Great and Amazing Is the Lord Almighty
Passage: Revelation 15:1–8
Why do we celebrate when good conquers evil? When you read history, why do people cheer when an oppressive dictator is removed from power? When you read about William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade, why do we say, “Yes! That’s right!”? In epic stories like Lord of the Rings, why this sense of relief when Sauron and his evil hordes fall? In movies, why the satisfaction after bad guys are defeated and dissatisfaction when they remain?
Because God built into you a sense of right and wrong. We rejoice over the downfall of evil because we have an inner craving to see justice prevail, to see wrongs righted, to see light prevail over darkness. The world is warped by evil—and, thanks to common grace, deep inside we know it. But when things are righted—even in a limited way—we cheer. In Revelation 15, we encounter a scene where God’s people rejoice in the Lord’s judgments. God reveals his righteous acts in destroying evil; and those who belong to God sing. They rejoice. Read it with me from verses 1-8…
1 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.
With 15:1 we encounter “another sign in heaven.” It’s now the seventh sign in a series that started with 12:1. The last six signs have told a story that stretches from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus’ return; and these signs help make sense of our present struggle in tribulation. Our struggle is one of cosmic war against Satan the Dragon. Together with the Beast and False Prophet, they form an unholy alliance to destroy you.
At the same time, these signs reveal that our struggle isn’t in vain. The great harvest judgment will come. Those who trample God’s people will themselves be trampled in God’s winepress.[i] Evil will not prevail. Jesus reigns. Jesus will win.
The Culmination of God’s Acts in Worship
We now reach a seventh sign that culminates in worship. In Revelation, each series of seven culminates in worship. What follows the seven letters? A vision of God’s throne and all heaven worshiping the Lamb. What follows the seven seals? The martyrs’ prayers ascending before God in worship. What about the seventh trumpet? Twenty-four elders bow in worship. Now here, we find the saints praising the Lord in worship.[ii] The goal of all God’s purposes is worship. God inspired this book to tell you that and to help you align yourself with that goal of his worship.
The New and Greater Exodus Deliverance
That goal also fits how this passage compares God’s saving work to a new and greater exodus. We’ve noted this before. In 7:4, the church is a kingdom of priests. The plagues of chapters 8-9 recall themes from Exodus. In 12:6, God nourishes his people in the wilderness. And how could we forget the center of it all, the true Lamb of 5:8, whose blood is the payment that frees us from sin. Themes from Exodus saturate Revelation.
Chapter 15 is no exception. We find priests and the tent of witness. We find plagues. Clearest of all, God’s people stand over a sea singing the song of Moses after God defeats their enemies. Here’s how that connects to the goal of worship. Just as the old exodus culminated in worship, so will the new exodus culminate in worship. God will get glory over his enemies. But that glory serves the songs of his people. God means for this vision to fill your heart with praise for his great and amazing deeds.
Intro to the Seven Bowl Judgments
That’s the big picture. Let’s now draw nearer to the details. John first sees a “great and amazing” sign. In Scripture, the word behind “amazing” usually describes God himself or his mighty deeds.[iii] That’s also how the saints will use it in verse 3.
What I find interesting, though, is how this word appears in Exodus 15:11. After destroying Pharoah and his armies, the people sing, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” God is awesome in glorious deeds. But Exodus 15:11 also sounds just like the words we heard people shockingly apply to the Beast. In 13:4, people are so amazed by the Beast, they say, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
By introducing this sign as “great and amazing,” God is countering the words of his enemies in 13:4. The world boasts, “Who is like the beast?” And God then answers with a sign that undermines their ridiculous words. The Beast looks powerful to those on earth, but he’s nothing compared to God. Seven angels with seven plagues will soon topple the Beast’s throne and dash his kingdom to pieces.
That’s what he prepares us for in verse 1. Seven angels appear with seven plagues. These plagues are the last “because with them the wrath of God is finished.” I take that to mean that these judgments come at the end of history. We’ll discuss this more next Sunday—but they are the final display of God’s wrath against the Beast’s kingdom. They bring history to its end. They prepare the way for Jesus’ return.
According to verse 6, these seven angels serve in God’s presence. They come from the heavenly temple. They also wear bright linen and wear golden sashes, much like the priests in Exodus 28. Their judgments come from God and serve the worship of God.
