This is an article in the series on the vision of the seven last plagues (Rev 15-16). The first part of this article is a summary.
The seven last plagues are poured out in Revelation 16. This article is a verse-by-verse discussion of Revelation 15, which serves as an introduction to those seven last plagues.
Then I saw another sign in heaven,
great and marvelous,
The previous “great signs” which John saw in heaven were the woman clothed with the sun (Rev 12:1) and the great red dragon (Rev 12:3).
seven angels who had seven plagues,
These seven angels already had the plagues. In Revelation 15:7, they ALSO receive “bowls full of the wrath of God.”
Revelation 14 ends with Christ’s return (Rev 14:14). But the plagues are not poured out AFTER His return. The seven last plagues form a new main part of Revelation and each such main part ends with the return of Christ. Revelation 15, therefore, jumps back in time to before the time of the end of Revelation 14.
which are the last
Revelation 21:9, similarly, refers to the seven plagues as the “last.” As explained elsewhere, these plagues end in the return of Christ, as described in Revelation 19.
because in them the wrath of God is finished.
The warning of the third angel, namely that anyone who receives the mark of the beast “will drink of the wine of the wrath of God” and that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Rev 14:9-11) is often taken as proof of eternal torment.
However, according to Revelation 15:1, with the seven last plagues, “the wrath of God” will be “finished.” The smoke rising “forever and ever” does not mean eternal torment. Similar to Babylon’s smoke that “rises up forever and ever” (Rev 19:3), it means that their torment will always be remembered. For a further discussion, see – The smoke of their torment goes up forever (Rev 14:9-11).
And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire,
and those who had been victorious over the beast
and his image and the number of his name,
standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God”
WHO ARE THE VICTORIOUS PEOPLE?
The beast, his image, and the number of his name refer back to the end-time persecution described in Revelation 13:11-17. The “victorious” people are those who refused to worship (obey) the beast (Rev 13:12) or to accept its mark (Rev 13:16).
Revelation 13:16-14:3 identifies BOTH the mark of the beast and the seal of God as names on foreheads. This implies that that end-time persecution will divide the world into two groups:
- Those with the mark of the beast and
- Those with the seal of God.
The people “who had been victorious over the beast” (Rev 15:2) are described by Revelation 14:1 as the 144000 with the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev 14:1). The “victorious” people of Revelation 15, therefore, are the same as the 144000.
WHEN DID JOHN SEE THEM?
Since their number seems to be complete, it is implied that John saw them at THE END OF that persecution. Since he saw them before the plagues are poured out in Revelation 16, the plagues are poured out AFTER that persecution. The time of this vision, therefore, is a point in time BETWEEN the Revelation 13-persecution and the seven last plagues.
WHERE DID JOHN SEE THEM?
The “victorious” people stand on the “sea of glass,” which is before the throne of God (Rev 4:6), which is in His temple (Rev 16:17) in heaven (Rev 11:19; 14:17). It, therefore, may seem as if they are in heaven. However, they are the same people as the 144000 “standing on Mount Zion” (Rev 14:1). In Revelation, “those who dwell on the earth” refer to evildoers (Rev 6:10; 11:10; 13:14; 17:2) while God’s people are presented AS IF they are in heaven (cf. Rev 11:1; 12:1).
Since the plagues are poured out immediately after the end-time persecution (Rev 13:15) and since the plagues fall on the people who accept the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2), it is appropriate to say a few words about that persecution:
THE BEAST FROM THE EARTH
That persecution begins when a second beast comes “up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11). It “had two horns like a lamb” (v11), which means that it appears Christ-like, for Jesus is called the Lamb 28 times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 14:1). But, it “spoke as a dragon” (Rev 13:11), which is a symbol for Satan (Rev 12:9). For that reason, the earth-beast is also called “the false prophet” (compare with Rev 16:13; 19:20). It “deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform” (Rev 13:14). These symbols identify the beast from the earth as a Christian organization.
THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST
Christians who accept the mark of the beast, to enforce their views on all Christians, would need the strong arm of the state. Therefore, the false prophet will deceive “those who dwell on the earth … to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword” (Rev 13:14). The image of the beast represents civil authorities under the control of the religious authority. This is confirmed by the following:
- This is an image of the beast from the sea (Rev 13:1, 3), which symbolizes the Church of the Middle Ages. The image is a replica of the system of government during the middle ages when the church used the State to persecute God’s people, for example, in the massacres of the Waldensians.
- ??? People create the image of the beast (Rev 13:14).
- ??? The image kills God’s people (Rev 13:15).
