The Sea of Glass
The Sea of Glass
Brad Mills / General
Revelation / Heaven; Worship; Wrath of God / Revelation 15:1–8
Let me begin by reminding you of some of the fundamental principles we have been following in order to better comprehend this challenging book. Given the nature of the apocalyptic genre, our default hermeneutic (how we interpret any given passage) should be to expect symbolism and metaphor. We see it throughout the book. That doesn’t make the events any less true or real, but they are not an exact picture of events the way they will play out in history. An understanding of the OT is helpful in finding the right balance between figurative and literal meanings.
Another crucial piece in our interpretative method is making out the cyclical structure. Each new cycle of the book brings us to the beginning of this present gospel age—the time between Christ’s first and second coming.
We also need to keep in mind the situation of the original audience. They were in the midst of undergoing Roman persecution for their faith. They had tremendous cultural pressure to conform to the idolatry of the world that had infiltrated the economy. Their Christian faith made it difficult for them to function in any normal capacity with their neighbors. This revelation from Jesus Christ, given through his servant John, encouraged them (and believers in every age) to endure their temporary trials looking forward to Christ’s return with confidence. This chapter serves that end as well.
Read Revelation 15:1-8.
As we have seen many times already, John is consistently quoting or alluding to the Old Testament throughout his revelation. This chapter is no exception. Almost every verse contains an allusion to a Psalm or prophet. We will not take the time to examine all of them, but it is something to keep in mind as we make our way through the passage. The return of Jesus Christ is not some sudden fall of judgment. It is the culmination of much long suffering on the part of the redeemed and it is the end of God’s great patience.
The hopes and fears of all the years throughout the OT era were fulfilled on the night of Christ’s birth. The hopes and fears of all the years throughout the NT era will culminate upon Christ’s return.
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1. The Worship of God (1-4)
The new cycle is introduced in v.1. These are “the last” of the plagues of judgment in the order of John’s vision (not chronological order in history). I have argued that they are separate events in John’s vision (15:5; 4:1; 7:1, 9; 18:1; 19:1), but in their historical fulfillment they occur in parallel fashion. The plagues that the seven angels will pour out of the bowls in the next chapter lead up to and include the point of Christ’s Second Coming and the judgments that surround his return.
Next week we will see more clearly the intensification of the bowls which impact the same areas that the trumpets affected. And when we consider the seals we see the growing impact of judgment. The seals affected 1/4 of its target, the trumpets affected 1/3 of the region, while the bowls impact the whole region. Each section of the seals, trumpets, and judgments ended with a depiction of God’s final judgment.
Again, these portray complementary pictures of God’s wrath. “The wrath of God is finished” in the sense that it is fully expressed by the combination of the bowl judgments with the previous seals and trumpets. The bowls represent the fullest expression of God’s wrath upon those who refuse to worship him.
The vision pauses here for a moment to be picked up again at verse 5. It is as if the tension is cut with another image of the alternative to idolatry. For any audience reading this prior to Christ’s return, it serves as another reminder that there is indeed a way to escape the coming wrath! In order to understand the function of this pause it is helpful to look back at Re 8:2-5.
Revelation 8:2 ESV
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
But, before the trumpets are sounded, John witnesses another angel standing at the altar with a golden censer. He is offering incense mingled with the prayers of “all the saints” on the golden altar which is before God’s throne. The smoke from the incense, together with the prayers of the saints are offered to God. Then that angel hurled fire from the altar upon the earth.
In other words, the same sequence of events in taking place here. An introductory statement is followed by an interlocking reference to the saints in order to show the link between the activity of the saints (prayer in ch.8 and worship in ch.15) and the judgment carried out by God.
This cycle is interrupted by a vision of the church triumphant standing beside “a sea of glass” (2). The sea—which typically symbolizes chaos and evil in ancient literature (including Scripture)—is no longer chaotic, but tranquil and glassy, as it was in Re 4:6. You might recall the dragon summoning the first beast out of the sea (Re 13:1). The evil sea has been subdued in heaven by a Sovereign God who is seated upon his throne.
The conquering saints are heard singing a song of praise (3-4) just as the Israelites did after crossing the Red Sea (Exod 15). We find many similarities to our own wilderness experience of trials and temptation. The Israelites stood on the shore of the Red Sea and feared Pharaoh’s charging army. But, like them, we can expect to enjoy God’s rescue in his perfect timing. Like the Israelites who stood safely on the bank of the Red Sea, the church triumphant will stand victoriously on the bank of the sea of glass praising their God and Savior.
Like the song of Moses, the church in glory praises God’s attributes. They declare God’s omnipotence, faithfulness, justice, truth, holiness, and righteousness.
Stephen Rees: This is the distinctive note of Reformed Christianity. We are obsessed with God himself. We are overwhelmed by his majesty, his beauty, his holiness, his grace.
God alone is worthy to judge in any ultimate sense of the word. He alone has the authority to save and condemn. And His word reveals why and how he accomplishes either.
