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"The Seven Last Plagues" Revelation 15

God’s Wrath Completed upon Israel (v. 1)

No age wants to hear about God’s wrath or to hear that there is no more time for repentance. It is one of the deep lies of our heart that there is more time tomorrow to deal with such distasteful matters, or perhaps the next day. All the unconverted cling to this delusion. This is the reason that many and perhaps most of those who are in hell are horribly shocked to be there. They thought they were going to heaven. They told themselves the usual lies. I am a good person, and that counts for something. I am far better than those around me. I do not even think hell really exists. This self-deception is even worse in the case of religious people, like the Jews throughout most of their history. It mattered not that Moses rebuked them for their pride and waywardness, or that the Lord sent his servants the prophets for a millennium to warn them of their ways. Punishment in exile did not cure their idolatrous hearts. All would be well – they had circumcision and Passover, God’s word, Abraham for their father, the temple and its ceremonies, the priests and their ministrations. But they never turned from their sins to the Lord. They never renounced and condemned their wicked hearts or sought a new heart. When the Lord Jesus came, he warned them that horrible judgment was coming upon them in that generation. The apostles and Stephen confronted the Jewish leaders that judgment was upon them.

This is the great sign that John saw in heaven – the seven last plagues upon Israel. They are the third in the series of seven judgments. The seven seals announced the judgment was beginning. The seven trumpets called Israel to its doom. And now, the seven bowls of the seven last plagues are poured out upon Israel. There is no chronological development between these three sets of seven. It is more like a downward spiral – the same judgment told with intensifying horror. It was told three times, like the old covenant prophets were frequently given the same events to describe from multiple perspectives, so that no one would miss that God’s wrath fell upon the Jewish nation in the first century for rejecting his Son. That great judgment upon Jerusalem brought the visible and judicial end of the temple and the old covenant order. That judgment was the completion of God’s wrath against the Jewish people. They crucified his Son, the heir of the covenant, the One to whom the law and the prophets bore witness. By rejecting him, they lost their place and nation. Many among them were saved, but as a people, they were cut off by their unbelief.

 

The Victory Song of the Martyrs (vv. 2-4)

They Overcame the Beast

John sees the 144,000, a round and symbolic number that represents the faithful Jewish believers. They had a very different destiny. They are standing on the sea of glass, colored red like fire or blood, indicating God’s vengeance. Whenever the Lord “takes vengeance, he remembers the lowly” (Ps. 9:12). Christ’s church is as secure in the midst of the fires of judgment as if already in heaven. She is before God’s throne, on the crystal sea. Not that our position is easy, for look at the path of security – they did not worship the beast or bear his image. We do not think that safety will come by facing the beast, but they obtained victory by holding fast to Jesus Christ. The Jewish church in the first century had to overcome the beast. The Jewish leaders bowed to Caesar, not Christ, and they were united with the Roman beast as the harlot wife of Yahweh in persecuting his true church. How did Christ’s church gain the victory? They rejected the word of man, stared down by faith the threats of man, and held fast to God’s word in Christ. And John now sees them victorious, playing harps and singing before the Lord. This was revealed to encourage them that their labors were not in vain and to encourage us that we shall overcome the beast not by making our peace with him but by rejecting his claims and abiding in Christ. It is also a sober reminder that on earth we are in a war against the devil dragon and his assaulting beasts. We must be mentally and spiritually alert. Soldiers grow tired and are tempted to lay down their arms. Victory is only by living in his fellowship and by obedience: self-denial, killing our sins, boasting in our Savior’s cross as our chief glory, and joyfully bearing his shame.

They Sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb

Praise to the Lord stirs our soul! This is because the Lord dwells in our praises. Nothing rouses our souls like praising the Lord and living out the purpose of our redemption (1 Pet. 1:9). He does not dwell in our grumbling, which only makes our crosses and hearts heavier. John sees the faithful Jewish church singing and praising in heaven. They sing the song of the new exodus, the song of Moses. They sing the song of the Lamb, for Moses was building Christ’s house (Heb. 3:1-6), and the Lord Jesus completed the work of Moses (John 1:17). Moses bore witness to Jesus Christ. We are not to imagine for a moment that Moses and Christ, law and grace, the old and new covenant are opposed to each other. Moses wrote about Jesus Christ. Moses bore witness to Jesus Christ upon the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3). It is a glorious thought that the Jewish church of the first century and believers today are walking the same path with Moses and the entire old covenant revelation. The unbelieving Jews did not believe Moses (John 5:47), for they rejected Jesus Christ, and were left in the Egypt of the world and perished along with it. But when we believe in Jesus Christ and hold fast to him, we are God’s true people and temple. We are on the old and narrow path that leads straight out of Eden, through the seed of the woman into Noah’s Ark, then through Shem down to David, then to Jesus Christ. You are not alone, child of God. Your victorious brothers and sisters, many of whom shed their blood to hold fast to Jesus Christ, are already singing and harping in heaven. They are waiting for you. Hold fast to God’s plain path, with Jesus Christ the only door, and his gospel the golden key that opens heaven’s gate.

Learn this song and sing it, Christian men and women, fathers and mothers, children and grandchildren, black and white, free and slave, poor or rich. The song of Moses and the Lamb will lighten your heart and remind you constantly who rules this world, what your purpose here is, and the destiny of all things. Ignore the world’s songs that they sing to drug their minds and hide the sounds of the agonies of hell approaching. Add your own verses, for “great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty” (Ex. 15:11). He has all power and rules all men and nation. Moses and Miriam sang this when God’s people left Egypt. He does great and awesome works for us – think of salvation in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins he offered to us now, the reconciliation and peace, the free entrance to heaven, the reign of Jesus Christ from God’s right hand over his enemies, and the progress of the gospel in many parts of the world. Think of all he has done for you, of what Jesus Christ is doing for you at the Father’s right hand, of what he will do for you in the future when he admits you to his heaven and you stand before his throne and see the Lamb of God who died for you in all his glory.

Rejoice that all his ways are just and true (Deut. 32:4) – he is righteous and faithful. Remember his mercy to you and sing his praises! Remember the answered prayers, the way he has never treated us as our sins deserve, the kindness he has shown to us, the many rescues from the pits we dug for ourselves by our stubbornness. He is “the King of the saints” – how can we fail? The world has for its king the devil and his beast. The King of the saints has sent his Son to deliver us from sin and rule over the nations. Our victory is certain, for he rules the nations. The grace and glory he showed to Israel in the days of Moses he now extends for all the nations that believe upon his name. All the nations are destined to come (Ps. 22:27). Have you, O sinner, come to fulfill this praise? Do not stand back and sleep while the Lord is inviting you to become part of Revelation 15:4. Yes, to become part of God’s wonderful works of salvation, to have your sins forgiven, to be rescued as a brand from the burning and to have God’s name written upon you. He invites you to overcome the beast by faith in Jesus Christ. Bow the knee to him now. Ask him for a new heart and believe his promise of mercy. Hate your sins and turn to him with fervent desire to cure your leprosy, he will do a mighty work in you.

There is urgency to this for us because his judgments are made clear. They were becoming clearer in the first century, as God’s people watched the Jewish leaders and most of the nation reject the witness of the believers and persecute them who told them the truth. God’s judgments were clear as the Jewish leaders killed James the apostle and brother of John (Acts 12;2), then Stephen, and tried to kill Paul – three notable witnesses to God’s truth. And as the Roman noose tightened around Jerusalem, it was clear the Lord had abandoned Jerusalem and its temple. God’s judgments are as clear in our day. He has given many in our nation over to a reprobate mind, to practice the most depraved debauchery and train their children to do so. We have become self-mutilating Baal worshippers and child-sacrificing Molech worshippers. God is judging us with wicked rulers, satanic education, national bankruptcy, endless foreign wars, and, perhaps worst of all, a national blindness that makes us unwilling to forsake our sins, study our history, and turn to Jesus Christ. Our Lord is marching and making war. We must turn to him or be consumed by his wrath. Come now. Do not delay. Do not brush off the invitation and warning of Revelation 15:4. It is the Lamb’s living word. Praise him, become his disciple, embrace him as your righteousness and cleansing, serve him as your Lord.

