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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 15

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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After this partial anticipation of the final catastrophe, the Apocalypse returns to a fuller and independent description of its processes (Revelation 15:2-4 = Revelation 14:1-5 , Revelation 15:1 ; Revelation 15:5-8 . = Revelation 14:6-11 ; Revelation 14:14-20 ). The panorama of the prelude is once more sevenfold, but this time seven angels (under the control of God, Revelation 16:9 ) drench the earth with plagues from seven bowls which are brimming with the divine anger. The vision is a poetical expansion of Leviticus 26:21 ( προσθήσω ὑμῖν πληγὰς ἑπτὰ κατὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας ὑμῶν , cf. 18, 24, 28). The plagues, like Habbakuk’s theophany, recall the Egyptian plagues (Exodus 7-10.), but their description is less impressive than the previous cycles of punishment. Like the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:2-5 ), they are introduced by a scene in heaven (Revelation 15:2-4 ); Revelation 14:1 is merely a title or frontispiece to what follows (5 f.), since the angels do not become visible till 5 ( cf. Revelation 8:1-2 ; Revelation 8:6 ), and do not receive their bowls till 7. This θαυμαστόν (awe-inspiring) σημεῖον is the sequel ( ἄλλο ) to that of Revelation 12:1 f., and the plagues are final (1 ἐσχάτας ), in contrast to the trumpet-plagues (Revelation 9:20 ), as they represent the wrath of God which can no longer be repressed (Revelation 14:17-19 . = the working out of these plagues, cf. Revelation 16:12 f., Revelation 19:19 , Revelation 17:1 ). Like ch. 16., to which it forms an overture, 15. is not the revision of a Jewish source (so especially Spitta, Ménégoz, and Schmidt) but Christian (Briggs, Erbes) and the work of the Apocalyptist himself (Sabatier, Schön, Bousset, etc.)

Verse 2

Revelation 15:2 . νικ . ἐκ κ . τ . λ ., “those who came off conquerors from” another pregnant use of ἐκ ( cf. Revelation 2:21 , Revelation 8:11 ) combining the ideas of victory over ( cf. on Revelation 2:7 ) and deliverance from. A possible Latinism ( cf. L ivy 8:8, uictoriam ferre ex aliquo; 45:38, aliquis est Romae qui triumphari de Macedonis nolit?)? The prophet paints the downfall of the Roman persecutor in terms of the Jewish tradition preserved, e.g. , in Targ. Jerus. (on Exodus 12:42 ) which singled out four memorable nights, that of the creation, that on which God’s promise of a son came to Abram, that of the tenth Egyptian plague, and that on which the world is ended (when Moses appears in a cloud from the wilderness and messiah in a cloud from Rome, led by the Word of the Lord). cf. Schemoth Rabba on Exodus 12:2 : ex quo Deus mundum suum elegit, determinauit principium mensis redemptionis, quo liberati sunt Israelitae ex Aegypto, et quo liberabuntur futuro saeculo. In time as well as in method ( cf. on Revelation 8:6 , and 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 ) the two redemptions, Mosaic and messianic, are to correspond. πυρί , a truly Red sea, red with the glow of God’s wrath. Like Pharaoh and his host (Exodus 15:5 ; Exodus 15:10 = Revelation 18:21 ) the persecutors of God’s people in these latter days not only fail to effect their purpose, but are themselves destroyed by God’s vengeance ( cf. Revelation 16:2 ). The faithful get through their sea of troubles, resisting threats and persuasions, and now stand safe at ( i.e. , on the shore of) the heavenly sea. “Duteous mourning we fulfil / In God’s name; but by God’s will / Doubt not the last word is still / victory” (D. G. Rossetti). Here, as at Revelation 12:11 the thrill of triumph is enhanced by the fearful odds against which the saints had to contend. Apparently the world is now tenanted by pagans only, God’s faithful having been removed. Hence the plagues are all-embracing (contrast Revelation 7:1 f.). Cf. Revelation 20:4 .

Verses 2-4

Revelation 15:2-4 . An interlude like Revelation 19:1 f. The manifestation of divine judgment (4) evokes reverence (contrast Revelation 16:11 ) and praise from the saints in heaven.

