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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter XV
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





As the seven seals (chaps. 6, and 8: 1), and the seven trumpets (chaps. 8-11) which were developed out of the seventh seal, all precede and prelude the fall of Jerusalem, so the seven angels with vials, portending the seven last plagues, precede and foretoken the fall of old Rome. In the opening of this chapter they appear a new marvel in heaven; but the detailed report of their mission is delayed a while to show the joy and the songs of heaven in quick anticipation of the triumph to the kingdom of Christ which the judgments they foretoken were intended to secure. Hence we have in this chapter the vision of the seven angels with the seven last plagues (v. 1); the glassy sea and the victorious ones with harps of God (v. 2); their song (vs. 3, 4); the opening of the temple in heaven and the seven angels coming forth from it (vs. 5, 6); one of the four living ones gives them their golden vials (v. 7); whereupon the temple is filled with smoke, indicating the glorious presence of Jehovah (v. 8).

1. And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.

I see no reason to doubt that these seven angels with the seven vials, whose mission and its results fill up chap. 16, bear the same relation to the fall of Pagan Rome that the seven seals and the seven trumpets bore to the fall of Judaism and of its representative city in the former part of this book. As the development of those foreordained judgments was suspended there (chap. 7), to show us the anticipative joy of the righteous, so here we have the song of those who have gained the victory over the beast. The seven angels are simply introduced to the seer; and then the narration of their work is suspended to give us at this point the song of the victors.—These plagues are called the "last" with reference to the fall of Rome—the last she will need, for they will be final. Possibly this thought may be embraced—the last which this book will have occasion to present in detail. In these is filled up the wrath of God; these will complete the judgments which the justice of God demands upon the great persecuting powers then extant.

2. And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.

This glassy sea appeared as if the glass were mingled with fire, brilliant and flashing perhaps; most radiant and splendid. The terms doubtless describe the appearance—not the material itself.—Upon or by it are those who had triumphantly withstood all the assaults of the beast upon their piety and integrity—who had come off conqueror in the fierce struggle and temptation which befell the Christian men and women of those times.—The approved text omits "over his mark," and also the article "the" before "harps of God," making it, "having harps of God."—lt is not entirely clear whether this sea of glass is a tacit allusion to Israel standing on the hither shore of the Red Sea when they sung that famous song of Moses (Ex. 15), or whether it is part of the symbolic imagery of heaven itself—the basis of the great central throne, upon which the redeemed are seen standing and singing this song of triumph.

3. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.

4. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.

This is doubtless called the song of Moses with allusion to that which was sung on the shore of the Red Sea in triumph over the fallen hosts of Pharaoh, then strewing the shore with their ghastly dead. This allusion suggests the spirit and perhaps the manner of this song, while the allusion to the Lamb seems rather to give us the occasion and source of their triumph, signifying that they have gained this victory through the blood of the Lamb and the gracious strength that comes from a risen ascended Redeemer. In manner like the sons and daughters of Israel on that joyous shore, but in matter as souls redeemed unto God by the blood of the Lamb—so they stand on or by that sea of glass to sing this triumphant song, which it will be seen celebrates not so much their own victory as God's manifested glory in his righteous judgment on his foes.

5. And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:

6. And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.

"The temple of the tabernacle of the testimony" is here the heavenly one in symbolic imitation of the earthly, corresponding therefore both to the earlier tabernacle and to the later temple. It is "the tabernacle of testimony" as containing the ark of the covenant—the witness or testimony of God's covenant with his people. The idea seems to be that the holy of holies is opened, and the ark of testimony therefore brought to view—the whole scene signifying that in these judgments on great Babylon God appears as the covenant-keeping God of his people.—The seven angels come forth from this very temple having the seven vials full of the seven symbolic plagues. They are clad in linen, pure and shining or resplendent, for the original word does not signify "white," but shining.

7. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever.

8. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.

As the four living ones show their sympathy and interest by calling the seer's attention as each of the first four of the seals is broken (chap. 6: 1-7), so here one of them fulfills the office of presenting to the seven angels these seven golden vials, symbolically full of the wrath of God—i. e., of that which represented the judgments to be poured forth on the doomed, idolatrous and persecuting power.—The "temple filled with smoke" revealed the special presence of God as "a consuming fire" upon his guilty foes (Heb. 12: 29), with tacit allusion perhaps to that well-known symbol of his presence by fire as when he came down to take his abode in the new temple according to 2 Chron. 5: 13, 14, and 7. 1-3: "Then the house was filled with a cloud so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God." "When Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt-offering and the sacrifice, and the glory of the Lord filled the house; and the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord's house"—So here, no man was able to enter into the temple till the seven plagues had gone forth and fulfilled their mission. No interceding priest, no prayer in plea, protest or abatement of these plagues could be heard. The divine decree of doom is irrevocable. Eternal justice demands these judgments; no power in heaven or earth can stay them.

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