God is the Sovereign Lord of history. He is fully in control. He sees what’s going on and He is working in the midst of our days to bring about His will and purpose for all of creation and history. History is truly “His story.” There are those like Domitian, the Roman Emperor in power when John wrote Revelation, who rise up and arrogantly think that they can do whatever they wish, regardless of God’s commands, and get away with it. They are sadly mistaken. There are those in our day, like Saddam Hussein, who live like they are accountable to no one, but God is still in control and He holds all of us accountable for our actions. Saddam lived his life in utter defiance of Almighty God. He gained more and more power as the leader of Iraq and yet with his increasing power, his leadership became more and more of a noose around the neck of the Iraqi people rather than a source of security and comfort for them.
In his 1993 book Cruelty and Silence, Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya tells the brutal story of Saddam Hussein’s annihilation of more than 100,000 Kurds and 4,000 Kurdish villages in his 1988 ethnic cleansing campaign known as the “Anfal.”
Anthony Paul, in his article, “Of Paranoia and Patronage” tells the story of a young businessman named Mr. Rustum Hammadi whom he met while he was in Iraq. Mr. Paul writes about their meeting by saying,
In Baghdad a couple of years ago, my interpreter introduced me to a young businessman, Mr Rustum Hammadi. Mr Hammadi’s handshake felt a little odd. The skin on his hand was rubbery, the fingers stiff. When he later told me his story, I understood why. The young man had been running a Baghdad import-export business. When Washington imposed a punitive embargo on trade with Iraq, Saddam had ostentatiously retaliated by issuing a ban on the use of US dollars. Punishment would be swift and emphatic: Anyone caught breaking the new rule would have his or her forearm cut off. But there were business deals under way that had been contracted in US dollars. Mr Hammadi made the mistake of assuming that he could let these go through. Agents of Saddam’s Mukhabarat (the intelligence organization dedicated personally to Saddam) came calling. They took Mr Hammadi to a hospital, where a surgeon briskly removed his forearm. (Anthony Paul, Senior Writer
Jan 05, 2007, The Straits Times. http://news.asiaone.com/st/st_20070105_77649.html)
The tyrant who had terrorized countless Iraqi lives stood on the gallows on December 30 of 2006 and had a noose put around his own neck. The lever was pulled and Saddam Hussein, the noose of the Iraqi people, was hung to his death.
Saddam Hussein joined a long line of evil dictators who had been given power by Almighty God to bless and not curse the people God had put under his care, but Saddam had thumbed his nose at God and did what he wanted to do.
On a smaller scale, there are many people who live their lives like Saddam, thumbing their nose at God, mocking God’s call, arrogantly going about their errant ways, and never once giving God any thought. God’s Word teaches us that we cannot live however we want and get away with it. God is merciful. He is patient. He desires for us to turn from our ways, to turn back to Him, but sooner or later His patience will run out and we will be called to account for our choices.
As we begin our study of Revelation 15-16 we see that the third cycle of judgments is on the way. The bowls of wrath are being handed out and God’s justice is on the way. What will you do? Will you heed the cry of Almighty God to turn from your ways, surrender your life to Him, and live for His glory? Or, will you roll your eyes at the call of God and go on doing life as you’ve always done it, just how you want to do it? I am pleading with you this morning to heed this message and turn to the King of Glory who takes no pleasure in exacting His judgment on those who turn away from Him. In Ezekiel 33:11, God says,
11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV)
With this in mind let’s begin our study of Revelation 15-16. Today we will take a look at Revelation 15, which sets the scene for the seven “bowl judgments” found in Revelation 16. Read along with me.
1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous 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 mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. 4Who will not fear you, O 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 in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, 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 around their chests. 7Then 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. 8And 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. (Revelation 15:1-8 NIV)
I know that I have made this statement again and again as we’ve studied the book of Revelation, but I don’t think I can stress it enough: Revelation must first be read as a letter written to the seven churches of Asia Minor—Ephesus, Thyatira, Smyrna, Laodicea, and the others, before we can ever hope to understand the meaning of the message. So many modern-day Bible teachers teach the book of Revelation from our vantage point rather than from the setting of the first century. I think we make a huge mistake if do this.
