Setting the Stage

Title: Setting the Stage

Bible Book: Revelation 15 : 1-8

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Judgment; Tribulation, The Great



In this series from Revelation, we are following one basic purpose, and that purpose helps to control the method and approach to the entire Book. In 1:3, all who read the Revelation, or hear it read, will receive a blessing. I am making no attempt to answer all of you questions about the Book of Revelation. I am looking for answers myself! If you show me someone who has all the answers, I am probably going to avoid that person. I have talked with a few people who thought they had all the answers, and believe me, there was reason enough to avoid them.

Our purpose is to skim the surface, seeking the promised blessings, and those blessings are readily available to all true believers. I once heard Revelation referred to as a tract for hard times, and while it is that and much more, it is inspired Scripture, given miraculously through the Holy Spiro for some purpose. When this Book was first read by the pastors of the churches of Asia Minor, it must have accomplished its purpose for those saints. The church was going through a persecution that was growing in intensity. They had no idea how much worse it was going to get. The Revelation must have brought assurance and hope to those suffering saints at the close of the First Century, saints who had discovered that Jesus was not returning within one generation of his death. The Revelation would be offering assurance to those who were facing a more intense persecution a generation later. And so it has blessed believers for twenty centuries.

Now, those who want to know all the possible interpretations of every chapter in Revelation, I am going to let you look elsewhere. But for those who will join me in skimming the surface looking for the basic blessings God has promised, let me summarize a few basic lessons we must see.

1. God is sovereign.
2. He knows what has happened to the saints.
3. He knows what is going to happen in the future.
4. He is well aware of the powerful, bitter enemy of every true believer.
5. Satan can only do what he is permitted to do.
6. Satan’s defeat has already been accomplished.
7. The Lamb of God delivered the death blow to Satan at Calvary.
8. Satan is waging a ruthless war against the Lamb and His church.
9. There have been many martyrs for Christ and there will be many more.
10. The Lord will appear and rapture His church.
11. The world will face the most intense satanic attacks ever for seven years.
12. The Lamb of God will then return wearing the crown of victory.
13. Jesus will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
14. He will put all enemies under His foot.
15. He will reign with the saints.
16. We will be with Him forever.

No matter how bad it gets, no matter how vicious the satanic warfare becomes, remember that God is on His throne. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth is standing at the right hand of the One seated on the throne. He is giving His church His full attention. God has never lost control and He never will. Those saints who are caught up in trials and tribulations before the Great Tribulation will find hope and assurance in this Book. Furthermore, you can be sure that God is eternally established on the throne of heaven during the Great Tribulation. And when the Great Tribulation comes to a close, it will be because the Lamb will appear, wearing the crown of victory. When He returns He will wage a holy war against the enemies of the Cross. They will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire which burns with intense heat forever. All those who trust in Jesus can begin singing Victory in Jesus right now. The victory is ours. Our victory is as sure as the victory of the Lamb because those who are in Him will be with Him.

There were three messages in chapter 14: STANDING WITH THE LAMB, FALLING WITH THE BEAST, and THE HARVEST OF THE EARTH. Now, in chapter 15 we are going to see a scene in heaven as preparations are made for the last seven bowls of God’s wrath to be poured out on the earth.


Chapter 15 is a preface to the last seven bowls filled with the wrath of God. It also contains a record of the song of the victors over the beast. Chapter 15 anticipates the pouring out of the bowls of God’s wrath on the earth and chapter 16 presents the details of the pouring out of the bowls filled with the wrath of God. “The contents of the bowls consist of events that occur after the sounding of the last trumpet (11:15). But it should also be noticed that the contents of the seven bowls are in many ways similar to the effects of the seven trumpets. In most cases, the difference appears to be an amplification of the earlier plagues. The bowls simply constitute a more intense judgment than that which had already been effected by the sounding of the trumpets” [New Commentary on the Whole Bible].

A. John Saw an Awe-Inspiring Sign in Heaven, 15:1-2.

“(1) Then I saw another great and awe-inspiring sign in heaven: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for with them, God’s wrath will be completed. (2) I also saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory from the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.”

