This chapter introduces the third and last series of symbols under which the prospective history of the church militant is given, to strengthen the faith and animate the hopes of her suffering and heroic children. The warfare of the witnesses for the crown rights of Immanuel, which have been usurped by his enemies, has been symbolized under the seals, (Chs. vi.-ix.,) and under the trumpets, (Chs. xi. xii.;) and the symbolic narrative is yet under the vials to be greatly amplified, especially the, it last and greatest conflict, briefly represented in the latter part of the preceding chapter, (vs. 9-18.) Whether or not the vials, to which this fifteenth chapter is introductory, be all comprehended under the seventh trumpet, as the trumpets are all comprehended under the seventh seal, is a question upon which respectable expositors differ. It is indeed obvious that the breaking of the last seal, lays open the whole of the book, consequently the angel holding the vials would come into view. John, however, is obliged to “write” consecutively some visions which he saw as it were at one view. Thus he was “about to write what the seven thunders uttered,” (Ch. x. 4,) but was prohibited. That was not the proper time or place; but it is there intimated, (v. 7,) that “in the days of the voice of the seventh angel,” the import of the “seven thunders” would be disclosed. Then would the “mystery of God be finished, as he had declared to. his servants the prophets.” (Joel iii. 2, 12, 13; Micah iv. 3; Zech. xii. 2-4; 2 Thess. ii. 8.) Some of the most learned and sober divines, who wrote on · the Apocalypse during the peninsular war waged by the first Napoleon, contemplating the anarchical and bloody scenes of the French Revolution, and the subsequent tyranny and blood connected with the successful wars of the Gallic usurper, thought they heard in the commotions of European nations the sound of the seventh trumpet, and saw the plagues inflicted as symbolized by the vials. And thus it is that local events, which excite the political feelings, the prejudices and partialities of even good men, are hastily interpreted as a fulfilment of prophecy. It does not appear, however, that those events were either of sufficient magnitude or geographical extent to answer the tremendous symbols of either harvest or vintage. Did the French revolution, the American revolution, or the wars of Napoleon First influence the civilized world or affect the church of God, as Popery and Mahometanism have done? No, the comparison is preposterous. Hence it is most probable that Christendom has not yet heard the alarming sound of the seventh trumpet.
1. And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.
V. 1.—“Another sign in heaven,”—All the visions were seen by the apostle in the same place, (Ch. i. 1; xii. 1,) The word translated “sign” here is the same as “wonder” in the twelfth Chapter, which for greater clearness to the English reader ought to have been rendered by the same word.— The symbol or sign consists of “seven angels having the seven last plagues,”—the last to be inflicted on the Antichrist, but not absolutely the last penal inflictions on the enemies of God; for “Gog and Magog” are in like manner to be destroyed, and there is eternal wrath.
Upon the “Lamb’s taking the book,” and before he had opened the first seal, songs of joy burst forth from saints and angels, (Ch. v. 8, 9.) So it is here. Before the angels proceed to execute their commission, the redeemed of the Lord, anticipating the effects of these judgments, give expression to their joy.
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.
3. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous 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.
Vs. 2-4.—The “sea of glass, or transparent sea, (as in Ch. iv. 6,) refers us to the brazen sea before the throne of God in the temple. In this sea the priests were to wash themselves, (Exod. xxx. 18, 19,) and in water drawn from it the sacrifices were to be washed also. (Lev. i. 9, 13.)
As the brazen sea typified the blood of Christ, that “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness,” (Zech. xiii. 1,) so this “sea of glass” is the symbol of the same thing; for the Lord washes away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purges the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. (Isa. iv. 4.) This happy company were victorious by the blood of the Lamb, “over the beast, his image, his name and number;” having clean escaped from them who live in error, both in civil and ecclesiastical relations. Holding the eucharistic “harps of God,” they are the same company as those on Mount Zion with the Lamb, (Ch. xiv. 1, 2.) There, their song was called new; here it is more fully described. There it was said, “no man could learn that song” but themselves, here we have the matter of the song epitomised. It is constructed of two parts, “the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.” As the children of Israel at the Red Sea celebrated the praises of God’s justice in the overthrow of their enemies the Egyptians, so do these with united voice express their admiration and praise in anticipation of the final and awful end of these cruel, idolatrous and persecuting mystical Egyptians, (Ch. xi. 8,) “saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” They do also declare their faith in the universal dominion of their King; that “all nations shall come and worship before him.” And to this day none but the witnesses are prepared either with intelligence or affection to “learn” or use this song. We have the subject matter of both parts of this triumphant song, framed by the Holy Spirit and incorporated in the Book of Psalms, (as Ps. ii. 8; xviii. 37-45; xlv, 3-6; cx. 1, etc.) The fortunes of God’s covenant people. till the ingathering of the Jews, with the fulness of the Gentiles, may be found in Moses’ song, (Deut. xxxii. 1-43,) and the “song of the Lamb” is found in chapter v. 9-13.
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.
Vs. 5, 6.—John looked again, and saw the “temple opened,” that the seven angels might have egress to enter upon their heavenly mission. Their clothing resembled the garments of the priests under the law, “white linen and golden girdles,” representing the holiness or moral purity of their work. They shed the blood of the victim, so to speak, without soiling their garments; but the Lord Jesus, whose work of judgment this is, “stains all his raiment,” (Isa. lxiii. 3,) “for the day of vengeance is in his heart,” (v. 4.)
7. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever.
V. 7.—“One of the four beasts,”—animals, the symbol of the gospel ministry, as we found, (Ch. iv. 6.) Not all the ministry were employed in this action, but one only. That is, some few, a fractional part, possessing more insight into the “sure word of prophecy, and endowed with larger measure of heroic spirit by the Lord Jesus, co-operated with holy angels in this work of judgment. “He gave the vials into the hand of the angels.” By their preaching, their prayers and their example, faithful ministers, unseduced by the blandishments of corrupt power, and undismayed by the bloody edicts of the beast, “in nothing terrified by their adversaries,” denounce the judgments represented by these vials, upon the impenitent enemies of the Lord and his Anointed. For an illustration of this symbolic action of giving the vials of divine wrath to the appointed agents, reference may be had to Jer. xxv. 15-26; li. 7
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.
Vs. 8.—“The temple filled with smoke,” represents the darkness of these dispensations, the horror and dismay which seizes upon the votaries of Antichrist. But during the time of executing these judgments, the progress of the gospel will be retarded,—“no man being able to enter into the temple.” It is intimated, moreover, that these judgments will, as it were, clear away the “smoke,” and render the temple once more luminous. So we may conclude by comparing the 4th and 8th verses. In the 4th verse the witnesses declare their faith thus,—“All nations shall come and worship before thee.” But this is a description of the millennial state of the world. (Ps. lxxii. 11.)