After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was opened. Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.
After the magnificent scene of 15:1-4, John sees an entirely different kind of scene, a scene of the temple. More specifically, he saw the tabernacle of the testimony, and it has been opened. This is the tabernacle that contains the Ark of the Covenant which contains “the testimony” (EX 25:16, 21). By showing the sanctuary opened, John is showing us that what is about to come forth is from God alone. The seven angels step out from the sanctuary, they are ablaze in white linen that symbolizes holiness; they have golden belts, representing divine authority. One of the four living creatures steps forward and gives each of the seven angels a golden bowl filled with the wrath of God. The bowls are gold, which indicates that they are used in God’s service. They don’t just contain wrath, they are full of it, indicating that God is not holding anything back. There are seven angels and seven bowls, telling us that this is God’s full and complete judgment.
Notice the reference to the wrath of God “who lives for ever and ever”. By mentioning this ever-living quality of God in this particular spot, we see that God’s wrath is everlasting wrath; there is no more Mr. nice Guy for the wicked… time is up. The sanctuary is then filled with smoke, which shows God’s judgment is at hand (cf. Is. 6:4; Ps. 18:8). From that point, no one could enter the sanctuary, for God had closed off all intercession.
Let’s take a moment to notice a couple of things: First, notice that in verses 1-4, the seven angels with their plagues were seen near the sea of glass, and here, they proceed out of the sanctuary. In the first four verses, they already had the plagues of wrath, and here they came out to receive them. This is how we can be sure that the first 4 verses show us the aftermath of judgment, and 15: 5 ff. show us the judgments that had already taken place in 1-4. Remember that apocalyptic passages are neither literal nor chronological. Second, I’ve already mentioned the judgment paradox that we have in this vision, and told you that the bowls of wrath are functioning through this present age. As we will see as we continue, that is true of the first five bowls, then the sixth sets up the very end, and the seventh completes God’s full and complete destruction of evil, which is where we began in 15:1-4.
The stage is set, everything is ready to go, and next time, we will begin our investigation of the contents of the seven bowls…