A Sea and a Song

A Song by the SeaAnd I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Revelation 15:2-4)

Sea of Glass Mixed with Fire – The Sea of glass is likely a reference to the molten sea or great brazen laver before the mercy seat of the earthly temple used for the purification of the priests. It typifies
the baptism by water and the Spirit of all who are made kings and priests to God. Mingled with fire could be a reference to the baptism on earth with fire (“fiery trials”) that Christ’s people undergo to purify them, in the same way that gold is purified of its dross in a furnace.(1) It is also a reminder that “God is a consuming fire” and that His wrath is about to be revealed (Hebrews 12:29).(2)

Standing by the Sea – This scene is somewhat reminiscent of Israel following the Exodus. The nation had been delivered from Egypt, and the Egyptian army had been destroyed at the Red Sea. In thankfulness to God, the Israelites stood by the sea and sang the song of Moses. The Tribulation saints whom John saw and heard were standing by the sea of glass in Heaven (Revelation 4:6). Like the Hebrew children of the Exodus, they were singing the song of Moses, but also the song of the Lamb. While the 144,000 sang a song that nobody else could sing, this is a song all saints can sing.

When Israel returned from Babylonian Captivity, reestablished their government and restored temple worship, they used this same refrain at the dedication services (Psalm 118; see especially v. 14). In the future, when God calls His people back to their land, Isaiah prophesied that they will sing this song again (Isaiah 11:15–12:6). This should give great assurance, comfort, encouragement and endurance to suffering saints in any age of the Church. It is indeed possible to overcome the world and sing with joy. One will not have to yield to the mark of the beast. Through the blood of the Lamb, there is deliverance.(3)

The saints referred to here were slain for their faith, yet John says that they “had been victorious over the Beast.” They refused to wear his mark or worship his image. They lost their lives, but did not forfeit their souls. In losing their lives for Christ’s sake, they found them again. “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?” Even when Christians die for the faith, they are victors, not losers. Here the souls of these martyred saints sing by the heavenly sea. In Revelation 20:4, their dead bodies will be raised so that the company might reign with Christ during the Millennium. “If we endure with Him, we will also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).(4)

Song of Moses and the Lamb – The Old and New Testament saints appear joined together with the song of Moses and of the Lamb, as they were earlier in the twenty-four elders.(5) These may be two separate songs, the first referring to God’s faithfulness to Israel and the second referring to their present situation in the Great Tribulation. As noted above, some refer to the song of Moses recorded in Exodus 15 when Israel triumphed over the Egyptians. Others, however, suggest that this might be the song recorded in Deuteronomy 32, which gives a comprehensive review of God’s faithfulness to Israel. Here in Revelation 15:3–4, God is praised for His great and marvelous deeds, justice and truth, as well as His glory and holiness (fear and worship).(6) In these songs (of Moses and the Lamb) we see the harmony of the Old and New Testament, as God’s Law is vindicated, while God’s Grace is at work. The Old and New Covenants are being fulfilled as Christ judges (Law) the nations and prepares to reign with His saints (Grace).(7)

Great & Marvelous – These two words are borrowed from the Old Testament; “great” from Psalm 111:2 and “marvelous” from Psalm 139:14.(8) Mankind has witnessed great and marvelous things from God throughout history, most notably the sacrifice of His Son for our sins. God is not content to let the end of the Church age be the last opportunity for sinners to experience God’s saving grace. This song expresses the prophetic expectation that the effect these judgments of God’s wrath will produce upon the world – the hope that many shall yet be converted even under the coming judgment to be poured out by the bowls of wrath.(9)