In verse 7, the seven plagues are then represented by seven golden bowls full of God’s wrath. These are offering bowls like the priests used for grain or wine. This could fit what was said in 14:10 about the nations having to drink the wine of God’s wrath. But you could also connect this to 5:8, which is the last time this bowl imagery appeared. They are “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” The plagues of God’s wrath fall because of the saints’ prayers. The saints cry for justice. Those cries have been collected. God now answers by pouring out the bowls.
Verse 8 adds another sobering detail. “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 finished.” You might recall this happening in the Old Testament. Exodus 40:35—they finish the tabernacle and Moses can’t enter because the glory of the Lord fills the tabernacle. 1 Kings 8:11—Solomon finishes the temple, and the priests can’t stand to enter because of the Lord’s glory cloud.
Here is another instance where God prepares a dwelling place—only this time it will fill the earth. With the opening of God’s temple, John envisions the reign of Christ bringing the fullness of God’s presence to earth. But before God dwells on earth, he must first remove all that stands against his holiness. In verse 8, there’s a sense that once he commissions the angels to judge, there’s no turning back until judgment is finished. The window of intercession is over. When he arrives in judgment, no one can stand before him. His presence is all too glorious, all too consuming.
The Saints Safe, Victorious, and Worshiping
That’s how God introduces the seven bowls. It’s terrifying. These bowls will affect not just a fourth of the earth, or a third of the earth, as with the seals and trumpets. They will affect every domain of the Beast’s kingdom. Of course, this would raise questions for the saints still on earth. If such terrible judgments will soon be unleashed, what about us? What about those who belong to the Lamb? If all the world’s kingdoms will crumble, what will that mean for the Christians still alive when they fall? That’s why the Lord gives John such a reassuring vision in verses 2-4.
As the bowl judgments begin to unfold, the Lord pauses to speak relief to his people. He reassures the church still on earth that God will see them through and bring them into the same experience as those who’ve gone before.[iv] Visions of the church in heaven provide assurance for the church on earth.
You are the church on earth. You are facing tribulation from the Beast; and the church will continue facing tribulation until Jesus returns. That’s what we learned in chapters 12-13. It’s not easy being a Christian, especially in a world that hates Christ. There’s a Dragon out there. There are Beasts in this wilderness; and they don’t play nicely. They use military power. They use political influence. They use false religion and economic pressure and worldly attractions and physical persecution—all to pressure you to give up on Jesus. There are days when you’re probably asking, “Lord, I don’t know how we’re going to make it.” That’s the real struggle of the church on earth.
But look here, beloved. Look at the vision of verses 2-4. In Christ, you belong to the people of verses 2-4. They have gone before us. Now, they haven’t yet reached the eternal state. The resurrection has yet to occur. They’re in the intermediate state awaiting resurrection bodies, awaiting the New Heaven and Earth. But their experience coming out of tribulation into God’s presence is glorious; and it anticipates what we will enjoy forever. Seeing them in heaven gives us hope to endure while we’re still on earth.
First, this vision assures that when you stay faithful to Jesus, you will be safe before God. Verse 2, “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 (or over) the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.” We’ve heard of this sea of glass before. In 4:6, “before [God’s] throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” It’s the same sea.
Of course, it also says this sea is mingled with fire. Perhaps that anticipates the judgments soon to come in chapter 16.[v] But I think the fire has more to do with God’s presence reflecting off the water. In 4:5, there are seven torches burning with fire before God’s throne; and then 4:6 mentions the sea of glass. The seven torches are the seven spirits of God, which we’ve discussed is a symbol for the Holy Spirit. Those who give their lives for Jesus will end up in the very presence of God.
But there’s even more. Why is it a sea of glass? Have you ever gone to the edge of a lake on a still morning, and the water is so calm it looks like glass. This sea isn’t like the sea we saw in 13:1, where a Dragon stirs up the waters with a Beast. The Beast from the sea wreaks all kinds of havoc on earth. But here, the saints stand over a sea without any ripple of evil—only a reflection of God’s beauty. Their great Shepherd has stilled the waters. They are safe now. Nothing will threaten them.
