Sea of Glass

SYNOPSIS:  Having “overcome” the Beast’s attempt to destroy the church, the victorious People of God now stand victorious “upon” the Sea of Glass  – Revelation 15:1-8.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash
By Harli Marten on Unsplash
The fifteenth chapter of the book of Revelation introduces seven angels who are about to pour out seven “bowls of wrath.” When they do, they unleash “the seven last plagues upon the earth.” Chapter 16 describes the effects of the seven “plagues,” which together complete the “wrath” of God.

Before the angels pour out the contents of their seven “bowls,” the book presents the reader with a picture of a group of victorious saints who have “overcome” the Beast from the sea, its number, and its image. After the saints “sing the song of Moses,” John sees the “sanctuary of the Tent of Witness in heaven” from which the seven angels are dispatched to deliver their deadly cargoes to the “inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 15:1-8).

The series of seven bowls of wrath concludes at the end of Chapter 16 with a final judgment scene that is accompanied by “flashes of lightning, and voices, and thunders, and a great earthquake” (Revelation 6:12-178:1-511:15-1916:17-21).

This is the third of the sevenfold series of judgments recorded in the book of Revelation. As in the previous two series, this one culminates in a final judgment scene: 
  1. The Seven Seals (Revelation 6:1-8:1).
  2. The Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:6-11:19).
  3. The Seven Bowls of Wrath (15:1-16:21).
Old Testament imagery is employed to paint the portrait, including the plagues of Egypt, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the defeat of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the Song of Moses, and the “Tent of Testimony” in the wilderness. Each of the seven “last plagues” unleashed in the sixteenth chapter of Revelation will correspond to one of the ten plagues of Egypt.

The first paragraph is transitional. It introduces the bowls of wrath and concludes the preceding literary section concerning the “war in heaven” (Revelation 15:1-4, 12:1-14:20).

Chapter 15 is parallel structurally to Revelation 8:1-6, the seventh seal, and the transition to the seven trumpets. The opening of the seventh seal introduced the seven angels that were standing before God, each holding a trumpet and about to sound it. Before the seven trumpets began to sound, there was a worship scene to prepare for what followed – the seven judgments unleashed when each trumpet sounded.

Before the trumpets sounded, the prayers of the saints were offered on the altar to ascend like incense to God. Next, an angel 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, a process activated by the “prayers of the saints.” Likewise, before the seven angels are dispatched to unleash the “bowls of wrath,” the “overcoming” saints sing the “song of Moses” in praise and worship to God.

The literary section that began with the twelfth chapter of Revelation consists of seven visions with each marked by the formula, “and I saw,” or, “and behold,” 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. [Transition] - The victory song on the Sea of Glass (15:2-4).
Photo by César Couto on Unsplash
By César Couto on Unsplash
In Chapter 15, the saints are standing on a “sea of glass,” a transitional section that builds on the judgment of “Babylon” and the “inhabitants of the earth” announced in the preceding section. Having triumphed over the Beast, the men and women redeemed from the earth praise God for His “just and true ways.” This prepares for the “seven bowls of wrath” that complete His “wrath,” especially, in the seventh bowl with its final punishments on Babylon and the “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 14:6-20, 15:3, 16:17-21).

The series of Seven Trumpets and Seven Bowls are parallel in several ways.  In both, the first four judgments impact the earth, sea, freshwater supplies, and heavenly bodies. The fifth item causes darkness and pain. The sixth judgment in both series 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

(Revelation 15:1) – “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous — seven messengers having seven plagues, the last, because in them was ended the wrath of God. – (The Emphasized Bible).

And I saw another sign in heaven.” This clause is almost identical to the opening clause of the twelfth chapter - “And a great sign appears in heaven.” Here it marks the end of the preceding section and the start of a new one (Revelation 12:1).

The plagues unleashed by the Seven Bowls were anticipated by the judgment pronouncements recorded in Chapter 14. The Seven Bowls graphically portray the execution of these judgments and culminate in the destruction of the “great city,” Babylon, and the “cities of the earth.” The seven angels with the Seven Bowls may or may not be identical with the seven angels that sounded the Seven Trumpets (Revelation 14:6-11, 16:1-21).

The seven plagues, the last ones.” This refers to the literary order in which John received the seven plagues, not to chronological sequence.  The plagues are called collectively the “last ones,” since they complete the righteous judgments of God on unrepentant humanity. The destruction achieved in the Seven Seals and the Seven Trumpets was partial. The seven last plagues have universal and lasting consequences. They are “the last ones” because in them the judgment of God on His earthly opponents is consummated.

The verb teleō rendered “finished” can be used metaphorically for “filling” something to the full. The literary context suggests this to be the case. The wine of God’s wrath has been “prepared unmixed in the cup of His wrath.” 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.” The picture is of bowls “being filled full” or even “brimming” to the point of overflowing with wrath. Thus, the seven bowls are “full of the seven last plagues Revelation 14:10, 15:7, 21:9).

