The Sea of Glass (Revelation 15:1-8)

A Glassy Sea -
Chapter 15 of Revelation introduces seven angels about to pour out seven “bowls of wrath” that will unleash “the seven last plagues upon the earth.” Chapter 16 describes the effects of the plagues. The seven bowls complete the “wrath” of God.
This is the third of the book’s sevenfold series of judgments; the Seven Seals (Revelation 6:1-8:1), Seven Trumpets (8:6-11:19), and the Seven Bowls of Wrath (15:1-16:21). As in the previous two, this series culminates in a final judgment scene accompanied by “flashes of lightning, and voices, and thunders, and a great earthquake” (6:12-17, 8:1-5, 11:15-19, 16:17-21).
Old Testament images are used including the plagues of Egypt, Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the defeat of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the Song of Moses, and the Tent of Testimony in the wilderness. Each plague corresponds to one of the ten plagues of Egypt.
The targets of the plagues include the “inhabitants of the earth” that take the mark of the Beast, the political authority of the Beast, and “Babylon.” Though the Beast, False Prophet, and the “kings of the earth” are gathered to war in the sixth bowl, their destruction is not described until the “battle” in Revelation 19:17-21.
The punishments of the “inhabitants of the earth” and of “Babylon” were announced in Revelation 14:6-10 (“the hour of judgment is come,” “fallen is Babylon the great,” “If any man worships the beast and receives a mark on his forehead, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God”). The Seven Bowls of Wrath detail the previously announced punishments.
Literary Structure
The first paragraph is transitional (15:1-4). It introduces the bowls of wrath and concludes the preceding literary section (12:1 - 14:20).
Chapter 15 is structurally parallel to Revelation 8:1-6.  The opening of the seventh seal introduced seven angels standing before God with seven trumpets (8:1-2-5). Before the seven trumpets commenced, there was a worship scene to prepare for what was to follow.
The prayers of the saints were offered on the altar to ascend unto God. An angel then hurled fire from the altar onto the earth, which resulted in “thunders and voices and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” The seven angels then began to sound their trumpets (8:6-7).
The literary section that began in Revelation 12:1 consisted of seven visions with each marked out by the formula, “and I saw,” or, “and behold.”  The seven visions are as follows:
1)    The Dragon’s war against the woman and “her seed” (12:1-17).
2)   The Beast from the sea (13:1-10).
3)   The Beast from the earth (13:11-18).
4)   The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (14:1-5).
5)   Three angels announce the impending final judgment (14:6-13).
6)   The final judgment and the Son of Man’s “harvest” (14:14-20).
7)    The saints’ victory song on the Sea of Glass (15:2-4).
The saints seen standing on a sea of glass is transitional and builds on the last judgment announced in Revelation 14:6-20. Having triumphed over the Beast, the redeemed men and women praise God for His “just and true ways” (15:3). This prepares for the seven bowls that complete His wrath.
The seven trumpets and seven bowls are parallel to some extent.  In both, the first four judgments affect the earth, sea, freshwater supplies and heavenly bodies, the fifth causes darkness and pain (9:2-6, 16:10), the sixth judgment unleashes malevolent hordes from the Euphrates River, and the seventh concludes with the final judgment. Both series use language and imagery from the ten plagues of Egypt to describe their respective judgments.
The Seven Angels (15:1)
(Revelation 15:1) – “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having seven plagues, the last ones, because in them was completed the wrath of God.
And I saw another sign in heaven” is almost identical to the opening clause of Revelation 12:1, “and a great sign appears in heaven.” It marks the end of the preceding section and the start of the next one.
The plagues unleashed by the seven bowls were anticipated by the judgment pronouncements recorded in Revelation 14:6-11. The seven bowls portray the execution of those judgments and culminate in the destruction of the “great city,” Babylon, and the cities of the earth (Revelation 16:1-21). The seven angels carrying the bowls may or may not be identical with the seven angels that sounded the seven trumpets.