- Demon spirits, coming from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, gather “the kings of the whole world” (Rev 16:14). These are the same four role-players as the end-time persecutors of God’s people (Rev 13:11-12, 14), but the “image” has been replaced by “the kings of the whole world.”
- Signs and wonders are instrumental in both the creation of the image and the gathering of the kings (Rev 13:14; 16:14).
- At the return of Christ, we again find the same four as God’s enemies (Rev 19:19-20; 20:2) and again the “image” is replaced by “the kings of the earth” (Rev 19:19).
THE DRAGON AND THE BEAST
The false prophet and the image are the main characters in the end-time persecution. The beast and the dragon are in the background. The beast received its authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2) and the false prophet exercises the beast’s authority, but it is the false prophet that gives life to the image (Rev 13:15) and it is the image that persecutes God’s people (Rev 13:15). This because the dragon and the beast represent historical worldly powers that no longer exist as such during the end-time persecution. For identification of the dragon and the beast, see also the identity of the beasts with seven heads.
PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS BY CHRISTIANS
Since the beast represents the Church of the Middle Ages and since the false prophet appears Christ-like, it will be persecution of Christians by Christians. Both groups will appear to be Christians. Both groups attend church, study their Bibles, and claim to be God’s true people. But the Christians who persecute other Christians show by their intolerance that they have Satan as their father. Their desire to prescribe what others should believe, and their desire to punish those who do not comply identify them as the end-time Pharisees:
“You, too, outwardly appear righteous to men,
but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness“
“You are of your father the devil,
and you want to do the desires of your father”
A true Christian does not insult or injure any other person:
“Whoever wishes to become great among you
shall be your servant;
and whoever wishes to be first among you
shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:44).
God gave our Master “all authority … in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:17) but He never used His power to benefit Himself. Even when He hung on the cross, suffering the most excruciating torment and pain, He did not use His powers to benefit Himself. Thus He demonstrated God’s character, which is the opposite of ours.
The first official persecution of Christians by Christians, through the power of the State, was in the fourth century. The main matter of controversy, in that century, was whether Christ is equal to God the Father. Some of the emperors were Arians and banished Nicene Christians to the other ends of the empire. Other emperors adopted Nicene Christology and persecuted the Arians. This practice continued and escalated into the Middle Ages when the church used the state to persecute those who rebel against her blasphemous practices. Revelation 17 symbolizes this relationship as “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast” (Rev 17:3, 18).
In recent centuries, the church, to a large extent, due to the modern principle of separation of church and state, has lost its power over the State and therefore its ability to persecute those who oppose its teachings. However, the beast’s fatal wound will heal (Rev 13:3). That will happen when the false prophet deceives the people of the world to create an image of the beast.
??? The false prophet will “give breath to the image of the beast” (Rev 13:15). Then this image would kill “as many as do not worship the image of the beast” (Rev 13:15).
THE MARK OF THE BEAST
It is not the purpose here to identify the mark of the beast but only to describe certain characteristics:
(1) VERY OLD
It is the mark of the beast that comes up out of the sea (Rev 13:1, 12). That beast looks like a leopard, has the characteristics of a bear and a lion, and receives its power from the dragon (Rev 13:2). These are the four animals in Daniel 7:3-7. The dragon represents the Roman Empire. For that reason, the beast has been identified as the little horn of Daniel 7, which is another symbol of the church of the middle ages. The mark of the beast, therefore, is something for which the church of the middle ages is particularly well known. It is a fundamental teaching of the church over many centuries and not something new that will be invented in the end time.
(2) FROM THE ROMAN EMPIRE
“The dragon gave him (the beast from the sea) his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2). In this context, the dragon represents the Roman Empire. The church of the middle ages was a continuation of the authority of the Roman Empire. This implies that the beast received its mark (the mark of the beast) from the Roman Empire. What teaching the church retained from the Roman Empire, I will leave for the reader to work out. You will find it on the pages of this website.
In the fourth century, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, and the Emperor became the real head of the church. In that century, the church adopted the practice of formulating man-made creeds and persecuting people that taught contrary views. This pattern continued throughout the Middle Ages and will be re-enacted.
(3) ADOPTED BY PROTESTANTISM
Since all Christians will be forced to accept the mark of the beast, it is something that is already accepted by most Christians and something which the protestant denominations accepted from the church of the middle ages.
(4) CONTRARY TO GOD’S WILL
Since God’s people refuse to accept the mark of the beast, it must be contrary to the will of God.
