Vision 10—Revelation 15:1–16:21
Subject: Jehovah in his sanctuary; the seven bowls of his wrath poured into the earth
Time of fulfillment: 1919 to Armageddon
A WOMAN giving birth to a male child! A great dragon seeking to devour that child! Those two heavenly signs, so vividly portrayed in Revelation chapter 12, brought home to us that the agelong controversy involving the Seed of God’s woman and Satan and his demonic seed is reaching its climax. In highlighting these symbols, John says: “And a great sign was seen in heaven . . . And another sign was seen.” (Revelation 12:1, 3, 7-12) Now John reports a third sign: “And I saw in heaven another sign, great and wonderful, seven angels with seven plagues. These are the last ones, because by means of them the anger of God is brought to a finish.” (Revelation 15:1) This third sign also has vital meaning for Jehovah’s servants.
Notice the important roles that angels again have in accomplishing God’s will. This fact has long been known by Jehovah’s servants. Why, under inspiration the ancient psalmist even spoke to such angels, urging them: “Bless Jehovah, O you angels of his, mighty in power, carrying out his word, by listening to the voice of his word”! (Psalm 103:20) Now, in this new scene, angels are assigned to pour out the seven last plagues.
What are these plagues? Like the seven trumpet blasts, they are scathing judgment pronouncements publicizing Jehovah’s view of various features of this world and warning of the final outcome of his judicial decisions. (Revelation 8:1–9:21) The pouring out of them points to the execution of those judgments, when the objects of Jehovah’s wrath are destroyed in the day of his burning anger. (Isaiah 13:9-13; Revelation 6:16, 17) Thus, by means of them “the anger of God is brought to a finish.” But before describing the pouring out of the plagues, John tells us about some humans who will not be adversely affected by them. Having refused the mark of the wild beast, these loyal ones sing praises to Jehovah as they proclaim his day of vengeance.—Revelation 13:15-17.
The Song of Moses and of the Lamb
A remarkable panorama now comes into John’s view: “And I saw what seemed to be a glassy sea mingled with fire, and those who come off victorious from the wild beast and from its image and from the number of its name standing by the glassy sea, having harps of God.”—Revelation 15:2.
The “glassy sea” is the same one that John saw earlier, positioned before the throne of God. (Revelation 4:6) It is similar to “the molten sea” (water container) of Solomon’s temple, where the priests obtained water to cleanse themselves. (1 Kings 7:23) It is thus a fine representation of “the bath of water,” that is, God’s Word, by which Jesus cleanses the priestly congregation of anointed Christians. (Ephesians 5:25, 26; Hebrews 10:22) This glassy sea is “mingled with fire,” indicating that these anointed ones are tested and purged as they obey the high standard set for them. Further, it reminds us that God’s Word also contains expressions of fiery judgments against his enemies. (Deuteronomy 9:3; Zephaniah 3:8) Some of these fiery judgments are manifested in the seven last plagues that are about to be poured out.
The fact that the molten sea in Solomon’s temple was for the use of the priests indicates that the singers standing before the heavenly glassy sea are a priestly class. They have “harps of God,” and we therefore associate them with the 24 elders and the 144,000, since these groups also sing to a harp accompaniment. (Revelation 5:8; 14:2) The singers that John sees “come off victorious from the wild beast and from its image and from the number of its name.” So they must be those from among the 144,000 who live on earth during the last days. As a group, they do indeed come off victorious. For almost 90 years since 1919, they have refused to accept the mark of the wild beast or look to its image as man’s only hope for peace. Many of them have already endured faithful to the death, and these, now in heaven, doubtless follow with special delight the singing of their brothers who are still on earth.—Revelation 14:11-13.
These loyal overcomers have harps of God. In this, they are like the temple Levites of old, who worshipped Jehovah with song to the accompaniment of harps. Some also prophesied to a harp accompaniment. (1 Chronicles 15:16; 25:1-3) The beautiful strains of the harp embellished Israel’s songs of joy and prayers of praise and thanksgiving to Jehovah. (1 Chronicles 13:8; Psalm 33:2; 43:4; 57:7, 8) In times of depression or captivity, the harp was not heard. (Psalm 137:2) The presence of harps of God in this vision should whet our anticipation for an exultant, triumphant song of praise and thanksgiving to our God. Interestingly, in 1921 the John class released the Bible study aid The Harp of God, which had a circulation of more than five million copies in over 20 languages. It helped bring in more anointed singers.
