February 28, 2016 | Randy Smith
Unexpected PraiseRevelation 15:1-8
Sunday, February 28, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
If you ask children the one thing that often troubles them about their parents, they respond with the fact that they get angry too often. "My dad frequently loses his temper." "My mom is always yelling at me." We call this unrighteous anger. Unrighteous anger is clearly called a sin in the Bible.
Yet when you ask children as to what they admire in their parents, one of the rarest things mentioned is the esteemed biblical attribute of righteous anger. Why? One reason is probably that righteous anger is rarely seen in their parents. And the other reason is that righteous anger, even in the church, is rarely appreciated. Righteous anger is a jealous zeal for the glory of God.
Though it's an attribute of God not taught very often, God demonstrates perfectly righteous anger in the defense of His glory without ever committing a sin. Psalm 7:11, "God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day." We know of Jesus when He made a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the temple (Jn. 2:13-15). John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Without raising your hands, how many of you praise God for His love? How many for His mercy and grace? How many for His forgiveness? When is the last time you praised God for His wrath? Have we only fallen in love with part of who God is? Are we embarrassed that righteous anger is an attribute of God?
We've learned about the world's wrath upon the church. We've learned how people love their sins and refuse to turn to Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Now we'll learn about God's response to those very people - God's wrath upon them.
Chapter 15, the shortest chapter in Revelation, will prepare us for God's final and most severe judgment upon those on earth. We commonly refer to this as the "bowl judgments."
Three points this morning. Let's begin with "The Prelude."
1. The Prelude
Verse 1, "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished."
The book of Revelation is a vision from God given to the Apostle John. Included in the vision were many "signs." A sign is a picture that points beyond itself to disclose a theological meaning. In this sign mentioned in verse 1, John sees "seven angels" that were "great and marvelous."
We will learn later in the chapter that each of these angels was given a bowl of divine wrath. According to verse 1, the seven bowls of divine wrath are also known as "seven plagues." When these bowls are poured out on the earth, we also learn in verse 1 that "the wrath of God is finished."
So we've now witnessed the full gamut of God's wrath. First were the seals, then the trumpets, and now we'll learn about the bowls. Then, that is it - eternal assignments in heaven or hell for everyone. And as I've mentioned already, I am led to believe that that seventh seal is the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet is the seven bowls.
2. The Praise
Let's move to the second point, "The Praise."
Right after the bowls are introduced in verse 1, and a subject that we'll return to in verse 5, John inserts an interlude (in verses 2-4) by showing us how those in heaven will be reacting to the final display God's wrath. Their response might surprise you. It is one of worship.
Verse 2, "And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God."
The Bible uses many metaphors for the Christian life. One of those is a fight or a battle or a war. Being a Christian is not easy. In Antioch, Paul told the believers, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Ac. 14:22). Between the many opportunities in a lifetime to distrust God during trials or doubt God during persecution or desert God during worldly temptations, our journey with Christ is an ongoing fight that needs to go all 12 rounds. Remember what Jesus said, "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved" (Mt. 24:13).
What we see in verse 2 are those who have endured to the end. This is true for all believers, but the ones John singles out are those who have not bowed to the pressures to align with the antichrist (that we learned about in chapters 12 and 13). Heaven is the home for overcomers.
The verse says these Christians came through the great tribulation "victoriously." Defeated in the eyes of the world, but winning the spiritual victory by maintaining their faith until the end. We see them in heaven "standing" (implying resurrection), enjoying their reward and prepared to praise God for His greatness.
In verses 3 and 4 we hear about their song of praise. "And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, 'Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.'"
This hymn of praise from the believers in heaven is in the context of God's deliverance and the judgment He will pour out on His enemies. Let's break it down to better understand how we should praise God here on earth by following this example of the everlasting praise given to God in heaven.
First of all it is important to know much, if not all of this praise is from Scripture. When it comes to praising God or praying to God in our own lives may our words and thoughts likewise be saturated with Bible.
All right, let's break it down. Is this the way your praise to God goes? In verse 3 they say, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God." This is spoken of in Psalm 111:2-3. Contrast this to the world in chapter 13 that marveled after the beast. "Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?" (Rev. 13:4). Do you view God's works in history and in your life as great and marvelous? Right now, who or what are you most excited about? What thrills you and most captivates your attention and amazement? Is it God? Is it reflected in your prayers?
Moving on, God is called, "The Almighty." In the cosmic conflict, He will be victorious. He and His people will win in the end. He's Almighty, who can compete with Him? His plans will never be thwarted as He is able to carry out whatever He purposes.
Next they say, "Righteous and true are Your ways." Never does God act with impure motives, hesitation, in need of man's counsel, or with error. His actions are always in holiness and His words and are always true. Whatever happens according to the counsel of His will is right.
Next, He is the "King of the nations!" Whether people acknowledge Him or not, He is the sovereign ruler of the world. He controls His world in righteousness. In justice He blesses those forgiven in Christ. And in justice He punishes those who refuse to submit to His rightful reign. He is King and one day the whole world will acknowledge that He is King.
