.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:5.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:2.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:3.

[12] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Ex 15:2, 14.

[13] Phillips, 435.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 15:3.

[15] Beale, 795.

[16] Id.

[17] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Re 11:15.

[18] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Co 13:12.

[19] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Is 6:4.

[20] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Is 6:10.

[21] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 22:17.

By |2018-06-17T23:20:23+00:00June 17th, 2018|blog|0 Comments

About the Author: