Chapter fifteen is another short one, and really it and the previous chapter form a kind of triumphant interlude before all heaven breaks loose in the form of the seven bowl judgments. In the last entry we saw the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion with the lamb. Now we see the gentile believers who overcame the beast by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives to the death (12:11). They are standing on the heaven-side of the crystal sea of glass–the barrier which decisively and permanently separates them from the horrors they faced at the hand of the beast (Roman emperor/empire).
The scene is one of victory, not unlike that in the book of Exodus after the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea and the waters had swallowed up the armies of Pharaoh (Exodus 14). In that chapter it tells us that the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore (14:30). Exodus 15:1-18 records the Song of Moses that the Israelites sang in response to the mighty deliverance of Yahweh. Here in Revelation 15:3 it tells us that the overcomers sang this very song as they stood on the crystal sea in heaven. I have reproduced the entire song here because I think it contains lyrics we might not expect to hear rolling off the lips of a heavenly company of believers. I encourage you to read it now:
1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
2 The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.
4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
5 The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.
6 Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.
7And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.
8 And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.
10 Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.
11 Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
12Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.
13 Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.
14The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.
15Then the princes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.
16 Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.
17 Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O LORD, which thy hands have established.
18 The LORD shall reign for ever and ever.
Whereas the Israelites sang this song in response to God’s judgment of His enemies, the overcomers sing it in anticipation. God’s judgment is here viewed proleptically. Proleptic expressions are used in scripture to emphasize the certainty of the outcome. We see another example in Romans 8:29-30 where Paul speaks of those whom God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. Even though glorification is yet future, it is expressed–as are the four other verbs–with the Greek aorist tense, indicating past snapshot action. In other words if you have been foreknown, predestined, called, and justified, your future glorification is as good as done. Similarly, the overcomers here are able to sing of God’s judgment as a past event because it is imminent and inevitable. There is no stopping it now. It’s all over for the devil, beast, false prophet, and earth dwellers.
The tone is imprecatory. To imprecate means to call down judgment and destruction. In the Old Testament psalter there is an entire class of psalms whose purpose is imprecation; for example Psalm 137, which closes with this imprecatory word against Babylon: O daughter of Babylon, who are about to be destroyed, happy is the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy is the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock! (Psalm 137:8-9)
The overcomers have been subjected to unthinkable brutality because of their testimony. Their enemies have hated them, just as they hated their Lord and Savior; and now with righteous indignation they sing of the destruction of those enemies. We tend to think exclusively in terms of Paul’s directives to submit to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1ff) and to pray for the salvation of our civil rulers (1 Timothy 2:1-5). Ironically, these commands were written during the peaceful early years of Nero’s rule; but bear in mind that it was Nero who, as tradition tells us, had Paul beheaded in the Roman dungeon during the later years of his reign.
But these overcomers did not submit to the civil authorities, but rather rebelled against state-mandated emperor worship. And now they are not praying for the salvation of the civil rulers, but rather their annihilation. They wait anxiously for God to kick some serious butt.
They will wait no longer. The inner holy sanctuary of the heavenly tabernacle opens and out come the seven angels carrying the bowel judgments. These plagues come directly from the very dwelling place of God’s glory, and no one may enter this place until the bowel judgments are complete. In case you didn’t know it already, God is angry and fed up. His patience has run out and now the day of reckoning has come.
We modern Christians do not want to think of God in the way He is portrayed here. I heard a famous televangelist say once on a cable talk show that nothing bad ever comes from God. It is never God’s will for people to get sick or to be poor. When the host asked him why people suffer these things he blamed it on the devil, as if we lived in a dualistic kind of universe where Satan is on par with God in terms of his power and authority. I heard another famous Christian author say that natural disasters such as tsunamis do not issue from God, but from Mother Nature. Again, a dualism not taught in God’s word. Scripture teaches that God is absolutely sovereign over everything and everyone in His universe–the devil included, and evil included. Like it or lump it.
The encouraging thing is that if you are on Team Jesus you are on the winning side. You might suffer in this world just because it goes with the territory of living in a fallen creation; or, you might suffer ostracizing, economic sanction, ridicule, persecution, and even death for your testimony. But ultimately you cannot lose if you are in Christ. And, if you are not in Him you can’t win for losing, regardless of what the temporal circumstances might seem to say.
That is the message of this chapter we have discussed today.