Friday, December 19, 2014

THE OVERCOMERS (Revelation Chapter 15)

Revelation 15:1-4, “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.  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. 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.”

Chapters 12 through 14 are all part of an interlude in the judgments visited upon the earth.  In chapter 15 the scene reverts back to these judgments and specifically the final set of seven bowls judgments in which “the wrath of God is finished” (Revelation 15:1).  As the previous judgments have progressed from the seals, to the trumpets and now to the bowls, the degree of their intensity has increased.  When the final bowl is poured forth, a voice from throne will declare “It is done! (Revelation 16:17).  These final judgments will conclude with the second coming of Christ (Cf. Revelation 19:11-21). 

This chapter describes the scene in heaven from which these “plagues” are unleashed to execute judgment and establish God’s Kingdom.  Earlier in the book we have read of how God’s heavenly sanctuary has been unveiled to John (Cf. Revelation 4:1; 8:1; 11:19).  “Seven angels with seven plagues” come out of the “sanctuary of the tent of witness” in heaven (Cf. Revelation 15:5).  They are heaven-sent to carry forth God’s judgment upon the earth.

Before there sendoff of the seven angels (Cf. Revelation 16:1), we are made aware of group of overcomers standing beside a sea of glass (Cf. Revelation 15:2).  John saw “what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire” (Revelation 15:2).  In his vision of heaven the prophet Ezekiel saw “the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22).  Here the sea of glass is mixed “with fire” likely referring to God’s pending judgment.  It is noteworthy that the overcomers are “standing beside the sea of glass” and not on it (Cf. Revelation 15:2).

These “who had conquered” appear in heaven prior to the end of the tribulation, before the pouring out of the seven bowls.  They are martyrs who were killed for refusing to worship the Beast (Cf. Revelation 13:15).  The term “conquered” translates the Greek nikontas which means to overcome or be victorious.  These individuals are those who had been threatened with the death penalty.  They had faced the dreadful choice--either worship the beast or refuse and suffer death.  Countless others acquiesced, but these did not (Cf. Revelation 12:11).  They “conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name” (Revelation 15:2).  They were overcomers.  In the Revelation Jesus was speaking to an overcomer.  The Apostle John, a partner to his readers “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,” who was on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9).  In His messages to the seven churches Jesus made specific promises to the overcomers (Cf. Revelation 2:8, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).  Jesus Himself was an overcomer (Cf. Revelation 3:21).  Those early believers were facing challenges similar in kind to what would be faced by these future martyrs of the tribulation.  In every age and in every place God’s people have had such challenges to overcome.  The Apostle John had previously written these encouraging words, “For everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5)?”  No matter the challenge—be it “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” we are, “In all these things…more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

The overcomers sing a song of praise to God—“the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3; Cf. Revelation 5:9-14)).  The song of Moses, celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the exodus, is fulfilled in the song of the Lamb, which speaks of the greater redemption availed to all men through the cross.  The overcomers praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He has done.  They “have conquered…by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

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