If you will remember Domitian was the evil dictator at the time of the writing of Revelation. He was cruel, his persecution of God’s people is a historical fact, and God sent His message to those under Domitian’s rule to reassure them that He, and not Domitian, was the true Emperor. Revelation is not simply a book for those in the first century. It is the book of encouragement, hope, and reassurance for Christians of every age. Our mission, our task, is to take the message and apply it to our day. What is God saying to us today? What is God saying to our brothers and sister around the globe who are suffering for their faith, facing persecution under the heavy hand of tyrants in our own times? Let’s see what we can learn this morning.
In verse 1 John “sees.” What does he see? He sees the seven angels with the seven last plagues, which we will learn a little later on, are the seven bowls of God’s wrath. Many people today struggle with the question, “How can God be both merciful and judge the sins of people?” How can you reconcile the grace and mercy of God with the wrath of God? That is a great question.
The great teacher and pastor, S. Lewis Johnson, was speaking at a banquet when a young man approached him and said that he could not understand how anyone could believe in eternal punishment. Dr. Johnson told the young man that in all of the references in the Bible to “Gehenna,” or “hell,” each reference, except for one, came from the lips of Jesus.
As much as people would like to get rid of the judgment of God it is impossible to do unless you cut out a vast amount of God’s Word. I oftentimes hear people say that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament is a God of grace and love. You and I need to understand that God is both merciful and just.
It is no wonder that many in the Church today want to do away with the justice of God. We want to live life however we want to live it with no repercussions, no consequences at all. If God allowed us to live with no accountability then we would know that God did not love us. How many of you parents are willing to allow your children to live with no boundaries, no consequences for their actions? Hopefully none of us. Because we love our kids we set boundaries, we implement consequences for their poor choices, and we follow through when punishment is necessary. Why? Because we love them.
We give our kids forgiveness, second chances, but at some point punishment is necessary. Without consequences our kids will become a menace to society and ultimately destroy themselves. We are no different than our kids. We need boundaries, we need accountability, and we need discipline to keep us from destroying our lives and the lives of those around us.
Sometimes when people object to God’s judgment they say things like, “If God punishes sin then how can we say that God is really a merciful being?” S. Lewis Johnson says,
To expect God to pardon sin at any time is not necessary to the idea of mercy. I will pardon your sin today if you will penitently confess it, but not tomorrow is a perfectly merciful thing to say for a Sovereign being. So the idea that He must always keep the door open is something that is not true to the mercy of God. It cannot be said that unless He offers a pardon to man forever and forever He is not a merciful being. This is the time. Today is the day of salvation. Now is the accepted time and God in His Sovereignty mercifully opens the door that sinners might be delivered from their sin. The fact that He says the door will ultimately be closed does not mean that He is not merciful. He didn’t have to open it at all. Please remember that. (S. Lewis Johnson, Revelation 15, The Song of Moses and The Lamb.)
Today is the day. Now is the time. The door of grace is open. Will you step through the door of grace and receive pardon for your sins as you confess them to God or will you expect His forgiveness to be there whenever you get ready? Don’t make that mistake my friend. If you hear His voice calling you today, then receive the gift of His grace and mercy while it is available.
In verse 2 we read where John “saw” once again. What does he see this time? He sees what looks like a “sea of glass mixed with fire.” Beside the sea were those who were conquering the beast and his image and “the number of his name.” They were singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. Read along with me.
2 And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. 4Who will not fear you, O 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.” (Revelation 15:2-4 NIV)
Verses 2-4 are an interlude, a pause before the storm if you will. We saw the same kind of interlude at Revelation 7, after the opening of the sixth seal. We ran into another interlude in Revelation 10-11:14, after the sounding of the sixth trumpet, before the seventh trumpet was sounded. Here, in Revelation 15 we read of an interlude before the seven bowls of judgment. There is no interlude after the sixth bowl. God’s judgment is poured full strength with no rest.
This is not the first time that we have read about what looked like a “sea of glass.” In Revelation 4:6 we read,
6 Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. (Revelation 4:6 NIV)
The “sea of glass” in Revelation 15 is a little different because this sea of glass is mixed with fire. There have been many attempts to define what “mixed with fire” means. Some say that it is symbolic of the judgment of God; others say that it is symbolic of the fiery trials that God’s people were going through. I don’t see any reason why we can’t understand the fire as both, the horrible trials that God’s people are passing through and the judgment of God that is being poured out on those who seek to crush His people.