Just & True – When God’s “great and marvelous” deeds do not result in repentance and turning to Christ, the judgments of the bowls of wrath will result in justice and truth. The awful hour of wickedness and blasphemy against God, which will characterize the period leading up to the Parousia, will be followed by a full vindication of God’s righteousness and holiness.(10) As we read of the ugly and painful sores, of the scorching heat, and of the waters turning to blood, it is important to remember that the judgments are righteous. As we read of them gnawing their tongues in agony and as they curse God because of their pains, we must not forget the agony Christ endured on the cross as a sacrifice for these very people. In all their pain, they “refused to repent and glorify Him” (Revelation 16:9). In all their agony “they refused to repent of what they had done” (Revelation 16:11). Even in the final judgment, with earthquake and lightning and volcanic holocaust, rather than repent and accept God’s grace, “they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible” (Revelation 16:21).(11)

The reality of God’s wrath is neither a welcome or pleasant subject. But its certainty as a clear and unambiguous teaching of both Old and New Testaments is inescapable. The reality of evil, the reality of human freedom to choose, the reality of God’s righteousness, and the reality of God’s longing to have His creation freely relate to Him in trust and love, makes the reality of God’s wrath inevitable. A righteous God must respond to those who persist (despite all of God’s efforts to turn them to Him) in their unpardonable refusal to acknowledge their rightful Creator as Lord.(12) Note that there is no complaint in the song about the way God permitted these people to suffer. It would save us a great deal of sorrow if we would acknowledge God’s sovereignty in this same way today. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works” (Psalm 145:17).(13) All His ways include His wrath.

Yet like the Prodigal’s father, God still longs to see His rebellious children repent and come home. God has acted mercifully by all possible means to bring His wayward children home. Even to the extent of taking on Himself, through His Only Begotten Son, the very penalty that He has prescribed for sin. Wrath brings grief to the heart of God, but He will not coerce us to love Him. He gifted His children with freedom to choose. He will not cheapen salvation by removing that freedom, even when that freedom is used by His children to stubbornly persist in their rebellion against Him.(14)

Despite the unfathomable mercies of God, perfected in Jesus Christ, there will be those who refuse His mercies to the bitter end. In such cases, the God of creation and redemption will respond in a way that is consistent with His own nature and word. He will give His rebellious sons and daughters what they have stubbornly insisted upon. Namely, He will condemn them to everlasting separation from Him. Surely, this will be the height of torment and misery. They will be eternally separated from the One who is the true source of life. They will be forever cut off from the mercy of their Creator. They will experience eternal death that comes from rejecting Him who is the source of everlasting life.(15)

The question is often asked: why is the punishment eternal? The answer is that some people, in the hardness of their hearts, will never change. They merit eternal punishment because they are eternally unrepentant.(16)

We must not second-guess or lament the wisdom of God for His past or future expressions of wrath. God loves righteousness, justice, and mercy to such an extent that He will not tolerate those who insist on and persist in evil. We cannot lightly dismiss or gloss over the fact that Heaven is neither silent nor embarrassed when evil is punished. There is rejoicing in Heaven when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7). But as difficult as it is for us to imagine, there is also rejoicing at the justice and judgment of God being true to His Word (Revelation 19:1–6) when He judges the unrepentant.(17)

Glory and Holiness – Who will not fear you is a rhetorical question. In the end, there will be no one who will not fear and glorify His name (Exodus 15:11).(18) Some will do so in rejoicing (the saved) and some with bitterness (the lost). Every knee will ultimately bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10, 11). The song produces a sacred awe of the holiness of God, and a joyful enthusiasm which prompts them to praise His name as it shines in the perfection of His revelation.(19)

Up Next – Prepare to pour out the bowls.

________________________

References

  1. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 587). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  2. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 839). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  3. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 609). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  4. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 839). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  5. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 587). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  6. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 966). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  7. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 839). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  8. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 15:3). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  9. Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 290). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  10. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 966). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  11. Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (p. 1082). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  12. Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (p. 677). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  13. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 609). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  14. Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 677–678). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  15. Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 677–678). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  16. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 969). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  17. Sloan, R. B. (1998). The Revelation. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary (pp. 677–678). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  18. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 15:4). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  19. Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 290). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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