Rev 15:1 opens a scene in heaven which introduces the seven plagues. John’s opening statement is: “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” (Rev 15:1).
His statement that these are “the last” because “the wrath of God is finished” leads some commentators — especially futurists — to see these as occurring in our distant future, at the end of history. While I believe history does have an end, I don’t believe that John’s vision looks to that consummate end. Rather something else is going on here.
In this heavenly vision John sees seven angels who had seven plagues (15:1b). As with the previous seven-step vision, this is strongly influenced by Lev 26 where God’s warns of his seven-fold covenant curses on Israel (Lev 26:18, 21, 24, 28). There the Lord warns four times: “‘If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.” Embedded in this judgment warning is the maxim: to whom much is given, much is required (Lk 12:48; Mt 13:12). And Israel certainly received much from God (Dt 4:7–8; Ps 147:19–20; Am 3:2; Ro 3:1–2; 9:4–5) by way of “the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12).
The focus on Israel in this passage is evident in that the saints pictured above the fray sing the “song of Moses” (15:3), the actions result in the opening of the “tabernacle of testimony” (15:5), and the judgments fall on “the Land” (16:1). Brink (182) states that the overthrow of Babylon [which this eventually effects] in the second half of the book is, in many ways, similar to the fall of Jerusalem in first half.” but I would argue that this is so because it is the fall of Jerusalem.
Four Views on the Book of Revelation
(ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation.
Ken Gentry writes the chapter on the preterist approach to Revelation.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
These angels have the seven plagues which are the last (15:1c). G. K. Beale argues that the reference to “the last” (tas eschatas) simply gives us “the order in which John saw the visions and not necessarily the chronological order of their occurrence in history.” Stephen Smalley and Ian Boxall agree. Beale is surely correct that these do not portray the consummation events concluding earth history (contra Grant Osborne and G. R. Beasley-Murray, for instance). After all, the events are close in John’s time (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10) and will answer the cry of the pleading saints who were told to wait only “a little while longer” (6:11). And he is correct that this is the last formal series, since the seals and trumpets have preceded them and no numbered series follows.
That John designates these as the “last” plagues suggests the finality of the wrath of God upon Israel, for in them the wrath of God is finished (etelesth , aor. pass. functioning as a prophetic perf., 15:1c). That is, God’s wrath is completed upon those for whom it is intended (cf. 1:7; cp. Mt 23:32, 38; 24:2; 1Th 2:16c). In that Israel’s special role in redemptive history finally and forever ends in AD 70, these plagues are her last as God’s unique people. With her demise, the kingdom of God has been “taken away” from her and “given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (Mt 21:43). The final destruction of the temple accomplishes this.
Jesus appears to teach this also in Mt 8:10–12: “Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (cp. Mt 22:1–7).
As Osborne observes (but misapplies), this imagery of divine wrath speaks of a “divine lawsuit” and “in the OT the ‘wrath of God’ usually has covenant implications.” In Rev’s forensic drama, this represents the covenantal wrath of God upon his apostate people Israel (his old covenant wife), who are deemed “a synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9), an “Egypt” (11:8), a land beast (13:11ff) in the employ of Satan and the Roman sea beast (13:1ff). Soon her capital city will be presented as a Babylonian harlot (17:1ff; cf. 16:19; 18:2ff), reminding us of the first temple’s destruction by Old Testament Babylon.
The Glory of Christ (book by R. C. Sproul)
From the angels’ revelation of Jesus’ glory to the shepherds outside Bethlehem,
to Jesus’ life-changing revelation of His glory to Paul on the Damascus road,
Sproul guides us to a deeper understanding of Christ’s glory.
For more study materials: www.KennethGentry.com
In this and the next verses the exodus motif will arise once again, for the “plagues” remind us of the Egyptian plagues (15:1; cp. 16:1ff), the “victorious” ones standing at the sea (15:2) remind us of the Red Sea, and they sing the song of Moses (15:3). The remnant of Israel (14:1; cp. 7:4–8), which is the true Israel, departs out of fallen Israel and appears with God (cf. 18:4).