(5) VISIBLE DISTINCTION
Lastly, to enable the persecution of people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast, there must be some issue that makes a VISIBLE distinction. If history is anything to go by, God’s people will rebel against unscriptural doctrines and be persecuted for their rebellion. If we say nothing to oppose such teachings, we will not be persecuted. But we must testify. Satan will be overcome “because of the word of their testimony” (Rev 12:11). Underneath the altar, John saw “the souls of those who had been slain … because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9). God’s people must protest, and that testimony will identify them as the enemies of the false prophet.
The mark of the beast is an age-old but erroneous teaching or practice of the church – received through the Roman Empire – for which the church of the Middle Ages was particularly known, but which was also adopted by the protestant denominations, and which will be used by the persecutors as a boundary marker to determine who is inside and who is outside the church.
Since the mark of the beast is something that the church of the middle ages is particularly known for, the people that accept the mark of the beast are traditionalists. Over the centuries, Satan has guided church leaders to formulate many doctrines that contradict the Bible. It is important to understand that very few people study the Bible to form their own opinions. Rather, people learn their (often erroneous) doctrines from their spiritual fathers. Then they INTERPRET THE BIBLE TO FIT THEIR DOCTRINES, rather the other way round. Consequently, once a doctrine has become accepted by a denomination, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE TO CHANGE it. For example, the doctrine of eternal torment has been established for many centuries, and although very sound arguments have been proposed against this view (e.g., The Case for Annihilationism), the inertia of denominations prevents them from changing their official doctrines.
And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
This is a single song, joining the two main figures from the Old and New Testaments. In Revelation, “the Lamb” refers 28 times to Jesus.
“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
This is an example of parallelism which essentially says the same thing twice. God is praised for His “works” and His “ways.” As is stated in the next verse, “for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
This is the song of Moses and the Lamb. This, therefore, is what Jesus Christ sings to His Father. In other words, Jesus refers to His Father as “Lord God, the Almighty.” This is consistent with the statements earlier in Revelation that the Father is Jesus’ God (Rev 1:6; 3:12). In Revelation, only the Father is God and only the Father is Almighty. In His prayer to the Father, He described the Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3).
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU,
FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.”
Previously, His “works” and His “ways” (Rev 15:3) were hidden in mystery, but now His “righteous acts have been revealed.” In particular, “true and righteous are Your judgments” (Rev 16:7; cf. 16:5) and “His judgments are true and righteous” (Rev 19:2).
Christ’s return is delayed until certain things are revealed. The article series on the seven seals showed the following:
The principle of God’s government is that “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35; cf. 10:44; Matt 18:4; 23:11).
Satan was probably the most beautiful and most talented of all of God’s creatures (Exek 28:12-14, 17), but refused to “be last of all and servant of all.” Instead, he said, “I will raise my throne above the stars of God … I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:13-14).
Therefore, God condemned Him. In own his defense, Satan accuses the people who God has elected to eternal life (Rev 12:10), showing that they all use their talents to their own advantage.
The Son of God defended God’s elect and God’s judgments but Satan was able to create doubt about the trustworthiness of God’s unique Son, arguing that, under the right circumstances, the Son of God would also use His powers to His own advantage.
For that reason, Jesus Christ, “although He existed in the form of God,” took on “the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7). “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).
God created the universe through His Son. As a human being, He was able to perform many miracles that amazed the people. Throughout His earthly life, Satan tempted Him to use His powers to glorify Himself. The hours of His death were the most extreme temptation possible. But, throughout this all, the Son of God did not use His infinite powers to benefit Himself. Therefore, He was declared “worthy” to break the seals (Rev 5:9)
Revelation symbolizes the book of life, due to Satan’s informed accusations against God’s elect (Rev 12:10), as sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:1). The intelligent beings of the created universe were unable to refute Satan’s charges against God of unfair judgments. However, after Christ’s worthiness has been revealed by His death, Jesus is regarded “worthy” (Rev 5:9) to break the seals of the book, which means to refute Satan’s accusations against God’s elect by revealing the deeds of God’s people. This was done throughout history but will be particularly revealed during the final persecution involving the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16-17).
To finally confirm the perfection of God’s judgments, the purpose of the seven last plagues is to show that the people with the mark of the beast, although they appear to be Christians, are hardened beyond repentance (Rev 16:9, 11).
In summary, the Son of God became a human being to be tested. His life, but particularly His death, understood as His final hours, revealed Him to be “worthy.” Thereafter, the evil history of this world was allowed to continue to reveal that God’s judgments are perfect; both His judgments of those that will die the second death (Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) and those who will eternal life (e.g., 1 John 2:25).
