Unveiling the Symbolism in Revelation

Chapter 15

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

"Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished." (v.1)

This was the beginning of a new scene in John's heavenly vision, and he marveled at its awesome splendor and greatness! The seven angels first caught his eyes. By now we know that seven is a divine number, and that it represents seven aspects of the matter under consideration. For example, there is only one Holy Spirit, yet we read of the seven spirits of God. The seven spirits represent seven aspects of the one Holy Spirit. In the language of Revelation, the seven angels or messengers bring seven plagues, each plague focusing on, or addressing one aspect of the problem. The seven plagues are seven aspects of one complete plague, and they will completely eradicate the problem. When the problem is eradicated, the wrath of God is finished or completed.

"The wrath of God is finished." Again, the Greek word used here for wrath is THUMOS, and it means passion. God has a passion for righteousness! His passion for righteousness is so great that all unrighteousness has to be removed! The end result of these plagues is the removal of all unrighteousness in our thoughts and actions. This is God's passion for us! He said, "Be holy even as I am holy."

The natural mind imagines that all these things will happen to humanity on a universal level at the same time. However this is not the way it works. These things happen to each of us individually and at different times in our spiritual growth and development.

"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." (v.2)

What a magnificent, awesome sight! Imagine a sea of glass with fire of various hues of red, orange and yellow gracefully dancing in and out in perfect harmony. This gorgeous view is reflected in this enormous sea of aqua-colored glass! The sea represents humanity, and a sea of glass represents a humanity that is at peace with God! This humanity is in stark contrast to "the wicked who are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud." (Is. 57:20)

On the sea of glass stand the overcomers! They have triumphed over the beast (the natural mind); they have not received his image or the number of his name. His name symbolizes his nature, and his nature is one of self-righteousness, self-effort and pride; self-effort can never attain God's righteousness. The thought life of the overcomers is not tainted by the beast nature. This triumph is due to the unfailing power of God! It has nothing to do with self-effort! All that is required is obedience, and even it has been granted to us by God, for we are His workmanship! When we recognize God's greatness we will truly worship and sing praises to our great and holy God!

Why then is the fire of purification for the righteous still needed? Let's look at the life of Abraham. In Genesis 15 God declared him to be righteous because he believed God's promise to him. He believed that God would give him a son, and that his seed would be as the stars of the heavens. After this declaration of righteousness, we see that various cleansings still had to take place in his life before the son of promise could be born. Abram and Sarai were growing old, and Sarai was still barren. So they thought they had to help God keep His promise, and Ishmael, the wild donkey of a man, was born of Hagar, the Egyptian maid. The flesh is ever ready to help God keep His promise!

As a sign that flesh cannot inherit the promise, God gave Abram the covenant of circumcision. The removal of the foreskin signified the removal of all fleshly activity for righteousness. Abram's name, meaning high father, was now changed to Abraham, meaning father of a multitude, and Sarai's name, meaning my princess (that is, Abram's princess), was changed to Sarah, meaning princess for all the race. God put a little part of His name (h  as in Elohim) into each of theirs. In symbolism God revealed that the new creation that we are in Christ, receives His name, meaning His nature.

Yet Abraham's faith needed further testing! In his journey, he came to Gerar. Then fear gripped him because he thought Abimelech would kill him in order to take his beautiful wife, Sarah, as his wife. Instead of believing that God was capable of keeping him safe (for the promise that he would have a son had not yet been fulfilled), he again tried to help God! He told Abimelech, king of Gerar, that Sarah was his sister. This was not the complete truth, for she was his wife and only his half-sister. She was very beautiful, and therefore Abimelech took her to be his wife. God intervened, and Sarah was restored to Abraham.

It was only after Abraham and Sarah were both dead to procreation that Isaac could be born! The time between the promise and its fulfillment is our testing and growing time. Although Isaac's birth did not end the fiery trials, it did provide Abraham with an insight into God's awesome power, and caused his faith to grow. Next, Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman, had to be cast out. Abraham loved Ishmael! How he hated to cast him out! But obedience to God's directive was of prime importance to him! We also love our Ishmaels, our ministries for God done in self-effort, but we too have to learn obedience! Each test of obedience resulted in the growth of Abraham's faith. However, Abraham's biggest test came when God told him to offer up Isaac, the son of promise! With unwavering obedience Abraham set out to fulfill this mission! He believed that God would keep his promise and resurrect Isaac out of death!

