Revelation: The Time is Near
Revelation is the last book of the Bible. Ch. 15 is about 2/3rds through the book. These eight verses unveil another strange vision, consisting of two interrelated scenes. As I read this chapter, pay attention to two themes: wrath and worship. God expresses wrath as His people express worship. He accepts worship as he inflicts wrath. It’s jarring to us. If we read carefully and honestly, this vision awes us and horrifies us at the same time. Hear God’s Word:
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. 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.” 5 After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, 6 and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. 7 And 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, 8 and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Rev 15:1–8)
Put yourself in John’s shoes. You were raised in a family and culture that was steeped in Scripture. From childhood, you learned Bible stories as part of your family history. You heard God’s Word daily and weekly. You memorized it and meditated on it.
Then, as an adult, you meet the very One that your people had longed for for centuries. The Messiah. You become His disciple. You live in Jesus’s inner circle for three years. You witness his death and resurrection. Later, you write a letter (we call it 1 John) in which you recall touching, hearing, and seeing the very Word of Life.
And now, late in life, Jesus visits you in exile on an island called Patmos. He shows you visions that depict the demise of this present evil age and the establishment of the eternal new heavens and earth. As Jesus unveils this vision in chapter 15, you see a sea. On the far shore of the sea, God’s people gather. They are singing. They are moving toward God’s holy sanctuary. In the same vision, God is sending plagues into the world. As you watch and listen, you recognize the song. It is the song of Moses.
You are seeing a reenactment of the Exodus. You recall how God brought your people out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. He first sent plagues on Egypt to force Pharoah to let the people go. The whole story appears in the first 15 chapters of Exodus. Pharoah changed his mind and led his Army to pursue the Israelites, trapping them against the sea. But God instructed Moses to stretch out his walking stick over the sea. When he did, God divided the water and God’s people walked across on solid ground.
Pharoah’s army tried to do the same thing, but God collapsed the water and drown them. On the far shore, God’s people broke into song. After the celebration, Moses led them to Mt. Sinai, where God met with them and revealed plans for a tabernacle where he would live with them.
The Exodus stands as the foremost example of God’s saving power in the Old Testament. In one sense, the book of Genesis is a preface to the Exodus, and the rest of the Old Testament celebrates the salvation that God worked through this event.
In Genesis, God’s perfect creation deteriorates poisoned by human wickedness. Egypt with her false gods rises as the most powerful empire. God’s people serve as slaves to these oppressive pagans. The false gods seem to have the upper hand. But then comes the Exodus.
The Exodus provides evidence for two fundamental truths: The Living Lord is the only God; and, He will rescue his people by subduing all their enemies. God alone is sovereign. God alone will save. There is no god beside Him and no salvation apart from Him. The rest of the OT looks back at the Exodus as the supreme example of God’s salvation to that point. I cite just one example, Psalm 66:5–7, written over 500 years after the Exodus,
Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, 7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations…. (Psalm 66:5–7)
The OT prophets predict that God will initiate a second Exodus at the climax of history, even better than the first. This is the Exodus symbolized in Revelation 15. This new Exodus is led not by Moses but by Jesus Christ. It is a greater and better Exodus. The old Exodus proves to be a sign that points to the ultimate Exodus fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
My goal in this message is for you to discover from Revelation 15 why and how Jesus’ Exodus is better than the first Exodus. If you will take this into your heart, it will change how you look at and how you live your life.
Jesus’s Exodus is Better Because, If You Belong to Christ, It Includes You
The first Exodus involved God rescuing a specific people, a large family, a single ethnic group oppressed by another. Israel entered Egypt as Jacob’s family—70 people resettling within a world-dominating empire. Jacob’s twelve sons became the heads of twelve tribes. Egypt enslaved them because Pharoah perceived the Israelites to be a threat to their dominance.
In the Exodus, God separated His people from all the nations. He constituted Israel as a true nation. In the original song of Moses, the people sing of God’s triumph over their enemies.
“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. 5 The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. 6 Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. (Exodus 15:4–6)
Other nations hear of God’s salvation and shudder because they are vulnerable to God’s judgment. The song continues,
The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. (Exodus 15:14–15)
But God’s plan was always bigger than one nation. It was global. In the new Exodus, all nations pass through the Sea into God’s presence. The choir on the far shore includes representatives from across the world. It includes all who belong to Christ in this room right now.
You used to be the nations. You belonged to those in Revelation 13:8 who worship the beast. You were enslaved to your passions, determined to live apart from God’s rule, and your heart hardened to God’s purposes. You should have feared and glorified God (v. 4) but you refused.
And then Jesus Christ rescued you. He now includes you in his people who are not just from one nation but all nations. If this is true then Christ is saving your enemies. He is saving people who are different from you; people from different races and ethnic backgrounds; people from different socio-economic conditions; people of different classes and cultures; people outside your family. He is saving people from every continent and people group. And all are standing together as equals in God’s presence, worshiping God together.
No excuse for prejudice exists. No one can claim superiority. We were all trapped in self-worshiping slavery. We had to be rescued. We cannot save ourselves. We sing not because we are holy but because God alone is holy (v. 4). We sing not because our righteous acts have been revealed but because his righteous acts have been revealed (v. 4). We deserved a fate like Pharoah and his armies. God would have been just to drown us in the sea of his wrath. But he saved us. We have conquered because He won the battle.
By including you in His Exodus, Jesus declares that you belong to true Israel. In Christ, you qualify to receive all God’s promised blessings. You are welcomed, loved, accepted, and affirmed beyond your deepest expectation. There has been, is, and will only be one people of God and you are a part of it in Christ. Your spiritual birth certificate marks you as born into the family. Your citizenship is in heaven. A new exodus is going on right now and, in Christ, you belong to it.