The seven plagues, the last ones,” refers to the literary order in which John received them, not to their chronological sequence.  The plagues are called the “last ones” because they complete God’s righteous judgment on unrepentant humanity. The destruction of the seven seals and trumpets was partial; the seven last plagues have universal consequences. The seven plagues are “the last ones” because in them the judgments of God are consummated.
The verb teleō can be used metaphorically for “filling” something to the full. The context suggests this to be the case. The wine of God’s wrath has been “prepared unmixed in the cup of His wrath” (14:10). All who take the mark of the Beast are compelled to drink it. Further, the seven golden bowls are “filled full of the wrath of God” (15:7). The picture is of cups “being filled full” or even “brimming” to the point of overflowing with wrath (cp. Revelation 21:9, the seven bowls are “full of the seven last plagues”).
The Sea of Glass (15:2-4)
(Revelation 15:2-4) – “And I saw as a glassy sea mingled with fire, and them who are overcoming from the Beast and from his image and from the number of his name, having stood upon the glassy sea, having harps of God; and they sing the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God, the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the ages! Who shall in anywise not be put in fear, O Lord, and glorify your name, because alone full of loving-kindness; because all the nations will come and will render homage before you, because your just deeds were made manifest?
The vision of victorious saints standing on the sea of glass and singing the “song of Mosesserves to emphasize the Exodus theme of the seven last plagues. The glassy sea corresponds to the Red Sea, the Beast to Pharaoh, and the victorious company to Israel after its deliverance from Egypt, hence overcoming saints sing the song of Moses AND of the Lamb.
In  the Old Testament, the sea is the abode of “beasts” and “Leviathan.The latter, in places, represents Pharaoh (Psalm 74:12-15, Isaiah 51:9-11, Ezekiel 32:2). Therefore, the glassy sea mingled with fire represents the persecuting agents of Satan now subdued by the Lamb.
Previously, a “sea of glass like crystal” was seen before the heavenly throne, now John sees a “glassy sea mingled with fire” (cp. Revelation 14:6). The sea is also the place from which the Beast ascended, as well as from the Abyss (Revelation 13:1, 14:7). “Fire” most often refers to divine judgments in Revelation (e.g., 8:7-8, 9:17-18, 11:5, 14:10, 16:8, 21:8). In the Exodus story, liberated Israel stoodbeside” the Red Sea, here the victors stand “upon it. This portrays their victory over the Beast and its allies.
The Greek verb for overcoming from the Beast” is a present tense participle, which signifies ongoing action. This suggests saints are in the process of “overcoming” the Beast.
This group is the same as the 144,000 males from the tribes of Israel previously seen standing on Zion with the name of the Lamb on their foreheads (Revelation 14:1-4). In both passages, the victorious saints have “harps” and sing a song to the Lamb (cp. 5:9). The group from Zion now stands victorious on the other “side” of the sea. It is also the same company as the sealed “servants of God” (Revelation 7:1-8) and the innumerable multitude of men seen “coming out of the great tribulation” to stand before God and the Lamb (7:9-14).
The use of the nikaō or “overcome” provides a verbal link to the churches of Asia summoned by Jesus to overcome (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21, 21:7), to the “brethren” who overcame the Dragon (12:11), and to the Lamb who likewise “overcame” to sit on his Father’s throne (3:21, 5:5-6).
The Temple (15:5-8)
(Revelation 15:5-8) – “And after these things I saw and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. And there came out from the temple the seven angels that had the seven plagues, clothed in linen, pure and bright, and girded round the breasts with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures gave unto the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and none was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels should be completed.”
The Temple and the seven bowls are connected to the fifth seal where the “souls” of martyrs underneath the altar pleaded for vindication and retribution on the “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 6:9-11). They were told to wait for the assembling of the full number of their “fellow servants and brethren who should be killed even as they.” The completion of God’s “wrath” is now poised to take place in response to their plea.
The Tabernacle in the wilderness contained the altars of incense and of the whole burnt offering.  The functions of both are now combined. The “souls under the altar” corresponded to the blood of sacrificial animals poured out at the base of the Altar of Burnt Offering (Leviticus 4:7. Cp. Revelation 17:11). In the prelude to the seven trumpets, the prayers of the saints ascended like incense on the altar. An angel cast coals from the altar fire onto the earth to release the seven angels to sound their trumpets (Revelation 8:3-5).
