26 Feb 2023
Passage Revelation 15:1-4
Speaker Chris Haley
Have you ever met someone who can make the simplest of things sound complicated? Like people who describe their jobs in grandiose terms! See if you can understand any of these:
Transparent-wall maintenance engineer (Window Cleaner), Customer Experience Enhancement Consultant (Shop Assistant), Education Centre refreshments and nutrition supervisor (Lunchtime Assistant), Gastronomical Hygiene Technician (Potwasher), Domestic Technician (Housewife/husband).
It’s fairly easy to make something sound more complicated. What’s less easy is to make something complicated sound simple, but that is our goal… to make Revelation, well, not simple, but at least slightly less difficult. So no ‘isms’, no long words, no requirement to read complicated commentaries or books, and you won’t need to have a degree in history. We’re going to read it understanding it from what we read elsewhere in the Bible.
There are four basic views- most of what you read, hear or watch comes under these four. You can make it all about the past: some think it was all done and dusted by 70 AD when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. You can make it all about the future: nearly everything in Revelation is about a period in history still to come. You can make it about the whole of history between Christ’s first and second coming: either in order- looking for specific people and events in history- or in principle- these are timeless truths that apply to every age. There are literally hundreds of variations and combinations of these four.
We’re going to take one particular line on this, but I’ve been reading material from all these four views and all have something to commend themselves. That’s why Christians have disagreed about this over the years. There are good people who have taken all these positions and it’s ok for you to disagree on this one, but a) let’s not fall out about this- this not a issue central to the Gospel, as long as we agree Jesus is coming back. And b) let’s keep it a discussion about what the book actually says, not what books we’ve read about Revelation, but about Revelation itself.
What we’ve been saying all the way through the last part of our series is that what we have in Revelation is simply: New Testament truth in Old Testament language. It’s as though Ezekiel or Zechariah sat down and wrote a Gospel! So we should expect to see things we already know. Things that we already see elsewhere in the New Testament but put in a very strange symbolic way. Using Old Testament imagery to tell New Testament truth. And it’s a book about Jesus! It is a revelation 1v1 “of Jesus Christ” It’s both from him and about Him. It is a book about the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and its implications for the first readers in the first century to help them endure and live for Jesus, and for us now, to help us endure and live for Jesus, And that’s what we have been seeing. So our first heading…
The Story So Far
The book of revelation starts with a vision of Jesus Christ. We noted at the time that this chapter is helpful for understanding how the book works. The imagery used of Jesus here is from the Old Testament, partly the image of Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 and partly Daniel’s vision of a Man in Daniel 10. Here we have a God-man, dressed as a priest, tending to the lamps in the heavenly temple, except the lampstands are actually churches, and we don’t have to guess about this Revelation tells us that’s what they are:
…the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20b ESV)
Helpfully revelation does this quite a bit as we go through- though not always in the places you want them. What follows then is seven letters to seven churches in what is now Turkey. Lessons for Christians in all sorts of circumstances. Whatever situation we are in the seven churches have something to say to it. Seven in revelation as we’ve seen has to do with completeness, wholeness, holiness and perfection. The seven churches then speak to the whole church. Chapter 4 sets the scene for the rest of the book. The church and all creation around the throne, in God’s orbit, serving his purposes, but God’s big plan for the world risks being thwarted. He has a sealed scroll with his plans for world on it, but no-one is found worthy to open it and enact what it’s in it. Until John is told of the Lion of Judah, when he looks round he sees a Lamb looking as though it has been slain- covered in eyes- all seeing, with seven horns- completely powerful- almighty! The Lord Jesus is the one who worthy to open the scroll and enact God’s purposes and plans for the world. Notice though, same person, different angle, different perspective. We’ll see this lots! The next chapter deals with the effects of breaking the seals: Conquest, Famine, War, Disease pictured as horsemen sent to unsettle the world, which we saw mark our age. Martyred saints are then calling out for justice from heaven and told to wait. Then the beginning of the end as men and women seek to hide from God and call for the rocks to fall on them. Before the final seal though there’s an interlude and we see what is happening to God’s people during this time.
Chapter 7 sees God sealing his people- keeping them safe. John is told about a specific number of people from specific tribes of Israel, but when he looks round there’s an innumerable multitude from every nation under heaven! Same idea from two angles again. The final seal is broken in chapter 8. The world ends as God’s wrath in response to the prayers of the saints is poured out, and then like groundhog day we go back to the start again. Everything resets and we start again.
We get similar things happening as with the seals, but this time they’re pictures seven trumpets to warn the world of what’s to come. Creation is undone with the first four trumpets-they affect the land, the sea, the rivers and the sky. A third, a chunk, being knocked out each time, then we see the spiritual side of what’s going on as God’s judgement is pictured like an army of locusts in the book of Joel, but with demonic features, Satanic, oppressive forces are used to torment the earth. The chapter ended with the sixth trumpet blasting sending plagues of fire smoke and sulphur on the earth.