The Sea of Glass

(Revelation 15:2-4) – “And I saw as a glassy sea mingled with fire, and them who escape victorious from the beast and from his image and from the number of his name, standing 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 thy works, Lord, God, the Almighty! Righteous and true are thy ways, O King of the ages! Who shall in anywise not be put in fear, O Lord, and glorify thy name — because alone full of lovingkindness; because all the nations will have come, and will do homage before thee, because thy righteous deeds were made manifest?” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The vision of the victorious saints standing on the sea of glass and singing the “song of Moses” stresses the Exodus theme with its ten plagues. The glassy sea corresponds to the Red Sea, the Beast to Pharaoh, and the victorious company to Israel after its deliverance from Egypthence, the overcoming saints sing the song of Moses AND the “song of the Lamb.

In  the Old Testament, the sea is the abode of “beasts” and “Leviathan.” The latter, in places, represents Pharaoh. Therefore, the glassy sea mingled with fire represents the persecuting agents of Satan, but now subdued by the Lamb (Psalm 74:12-15Isaiah 51:9-11Ezekiel 32:1-6).

Previously, a “sea of glass like crystal” was seen before the Throne. Now, John sees a “glassy sea mingled with fire.” The sea is the place from which the Beast ascended, as well as from the Abyss. “Fire” most often refers to divine judgments in Revelation. Thus, on some level, the “sea of glass” is a source of evil and opposition (Revelation 8:7-8, 9:17-18, 13:114:7).
In the Exodus story, liberated Israel stood “beside” the Red Sea. In Chapter 15, the victors stand “upon it” to portray 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. The group from Zion now stands victorious on the other “side” of the sea. It is the same company as the sealed “servants of God” and the innumerable multitude of men seen “coming out of the great tribulation” to stand before God and the Lamb (Revelation 7:1-17).

The use of the Greek verb nikaō or “overcome” provides a verbal link to the churches of Asia that were summoned by Jesus to “overcome,” to the “brethren” who overcame the Dragon, and to the Lamb who likewise “overcame” to sit on his Father’s Throne  (Revelation 2:72:113:215:5-6, 12:11).

The Temple

(Revelation 15:5-8) – “And after these things I saw, and the sanctuary of The Tent of Witness in heaven was opened; And the seven messengers who had the seven plagues came forth out of the sanctuary clothed with a [precious] stone, pure, bright, and girt about the breasts with girdles of gold. And one of the four living creatures gave unto the seven messengers seven golden bowls, full of the wrath of God who liveth unto the ages of ages. And the sanctuary was filled with smoke by reason of the glory of God, and by reason of his power; and no one was able to enter into the sanctuary, until the seven plagues of the seven messengers should be ended.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The Temple and the seven bowls are connected to the fifth seal where the “souls” of martyrs underneath the altar pleaded for vindication against the “inhabitants of the earth.” 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 fall in response to that plea (Revelation 6:9-11).

The Tabernacle in the wilderness contained the altars of incense and the whole burnt offering.  The functions of both are now combined. The “souls under the altar” correspond to the blood of sacrificial animals poured out at the base of the Altar of Burnt Offering. In the prelude to the seven trumpets, the prayers of the saints ascended like incense on the altar. An angel threw coals from the altar fire onto the earth to release the seven angels to sound their trumpets (Leviticus 4:7Revelation 8:3-5, 17:11).

The series of “seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” is parallel to the “seven golden bowls full of incense.” The bowls of incense represented the prayers of the saints. This suggests the prayers of that group are about to be answered by the bowls full of wrath.

When the seventh trumpet sounded, the temple was seen “opened” with the Ark of the Covenant within it. 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. God’s “testimony” is His law and it is about to be enforced (Exodus 16:3425:2131:18, Revelation 11:19).

The image of angels arrayed in “linen” echoes the priestly garb worn by Aaron and his sons in the Tabernacle, as well as their “golden girdles.” The seven angels perform priestly functions in the heavenly Tabernacle (Exodus 28:5, 28:40-43).

Under the Levitical system, linen was a ritually clean material, unlike wool and other fabrics derived from animals. 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 out” the ashes from the whole burnt offerings; likewise, any remaining blood was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offerings (Exodus 29:12Leviticus 4:7-12).

The seven bowls of wrath correspond to the basins used by the priests in the Tabernacle to remove and dispose of ashes from sacrificial animals. Ashes symbolized the complete offering of an animal to God; nothing remained except the ashes, which demonstrated its complete consumption (Exodus 27:3).
The picture this passage 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. And when Solomon’s Temple was consecrated, “the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (Exodus 40:34-35, 1 Kings 8:10-11).

A
bove all, Verse 8 alludes to a vision from the book of Ezekiel where a man in “linen” was commanded to take live coals from between the cherubim and 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—then said he, 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.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
(Revelation 8:3-5) – “And another messenger came and took his stand at the altar, having a censer of gold: and there was given unto him much incense, that he might give [it] unto the prayers of all the saints upon the altar of gold that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints out of the hand of the messenger before God. And the messenger at once took the censer and FILLED IT FROM THE FIRE OF THE ALTAR, AND CAST UNTO THE EARTH; and there came to be thunderings, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

No one can enter the Temple until the seven last plagues have been poured out upon the earth. The final judgment has arrived, and no one can approach the Throne until the judgments are completed. The plea of the martyrs 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,” but those of the seven bowls are universal. The bowls represent God’s final wrath on the Beast and its allies. Like the plagues of Egypt, the seven trumpets prepared the new exodus of God’s people. 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.

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