October 25, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 25:05 in the audio file.
Or, The Final Strains of Justice
Series: Just Conquer Part 42
Imagine living in a world hostile to Christianity, in which not just friendships, but financial opportunities were lost because of being public about one’s faith. Imagine a world that lied about where real glory was, where political leaders portrayed themselves as saviors and tribes formed according to public loyalties. Imagine a world happy to call evil, good and to call good, evil.
If you can imagine that sort of world then you have crossed the chronological bridge to the first-century world in which John wrote and in which the churches lived. It also means that you can picture what it will be like in the last days. One of the reasons you probably didn’t even need to use a lot of creative gas is because our experience gets us pretty far. The present evil age is as evil as ever; evil is like a fountain that keeps on flowing.
John wrote for just such a day as this. While the majority of the unveiling is yet to occur in real time, it has, and has since he wrote it, had immediate relevance. Through John God has promised blessing to all who would read and keep the words of this prophecy, and we’re coming up on two millennia of application.
The suffering, marginalized, minority of Christians had reason not only to carry on but to conquer. They had it hard, and the visions saw it getting harder. There were heresies within, and governmental attacks without. And yet the visions that John shared showed them not only those who would hold on but those who would belt out in song.
Revelation 15 introduces us to the final series of seven judgments. All seven seals on the scroll have been broken open, from which the seven trumpets have been blown. The seventh trumpet leads to the handing over and pouring out of these bowls of God’s wrath. We meet the seven angels who are commissioned by God to dump out the bowls, and we learn that this is it, the end, and the windup of God’s wrath. In between we hear the saints singing.
The chapter has three “And I saw”s, with the focus on the middle one. Interrupting what verse 1 introduced, the center “saw” is the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb. These are the final strains (which has a perfect combination of meanings, with struggle of pulling tight and then the sound of stringed instruments) of justice. God will be glorified in praise and He will be praised for righteous deeds.
There are only three “signs” called as such in the Apocalypse: the woman clothed with the sun (12:1), the red dragon (12:3), and here in 15:1. The woman was a “great sign,” the next sign was of a “great dragon,” but here John “saw another sign in heaven, great and (marvelous).” The same two adjectives describe the works of the Almighty Himself in verse 3.
The great and amazing sign in verse 1 is of “seven angels with seven last plagues,” and they are called the “last” “(because) the wrath of God is completed in them.”
We’re used to the sevens. There are so many sevens in the Apocalypse that many readers muddle them together, especially the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. The seven plagues presented in chapter 15 are similar to the previous, but they are not identical.
Consider: the sevens have been presented in sequence, one following another. Is the counting just for emotional affect, or to unveil order? The sevens have increased in intensity; the bowl judgments affect all the earth, not merely a quarter or a third. Are the differences in ratios meant to be poetic alternatives, or to unveil escalation? In addition, nowhere has John (or an angel from heaven) explicitly connected them, “this (seal) is like this (trumpet/bowl), and this like that.”
And, the plain clue here is that these sevens are called the “last” (ἐσχάτας eschatos). These are the final ones, and that’s for a reason: they fulfill God’s wrath. The word “finished” (ESV) is a verb form of τέλος. These bring wrath to its goal; these plagues express the completeness of God’s wrath. So wrath will be “filled up” (KJV). These are not birth pains, these are hearing the labor screams three hospital floors down. These are no appetizers of judgment, but the table is cleared and the dishes broken and the kitchen burned down. Once this wrath is out, the third and final woe is passed.
Before seeing more about the angels and plagues-in-bowls, John saw the conquerors in chorus.
These are “the ones who had conquered the beast,” who did not worship “its image” or compromise with “the number of its name.” They conquered by loyalty to the Lamb. They conquered by enduring, and we can anticipate that many of them endured to death. Death was the temporal consequence for refusal to worship the beast’s image (13:15), and the description that the beast conquered them can only mean physical life. They won by not loving their lives to death (12:11). They resisted the social and religious and economic pressure. More Dispensationalists should be optimistic like this.
These conquerers, who are not us (since the beast hasn’t come yet), are conquerers for us to imitate (an application of Hebrews 13:7, since we know the outcome of their faith). We imitate their courage.
John saw in heaven “what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire” and as the conquerors are standing on the sea they are holding “the harps of God.” Since strains is more of an instrumental term, related to strum, as strings are drawn tight or plucked. The harpists also sing, and their song is about the execution of righteous judgments. These are the final strains.
They sing “the song of Moses, the servant of God” (see Exodus 14:31) and “the song of the Lamb.” The Song of Moses is mentioned in Exodus 15:1-18 and Deuteronomy 32. But none of these lyrics are verbatim. Also, how is this the song of the Lamb when the Lamb isn’t mentioned? And is this one song, with two names, or two songs?