I want you to notice something that you probably can’t see in your English Bible. In verse 2 our Bible says, “those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name.” Do you see the word, “victorious?” If you read this in the NIV you would be led to believe that their struggle was completed. These are those who “had been” victorious over the beast. The Greek New Testament doesn’t say that. The word that is translated, “victorious” is the Greek word, “nikw/ntaj” (nikontas), it is a word that means, “to conquer” or “to come off victorious.” What’s interesting is that John uses a present participle, he paints a picture for us of the people of God in the act of conquering the beast in the present! The battle is ongoing my friends. The same form of the word is used in Revelation 2:7 where we read Jesus’ words to those in the church at Ephesus.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7 NIV)
What a word of encouragement to the people of Ephesus! Hang in there. Keep standing, keep fighting, withstand the temptations, and don’t give up in the midst of trials! In Revelation 3:21-22 we see the same present tense form of the verb once again. Read along with me.
21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:21-22 NIV)
This word to the church in Laodicea, a church that was lukewarm, is a word of encouragement not to give in, to stand up and be counted for the Kingdom. The battle was raging in the first century and it is still raging today. This battle is not just way out there sometime in the future, it is right now! Are you doing battle with the forces of evil or are you asleep in the barracks? Let’s move on.
John tells us that they were singing the “song of Moses and of the Lamb.” What song is he talking about? Well, there are actually two songs that John could be referring to in this passage. In Exodus 15, when the Hebrew slaves came out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea they sang a song of praise to God for His deliverance.
1Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. 2 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name. 4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. 6 “Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy. (Exodus 15:1-6 NIV)
Did you hear the song of Moses? Did you read where Moses and the Hebrew slaves pat each other on the back and “high five” one another at the death of Pharaoh’s army? No way! They praise God. They know who won the victory! At the end of the chapter we read, 18 The LORD will reign for ever and ever.” (Exodus 15:18 NIV) Pharaoh held the power to crush God’s people, but God stood between Pharaoh and His people to save them from his destructive hand. Our God is a shield and a protector of those who are being brutalized.
There is another song that John could be referencing in Revelation 15. In Deuteronomy 32:1-43, as Moses was about to die, he taught the Jews this song. Let me read the first four verses to you.
1Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. 2 Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. 3 I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:1-4 NIV)
Either one of these two songs could be the background for the song that we find in Revelation 15, but Deuteronomy 32:4 is so close to the statement found in Revelation 15:3 where we read,
‘Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.’ (Revelation 15:3b)
All of God’s works are perfect! Just and true are all of His ways. He is the King of the nations! Your Bible probably says that He is the king of the ages, but in the Greek New Testament the word that is translated “ages” is really, “evqnw/n” (ethnon), the word that is translated, “nations” or “Gentiles,” those who are not Jews, some 44 times in the New Testament.
God is the God of the nations. He is the true Emperor. He is the real President. He is the only King who establishes His everlasting rule over every nation of the earth!
In our last section of Scripture for this morning we see once again that John is “seeing” something. What does he see? John looked and he saw the temple, the “tabernacle of the Testimony” was opened. Read along with me.
5 After this I looked and in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, 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 around their chests. 7Then 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. 8And 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. (Revelation 15:5-8 NIV)
The seven angels were coming out of the temple, out from God, with the seven plagues that we will study next week as we take a look at Revelation 16. These angels were dressed in clean, shining linen and they wore golden sashes around their chests. H.B. Swete says,
Their snow-white linen tunics are girded high…with golden belts, the symbols of royalty or of priestly functions…They are vested for liturgy. And since they are sent forth to execute judgment, it is clear that John is describing the judgments that come in human history as coming from God, and as being a part of His religious ‘liturgy.’ (H.B. Swete, Revelation. pg. 198)
The angels are messengers of God, they are ministers of God, to carry out God’s judgment on those who refuse to listen, those who refuse to turn from their ways to the ways of Almighty God. God has given us second chances a thousand times over, but who will hear His voice calling this morning? Throughout our lives God has been there to seek to turn us away from destruction, to turn us to life, but why do we continue to go our own way and disregard His Word that calls out to us? Job’s friend, Elihu, said,
14 For God does speak– now one way, now another– though man may not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, 16 he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, 17 to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, 18 to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword. (Job 33:14-18 NIV)
This very morning the Lord has brought you here to hear this message in order to call you back from self-destruction. Will you heed His voice calling out to you this very hour? Peter wrote to the people of his day and said,
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. (2 Peter 3:3-14 NIV)
What will you do today? Will you continue to think that you have more than enough time to do as you want and then get right with the Lord at some time in the future or will you recognize that today is the day of salvation? Won’t you turn your eyes toward heaven this very morning and give Jesus your heart?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 14, 2007