The Heavenly Temple of God Opened (vv. 5-8)

All God’s Promises, Warnings, and Purposes Fulfilled

Why does John now see the “temple of the tabernacle of the testimony” opened in heaven? The “ark of the testimony” was in the earthly tabernacle (Ex. 30:26; 31:7). Inside the ark was a copy of God’s law, which contained his promises to his people of life and salvation in Jesus Christ, as well as his warnings of judgment should they break covenant with him. They definitively broke covenant with their Lord when they rejected his Son, Jesus Christ. Now that they have chosen the beast over their rightful Lord, they will lose their place and nation. Thus, with the end of the earthly temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Lord divorced Jerusalem. All the blood spilled upon the earth was required of them – all their rejection of his word, their persecution and slaying of his prophets (Matt. 23:34-36). Centuries of warnings reached their bitter end when the Roman armies besieged and destroyed Jerusalem. The heavenly temple is now opened. Our Lord Jesus exercises his dominion and priesthood from the right hand of his Father – not in Jerusalem. And the old temple, priesthood, and sacrifices served their purposes but are now obsolete (Heb. 7:19).

Angels Emerge to Judge Israel

The angels bearing the bowls that contained the seven last plagues emerged from the temple. They are symbols of God’s righteous judgment and the executors of God’s curses written infallibly in his law. Most of the Jews rejected the Son of God and therefore had to bear the curse. The Jewish leaders at one point trusted the Roman eagles to deliver them. They tried to cozy up to the beast. It is the same today with our technological and political structures. Men are self-deceived. They think that because the Lord delays his judgments, then there will be none. If there is no lightning bolt from heaven when they sin, all is well. I feel good about my life. So, God must also feel good about it. The angels teach us that God’s justice will prevail. No one gets away with anything under the Lamb’s reign, not in time or in eternity. He is patient, for he is saving multitudes in the world today, in our own land also, in which the word is going out in in every city, small and great. The Lord is gathering his elect by the gospel. The real history of the world and record of the Lamb is not learned from the newscasts and podcasts of unbelievers and false gospellers but from those who are following the Lamb and encouraging all men everywhere to repent.

All Glory and Power to the Living God

When the Lord fulfilled his word, the heavenly temple was filled with the smoke of his glory. How slow we are to praise him for the glory of his justice! The glory is seen by faith when his judgments fall upon his enemies. Unbelievers cannot see this, and many believers are too sleepy to understand what is happening around us. We must be on the alert. No one was able to enter the heavenly temple then, for the glory was so great. It was the end of the old covenant order. The seven last plagues were about to be poured upon Israel and Jerusalem. The curtain of God’s wrath fell upon Jerusalem. The church was to bless the Lord for his righteous and faithful ways, not that they smirked over Israel’s fate or rejoiced vengefully. We love the Lord, and we are zealous for his glory. We rejoice in his righteous judgment. It should not embarrass or anger us. We should not be afraid to speak of it to those who ask why there is so much confusion and chaos and misery in our own day. God is righteous. He is the judge. The Lord Jesus “will not fail or be discouraged until he has established justice in the earth” (Isa. 42:4).