Next, "Who will not fear, O Lord." From Jeremiah 10:7, "Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You." When we contemplate God's utter holiness and intense hatred for sin and power over the cosmos and dreadful wrath, He, the only God of the universe is a God to be feared. He is not a punchline of a joke or casual friend or a deity in which we enter negotiations. He is Lord
Next, "And glorify Your name?" After contemplating the greatness of our God, we confess that He is worthy of all glory. We honor Him by doing all that we do for His glory. Our goal is no longer living for ourselves but rather dying to self that He might live through us to make His name great.
Next, "For You alone are holy." Not only is God perfect in His moral perfections, completely sinless, but He is also set apart, separate from all that He has created. Apart from redemption in Christ, He is unapproachable in His majestic power.
Next, "For all the nations will come and worship before You." Philippians 2 declares, "At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11). Psalm 89:9, "All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And they shall glorify Your name." Some who have overcome and endured to the end will worship God freely and willingly. The rest, those assigned to everlasting destruction, will still worship God though contrary to their heart's affections.
And last, "For Your righteous acts have been revealed." Throughout salvation history, God's deeds have been witnessed and proven to be righteous actions. The Scripture says all men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). And now at the end of history, God will in a decisive fashion unleash His wrath on a world that had rejected Him and persecuted His people. Those in heaven are praising God that even His wrath is nothing but righteous.
What a model prayer for us - God-centered, Christ-exalting, Scripture-saturated!
Before we move on to the third point, there is an interesting observation that I'd like to point out to you. Remember how I said that the book of Revelation closely parallels the Egyptian Exodus? Did you notice the many parallels in chapter 15 thus far?
In verse 1 the bowls of wrath are referred to as "plagues." Remember the ten plagues, God's wrath that was poured out on the Egyptians?
In verse 2, twice the believers in heaven are said to be standing on a "sea of glass." This signifies rest and peace. The context is that of them being delivered victoriously. Remember the literal Red Sea? Again, God's deliverance of His people from evil world forces. That was the first exodus. Through Christ, we have peace with God after the deliverance He gave us during the second exodus in the deliverance from our sins. The sea (a symbol of evil) is now calmed. It's like glass.
Also, remember when the Israelites were delivered from the Egyptian King? And when given victory they sang the "Song of Moses" (Exodus 15). It's no coincidence that when God's church is delivered from the beast that they in verse 3 sing not only the "song of Moses," but also the "song of the Lamb" - because their praise goes to Jesus.
And speaking of the Lamb, it was the slaughter of the lamb and its blood that was spilled to protect the Israelites in Egypt from God's wrath. When the blood of the lamb was applied, the wrath of God passed-over their houses. Likewise, we are saved from God's wrath through the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of the Lamb of God. When we receive Him, we understand that He took God's wrath in our place and thus protects us from ever experiencing God's wrath ourselves. Jesus is our Passover Lamb.
Those in heaven are those delivered from God's wrath, their sin taken away in Christ. Yet those on earth without any union with Jesus Christ, their sin still remaining, are now about to experience the most fearful and dreadful expression of God's wrath to date.
3. The Preparation
As we move to the third point, John resumes his explanation of the seven bowls introduced in verse 1.
Look at verses 5-7, "After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever."
The judgment is coming directly from God, yet it will be distributed by God's messengers, the angels. An interesting connection is seeing these verses in light of the only other verse in Revelation thus far that speaks of a bowl. In 5:8 we learned about "golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." And what were those prayers of the saints? 6:10, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Remember, God didn't deny their request. He only told them to be patient and enjoy their heavenly rest. Can we say that the answer for their prayer is now being delivered in the bowl judgments? It certainly seems so.
Verse 8, "And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished."
What an amazing verse! Once the time of God's final judgment has come, no one is able to stay by His hand. And the fury of God's wrath is so intense that according to verse 8 not even the heavenly beings can stand in His midst. At this point He becomes unapproachable even to His most intimate relationships. The magnitude of His glory and holiness and power is so intense, verse 8 says all have to wait outside (so to speak) until the seven bowl judgments of His wrath are completed.
Sound familiar? Again, remember the Exodus account? Exodus 19:18, "Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently" (cf. Ex. 19:12).
Lord willing, we'll get an up-close account of the bowl judgments when we begin chapter 16 next week. But for now I leave you with two simple thoughts. First, whose wrath do you fear the most? Is it the wrath of the world or the wrath of God? And if it is the wrath of God, are you protected from that wrath because you have truly given your life to the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who shed His blood to cover our sins. And second, do you praise God for all of His attributes? Do you love and honor and worship Him for all that He is, understanding that His wrath, holiness and justice are just as much of Him as is His love, mercy and grace?
Just this morning I was recalling an incident that happened to me a few months ago. As we were looking for Christmas trees, an unknown lady asked my opinion on a tree she was considering. We spoke for a while. A little later she asked me to hold up two different trees for comparison. Then it hit me, she thought I worked at the store. I played along to the end when I revealed that I was not an employee. Needless to say she was embarrassed, but we both had a good laugh.
Many view God in the same way. They are confused as to who He really is. It is not our job to create a God that we would like. On the contrary, it is His job to make us like Him. We simply receive Him for who He is - a God of love and a God of righteous anger, a God who is intimate with His children and also a God who is to be feared.