1. John saw an awe-inspiring thing in heaven.

Can there be anything associated with heaven that is not awe-inspiring? What about the throne room of heaven? The one seated eternally on the throne? The Lamb standing at the right hand of the Father, the Lamb Who had been slain but is alive again? What about the four and twenty elders, or the four living creations? What about the voice John heard that sounded like cascading waters, or like thunder? Sadly, there are people who make jokes about heaven, but for every true believer, the very thought of heaven should be awe-inspiring. Now, let me give you another word for awe-inspiring. What about the word reverence? We might combine that with the word fear. The fear believers have in the presence of God is not an unholy fear of the unknown, but a reverential awe in the presence of the One who is indeed awe-inspiring.

2. John saw seven angels with seven plagues.

The number seven is the perfect number, the number for completion. That which God does is perfect and complete, and that includes both His grace and mercy, and His wrath. Here, we may think of the number seven as denoting not just complete plagues, but final plagues.

3. God’s wrath will be completed.

Considering the nature and character of God there should be no surprise to anyone that His wrath will be completed. If history and the Word of God teach us anything it is that He is not only committed to carrying out His plan, He is fully capable of bringing it to pass. We may not understand all the details of this prophecy, and we may not agree on what we understand (or think we understand), but this much we should be able to agree on: Whatever God has revealed in this book of prophecy, He will see through to completion. Just as surely, His salvation will be full and complete and His wrath will be complete.

4. John saw a sea of glass mixed with fire (v. 2).

We are going to see a number of parallels between the scene here and the tabernacle which God commissioned at Sinai. Here the image corresponds to the molten sea or great brazen laver before the mercy-seat of that earthly tabernacle, and then the temple. The presence of fire, may well point to the use of fire in the sacrificial system God had given Moses at Sinai, but here it seems to suggests fiery plagues and impending judgment.

5. The victorious saints are standing on the seal of glass.

There is something very interesting here. In 4:6, there is a sea before the throne, but in 21:1ff there is no more sea. In apocalyptic literature, as some scholars point out, the sea stands for separation. Following that line of thought, the sea before the throne of God means that God is separate from all those who have not been glorified. In chapter 21, there is not sea because the saints have all been glorified and they enter fully into his presence - and His glory will not consume them. Now, in this passage there is a sea like glass and the saints are standing on it. Is there a contradiction here? Some point out that the sea in 4:6 cannot point to separation because here the victorious saints are standing on the sea of glass in the presence of God. That does not explain what has happened to the sea in chapter 21. So, what are we do? In the first place, this is apocalyptic literature, and we must not try to force images - that is, we must not try to force everything to fit in some earthly mold. We must remember that God knows the answer now, and someday we will see and understand.

Those on the sea of glass are given harps because they are about to sing a song. John heard the harpists in chapter 14, and now he sees them. The trumpet sounded to prepare people for an important announcement. The saints will play harps, not only to sing praises to God, but also to prepare for an announcement that is to come.

Those who had won the victory from the beast, his image, “and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.” All those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ share in His victory. There is no reason to assume that this denotes only a narrow or select group of believers, even though the language holds before us those who, by the grace of God, triumph over Satan, the beast, the demons, and all they employ in an effort to destroy every person who is created in the image of God.

I had the misfortune of sitting under professors who did not believe in the existence of Satan - he was simply the personification of evil. A friend and I had written to a number of pastors to ask then to share their position on the subject of Satan. One of my professors had just explained why there can be no personal devil. As I remember, W. A. Criswell responded that it was sufficient to say that he believed what the Bible had to say on the subject. I was particularly pleased to receive the following letter from R. G. Lee, whom I heard every Sunday for several years. We got home from our services in time to see Dr. Lee drop down on his knee, in his white Palm Beach suit, by the right side of the pulpit and pray before preaching. I also heard him preach “Payday Someday” in person at FBC, Senatobia, MS. I used to hear him at conventions, evangelism conferences, and in revivals. When you read his letter, dated March 1, 1962, you will understand why liberal preachers and teachers did not like this man. Here is the letter from R. G. Lee:

Dear Johnny,

I believe the Bible is the divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God – without any taint of error, personal in application, regenerative in power, inspired in totality – the miracle Book of diversity in unity. of harmony in infinite complexity.