The “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (verse 7) is parallel to the “seven golden bowls full of incense” (Revelation 8:3-5). The bowls of incense represented the prayers of the saints. This suggests this group’s consummated prayers are about to be answered by the bowls full of wrath.
When the seventh trumpet sounded, the temple was seen “opened” and the Ark of the Covenant seen within it (Revelation 11:19). The Temple has now opened again, but what is seen is the “testimony.” Considering the Exodus typology, this alludes to the table with the ten commandments (Exodus 16:34, 25:21, 31:18). God’s “testimony” is His law and it is about to be enforced.
The angels arrayed in “linen” echoes the priestly garb worn by Aaron and his sons in the Tabernacle (Exodus 28:5, 28:40-43), as well as their “golden girdles” (Exodus 28:40). The seven angels perform priestly functions in the heavenly Tabernacle.
Under the Levitical system, linen was a ritually clean material, unlike wool and other fabrics derived from animal carcasses. According to the regulations of the burnt offering, priests were required to wear linen garments before removing ashes from the altar and placing them along its east-facing side (Leviticus 6:9-11). Later, the priest changed into another set of linen garments to carry the ashes outside the camp where he “poured outthe ashes from the whole burnt offerings; likewise, any remaining blood was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offerings (Exodus 29:12, Leviticus 4:7, 4:12).
The seven bowls correspond to the basins used by the priests in the tabernacle to remove and dispose of ashes from sacrificial animals (Exodus 27:3). Ashes symbolized the complete offering of an animal to God; nothing remained except the ashes, which demonstrated its complete consumption.
The picture is as follows:  the lives of the martyrs have been fully consumed by the persecution of the Beast. They have become “sacrifices” on the heavenly altar. The seven angels carry out what remains, the “ashes,” so to speak, to pour it out on the followers of the Beast, the full “wrath” of God.
Also, in Isaiah 51:17-23 Yahweh promised that the “bowl of the cup of His wrath” (thumos) that sinful Israel had been compelled to drink would be given to Babylon for afflicting His people.  This picture is fitting; end-time “Babylon” is the chief target of these plagues (Revelation 16:17-21).
The image of “the temple filled with smoke” echoes Yahweh’s presence when the Tabernacle was consecrated. Not even Moses could stand at that point (Exodus 40:34-35). And when Solomon’s Temple was consecrated, “the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (1 Kings 8:10-11).
Above all, verse 8 alludes to Ezekiel where a man in “linen” was commanded to take live coals from between the cherubim and to cast them into the city in preparation for judgment.  This same passage was alluded to previously when the prayers of the saints caused an angel to cast live coals onto the earth.
(Ezekiel 10:2-4) – “Then said he unto the man clothed in linen, ‘Go in between the whirling wheels, even under the cherub, and fill both thy hands with live coals of fire from between the cherubim, and throw over the city.’ So he went in before mine eyes. Now the cherubim were standing on the right side of the house when the man went in, and the cloud filled the inner court. Then arose the glory of Yahweh from off the cherub unto the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of Yahweh.”
No one can enter the Temple until the seven last plagues have been poured out upon the earth; final judgment has arrived, and no one can approach the throne until the judgments are completed. The martyrs’ plea for vindication is at an end; their prayer for justice is about to be answered.
The destructive effects of the seven trumpets were partial (“a third of the earth”). In contrast, those of the seven bowls are universal; nothing and no one escapes. There was still the opportunity to repent during the trumpets, but no call for repentance is issued during the seven bowls. The seven bowls further harden the hearts of the wicked, justifying the universal extent of their plagues.
The bowls represent God’s final wrath on the Beast and all those allied with it. Like the plagues of Egypt, the seven trumpets prepared the new exodus of God’s people from bondage (Revelation 15:2-4). In contrast, the seven last plagues follow the exodus of the saints; their combined destructive force corresponds to the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.