Even as fiery trials assailed Abraham, so they attack us. God has declared us to be righteous, but we still need more testing for our faith to grow! The sea of glass was mixed with fire  fire that consumes everything that is corruptible. The overcomers stood victorious over the pressures to receive the nature and the number of the beast. They held the harps of God! These are not ordinary harps; they are divine harps that tell us that the overcomers are praising and worshiping God! Again we see God's marvelous grace! In the midst of our cleansing process we can praise and worship God!

"And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, `Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! 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.'" (vv.3-4)

"And they sang the song of Moses." This song of victory is found in Exodus 15. Pharaoh had stubbornly refused to let Israel go and worship God. In spite of all the plagues that had come upon the Egyptians, Pharaoh refused to submit to God's dealings. He refused to heed God's warnings! Only after the death of all the firstborn who were not protected by the blood of the sacrificial lamb, did he finally allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.

After they left, Pharaoh missed all the slave labor, and the enormity of his loss overwhelmed him. Like an insane maniac, he ordered his troops to overtake them and bring them back under his jurisdiction! God meant nothing to him. He didn't realize that God wasn't through with His judgments on Egypt. So he followed the Israelites to the Red Sea. There he tried to make use of God's provision for Israel. He saw the miracle; he saw the two walls of water; he saw the Israelites pass safely through the sea to the other side, but he didn't see the inherent danger present when men defy God. The Israelites were almost within his grasp! Into the dry path walled by seawater, he led his troops. Once they were all on the pathway in the sea, Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the waters came together, and Pharaoh and all of his troops drowned! God's judgment on Egypt was complete. Pharaoh's hardness of heart had caused him to turn a deaf ear to God's warnings. Everyone who is at loggerheads with God will eventually find that God is greater than he is.

This was the first time that God judged a nation. It was the first time that God proved to a nation that He is God, and that all their idols are powerless. He showed the Egyptians the consequences of unbelief and disobedience. Let us learn from their experiences. Since God is truth, every lie and deception has to be judged as being false. Only by judging the false as false, can we have a righteous government. God's judgments bring us truth, so why should we fear them? In Isaiah 26:9 we read that when the earth experiences God's judgments the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. It is God's desire that everyone learns righteousness. Therefore we welcome God's judgments!

As Israel stood on the other side of the Red Sea, they saw the destruction of all who had defied God. They saw their dead bodies lying on the shore. The victory had been accomplished by following God's directions! No weapons had been used, and no warfare had taken place! What a miracle! Then Moses and the sons of Israel glorified God in a wonderful song of praise! As we read Ex. 15, we notice that it was God who did everything to bring about this great victory! Therefore He deserves all the glory!

God's love of truth and righteousness necessitates judgment on all lies, deception and unrighteousness. Do we rejoice when truth is proclaimed, or would we rather cling to our preconceived ideas? His judgments take place because He is love  not because He is angry. God is love  and He never changes! Therefore everything He does has to come out of a heart of love! If He wouldn't step in and halt humanity's downward plunge, we would all be ruined! God is the Savior of the world! He is the absolute; He is the life! We are the ones who have to change. So let's not put our ideas above God's word, and think that we can get away with it. Let's join with Moses and all the overcomers in singing this beautiful song in our hearts!

Why is this a song of Moses and of the Lamb? Just as the song of Moses is a song of total victory over the enemy, so Christ leads us in a song of total victory over sin and death! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the proof that life is stronger than death! In Him we have the victory!

This song of victory and triumph is also ours, for Egypt symbolizes the rule of this world. Just as the Israelites had been in bondage to Egypt, so we have been in bondage to the rule of our carnal mind. Only the blood (soul) of Jesus Christ and the power of His indwelling Spirit can liberate us! In the Old Covenant Israel was "baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1 Cor. 10:2) In the New Covenant, our water baptism is a baptism into Christ's death to sin, and our baptism in the Holy Spirit is a baptism into the body of Christ.

"Righteous and true are Your ways." At present only the overcomers recognize that all of God's ways are righteous and true. Many people still question God's ways, and many are angry with God. These are people who only have a carnal idea of God. Their idea of God is formed from their own thoughts and imaginations because they have not received revelation knowledge of who God is.