Now That We Can Enter the Heavenly Temple

Be Sure You Know God in Jesus Christ

So many Jews perished in the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Multitudes perished in earlier wars, exile, and calamities that the Lord brought upon them for their unbelief. Never were a people more persuaded that all was well with their soul, but they are perishing in hell for their unbelief (Rom. 9:30-10:4; Heb. 4:2). They mocked Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They saw his works but did not want that kind of Savior. We should take this to heart. Unbelief is sin’s madness spewing. Self-delusion is rampant in the fallen race of man. It unifies our race – confident in our own opinions, dead to God and truth, persuaded that we shall be blessed in the afterlife. It is the most fatal of delusions. We should be more honest with ourselves. What does God think about us? He does not think about us like we think about ourselves. He knows our hearts, our motives, the way we do not speak truth to ourselves, the excuses we make for our sins, and the masks we wear to deceive ourselves and others. The only remedy for this self-delusion is to make sure you know God in Christ. If sinners would but spend a tenth of the time seeking truth in God’s word and examining their hearts as they do reading other books, or cheering for their teams, or trolling the internet, many more would be saved. For what would self-examination reveal? That we are unclean. And the more unclean we see ourselves to be, the purer we will see God to be, and that we must be surely condemned when we stand before him unless we have a righteousness and an advocate outside ourselves. This we have only in Jesus Christ. He is the Christ of God, the only giver of salvation, mediator of peace, and basis of forgiveness. Do not continue self-deceived, unexamined, blind, heading to hell while you think you are on the path to heaven. God’s wrath is real. It is terrible. He offers you an escape. 

Never Doubt that God’s Wrath Will Fall upon the Unrepentant

Why is this story of Jerusalem’s destruction told in three cycles: seals, trumpets, and bowls? Sinners do not believe judgment is coming. Men mock God’s wrath. The Jews did for over a millennium. Nothing is surer to raise a laugh today than a joke about a fire and brimstone preacher. Nothing is surer to offend sinners than a serious warning about God’s wrath. How insensitive? Why, if that is true, then some of my loved ones are likely perishing at this moment. They may be, and unless we want to join them in the place of unending torment, we must repent of our sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. We must not play games with God or be content with surface moral changes. We must not think we are Christians because of anything we have done or have. Being a Christian is a work of God’s sovereign grace. It is nothing less than a new heart that hates our sins and has power to believe on the saving name of Jesus Christ and begin forsaking our sins in union with him. And it is not too late for us this morning. It was too late for the Jews. It is not too late for us. Consider how much God hates sin and how certain is our everlasting judgment because we are sinners. One and only one thought is necessary: the cross of Jesus Christ. This is all you need to know to see how much God hates sin, how sure judgment is for us unless we repent, and how dangerous it is to play games with our soul. I wonder what the unrepentant thief thought later that day, as he was perishing in hell. To this day he thinks with cursing and bitterness about what might have been, that he actually saw the Lord of glory with his own eyes, and that his partner in crime repented and believed in Jesus. He did not believe, and he is perishing without any possibility of reprieve.

I know this is heavy. It is heavy for me. Imagine the million or more that died in Jerusalem when these bowls of judgment were poured out upon the city. What are they thinking now? What would they say to us? Repent, lest you come to this place of torment. I pray that we will. God is righteous in all his ways, and he will not be mocked. Our land is filled with mockers, and there are many distractions you can turn to this afternoon to help you forget such distasteful thoughts as God’s wrath. But did not our Lord Jesus speak more often than anyone about this subject? Yes, and this was because he was God. He is righteous and hates sin. He along with his Father and Spirit created hell to judge his enemies. One reason he was willing to humble himself as he did is because he “loved righteousness and hated iniquity” (Ps. 45:7). He desires to save you from the wrath to come. Come to him now, and he will bury your sins in his wounds. He will cleanse them all away in his precious blood. He died to bear all this wrath and hell for us, so that we would be delivered from the judgment to come and stand boldly in the day of judgment. Come to him, I urge you. The American churches are self-satisfied, smug in their sophistication, contented in their riches, and largely untaught about sin, righteousness, and judgment. Yet, these remain the Spirit’s main message (John 16:9-11). We ignore his lesson to our peril.

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