Second, stay faithful to Jesus and you will also be victorious over the Beast. These saints standing with harps of God are not the chubby babies of cultural Christian folklore. These are sacrificial conquerors standing victorious before God.* They have conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name.” Meaning, they stood their ground. They refused to bow to the Beast’s authority. They stuck with Jesus when the world pressured them. Back in 12:11, we learn how someone conquers—you conquer by the blood of the Lamb.” You conquer by holding fast to Christ and what Christ achieved for you on the cross. You also conquer by the word of your testimony and not loving your life even unto death. When we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake, we conquer.
From the world’s perspective, dying for the gospel looks like you’re losing. But from Jesus’ perspective we win. Look where you will stand! God has them by a sea, much like Israel stood over the sea when God defeated Pharaoh and his armies. Look how they also sing the song of Moses. Again, John borrows from the Exodus to depict what our salvation is like. God worked mightily through Moses to rescue Israel from Egypt. He conquered their foes. In Exodus 15, we then learn the song of Moses. Because of God’s deliverance, they sing. They rejoice.
But why does John also call it, “the song of the Lamb”? Because that first exodus deliverance anticipated a new and greater exodus deliverance. The Lamb, Jesus Christ, is greater than Moses. He is God incarnate. He comes to lead his people out of the much deeper slavery to sin. He came to give his life as a Lamb. And through that Lamb’s blood, we escape the plagues of God’s judgment. Through that Lamb’s blood, we are welcomed into God’s presence in a new and better kingdom.
Which is why we also see the saints in heaven enthralled in worship. To this point in Revelation, that’s been one of the biggest struggles. Worship God and the Lamb, or worship the Beast. The world is largely duped by the Beast. The world’s riches and power and pressure seduce many from worshiping God. Sometimes, its attractions will even grab the heart of a Christian. Those in Laodicea—they were straying. They were far too easily pleased with the world.
But those who see God—there’s never a question of who’s worthy of worship. Those who see God know he’s truly great. They sing, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!” That title, “Almighty” is often a substitute for the phrase, “God of hosts.” He rules the countless hosts of heaven. He exceeds all others in power. He alone does the truly amazing deeds—like creation; like the exodus; like the blood of the Lamb that saves from sin; the enthronement of Jesus and victory over Satan; the gathering of the elect; the judgment of our enemies—great and amazing are his deeds.
Adding to that: “Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” An angel will echo these words in 16:5; and there it becomes clearer that God’s judgments are in view. The words sound like Deuteronomy 32:4—“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” God alone can judge the nations because he alone is without iniquity. There is nothing in God’s nature that’s tainted with evil. He is goodness. No one can question his judgment.
They go on and declare, “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?”[vi] Answer: “No one!” All must bow. Why? For you alone are holy. I’ve used these words of David Wells before—God’s holiness is his “majestic otherness.”[vii] That’s what we see in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4—he’s high and lifted up above all others. His holiness also includes his “moral otherness.”[viii] When Isaiah sees the Lord, how does he respond? “Woe is me…” God is set apart from the world in transcendent splendor.
They also sing that “all nations will come and worship you”—that’s another reason to glorify his name. This reaches back to Psalm 86:9-10. In Psalm 86, enemies have set themselves against God’s anointed king. But God is known to work wonders for his king. The gods of the nations can’t deliver from death; but God can. He delivers his king from death. And by doing so, it leads people from all nations to worship him.
It’s a theme that pervades the Psalms. Like Psalm 22:27, after vindicating the anointed Davidic king: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” In Revelation, Jesus is God’s anointed. Jesus is the Lion from Judah. Enemies set themselves against Jesus. But God works mightily through Jesus’ cross and resurrection to win a people from all nations. Not every person comes to worship him. Some remain committed to the Beast—we’ll see that next week. But there is a countless multitude from every nation that does come and worship Jesus.
The last reason they glorify the Lord’s name: “for your righteous acts have been revealed.” The revelation of God’s righteous judgments leads to the adoration of God’s character. All his acts in salvation and judgment are righteous. When he rights all wrongs, his people celebrate. The church in heaven knows him to be faithful. They see him as he is; and their song is meant to encourage you on earth.
The Hope and Worship of Those Who Conquer
Brothers and sisters, while you struggle through tribulation on earth, God holds out this hope for you in heaven. Your struggle on earth is great. The world sets itself against you. The brokenness of relationships around you is, somedays, exasperating. You find yourself in situations that are beyond your control; you’re forced to face your own inability to deliver yourself. Some of you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death with loved ones suffering. The devil prowls around seeking someone to devour. In tribulation like this, the waters are all but calm. There are ripples of evil everywhere; and many times, they feel more like waves with a strong undertow.