Verse 3

Revelation 15:3 . As in Exodus 14-15. Moses leads Israel in a song of praise to God over the dead Egyptians, so, after Rome’s downfall (Revelation 14:8 f., Revelation 15:2 ) the faithful are led by their captain (Revelation 12:11 , Revelation 14:1 ; Revelation 14:4 , cf. Hebrews 2:12 ), in a chant of triumph and gratitude. (Note the lack of any reference to their own sufferings. Their interest is in the great work of God.) For messiah as a second Moses in Jewish tradition, cf. Gfrörer, ii. 328 f. The song on the Red Sea had already been adapted to the worship of the Therapeutae (Philo, de uit. contempl . § xi.) τὴν ᾠδὴν τ . ἀ . There is a continuity in redemption, which unites the first deliverance to the final. True to his cardinal idea of the identity of God’s people (Christians being the real Israel, cf. on Revelation 1:6 ), the prophet hails Jesus as the Christian Moses who, at the cost of his life, is commissioned by God to deliver the new Israel from their bondage to an earthly monarchy. The lyric with its Hebrew parallelisms is a Vorspiel of the succeeding judgments; it resembles ( cf. E.Bi. 4954) the benediction after the Shema of Judaism (“a new song did they sing to Thy name, they that were delivered, by the seashore; together did all praise and own Thee as King, saying, ‘Yahveh shall reign world without end’ ”), and is almost entirely composed of O.T. phrases. Adoration is its theme, stirred by the sense of God’s justice. Similarly the famous hymn to Shamash, the Assyrian god of justice, which represents one of the highest reaches in ancient religious literature (Jastrow, pp. 300, 301): “Eternally just in the heavens are thou, / Of faithful judgment towards all the world art thou.” Most editors take the phrase καὶ τὴν ᾠδ . τ . ἀ . as a gloss; but if the song has nothing to do with the Lamb, it is as silent on Moses. Since the whole section comes from the pen of the general author, and since the collocation of the two ᾠδαί (equivalent of course to a single hymn) is awkward mainly in appearance, while the omission of the Lamb’s Song would leave the section incomplete, it seems better to regard it as original rather than as a scribe’s addition like Revelation 14:10 , etc. As in Revelation 14:1 ; Revelation 14:3 , the Lamb is among his followers, yet not of them.

Verse 4

Revelation 15:4 . God’s holiness is the reason why his name must be feared and magnified, especially when its effects are visible in the reverent homage of all nations to God (a hyperbolical statement in view of Revelation 16:9 , etc.) at the sight of his “deeds of judgment” ( δικαιώματα = judicial sentences, here of condemnation and penalty) inflicted on the world ( cf. Daniel 9:14 f.). The absolute and unique (note the prophet’s insertion of μόνος ) reign of Yahveh was a traditional tenet of Mosaism; indeed for Orientals generally the power which formed their ideal source of righteousness and justice partook necessarily of a monarchic character ( R. S. 74 f.). To the Semites it appeared that the perfection of their god as a just king formed a ground for his ultimate sovereignty over the nations of the world. The O.T. outlook and the phraseology warn us not to press the poetical language too closely here; otherwise ( cf. Revelation 14:6-7 ) it would contradict, e.g. , the characteristic idea of the author that the bowl-plagues, instead of producing penitence and submission, ended in defiant blasphemy. ἐνώπιόν σου , here a reverential periphrasis, it being considered in the later O.T. literature, the Targums, and the N.T. (occasionally) more respectful to worship and pray before the royal god than directly to him (Dalman, i. viii. 5). For the whole conception of this dual song see Targ. Jonath. on Isaiah 26:1 and Targ. Schir Haschirim i. 1; the latter reckons ten songs altogether, (1) Adam’s at his forgiveness, (2) that of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea, (3) that of the Israelites, when the spring of water was given them, (4) that of Moses at his death, (5) Joshua’s at Gibeon, (6) that of Barak and Deborah, (7) Hannah’s, (8) David’s, (9) Solomon’s, and (10) that which the children of the captivity are to sing when the Lord frees them. It tallies with this expectation that the new song of the Apocalypse (Revelation 5:9 , Revelation 14:3 ) is always a song of Christ’s redemption.

Revelation 15:5 to Revelation 16:1 : the introduction to the seven bowls or plagues.

Verse 5

Revelation 15:5 . The temple in heaven is here “the tent (or tabernacle) of witness,” as it represents God’s judicial revelation and presence; its contents and the movements of which it forms the source, are evidence of God’s covenant with his people.

Verse 6

Revelation 15:6 . These heavenly beings are magnificent creatures, robed in gold and light (a Hellenic conception, Dieterich, 38 f.) and linen (to denote their honourable and sacred office: so the scribe of judgment, Ezekiel 9:2 , and the angel in Daniel 10:5 ; Daniel 12:6 ). Plutarch ( de Iside , 3, 4) explains that the linen surplice was affected by Egyptian votaries of Isis for religious reasons; e.g. , the bright smiling colour of flax, its freedom from lice, and the smooth, cleanly material it yielded.

Verses 7-8

Revelation 15:7-8 . The φιάλαι shallow bowls or saucers, do not exhale a smoke (like the censer of Revelation 8:4 ) grateful to God; they are filled with poisonous, hot, bitter wine, while the smoke pours from the divine majesty, whose intense holiness (Revelation 15:4 , as in O.T. theophanies) is breaking out in judgments against human sin ( δόξα = the divine δύναμις in action or expression). Smouldering fires of indignation are now on the point of bursting into punishment from the arsenal of anger. Hence, till the plagues are over, God’s presence is unendurable (as in Enoch xiv. 18 f.). This emphasis on the unapproachable, austere majesty of God is consonant with the general religious feeling reflected in the Apocalypse ( cf. on Revelation 1:2 ).

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 15". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/revelation-15.html. 1897-1910.
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