"King of the nations." Christ is King of the nations now! He is not the coming King; He is King! He is King of all the nations in the whole world, as well as of all the nations that war within us. No nation is excluded. He is King because God has declared Him King! His perfect obedience, even in the most horrendous circumstances, has given Him a name that is above every other name! Deceived humanity does not approve of His kingship. Its ignorance of truth causes them to seek a king whom they can control. God does not ask for their opinion. He has given us a King who rules righteously. At present we don't see most of humanity submitted to Him, but that time will come.

"Your righteous acts have been revealed." In what way have they been revealed? God's righteous acts have been revealed in the great salvation He has procured for us and for the whole world, and in the fact that He keeps His promises! He knew we could never become righteous in our own strength, so He did it all! God has not left us without a Savior! He is our provision!

Just as God did everything to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, so He has done everything to take us out of our Egypt (the Adam man) in order to bring us into the Promised Land (Christ Jesus). God always takes us out of something in order to bring us into something better! He takes us out of our faith in the lie in order to bring us into faith in the truth. God brought the plagues upon Egypt; He smote the firstborn; He divided the sea, and He brought it back together again in order to free the Israelites from Egypt's power over them! Only those who applied the blood were freed! By putting our trust in Jesus Christ, we are applying the blood of Jesus. By receiving His soul, that is, His sense of being, we are freed from our carnal thinking, for that thinking causes us to sin.

"After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened." (v.5) Young's Literal Translation says that "the sanctuary of the tabernacle of the testimony" was opened. In the midst of these things that were happening, John saw the NAOS, the place where God dwells, opened. Whenever the Greek word NAOS is used, it refers to the temple of our body, not to a physical temple (HIERON). In 1 Corinthians 6:19 we read that we are the temple (NAOS) of the Holy Spirit! This refers to the innermost part where God dwells in us. So John saw an open spiritual temple (NAOS) in heaven. Since Christ has "raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus," (Eph. 2:6) our abode or place of residence is now in the heavenly places in Christ. This is where we now dwell!

The opening of this temple takes place in the spiritual realm. A closed door keeps us ignorant of what is beyond that door, but an open door is an invitation to enter into a new dimension - a dimension that was formerly closed to us. It enables us to gain access so we can discover the wonderful spiritual treasures that are there for us. An open door in the spiritual temple signifies an open communication with God our Father so we can discover and enjoy the wealth of all that is ours in Him! The veil to the throne room has been torn, and we now have access to intimate fellowship with our heavenly Father as His sons and daughters!

Our intimacy of fellowship with our Lord changes us, and we become witnesses of His nature. Jesus said to His disciples, "You shall be My witnesses after the Holy Spirit has come upon you." After the disciples had received the Holy Spirit they were not the same people they used to be. The Holy Spirit had changed them from a fearful, self-centered lot, to fearless, Christ-centered personalities! Now their lives radiated Christ! In becoming partakers of the life of Christ, they became jubilant and triumphant00 witnesses of it.

God's intervention in our lives brings change. The list of charges against us is wiped out because we are put into the new man! This change in our lives bears witness to the grace of God and His great salvation. When our lives reveal the nature of Christ, the heavenly temple is opened, and we become an open book  open toward God, and open for others to see the Christ in us.

"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 girdles." (v.6) The seven messengers came out of the spiritual temple that we are. Seven symbolizes divine completeness. These messengers are clothed in clean and bright linen. We know that the priests could only enter the holy place in linen clothes. Linen does not absorb sweat, so this symbolizes the fact that self-effort (sweat) cannot enter the presence of God.

The golden girdles around their chests are synonymous with the breastplates in Ephesians 6:14. The breastplate represents the righteousness that is ours in Christ, for gold symbolizes divinity. This righteousness has nothing to do with our self-effort; if it did, it would be flawed - it would not be divine. The righteousness that is ours in Christ is perfect!

We cannot take credit for anything that God does in our lives! God does not share His glory with the carnal man, for that man lives in death. But He does share it with the spiritual man because he is born of God's Spirit. He has God's life, and God's life has glory! Jesus said, "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one." (John 17:22)

"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." (v.7) Four symbolizes universal completeness - as in the four corners of the earth and in the four winds of the sky. The four living creatures represent the completeness of Christ's life as seen in the four gospels. Matthew pictures Christ as King, Mark as servant, Luke as the Son of Man, and John as the Son of God. Out of Christ's life within us, these golden divine bowls, filled with the passion of God, are given to us.

God has a passion for righteousness! God's divine bowls cannot be filled with anything that is contrary to His nature. The word wrath gives us a wrong idea. It causes us to think of man's uncontrollable anger. However, when we discover that this word should actually be translated passion, we get a different picture. God is passionately against all unrighteousness. Righteousness is always against unrighteousness! We need to be purified of everything that does not glorify God!

God puts situations and people in our lives to help us see the areas that need to be changed. We may be upset with these difficulties, but they are placed in our lives by the passion of God. He knows our needs, and He knows that affliction is necessary for our growth. He also knows that the glory of His life in us for all eternity is worth much more than the short-term sorrow that is necessary to make it shine forth.

"Forever and ever" is not a correct translation of the Greek word AION. It should read "to the ages of the ages". Aion means an age, and an age has both a beginning and an ending. An age is not an eternity, for it does have an end. Extreme difficulties may sometimes seem endless, but they do end. Since eternity does not have a beginning or an ending, wouldn't it be rather foolish to add an ever to that which already has no ending? God is eternal, but He is also in our ages, for He has created them. God wants us to know that He is with us even in our difficult times!

"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." (v.8)

It may be difficult for us to associate the glory of God with smoke, because we do not associate the glory of God with fire. God is a consuming fire, and incomplete combustion produces smoke. Here the glory of God is manifested by the consumption of everything in us that is not of Christ! Smoke is the evidence that not everything is consumed at once. The seven plagues of the seven angels first have to perform their duty before entrance is permitted.

The glory of God was often manifested in a cloud. It was a cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness. After the tabernacle of Moses was finished, it was covered with a cloud, and the tabernacle was filled with the glory of God, and no one could enter it! Even Moses was denied access because he represented the Law, and the Law has no place in the glory of God. All religious activity takes place by the administration of the law, for the law gives power to self-endeavor. This religious activity of the flesh cannot enter God's temple. In symbolism we see then, that the Law cannot enter the glory of God. So the purpose of the seven plagues is to rid us of all self-glorying, self-government, self-importance and pride. They are to rid us of everything that is not of God!

The physical tabernacle of Moses foreshadows the spiritual temple that we see here. The Greek word HIERON speaks of a physical temple, and NAOS of the spiritual temple. When the spiritual temple (NAOS) is filled with the glory of God and His power, entrance is only permitted after the seven plagues of the seven angels are finished. When the seven plagues are finished, they have accomplished their duty of eradicating the authority of the flesh in us, for no flesh can enter the presence of God! We will no longer work for our righteousness by trying to keep the law! A clear understanding of the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to live and function in that grace!

Smoke forms a barrier. Just as it keeps us from entering a burning building, so God sets barriers in our lives to keep the flesh from trespassing onto holy ground. He stationed some cherubim with the flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life after Adam and Eve had been driven out of the garden. Adam and Eve were not allowed to partake of the tree of life in the condition they were in. After their descent into spiritual death, their new mindset told them that God was now their enemy. Therefore they had to hide from Him. The lie had become their truth, and lies cannot have fellowship with God. The flaming sword was put at the entrance to the garden. This barrier was God's protection for Adam and Eve; it kept them from partaking of the tree of life unworthily. This barrier is removed when we are put into Christ. God wants us to have fellowship with Him, but the flesh is always against the Spirit, and the Spirit is against the flesh, so the flesh has to die before the intimacy of fellowship with God can take place.

To gain entrance into this spiritual temple, the seven calamities have to be fulfilled or completed in our lives. These calamities do not come to everyone at the same time. They are made to measure for every Christian. The whole structure of God's habitation is composed of many individual stones, and the true church throughout the ages is the building fitly framed together. Every individual has his/her own walk with the Lord, and God's processing in each of our lives varies according to God's purpose for each individual, as well as each individual's needs. Each of us has to be purified to gain entrance into an intimate relationship with our Lord! Let us praise God for His intervention in our lives, and trust the leading of the Holy Spirit at all times!

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