As we saw in the last bog post, the application of chapter 15 to our lives is —
We look back at our suffering and persecution in the past as permitted by the loving providence of our all-wise God; and we also look forward in hope to the time when all things unjust will be set to right by that same all-wise God.
This Chapter reminds us not to place faith in empires and armies. God alone can keep us from an evil end!
I. The glories of heaven await us no matter what our lot in life is here on earth.
vs. 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 [upon] the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. [ESV]
I like the poem “Go Down, Death” by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) These lines below are excerpts from a Funeral Sermon.
Johnson sought to capture the cadence and rhythm of black preaching he heard as a young man, but without using “the misspellings and orthographic tricks often employed in representing black vernacular speech.” He wrote the sermons in poetic form in the book, God’s Trombones (see Johnson, J. W., below).
When our life on this earth closes, we have a great future ahead of us. We may not have that many earthly possessions or money now, but our retirement plan is out of this world, literally!
Note that John saw what looked like a glass sea which had been mixed with fire. “It is a scene of worship, and its imagery is suitable for depicting the majesty and brilliance of God, which the sea of glass is reflecting in a virtual symphony of color. No further symbolic significance than this needs to be sought here.” (see Johnson A. F., below). John also saw the victorious ones standing upon the glassy/fiery-like sea.
The righteous have been removed just prior to the pouring out of God’s wrath. Revelation 14-19 are not long drawn out events. All events at the very end occur one after another. They are spread out for study purposes. God will pour out his wrath on the unrepentant world, but never on his church. I Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 5:9 make it clear that God will never pour out his wrath on his church—
I Thess. 1:9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
I Thess. 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. [ESV; emphasis mine]
Michael Card captures this chapter well in his album “Unveiled Hope” about the teaching of Revelation.
The Greek is literally, “They had harps of God—the harp is the instrument that is most used in the Old Testament. The harps are given to the saints in heaven. It is often associated with prophecy. In Greek the musical instrument is kithara a lyre. “The harp was the national instrument of the Hebrews, and was well known throughout Asia. Moses assigns its invention to Jubal during the antediluvian period. ( Genesis 4:21 ) Josephus records that the harp had ten strings, and that it was played with the plectrum [a pick]. Sometimes it was smaller having only eight strings, and was usually played with the fingers.” (see Smith’s Bible Dictionary, below)
II. God will deliver us safely to heaven because He is sovereign over all our circumstances.
God can Save us from Death
It was Christmas Eve 1875 and Ira Sankey was traveling on a Delaware River steamboat when he was recognized by some of the passengers. His picture had been in the newspaper because he was the song leader for the famous evangelist D. L. Moody. They asked him to sing one of his own hymns, but Sankey demurred, saying that he preferred to sing William B. Bradbury’s hymn, “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us.”
As he sang, one of the stanzas began, “We are Thine; do Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way.” When he finished, a man stepped from the shadows and asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union Army?” “Yes,” Mr. Sankey answered, “in the spring of 1860.”
Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright, moonlit night in 1862?”
“Yes,” Mr. Sankey answered, very much surprised.
“So did I, but I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw you standing at your post, I thought to myself, ‘That fellow will never get away alive.’ I raised my musket and took aim. I was standing in the shadow, completely concealed, while the full light of the moon was falling upon you. At that instant, just as a moment ago, you raised your eyes to heaven and began to sing… ‘Let him sing his song to the end,’ I said to myself, ‘I can shoot him afterwards.’ He’s my victim at all events, and my bullet cannot miss him.’
But the song you sang then was the song you sang just now. I heard the words perfectly: ‘We are Thine; do Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way.’ Those words stirred up many memories. I began to think of my childhood and my God-fearing mother. She had many times sung that song to me. When you had finished your song, it was impossible for me to take aim again. I thought, ‘The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty.’ And my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side.” (from Our Daily Bread devotional.)
Miriam’s Song by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794–1872).
Public Domain Image taken by McLeod Gallery
vss. 3-4 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!
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.”
It seems two songs are sung since they “sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.” However, in fact only one song is heard by the readers. Maybe the two songs have been merged into one. The background to the stanza in verse 3 is definitely the Exodus. The actual wording here may have been drawn from the synagogue and/or early church liturgy (see Johnson, A. F., below).
Image of “Christ as Pantokrator” from Wikipedia Commons; in the public domain.
I see an echo of Deuteronomy 33:26 in John’s words in Revelation 15:4. “There is no one like the God of [Israel], who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.”
Image to the right is “Miriam the Prophetess” by Anselm Feuerbach (1829- 1880); Public Domain image from WikiMedia Commons; photo by Arianna. →
“Almighty” is pantokratór = One who holds unrestricted power exercising absolute dominion. This term is still prevalent in Orthodox Churches. Jesus is always pictured in the dome of the Church as the icon with Christ’s arms outspread over His people. (See the photograph above.)
The “not” in this question indicates John expects the “no” answer—”Shall [anyone] not fear you and glorify your name, O Lord?” Answer expected, “No! Everyone will fear and glorify your name, O Lord!”
“For” occurs three time in this verse. Each gives the reasons why there is no one who does not fear the Lord and glorify his name.
(1) For He alone is holy (“righteous, pious, and holy”);
(2) For all nations will come before him and worship him;
(3) For His righteous acts of deliverance have been manifested in behalf of his people.
D. L. Moody’s Deathbed Scene
God does not abandon His people when death comes. D. L. Moody pronounced words which are often quoted today when a loved one dies —
“Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead,” he had said. “Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all — out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal; a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.”
He wrote his and every Christian’s obituary with these words.
On his deathbed, his doctor was administering heart stimulation shots to bring him back from sinking again into a coma. At the end he begged them to stop the shots —
It seemed as though he saw beyond the veil, for he exclaimed: “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! I have been looking forward to it for years.” Then his face lit up, and he said, in a voice of joyful rapture: “Dwight! Irene! — I see the children’s faces,” referring to the two little grandchildren God had taken from his life in the past year.
“Earth recedes; Heaven opens before me. I have been beyond the gates. God is calling. Don’t call me back.”
(from D. L. Moody’s Biography by his son Will Moody, public domain.)
God takes his people to himself when death comes to them. All believers have their triumph and crowning day! We pray for healing. God hears us. However, sometimes He gives ultimate healing—taking us out of suffering, persecution, and death into His loving arms in heaven!
Next time on to Revelation 15:5-8.
(Commentaries on which I rely often without direct quotation)
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Johnson, J. W. (1926). “Go Down, Death” from God’s Trombones. Accessed 3 January 2021 from https://allpoetry.com/Go-Down-Death
Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary. (1860). Retrieved 3 January 2021 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/smiths-bible-dictionary/harp.html [Public Domain]
WikiMedia Commons for Images
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