Therefore, I believe what it teaches about the devil, Satan, in Job 2.

I believe he was, and is, a Person – just as much as you are a person. I believe he has his wiles, his wisdom, his desires, his power, his angels, his ministers – as the Bible teaches.

I believe he is presumptuous (Job 1:6) and (Matt. 4:5-6) and proud (I Timothy 3:6) and powerful (Ephesians 2:2 and Ephesians 6:12) and wicked (I John 2:13). And malignant (Job 1:9 and Job 2:4), and subtle (Genesis 3:1 with 2 Cor. 3:11), and deceitful (II Cor. 11:4 and Ephesians 6:11), and fierce and cruel (Luke 8:29 and Luke 9:39-42 and I Peter 5:8).

I think the Devil is the one who started and keeps going the Modernist teaching and preaching and writing of our day – where some preachers and some teachers summon the Bible to appear at the bar of human reason and reduce the supernatural to ignorance and look upon the Bible miracles as legends and myths. Read ii Thess. 2:9 and II Timothy 4:1)

I believe just what the Bible says in Jude – that the devil, Satan, will be condemned at the judgment along with the fallen angels. I believe that the doom of Satan is set forth just as Revelation 20:10 states.

I believe the temptations of Jesus were just as the Bible says – Jesus being assaulted by this fearful being who fell through pride (Isa. 14:12-14) – as even now the devil makes earth and air the scene of his tireless activity (Ephesians 2:2 and I Peter 5:8).

Just as Jesus was really the Son of God so Satan was really Satan – the Devil.

You can say this about the three temptations of Jesus:

1. Te first temptation meant “SERVE yourself.”
2. The second temptation meant “Let GOD serve you.”
3. The third temptation means, “LET ME serve you.”

How glad we are that temptation never loosened a moral fiber in the being of Jesus.

I hope this will be of help to you.

Yours earnestly,

Robert G. Lee

B. They Sang a Song in the Heavenly Sanctuary, 15:3-4

(3) They sang the song of God’s servant Moses, and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations. (4) Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, because all the nations will come and worship before You, because Your righteous acts have been revealed.”

1. They sang the song of Moses.

What is the song of Moses? We find the song in Exodus 15:

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said: I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. This is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him. The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is His name” (Ex. 15:1-3, HCSB).

This was the song the Israelites sang following their miraculous deliverance from Egypt as God parted the waters of the Red sea and they crossed on dry ground. When the Egyptians tried to follow, God caused the walls of water to collapse upon them and destroy them. They sang a song praising God for delivering them. The New Commentary on the Whole Bible offers this commentary:

“The saints of both the OT and NT are essentially one in their conflicts, difficulties, joys, and triumphs. The two groups are joined in this phrase because Christ’s deliverance is similar to the deliverance of Moses, only indescribably greater. Isaiah 12 similarly foretells the song of the redeemed. The elect shall be taken up after their trials and before the vials of wrath are poured on the beast and his kingdom. Noah and his family were taken out of the doomed world before the deluge; Lot was taken out of Sodom before its destruction; some Christians escaped by a special interposition of providence to Pella before the destruction of Jerusalem” [NCWB].

God placed the pillar of cloud and fire between Israel and the Egyptians in order to protect the Israelites and bring them safely to the opposite shore before He destroyed the Egyptians. “In a similar manner the Lord, coming with the clouds and in flaming fire, shall first catch up his elect people ‘in the clouds to meet him in the air,’ and then shall destroy the enemy with fire” [NCWB].

2. They sang the song of the Lamb, 15:3b-4.

This is the song of victory those who are standing before the throne will sing. It is also a song of deliverance, celebrating their salvation from Satan and the beast.

“Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations. Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, because all the nations will come and worship before You, because Your righteous acts have been revealed.”

a. God’s works are great and awe-inspiring.
b. God is almighty, righteous, and true.
c. He is King of the Nations.
d. All who know Him fear and glorify His name.
e. God alone is holy.
f. The redeemed of all nations worship Him.
g. They worship Him in because His righteous acts are revealed.