But despite all the suffering, despite all the warnings, humankind has not turned to God, instead they have doubled down on their idols! Despite the megaphone to rouse a sleeping world, the world is still sleepwalking to destruction. It seems hopeless, but then in chapter 10 the camera angle changes and we see what else is going on- an interlude in between the sixth and seventh trumpet. A huge angel with a face like the sun and a rainbow over its head, and legs which are pillars of fire holds a scroll who commissions John on behalf of God’s people to take the message of this scroll to the ends of the Earth. While the trumpets are sounding God’s people are to get on with preaching the Gospel! The same message is hammered home in chapter 11 where we see two witnesses, prophets, speaking God’s truth slain in the streets for their preaching. A reminder both of the prophetic role of the church in our age, and of the persecution of the church, yet raised again after 3½ days. Three and a half in various forms comes up a lot- half of seven, half of the whole- the second half of history. The chapter ends with the seventh trumpet, and we’re told “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.” In other words after all the destruction of the six trumpets, the end has come. There’s a song, the temple is opened again and the cycle starts again in ch 12.
In Revelation 12 we go right back to Jesus birth, the beginning of the second half of history. He’s born as the offspring of a woman, God’s people. The devil tries to get him, but fails, and he’s taken up to heaven- a very, very abridged Gospel according to John! Unable to get Jesus, the devil goes after the woman instead and her children. The devil rages, but the woman is kept safe for 3½ years- the second half of history. Not from want of trying the devil sends two beasts after her in chapter 13: Political persecution from a beast who reigns, and religious persecution from a beast who looks like a lamb, but has the voice of dragon,
The signs continue in chapter 14: Three angels with messages of warning and judgement for mankind, and the saints are called to endure through this. The chapter finishes with two harvests: a grain harvest- to bring in God’s people, and grape harvest of judgement for the whole Earth. We were left with a river of blood nearly as long as the river Thames, and 5-6 foot deep! This means we’re now here in the book, at the end of the seven visions and about to begin the seven trumpets, and as most of the sections it ends with a song and the temple being opened or something similar. We’re just going to focus on the song this morning. We’ll pick the rest up next week when we look at the trumpets, but for now we’ve been left with the question: what happened to those saints who have been harvested? Those who have endured? We find out this morning.
The Seventh Sign v1-2
1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. 2 And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. (Revelation 15:1-2 ESV)
The view switches again from Earthly to Heavenly. Here we see seven angels who are given seven plagues which we’ll see are in seven bowls of God’s wrath. This is the last seven in our sets of seven. We won’t actually see them in action though until next week! This is just introducing them. Then we see what has happened after the seven trumpets have sounded before the cycle resets. We see the sea of glass that first appeared in chapter 4, the one that stood still before the throne, only now it is mingled with the fire of judgement. The waters of chaos have been used in judgement, and it’s no longer a clear sea, but a sea red with fire! And next to this red sea we see the saints who have overcome the beast
Who endured the persecution of the beast. Who did not compromise and give in to the worldly systems of the world, the fake saviours, and the false signs. The beast has been defeated by the plagues and judgement God sent, and now the victorious ones stand by the sea and sing. Sound familiar? It sounds a lot like Exodus doesn’t it!
It’s only a couple of months since we looked at God’s people singing the song of Moses by the Red Sea, well here they sing the song of Moses and the song of the lamb, a new rescue has taken place, a new exodus with a new substitute lamb, a new judgement on the world, which brought salvation to his people, a new greater redemption, a victory over the beast! In the midst of judgement there has been salvation. Moses sang of the victory of the Lord
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:1b ESV)
He sang of the wonderous deeds that God had done
“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)
He spoke of the people being brought to God’s holy abode to dwell there
17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. (Exodus 15:17 ESV)
A sanctuary, not made with human hands, and now they are here! Redeemed, rescued, home, and the natural response to that… is to sing! So we finally get to…
The Song v3-4
3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:3-4 ESV)
For a victory song this sounds pretty strange: It makes no mention of the battle. It makes no mention of the enemies. It makes no mention of the soldiers. Instead the overwhelming theme is God: His greatness, His worthiness, His wonderful deeds! But isn’t that exactly the point. This is the end of history song. This is the one that will be played and sung for all of eternity. How unsatisfying would it be if the great chorus of time was about anything less? How daft would it be to spend our lifetime testifying to the greatness of God and then spend the rest of eternity singing about something else! No, God is the big deal, now and forever. And like the song of Moses, the great song of redemption is about Him.
I should say though, I don’t think this is suggesting that all we will do for eternity is sing with our lips. In the Garden of Eden at the beginning Adam and Eve had unhindered fellowship with God, and yet they served Him in other ways, as they tended the garden. It’s more that this is the theme of eternity. This is the song we will be singing for eternity in our hearts. That doesn’t mean we might not go around singing our hearts out, but I don’t think Scripture would lead us to believe eternity is one big concert. It’s not clouds and harps either. Yes, there are harps here, but harps with the old word equivalent to banjos or guitars- they were hand held string instruments. Don’t think concertos, think choruses, think lively. Anyway, back to the passage: what will we sing about God in our hearts or outloud? The first verse of the song is about God, his deeds and his ways.