After these things I looked,
and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened,
“Tabernacle” means tent. In modern language, we may understand it as home. In this instance, it is where God lives. “The tabernacle of testimony” is an Old Testament expression for the temple in the wilderness. The “testimony,” when connected with the temple, refers to the Ten Commandments (e.g., Exo 31:18; 32:15), which was placed in the ark. Therefore, the ark was called “the ark of the testimony” (e.g., Exo 25:22).
There is no literal temple and no literal Ten Commandments in heaven. The reference to the Ten Commandments symbolizes that God’s judgments, as reflected in the plagues, are based on His law.
and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes.
Revelation 15:1 said that the angels are in heaven. It was not specifically said that they are in the temple. But now they come out of the temple, which implies that John, previously, saw them in the temple.
Their clothes symbolize and reflect the purity of God. They have the same “golden sashes” as Jesus (Rev 1:13).
Then one of the four living creatures
gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls
full of the wrath of God,
who lives forever and ever.
because in them the wrath of God is finished
The four living creatures are always in close association with the throne of God (Rev 4:6). They seem to be the main connection between God and the created universe. That means that they received the golden bowls with the “wrath of God” from God.
Bowls are temple vessels associated with the altar of incense (Zech 14:20; Num 7:84; Rev 5:8). In Revelation, bowls symbolically carry God’s wrath (Rev 15:7) from the temple to earth.
The seven angels already previously had the seven last plagues. Now they also receive “the wrath of God.” As discussed under Revelation 15:1, “the wrath of God is finished” in the final events, concluding with Christ’s return.
In Revelation, only “Him who sits on the throne … lives forever and ever” (Rev 4:9; 10:6).
And the temple was filled with smoke
from the glory of God and from His power;
and no one was able to enter the temple
until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
In the seventh seal, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1). The article on the seventh seal interpreted this as the sorrow in heaven when the lost are put to death at the return of Christ. In the current verse, “one was able to enter the temple.” If nobody is in the temple, there would be silence in heaven. As stated, the seven last plagues are understood as the first stages of the return of Christ. This implies a relationship between the seventh seal and the seven last plagues.
This will be a major turning point in the history of mankind. In the preceding period, the persecution of God’s people by the image of the beast (Rev 13:15) and the proclamation of the eternal gospel by the three angels (Rev 14:6) divided the world’s population into two camps; those with the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16) and those with the seal of God (Rev 14:1; 7:1-3). When the last person makes his or her final decision, the temple will be filled with smoke, so that nobody is able to enter. This signifies that, from this point forward, NOBODY WILL BE SAVED. The eternal destiny of every human being is now permanently fixed. Nobody will switch sides.
The plagues start to fall as soon as the last person makes his or her final choice between God and the beast. The question, of why God sends plagues on people after their eternal destinies have been sealed, will be addressed in one of the final articles in this series; The Purpose of the Seven Last Plagues.
Then I heard a loud voice from the temple,
saying to the seven angels,
‘Go and pour out on the earth
the seven bowls of the wrath of God.
Revelation 15 describes events in heaven. Revelation 16:1 is still part of this heavenly scene, for the voice comes from the temple. As from Revelation 16:2, the focus shifts to the earth, describing the outpouring of the seven bowls upon the earth.
NOT SEVEN LITERAL BOWLS
Obviously, the angels do not pour a literal chemical from literal bowls upon men who had received a literal mark imposed by a literal beast.
Nor is the number seven to be understood literally. In Revelation, the number seven signifies the COMPLETION OF A PROCESS. It is based on the first series of seven in the Bible, namely the seven days of the creation week. In any series of seven in Revelation, the second follows after the first, the third after the second, and so forth, and the seventh is always the last. The number seven is therefore symbolic of a ‘completed process’. Other symbolic numbers in Revelation do not imply a SEQUENCE.
When applied to the plagues, the number seven simply means that an undefined number of plagues will be poured out until God’s purpose has been achieved.
The seven plagues are part of the Return of Christ. They are preceded by the persecution of Christians by Christians, instigated by the false prophet. The difference between these Christians is not in their doctrines but in their hearts. In the thinking of the persecutors, God is not love, but rather full of wrath and anger.
The people with the mark of the beast are TRADITIONALISTS. They accept doctrines that have been developed over the centuries. They interpret the Bible to fit their doctrines and regard other Christians as dangerous heretics. But it is exactly their desire to control and punish non-conformists that makes them worshipers of the beast.
The same controversies which we see today will form the basis for persecution. The difference will lie in how much power God allows Satan to persecute His true people.
The plagues start to fall as soon as the last person makes his or her final choice between God and the beast.
These are not seven literal bowls. It is an undefined number of plagues that will be poured out until God’s purpose has been achieved.