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).
Rev. 15:3 – They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations. 4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, for all the nations will come and worship before You because Your righteous acts have been revealed. (HCSB)
They sang the song
Those who have won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name now sing the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb (vv. 3-4). It appears these are two songs with a common theme. They show the unity of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in redemption. The song of Moses alludes to Ex. 15:1-19, where Moses thanks God for deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. However, it’s possible that John has Deuteronomy 32 in mind because the first phrase – “Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations” – may be drawn from Deut. 32:3-4.
The song of the Lamb may be what John hears in Rev. 5:9:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals;
because You were slaughtered,
and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
Rev. 15:2 – “I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.” (HCSB)
A sea of glass mixed with fire
We have encountered a sea of glass before. In Rev. 4:6, John records, “Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne.”
As noted in the commentary on chapter 4, the sea may correspond to the brass vessel before the sanctuary, where the priests wash in preparation for service. The sea of glass also appears in prophetic visions of God’s throne room. For example, in Exodus 24, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 of Israel’s elders see “something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself” beneath God’s feet. And Ezekiel sees “[T]he shape of an expanse, with a gleam like awe-inspiring crystal” spread out over the heads of the living creatures (Ezek. 1:22).
The ESV Study Bible notes that the sea of glass “is the ‘floor’ of heaven and the ‘ceiling’ of the created universe, and its transparent tranquility shows heaven’s peace in contrast to earthly turmoil” (Rev. 4:6-8). Jurgen Roloff writes, “This glassy sea is the dome of the firmament, the heavenly ocean, which in ancient thought was considered to be transparent” (p. 182).
Matthew Henry adds this thought: “As in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin, even from sanctuary-sins. In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven” (Rev. 4:1-8).
But there is a significant difference between the sea in Rev. 4:6 and Rev. 15:2: The latter sea is “mixed with fire.” Why?
Rev. 15:1 – Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for with them, God’s wrath will be completed. (HCSB)
This chapter describes the preparation in heaven for the final set of judgments. Seven angels emerge from the “tabernacle of testimony.” They are dressed in clean, bright linen with gold sashes around their chests. One of the four living creatures gives each of the seven angels a bowl “filled with the wrath of God.” John informs us that with these final judgments “God’s wrath will be completed.”
John also views something like a sea of glass mixed with fire. Standing on the sea are those who have won victory over the beast. They have harps and sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. The sanctuary is filled with smoke from God’s glory, and no one may enter until the last seven judgments are complete.
Why are these judgments depicted as bowls filled with God’s wrath? Why does one of the four living creatures give the bowls to the angels? What is the sea of glass mixed with fire? Why are the people standing on the sea and holding harps? What are the songs of Moses and the Lamb? Why is there a sanctuary in heaven, and why is it filled with smoke?
Let’s search for answers.
We are continuing to work through the Book of Revelation with a focus on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John. You may read the commentary to date by clicking here.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era, a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history, a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled, or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
With that in mind, and to make it easier to keep our notes together, we have captured the commentary into single Adobe files (pdfs) that you may download, print and share. Click on the links below to capture notes on chapter 14. If you missed the link to notes on chapters 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10, 11, 12, or 13, links are provided as well.