His deeds are amazing and great!
This line is the closest to anything we have in the actual song of Moses in Exodus, but bear in mind in the song of Moses his deeds in context were his judgements of the Egyptians, and the same phrase is used in verse 1 and there it is used to describe the sending of 7 plagues on the earth via 7 angels. All his deeds are amazing! But here his deeds are probably more to do with his judgement in the previous chapter. That’s not that we’ll see God’s judgement and stand by and say ‘Great, amazing!’ That’s not the meaning of these words, whether that’s true or not. Amazing, in English and in Greek means something that amazes you, that you marvel at. It’s something that stops you in your tracks, demands your attention. ‘Great’, doesn’t mean brilliant, it means big, mighty. God’s does not do things do things by half! So His deeds are huge, they are awe-inspiring. They are mouth-stopping marvels that have no equal! They are jaw dropping wonders, that we cannot quite take in. This is what we will sing and rejoice in. We have a God who has acted in history, who has brought about his purposes. We do not have a heart-hearted or disinterested God. We have the Lord God Almighty, literally ruler of all! And its his deeds are the ones we’ll spend eternity marvelling at. Secondly…
His ways are just and true
The second thing we will sing is that his ways are just and true. God’s judgements are fair and right. There is never overreaction with God. He never takes things too far. There is no miscarriage of justice with God. His judgements are always right. All his ways are right. Sometimes that’s hard to believe. Again and again in the Bible we see believers calling out to God for the seeming unfairness of their situation: ‘I do what’s right and my life seems hard! They do what’s wrong and their life seems easy!’ It can feel like that, can’t it sometimes! But here, after the end, when all wrongs have been righted, we’ll see clearly that all God’s ways were right and true. He always did the right thing. He never treated anyone unfairly. And it can help us to know that if we’re going through tough times. He is King of the nations, King of all the world! In fact the word there for nations is ‘ethnos’. All ethnicities, all peoples. There is no partiality or injustice with him. The second verse is to do with what happens as a response to who God is: fear and worship. So thirdly…
All will fear and bring glory to his name
The statement is posed as a question, but the answer is a resounding ‘none!’. At the end no-one will not fear and bring him glory. All will bow! That is not to say that all will be saved, but that in different ways God will be glorified and feared by all. For some that fear will be the fear and awe that a child has for their father. Marvelling at their great power and authority. For others that fear will be will be the terror of a dungeon. For some that glory will be glory as they sing this song, spending eternity honouring God and telling of God’s saving acts. For other that glory will be glory as they show God’s righteousness in judgment by being judged. Two very different paths, but with one overriding goal- the glory and fear of God. For both ways though the reason given is God’s holiness. The fact that He is holy like no other. There is none is like him. Not even close! Our holiness pales in comparison with his holiness. Ours is often lukewarm and changeable. His is unchanging and like a white hot fire- from one perspective awe-inspiring to look at, from another terrifying, and consuming, leaving destruction in its wake. The holiness of God is at once awesome, and awful; terrific, and terrifying. It is completely unique in the universe, and the cause of both awe and fear. All will fear and bring glory to his name. The final thing we’ll sing about God…
All will come and worship
The Final thing that all will do is come and worship. It may look now like the world is in rebellion against him. We see it every day in news. We see it every day in our own lives. But one day it will not be. One day the rebellion will over. The war between God and man will be over. All will bow before God. Why? Because, end of verse four, his righteous acts have been revealed. What God has done will be plain for all to see. There will be no denying God’s amazing acts. There will be no exchanging God’s glory for something else. It will be clear that everything good and right and pure in the universe was from God alone. No-one will be able to deny it! Not Richard Dawkins, not Rousseau. Not Baal worshipers, not beast worshippers. Not Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, or Muslims. Not communist dictators, not fascist dictators. Not princes, kings, queens, emperors, or empresses. None will be able to deny what God has done! And all will bow in awe or terror before the glory of his holiness!
What an encouragement that would be to the first readers. So many facing persecution and hardship under oppressive regimes: one day God’s righteous acts will be revealed!
What an encouragement to us to keep going! One day every knee will bow! They may look big and mighty now, they might seem clever and smug, but not before God! Not before the Lord Almighty, the King of the nations! Some things about the future may seem complicated, but this is simple: At the end of history is that God wins! And we shall be there with him for eternity, singing of his glory, singing of his wonderous deeds, singing the song of the lamb- the Lord Jesus. We will not be lost in fires of judgement: those who heeded the trumpet calls and turned and repented, who refused to worship what the world worships. We will be there, gathered by the crystal sea! Does that thrill your heart? His job title will be Lord Almighty. And our job title will be: knee bower, name glorifier, God-fearer, worshipper. But our job doesn’t start then, it starts now! Bow the knee to King Jesus. Bring glory to his name on Earth. Fear God alone and worship Him. And keep going endure, make it to the crystal sea. And join in with the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb.