‘Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory.’* Picture the scene and reflect on the cost of his achievement.
*Frederick Buechner, ‘The Magnificent Defeat’, https://thepastorsworkshop.com/sermon-quotes-on-easter/
Seven angels with seven plagues
15 I saw in heaven another great and marvellous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues – last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. 2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:
‘Great and marvellous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
4 Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.’
5 After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple – that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law – and it was opened. 6 Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes round their chests. 7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. 8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
A vision of a heavenly victory celebration is positioned between the announcement of the final set of judgements (v 1) and the unleashing of the seven bowls of God’s wrath (15:5 – 16:21). The vision of God’s victorious people standing beside the sea of glass with harps in hand and singing a song of praise to God and the Lamb recalls earlier worship scenes in Revelation (4:6; 5:8,9).
The worshippers represent ‘those who had been victorious over the beast and its image’ (15:2). The followers of Christ have defeated the beast not by wielding the beastly weapons of power and violence, but through the blood of the slaughtered Lamb and their own costly witness, even to the point of death (12:11). In this they have imitated Christ (5:5).
This final and great deliverance is good news for the whole world, bringing people from every tribe and nation to worship the true King, echoing Old Testament images of the pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2–4; 60:1–9; Zechariah 8:22).
Deeper Bible study
‘For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.’1
Each of the three sequences (seals, trumpets, bowls) provides a structured framework for the apparent chaos of the world, from the present to the end, pointing to God’s ultimate sovereignty. God remains at arm’s length, acting through intermediaries; the chaos is not beyond his control, but his personal word is of healing and peace.2
The previous sequences raised a question – what is God going to do about the world? – and the interlude between the sixth and seventh elements in each sequence offered an answer: he will form a prophetic people to be faithful witnesses to God and the Lamb. This sequence is different: instead of interludes in the middle, we have an introduction at the beginning, which provides a context for what follows by reminding us of earlier scenes in the book and earlier episodes in the story of God’s people.
We are reminded of the ‘sign … in heaven’:3 the woman, who represents God’s oppressed people, waiting for deliverance through Jesus. We are reminded of the ‘sea of glass’ before the throne,4 itself a reminder of the bronze laver before the first Temple5 and the encounter of Moses with God on Sinai.6 The seven messages in chapters 2 and 3 each ended with a call to conquer, a victory over the beast7 that has come through the blood of the Lamb.8 The song of Moses and the Lamb (v 3) takes us back to the 144,000 on Mount Zion, and also draws on the songs of Moses;9 Jesus leads us on a new Exodus journey, from sin to the new Jerusalem. The time of wrath and chaos will come to an end: God’s action in the world might be hidden by the smoke of his glory, but we shall one day see him face to face.10
Scripture provides a context for making sense of challenges involved in following Jesus. What do you need to understand now – and what can you take on trust?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: 2 Samuel 19,20; 1 Corinthians 8
Pray for Scripture Union
Mission Enabler Lucy Pearson asks us to pray for the Rooted retreat happening next month. Pray that the young people booked on will have the opportunity to explore the difference Jesus can make in their lives. Pray too for the Rooted hubs across schools and communities in England and Wales.