In chapter 5, the four and twenty elders sing a new song of the Lamb:

“When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,and they will reign on the earth” (Rev 5:8-10).


A. Seven Angels Are Prepared to Pour Out God’s Wrath on the Earth, 15:5-6.

“(5) After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary—the tabernacle of testimony—was opened. (6) Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean, bright linen, with gold sashes wrapped around their chests.”

1. The heavenly sanctuary was opened.

This is the inner sanctuary, the most holy place, often called the holy of holies. The imagery of the tabernacle would not be lost on those early believers, especially the Jewish believers.

2. The heavenly sanctuary is the tabernacle of testimony.

The imagery is from the tabernacle the Lord commissioned in the wilderness rather than Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. Let us remember that a day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. No one living at the end of the First Century had ever seen the tabernacle, but they were well aware of its existence, its significance, and its role in the history of God’s dealings with His Chosen People. God can hold before Him both the tabernacle in the wilderness and the heavenly sanctuary at the end of this age. He can keep them both in sharp focus.

3. Out of the sanctuary came seven angels with seven plagues.

These are the seven angels we have already seen in verse 1. These angels have the seven plagues which God will have them pour out on the earth at the end of the Great Tribulation. When they are poured out, God’s wrath will be complete.

4. These angels are “dressed in clean, bright linen.”

These angels have “Gold sashes wrapped around their chests.” They are angels dressed like priests. They will perform sacrifices before the Lord. Those early Jewish believers were keenly aware of robe, ephod, breast plate, and sash of, designed by God, for the Aaron and his sons who would serve as high priest after him.

B. The Seven Angels Are Given the Seen Bowls of God’s Wrath, 15:7-8.

(7) “One of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven gold bowls filled with the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. (8) Then the sanctuary was filled with smoke from God’s glory and from His power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.”

1. One of the four living creatures gave the seven bowls of wrath to seven angels, 15:7.

We were introduced to the four living creations early in the Revelation when we are introduced to the throne room of heaven. There we see the Father seated eternally on the throne of heaven, the Lamb of God standing by his right hand, the four and twenty elders are around the throne, as are the four living ones. The four and twenty elders represent believers who are in heaven. The four living ones may well represent all God created, if the number four is intended to represent the universal number (four corners of the earth, four winds). All we really need to know is the living one here is not acting on his own. He is commissioned by the One on the throne to give seven angels the seven bowls filled with “the wrath of God Who lives forever and ever.” He is the changeless God of eternity.

2. The sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory and power of God, 15:8.

The smoke filling the sanctuary refers to the shekinah cloud first associated with the tabernacle in the wilderness, and later with the temple. It symbolized God’s special presence with His people. Here it stresses that He is the source of the judgments. How can one read this without remembering the smoke on Mount Sinai when God came down to give Moses the Ten Commandments, the Law, and plans for the tabernacle? Listen to these words from Exodus:

“Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunder” (Ex. 19:18-19).

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34, NASB).

Now, I would like for us to look at Isaiah’s vision of the Lord:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth. The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke. Then I said: Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:1-5).


I want you to know that you do not have to read Isaiah to appreciate the glory of God. You do not have to wait for the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Book of Revelation to see His glory. You do not have to wait until you go to heaven to sing the song of the Lamb of God, or to sing of the glory and holiness of Almighty God. Right now, in your heart you can sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.” Let us pray that the smoke of His glory will fill His house of worship right now - not literal smoke, but the glory of His presence. If you should sense the power and presence and glory of the Lord right now, what should your response be? Here is Isaiah’s response: “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Are you ready to confess your sin and receive His cleansing right now? If you are ever going to worship the Lord you must have His cleansing. If you are ever going to serve the Lord you will desire His cleansing. If you are to be a witness for the Lord you must have His cleansing.

Once you truly confess your sins, you will then be able to sing the song of the Lamb, the song of angels and saint before the throne of Almighty God. Pray with me now.

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