That is what John reports: “And they are singing the song of Moses the slave of God and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and wonderful are your works, Jehovah God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, King of eternity. Who will not really fear you, Jehovah, and glorify your name, because you alone are loyal? For all the nations will come and worship before you, because your righteous decrees have been made manifest.’”—Revelation 15:3, 4.
These victors sing “the song of Moses,” that is, a song similar to one that Moses sang in like circumstances. After the Israelites had witnessed the ten plagues in Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian armies in the Red Sea, Moses led them in such a song of triumphant praise to Jehovah, proclaiming: “Jehovah will rule as king to time indefinite, even forever.” (Exodus 15:1-19) How fitting that the singers in John’s vision, coming off victorious from the wild beast and being involved in proclaiming the seven last plagues, should also sing “to the King of eternity”!—1 Timothy 1:17.
In another song, composed as Israel prepared for the conquest of Canaan, the aged Moses told that nation: “I shall declare the name of Jehovah. Do you attribute greatness to our God!” The last verse of this song also gave encouragement to non-Israelites, and Moses’ inspired words reach right down to the great crowd of today: “Be glad, you nations, with his people.” And why should they be glad? Because now Jehovah “will avenge the blood of his servants, and he will pay back vengeance to his adversaries.” This execution of righteous judgment will bring jubilation to all who hope in Jehovah.—Deuteronomy 32:3, 43; Romans 15:10-13; Revelation 7:9.
How Moses himself would have rejoiced to be in the Lord’s day now, singing along with the heavenly chorus: “All the nations will come and worship before you”! That transcendent song continues to have marvelous fulfillment today as we see, not just in vision but as a living reality, the millions from “the nations” who are now flocking joyfully to Jehovah’s earthly organization.
Nevertheless, this is the song not only of Moses but also “of the Lamb.” How so? Moses was Jehovah’s prophet to Israel, but Moses himself prophesied that Jehovah would raise up a prophet like him. This One proved to be the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Whereas Moses was “the slave of God,” Jesus was God’s Son, in effect, the Greater Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Acts 3:22, 23; Hebrews 3:5, 6) Hence, the singers also sing “the song of the Lamb.”
Like Moses, Jesus publicly sang God’s praises and prophesied about His victory over all enemies. (Matthew 24:21, 22; 26:30; Luke 19:41-44) Jesus too looked forward to the time when the nations would come in to praise Jehovah, and as the self-sacrificing “Lamb of God,” he laid down his human life to make this possible. (John 1:29; Revelation 7:9; compare Isaiah 2:2-4; Zechariah 8:23.) And just as Moses came to appreciate God’s name, Jehovah, and extol that name, so Jesus made God’s name manifest. (Exodus 6:2, 3; Psalm 90:1, 17; John 17:6) Since Jehovah is loyal, his glorious promises are certain of fulfillment. Surely, then, we are at one with these loyal singers, with the Lamb, and with Moses, in subscribing to the words of the song: “Who will not really fear you, Jehovah, and glorify your name?”
The Angels With the Bowls
It is fitting that we hear the song of these anointed conquerors. Why? Because they have publicized on earth the judgments contained in the bowls that were full of the anger of God. But the pouring out of these bowls involves more than mere humans, as John goes on to show: “And after these things I saw, and the sanctuary of the tent of the witness was opened in heaven, and the seven angels with the seven plagues emerged from the sanctuary, clothed with clean, bright linen and girded about their breasts with golden girdles. And one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls that were full of the anger of God, who lives forever and ever.”—Revelation 15:5-7.
As respects the Israelite temple, which contained representations of heavenly things, only the high priest could enter the Most Holy, here called “the sanctuary.” (Hebrews 9:3, 7) It represents the place of Jehovah’s presence in heaven. In heaven itself, however, not only does the High Priest Jesus Christ have the privilege of entering in before Jehovah but the angels do also. (Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 9:24-26) It is not surprising, then, that seven angels should be seen coming out from the sanctuary in heaven. They have a commission from Jehovah God himself: Pour out the bowls full of the anger of God.—Revelation 16:1.