Though I understand the challenge of double-titling, there is only set of lyrics provided. It is like a song that’s been rearranged, and both authors get credit on the page.
Even though the original Song of Moses isn’t quoted, 80% of the words (10 out of 48) in this hymn (3b-4) are OT lyrics. As God delivered Israel in the Red Sea and the opposition of one harsh nation, so He will deliver His people from the red dragon and all the hostile nations. It’s a song about God’s will winning.
> “Rejoice with him, O heavens; bow down to him, all gods,for he avenges the blood of his children and takes vengeance on his adversaries.He repays those who hate him and cleanses his people’s land.”(Deuteronomy 32:43 ESV)
The song opens and closes with attention on deeds, on God’s works.
His works are “great” (Μεγάλα megala), large, impressive. They are “marvelous” (θαυμαστὰ thumasta), amazing, incredible. The marvel-making emphasis is not on variety or creativity of His deeds, but on morality. His “ways” are “righteous and true.” They define what is just and they are always accurate. The final phrase sums it up, His “righteous acts have been revealed.” It’s a unique word, δικαιώματά dikiomata, “righteous acts” or perhaps “just sentences.” It’s what the final plagues are completing.
He is the “Lord, God, (ὁ παντοκράτωρ ho pantokrator), the Almighty,” emphasis on all-power. He is the Sovereign, so also the “King of the nations.”
> There is none like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is great in might.Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due;for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you.(Jeremiah 10:6–7 ESV)
That is significant because one of the reasons why He is set apart is because “all nations will come and prostrate before” Him. National distinctions reveal worshippers from and in many nations, tribes, tongues, peoples, while still acknowledging something unique about “the woman clothed with the sun” who is Israel. Salvation still, and only, comes in the Lamb’s redemption, but this is where an unflattened covenant magnifies His name more.
The rhetorical questions in verse 4 are similar to those in the Song of Moses:
> “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?(Exodus 15:11 ESV)
The questions make obvious the Almighty’s superior and unique position. He is incomparable! “Who will not fear and glorify Your name?” Then three reasons are provided: 1) He is singularly set apart, 2) He is the object of universal acknowledgment, 3) He reveals the judgments that belong with justice.
> All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.(Psalm 86:9–10 ESV)
This is the hope of Scripture.
Here is the third “I saw” but “after these things” of the strains of justice.
The final stage is being set. “The temple of the tent of testimony in heaven was opened.” This is an interesting name, and appears to be related to Moses as the one who revealed God’s testimonies, God’s law. The tent that held the two tablets of the Law was called the “tent of testimony” (Numbers 17:7), and this is its heavenly counterpart. Here God’s will is known, from here all who reject His will will be judged.
Through Moses came the standards by which the world is governed and held accountable. As angels helped deliver that testimony (see Hebrews 2:2), so “seven angels came out of the temple.” These are the ones “having seven plagues,” and they are dressed for work, “clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.”
In the commissioning ceremony, “one of the for living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.” He is the Almighty, He is the Holy One, He is the Eternal One. His wrath is “full” and the final events are being set in motion until the end.
“The sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power.” His presence was already there, but the smoke communicates visibly, and it communicates His fury. Such a display makes it so that “no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angles were finished,” another verbal form of telos. Not even holy angels can handle this. Those who don’t think this is the future must think this is just dramatic, or that God’s been this mad throughout the church age.
We will see the seven bowls poured out in chapter 16, and we are headed toward the end of the Apocalypse.
This cannot be teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This cannot be fulfilled in cycles of bad things and various plagues among mankind throughout church history. This is not being played out among us. We have not seen the τέλος telos of θυμός thumos, the perfection of God’s punishment on those who compromise with posers.
Christians conquer. Final victory is certain. Christianity is the religion for the world. There is plurality of “faiths” tolerated for now, but not forever. Christianity will not just come out “on top,” it will be the only.
So, let your soul up. Tell doubt and hesitation they are done. Wrap yourself in the repeated assurances in the Apocalypse.
It looks like Christianity ends in defeat, but we know that it only looks like defeat to those without faith. The vision of singing embolden our singing, the visions of righteousness compel our courage.
Our hope is not in numbers, it is not in our righteousness. Our hope is in the eternal God.
It’s cliché, and true, that the same sun that hardens the clay melts the wax. The same glory that blinds those in darkness is bright joy to the saints in light. The same majesty that angers the posers and makes them bitter invites the humble close to the throne. The dominion and authority that threatens the rebels is the security for every citizen of heaven. He is your Lord, your God, the Almighty. Trust Him to keep you from stumbling.
> Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25, ESV)