Rev. 15:5 – After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary – the tabernacle of testimony – was opened. 6 Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean, bright linen, with gold sashes wrapped around their chests.
The heavenly sanctuary was opened
In verse 5 John writes, “After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary – the tabernacle of testimony – was opened.” We last read about the heavenly sanctuary in Rev. 11:19 in connection with the sounding of the last trumpet. The previous uses of the word “tabernacle” – in Greek, skeyney – are revealing. In Rev. 7:15, the One seated on the throne will “shelter” the ones coming out of the great tribulation; that is, He will tabernacle (skeyney) with them – pitch His tent with them and spread His tent over them, providing His presence as comfort and security. In Rev. 13:6, the beast from the sea begins to blaspheme God’s name and His “dwelling – those who dwell in heaven.” Again, the word is skeyney, and here it refers to believers around the throne in heaven.
What a marvelous picture of God’s grace. He pitches His tent with us, and in redemption we are His temple. John writes of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Literally, Jesus “tabernacled” with us, a reference not only to His incarnation but also to His presence in the ancient tabernacle and at the joyous Feast of Tabernacles (see Ex. 40:34-38; John 7:2). But equally amazing, He makes believers His dwelling place, abiding in us by way of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-18). The apostle Paul exhorts us to be ever mindful of our role as God’s sanctuary: “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
Tabernacle of testimony
John notes that the tabernacle of testimony is opened. We will see in verse 8 that no one may enter it, but for now its doors are flung back to make way for the angels who emerge with the last seven plagues. In verse 6 we read, “Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean, bright linen, with gold sashes wrapped around their chests.” The angels are dressed in the garb of Old Testament priests. They also resemble the exalted Jesus whom John sees in Rev. 1:13 “dressed in a long robe and with a gold sash wrapped around His chest.” The angels are a representation of the Lord’s holiness. They serve Him faithfully in worship in the heavenly sanctuary as well as in the execution of His wrath against the ungodly.
And there is something else to consider: Just as priests serve as mediators in Old Testament times, representing God to the people and the people before God, the angels wear clothing that symbolizes the priesthood of New Testament believers, who are declared righteous on earth and made righteous in heaven, as signified by their white robes. In seeing these angels dressed as they are, John may be giving us a glimpse of the bride’s holy beauty at the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8). There the bride is given “fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.”
Matthew Henry adds this thought about the angels’ garb: “This was the habit of the high priests when they went in to enquire of God, and came out with an answer from him. This showed that these angels were acting in all things under the divine appointment and direction, and that they were going to prepare a sacrifice to the Lord, called the supper of the great God, ch.19:17. The angels are the ministers of divine justice, and they do every thing in a pure and holy manner” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 15:5–8).
As a final note on this subject, it should be observed that in the Authorized Standard Version the angels’ dress is described not as “linen” but as “precious stone.” This translation follows certain Greek uncial manuscripts (written in all capital letters and used by Greek and Latin scholars in the 3rd through the 8th centuries A.D.) and may be an allusion to Ezek. 28:13 as the angelic clothing of Eden.
Next: Seven gold bowls – Revelation 15:7