Notice this single song is referred to as “the song of Moses…and the song of the Lamb.” Moses and the Israelite exodus out of slavery in Egypt always pointed forward to the Lamb as the fulfillment of the true exodus out of slavery to sin. God no longer maintains a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. In Christ we have all become children of God under the new covenant. This will culminate upon Christ’s return when representatives from every tribe and tongue and nation will gather together beside the sea of glass.
Jesus referred to his own death as a “departure” (lit. exodus) in Lk 9:31. His shed blood upon the cross redeemed his people from their sin just as the blood of the Passover Lamb redeemed the first born sons of Israel.
But I also want us to notice one more important detail from this section. The sea is mingled with fire (2). This partially anticipates the coming wrath of God that is about to be poured out of the seven golden bowls in the following chapter. That fire is controlled in heaven by the same One who has calmed the raging sea. The death of Christ has satisfied the justice of God and put an end to the power of evil.
But the fire is not removed entirely from our view. It remains as a symbol of the judgment that fell upon the Son of God in the place of all who stand beside the sea lifting their song of praise. The fire is a reminder of our union with Christ, who paid the penalty—suffering under the wrath of God—in our place. He endured the fire in his death on the cross for us! His substitutionary death enables us—by his Spirit—to persevere until we are safely standing beside the sea and fire in glory.
Those who have been rescued by the true and better Moses are now filled with an obsession for knowing God and his attributes. We have become primarily concerned with understanding him rather than trying to make sense of every change in culture and history. We can lose our minds trying to preserve some conservative value that the culture has abandoned, or we can renew our minds as they are engaged in transforming spiritual worship (Ro 12:1-2). We can commit ourselves to some political goal or agenda, or we can recognize our much greater calling to participate in the great commission that Christ has given us (Mt 28). When we stand upon the shore of the sea of glass we will not regret the time we devoted to the worship of God here on earth.
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2. The Wrath of God (5-8)
Shifting our view from the glassy sea to the heavenly temple, the time for pouring out the bowl judgments has arrived. When the sanctuary was opened previously, judgment was also implied (Re 11:19).
These angels exit the temple wearing linens associated with priestly duties. Their description reminds us of the Son of man (Re 1:13) which indicates their identification with him and the source of their duty. The implication is that God’s judgment is not some arbitrary activity, but a necessary response to the presence of sin. The holiness of God demands the justice of God.
One of the four living creatures gives to the seven angels seven bowls full of the wrath of God. Just as the previous judgments spanned the NT era between Christ’s first and second coming, so do the bowl judgments. These judgments fall upon those “who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image” (16:2). We have already seen how the mark of the beast was Satan’s counterfeit to those who had been sealed by God (Re 7:3).
The mark of the beast indicates identification with the world in opposition to God. Unbelievers, just as saints, inhabit every age—all the way to the end. Their judgment has already been determined, though it is not finally consummated until Christ returns.
This introduction to the bowl judgments concludes with a reference to the glory of God filling the sanctuary with smoke (8). This smoke prevented anyone from entering the sanctuary until the plagues of God’s wrath were complete. The implication is that no more mediation was available which would stay the judgment of God. No more prayers of intercession would be heard. Repentance was no longer available.
We live in exile, away from our heavenly home. The smoke of God’s glory prevents us from seeing him face-to-face while we remain in this sinful flesh.Because of our own sin, we justly deserve to receive the plagues that are about to be poured out upon the earth. We have all been affected by the curse of sin. And that curse culminates upon Christ’s return.
Thankfully, God has provided a way of escape. Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath for all who worship him. But, for believers, that means that God’s unapproachable presence delays the culmination of their final joy and rest. Yet, we must keep in mind that it is God’s elimination of every last vestige of evilthat secures our final joy and rest for all eternity. If any sin or rebellion remains in heaven, we would not be able to enjoy the unhindered praise of worshipping God face-to-face that all of us deeply crave.
Remember the relationship between the judgment of God and the angel who received the prayers of the saints (Re 8:3-5). God heard the prayers of the saints for the vindication of God to be carried out. And his judgments were the answer to those prayers.
Resseguie: Twice the bowls are said to be “golden”: when the prayers of the saints are offered to God in golden bowls (5:8), and when the plagues are poured out of golden bowls (15:7). The verbal thread is significant, for the prayers of the saints are instrumental in setting the world in its proper order. God’s justice is linked to the prayers of Christians.
Do you long for Christ’s return? Do you pray for his justice? Do you desire to worship God face-to-face? These are desires every Christian should possess. Don’t be distracted by temporary trials. Don’t be hindered from true worship by the many counterfeit alternatives (money, career, politics, etc.).
Here is the primary question you should be concerned with answering: Are you trusting in the only One who has calmed the raging sea and endured the flame of God’s wrath in your place? If so, let us leave all—pick up our cross—and follow him!
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 12:58 PM January 6, 2020.