These angels are well qualified for this work. They are clothed with clean, bright linen, showing that they are spiritually clean and holy, righteous in Jehovah’s sight. Also, they wear golden girdles. Girdles are usually used when a person girds himself for a task to be accomplished. (Leviticus 8:7, 13; 1 Samuel 2:18; Luke 12:37; John 13:4, 5) So the angels are girded for carrying out an assignment. Moreover, their girdles are golden. In the ancient tabernacle, gold was used to represent divine, heavenly things. (Hebrews 9:4, 11, 12) That means that these angels have a precious, divine commission of service to perform. Others too are involved in this great task. One of the four living creatures hands the actual bowls to them. Doubtless, this was the first living creature, which resembled a lion, symbolizing the boldness and indomitable courage needed to proclaim Jehovah’s judgments.—Revelation 4:7.
Jehovah in His Sanctuary
Finally, completing this part of the vision, John tells us: “And the sanctuary became filled with smoke because of the glory of God and because of his power, and no one was able to enter into the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” (Revelation 15:8) There were occasions in Israel’s history when a cloud covered the literal sanctuary, and this manifestation of Jehovah’s glory prevented the priests from entering there. (1 Kings 8:10, 11; 2 Chronicles 5:13, 14; compare Isaiah 6:4, 5.) These were times when Jehovah was actively involved with developments on earth.
Jehovah is also deeply interested in things happening on earth now. He wants the seven angels to complete their assignment. It is a climactic time of judgment, as described at Psalm 11:4-6: “Jehovah is in his holy temple. Jehovah—in the heavens is his throne. His own eyes behold, his own beaming eyes examine the sons of men. Jehovah himself examines the righteous one as well as the wicked one, and anyone loving violence His soul certainly hates. He will rain down upon the wicked ones traps, fire and sulphur and a scorching wind, as the portion of their cup.” Until these seven plagues are poured out upon the wicked ones, the seven angels will not return to Jehovah’s lofty presence.
The awesome command thunders forth: “And I heard a loud voice out of the sanctuary say to the seven angels: ‘Go and pour out the seven bowls of the anger of God into the earth.’” (Revelation 16:1) Who issues this command? It must be Jehovah himself, since the radiance of his glory and power prevented anyone else from entering the sanctuary. Jehovah came to his spiritual temple for judgment in 1918. (Malachi 3:1-5) It must, then, have been shortly after that date that he gave the command to pour out the bowls of the anger of God. In fact, the judgments contained in the symbolic bowls started to be proclaimed with intensity in 1922. And their proclamation is increasing to a crescendo today.
The Bowls and the Trumpet Blasts
The bowls of Jehovah’s anger reveal features of the world scene as Jehovah views them and warn of judgments that Jehovah will execute. The angels pour out the bowls through the agency of the congregation of anointed Christians on earth, the ones singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. While proclaiming the Kingdom as good news, the John class have boldly revealed the contents of these bowls of anger. (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 14:6, 7) Thus, their twofold message has been peaceful in proclaiming liberty to mankind but warlike in warning of “the day of vengeance on the part of our God.”—Isaiah 61:1, 2.
The targets of the first four bowls of God’s anger correspond to those of the first four trumpet blasts, that is, the earth, the sea, the rivers and fountains of water, and the heavenly sources of light. (Revelation 8:1-12) But the trumpet blasts announced plagues on “a third,” whereas an entirety is afflicted by the pouring out of the bowls of God’s anger. Thus, while Christendom, as “a third,” has received first attention during the Lord’s day, not one part of Satan’s system has been exempted from being plagued by Jehovah’s vexatious judgment messages and the sorrows they bring.
The final three trumpet blasts were different, for they were called woes. (Revelation 8:13; 9:12) The first two of these consisted particularly of the locusts and the armies of cavalry, while the third introduced the birth of Jehovah’s Kingdom. (Revelation 9:1-21; 11:15-19) As we shall see, the final three bowls of his wrath also cover some of these aspects, but they are somewhat different from the three woes. Let us now pay close attention to the dramatic disclosures that result from the pouring out of the bowls of Jehovah’s anger.