But for those who belong to the Lamb, this is God’s gift assurance to you. If you follow the Lamb, these are your people. You haven’t yet joined them. But you’re already part of these sacrificial conquerors. Cling to Jesus, resist the Beast, and you will be safe in God’s presence, victorious over the Beast, and enthralled in worship.
Perhaps you are here, and you don’t find much assurance in this vision. Instead, you find yourself terrified of the seven plagues. God’s judgment haunts you. You think, “How could I ever stand before God in song like this? I’ve strayed too far. I have no hope of working my way back.” But let me tell you about the Lord’s grace.
In this vision, those who are safe in God’s presence didn’t get there by their own doing. They got there because of God’s doing. Jesus is the Lamb who freed them from their sins and washed away their guilt. 7:14—“they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” God welcomes them into his presence based on Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus’ blood has cleansed them; and Jesus’ blood can cleanse you. The picture of those safe in God’s presence—that can be you. Without Jesus you have no hope. But with Jesus you have every hope. Trust in Jesus Christ and this vision will not be terror of future judgment but hope for future joy.
For those of you who belong to Jesus, be careful that you’re not too easily pleased in this world. Don’t get me wrong. The Lord created us to be amazed. He didn’t create the stars or fashion the Grand Canyon to bore us. He created them to amaze us. The problem comes when we trade the Creator for the creation. The problem comes when we find his creatures more amazing than God. Why is it that we can stay glued to a screen or a game for hours with such attention, such intensity, but struggle to sit still in prayer or read God’s word for very long? We’re too easily pleased.
There are many amazing things in the world. But this vision gives those things their proper context. God is infinitely more amazing. He’s incomparable in might. His deeds are unmatched. His mighty acts cause all nations to bow. He is holy. He is King. He is just. He is worthy of all worship. Trust the testimony of the ones who already see him; and join all heaven in worshiping the Lord. That’s where he’s moving history. Even his judgments will lead us to sing. He will conquer all evil and judge it completely. His good will prevail over evil; and for this we will celebrate.
Until that day comes, let this vision help you conquer. Seven times in the letters to the churches Jesus said, “To the one who conquers, I will give…” Conquering has to do with a long-standing obedience to Jesus in the face of opposition—opposition like false religion, false gods, false ideas; opposition like economic pressure to deny Jesus; opposition like worldly attractions and distractions; opposition like physical persecution and threats. How do you keep conquering with all that coming at you on earth? You keep your sights set in heaven.
Look at the saints who are triumphant. Look where they stand. Hear what they sing. Consider the glory of the One they see. Paul is right, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” For the Lamb’s people, this vision is good news for us. It’s good news because it reminds us that the Lamb wins—we will sing his song! It’s good news because God is King of the nations; and he will make all nations bow to Jesus. It’s good news that God is righteous in all he does—he is the one ruler we can look to make the world right again.
It’s good news because, when we give our lives for Jesus, it shows the comfort and joy we will experience before God. In many ways, Revelation is a book of assurance for a suffering church; and chapter 15 adds to that assurance by showing us the church in heaven safe, victorious, and singing. It’s good news because in the face of our worst fears, even death itself, God proves that he is stronger. He can see us through our suffering, keep us, and bring us to himself. It’s good news because when his judgments are finished, his sanctuary in heaven will be one with earth. Let’s continue to preach this good news to ourselves as we come to the Lord’s Supper.
[i] Cf. Rev 11:2; 14:20.
[ii] The same worship follows the seventh bowl, but within the visions it doesn’t appear until 19:1.
[iii] E.g., Exod 15:11; Deut 28:58; Josh 3:5; Pss 8:1; 68:35; 93:4.
[iv] Revelation often bounces between the church on earth and the church in heaven. Some are still suffering the tribulation on earth. But others are coming out of the great tribulation and have already entered heaven (Rev 7:14).
[v] Daniel 7:10 does mention a “stream of fire” before God’s throne when he sits to judge.
[vi] Jer 10:7.
[vii] David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 104.
[viii] Wells, God in the Whirlwind, 112.