Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 15
The Sea of Glass
- 1And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.
Commentary: Chapter 15, the shortest in this book, serves as an introduction to chapter 16, where God’s wrath is fulfilled. The portent in this verse shows us that John is looking into the future. This verse shows the third sign that John is able to see into heaven, which is the last and final victory over the beast. The earth and the followers of the Beast are subject to punishment, while the seven angels will poor out the cups of God's judgement. Unlike other events he describes which may be in the past or present, the final judgment has not yet occurred. Also, the final judgment which this chapter introduces is that of the natural world. The judgment of the supernatural will come later. 
These seven plagues can be considered an allusion to the ten plagues that forced the Pharaoh to release the Jewish slaves in the old testament.
- 2And I saw a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
Commentary: Just as Satan looked out at the sea in Revelation 13, so God's people look out at the sea, watching the saints after the Heavenly harvest. And, just as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptians were drowned, so God's people stand before this heavenly mass of water and sing a song of Moses. Those standing here are the people who overcame the beast and are true followers of God. Those persecuted by the beast are now in Heaven and are considered martyrs because they have remained faithful to Jesus.
This same imagery is pictorially depicted in Revelation chapter 4. The sea of glass is interpreted
to identify a mass of humanity, in this case the believers within the church. Throughout the New Testament, fire is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The mingling of the two elements reveal the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers. John also describes victorious people who have overcome the Antichrist and his system.
The first part of chapter 15 can be seen as a merging of two, until now, separate sets of images. The images of the beast, his spokesman, and his number have been readily present in recent chapters. First with the image of the sea of glass, the author brings back a scene set in chapter 4 that had been, relatively, moved on from. The sea of glass, the living creature, and the temple full of smoke reminds the reader of a setting established early on in the text.
- 3And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvellous are your works, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the saints.”
Commentary: The song of Moses may be considered as an allusion to Exodus, just as in the last verse a sea was crossed. John finds similarities between this image of great liberation that the Jews met in the flight from bondage and God's final judgment on the oppressors of Christians. This chapter and the next are very closely tied to the events of Exodus, so much so that it has been called the Revelation of the Old testament. First, there is a sea that the faithful are apparently able to cross, which is reminiscent of the Red Sea in Exodus, and later there will be seven plagues that are very heavily reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt. The song of Moses is also called the song of the Lamb, which provides an even stronger link between the two stories. In each story there is a group of the faithful that is oppressed and outnumbered by the ruling forces, yet through belief in God they overcame their oppressors. However, the events of Revelation are of much greater magnitude since they encompass the end of time.
This song of praise does not mention the trials and tribulations the people went through. Instead, their only focus is on worshiping and glorifying God. "Lord God Almighty" displays the great power that God has, and that he is able to instill on those believers that follow the Lord.
- 4”Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you only are holy, and all nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments are made manifest.”
Commentary: This verse creates many parallels to prophesy and letters to the churches. The term for “fear” in this passage is from the Greek word phobeo or reverence or awe. In the passage, the Saints stand in awe of the Lord it is a reference to Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” By using the term all nations come and worship before the Lord implies that all nations convert to following Christ (like in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20). This salvation of the Gentiles is prophesied by Isaiah, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth...” (Isaiah 45:22). Micah 4:2 records, "Many nations will go and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths...'" In addition to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Seven Angels Appear with the Seven Last Judgments
- 5And after that I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened, 6and the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having golden sashes around their chests.
"And after that I looked" is a transitional statement indicative of a change in imagery through John's revelatory vision. John is now seeing inside the temple of the tabernacle. This is important because within the holiest of holy areas inside the tabernacle is where "God resides." In this verse, God is using his messengers to execute his wrath. The angels are wearing white, clean linen, the symbol of holiness and purity. This is an interesting thought since these are the angels that are to execute God's wrath. The introduction of God's judgment is presented and carried out by seven angels. However, the propensity of these plagues have yet to be stated.
The golden sashes the angels have on their chest emphasize their significance within the order of the heavenly beings.
- 7And one of the four creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.
Commentary: Recall that the "four creatures" are the creatures first introduced in Revelation 4. This verse shows the four creatures giving the seven angels seven "phials," a Greek word translated here as "bowls." As Ben Witherington III notes, "[Phials] can refer to anything from a bowl used a saucepan for cooking to a bowl-shaped cup used for drinking." He goes on to note that Isaiah 51:17 utilizes the equivalent word in Aramaic to describe the cup of God's wrath, suggesting that John intends this word to be understood as "bowl-shaped cup used for drinking." These bowls are said to be full God's wrath. Revelation 16 shows these angels pouring the bowls onto the earth.
These four creatures can be paralleled to the four creatures mentioned in another prophetic book of the Bible. In the book of Daniel, there are four creatures, believed to signify four kingdoms, but some scholars believe that they are a direct parallel to the four creatures mentioned in this passage. However, some scholars believe that the four creatures are related to creatures of the Beast and not of God. It is not known for sure.
- 8And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one was able to enter into the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
This verse tells of God's coming into his temple. The smoke is not only a symbol of God coming, like the smoke in Isa. 6, but that he is also going to act. It's interesting to note that in order for there to be a metaphorical smoke, there has to be a fire to cause it. Therefore, the fire can be compared with the sinful nature of mankind especially those that have not repented. This would mean that the smoke could also be God's wrath following it. God will not permit anyone to be in his presence until his wrath is finished.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.