You do not look back at an event that your ancestors experienced, you are even now a part of this new Exodus. In Christ, you are no longer enslaved to your desires or the approval of other people. You are free. He is leading you through the wilderness of this world to His Father’s holy home.
By faith, let this truth change you. Let it describe your identity. Let it determine your purpose in this world. Let it define your destiny. This world and the Satanic forces that control it deceive and entice you to follow your passions; live for yourself. They want you to live as if there is no world beyond the Sea; that what we have here in this “Egypt” is all there is; that there is no time like the present.
People of the New Exodus are not seduced by the grandeur and glitz of this world. They conquer the beast’s image (v. 2). They have a distinct identity. They won’t take his number or name (v. 2). They refuse to worship empty idols like money, romance, intelligence, or physical strength and looks. They worship the only God who alone can save.
People of the new Exodus enjoy blessings here but they do not worship those blessings. They know that every pleasure in this age will fail to meet expectations. Even the best and closest relationship will end or unravel. New Exodus people never say, “It just doesn’t get any better than this” because it will. The best is yet to come.
When they lose something good in this world, they are sad but not devastated. They do not lose hope. They do not ground their hope in this world but the one to come. They have been accepted into the kingdom that will never end by a King who will never stop loving them. Jesus’s Exodus is better because it includes all who trust in Him no matter where they come from.
Jesus’s Exodus Is Better Because He Rescues You Completely
The first Exodus brought a nation out of physical slavery to an earthly slave master. In the new Exodus, Jesus rescues his people from slavery to the beast (v. 2), the god who enslaves the heart, drives them to grab for more and more, gets them addicted to things, and defines their identity by what they have. But in Christ, we conquer the beast (v. 2).
The first Exodus brought a nation into the wilderness only to see them turn away from God and wander for forty years before reaching the promised land. An entire generation who experienced the Exodus failed to enter into God’s salvation. But Jesus leads a better Exodus. He takes us all the way home to the heavenly sanctuary.
He does not lead us to the Tabernacle copy that Moses constructed in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai. Read Exodus and see what an impressive structure that was. But Jesus takes us to the reality behind the copy. He takes us into God’s presence. In the vision, those singing the Exodus song have God’s harps. He has gifted them to worship and serve Him. And all qualify for special service for him, not just a certain tribe or family as in the first Tabernacle.
They see the angels who are “clothed with pure, bright linen with golden sashes” (v. 6). But they feel no shame because they too are clothed in righteousness. John does not mention it specifically here in ch. 15, but other visions picture Christ’s people in similar dress (we will see this picture in ch. 19:8).
Jesus has done everything to qualify them to stand in God’s presence. Jesus’ Exodus is better because he rescues his people completely.
Jesus’s Exodus Is Better Because the Leader Is the Lamb
It is Christ’s work for his people that makes his Exodus better. So, third, we emphasize that Jesus’s Exodus Is Better Because the Leader Is the Lamb. The sea of the Exodus is the sea of God’s judgment. It is mingled with fire. It overwhelms its victims.
Moses leads the first Exodus people through the Sea and walks with them to the other side. But we have a better Moses. Our leader is the Lamb. He stretches out his hands on the cross and sacrifices himself for his people. He plunges into the sea of God’s judgment so that his people walk through on solid ground. He is the only Bridge that spans the chasm between God’s holy presence and sinful humanity destined to plunge into eternal ruin. He exhausts and absorbs the wrath of God so that he can protect all who trust in Him from that wrath.
But the Lamb who lays down his life as a sacrifice rose from the dead. He is alive. In the first Exodus, the people sing with Moses. But in the new Exodus, the people sing to their Leader because the Lamb is the Lord God Almighty (v. 3). He is the King of the nations (v. 3). It is His righteous deeds have been revealed in his life, death, and resurrection (v. 4).
The new exodus proves (as the first exodus did) that there is only one God and He alone saves from sin.
It is difficult to believe in God’s wrath. Something in us pushes back against the thought of God’s wrath. It’s even more difficult to worship God for his wrath. We want there to be justice but we also want to worship God for His love rather than proclaim, v. 4, “You alone are holy.”
But it is impossible to worship God for his wrath when you know that you deserve that wrath. God alone is holy. We are not. God’s ways are just and true (v. 3). Ours are not. The only way one can sing with joy about God’s wrath is if one knows that the Lamb has taken that wrath and there is no longer any reason to fear it.
The song ends in V. 4 with the declaration that the righteous deeds of the Lamb have been revealed. He could have revealed his righteousness in condemning all sinners. Instead, he revealed God’s righteousness by taking that condemnation in the place of any who will repent of sin and rely completely on Him for salvation.
The vision of Revelation 15 ends in a strange way. God’s holy glory fills the heavenly sanctuary so that no one can enter until the angels finish doling out God’s wrath.
There is a foundational principle on display in this vision. You cannot enter God’s presence until his wrath is finished. You cannot approach a holy, just, true, and glorious God while his settled anger against your sin remains. He must finish his wrath by pouring it out on you (as we will see in ch. 16). Or he must finish his wrath by pouring it out on His own Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
How will God’s wrath be finished for you? As Jesus died he cried out, “It is finished.” He had paid the price. He had satisfied divine wrath. Those who trust in Jesus Christ can worship a holy God because His wrath has been finished in Christ. They can fear and glorify God because they no longer fear His wrath.
Have you crossed over to the safety of salvation in Christ? Is He your sin-bearing, wrath-removing, life-giving Savior? Can you look at the cross of Jesus Christ and sing,
“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.”
Can you tell him along with the hymn writer: Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; 'midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head?
Can you lift your head with joy in the face of God’s wrath? Only through Jesus Christ.