The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
4. The judgment of the seven bowls, 15:5-16:21
i] The angels prepare for judgmentSynopsis
In John's next vision he is again in heaven, looking at the temple. Out from the temple come seven angels dressed in pure bright linen and wearing golden sashes. He then sees one of the living creatures come out of the temple and give the angels seven bowls full of the wrath of God. At this point a dense smoke fills the temple, a smoke that lingers "until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished."
The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe.
i] Context: See 6:1-8. The battle between the red dragon (Satan) and the offspring of the woman (the Christian community), 11:19-15:4, was resolved in the Great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment, with the harvest of the righteous (the victorious, the redeemed, those who have persevered in faith) for blessing, 15:1-4, and the harvest of the wicked (those who worship the beast) for cursing. Now again, John brings us square on with his realized eschatology - it is the Great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment, the day when the kingdom comes. This is certainly not the first time John has brought us to this terrible day; we faced it in the judgment of the seven seals, 6:1-8:5, and the judgment of the seven trumpets, 8:6-11:18, and so now again in the judgment of the seven bowls, 15:5-16:21.
First, the angels prepare for the final outpouring of divine wrath on the beast and its allies, 15:5-8. The first four judgments of the bowls parallel the first four judgments of the trumpets, but unlike these judgments, the judgments of the bowls are not partial, but complete - "every living thing in the sea died", 16:3. The beast is brought down in the fifth judgment, 16:10-11, and in typical fashion, the allies of the beast refuse to repent - in the day of judgment there is no repentance. This leads to the sixth judgment and the final act of defiance by the beast and its allies at Armageddon, 16:12-16. As in the judgments of the seals and trumpets, the seventh judgment presents as a theophany, parousia, "a coming", although in this case a very noisy one heralding that the escatoV, "end", has arrived, 15:17-21. John reinforces the sense of "end" by not including any interludes explaining how the Christian community is to interact with these judgments; it is the end of all things, and so no interaction is necessary.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8.
iii] Structure: The angels prepared for judgment:
The seven angels stand ready for the great and terrible day, v5-6;
The seven angels receive their divine commission, v7-8.
Again John sees the heavenly temple / sanctuary open before him. He notes that it is the heavenly counterpart to the tabernacle that Moses constructed in the wilderness - the tabernacle of witness / testimony. In much the same way as a cloud once settled on the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord filled it on the occasion of its completion by Moses (Ex.40:35), so too the heavenly temple fills with smoke and no one can enter it until the judgment is complete. This final judgment is administered again by seven angels, and as we will see, the plagues again parallel those that fell on Egypt during the time of the Exodus.
The three judgments of the seven plagues: An interesting feature revealed in the three sets of plagues is that they increase in severity from the destruction of a quarter of the earth, to a third of the earth, and finally in the seven bowls, the whole of the earth. In the first two sets of judgments, the seals and trumpets, there is an interlude which examines how the Christian community should respond in the face of the unfolding day of judgment. With the judgments of the seven bowls there is no interlude because it is the eschaton, the end.
What we have here is another example of the intermingling of realized and inaugurated eschatology. All three sets of judgments describe the Great Day of the Lord; they present as realized eschatology - the kingdom is come. Yet, from the perspective of inaugurated eschatology, the not yet, there is a sense where the judgments of the seals and trumpets bleed into the present moment of grace between Christ's ascension and return / coming. As such, they serve as a warning. In this present moment we can feel that terrible day in the wind, see little touches of it all around us, little anti-Christ's coming and going. Jesus proclaimed of the victory won on the cross, "now is the hour of judgment; now shall the prince of this world be driven out", and to the thief on the cross he promised, "this evening you will be with me in paradise." Yet at the same time, in this moment of grace, we can only taste that now because for us it is not yet. The mouse rollover illustration below tries to make sense of a timeframe that is beyond our senses!
Text - 15:5
The angels prepare for judgment, v5-8: i] In another heavenly vision, John witnesses seven angels coming out of the heavenly sanctuary, ready and prepared to pour out God's wrath on the world. On that day there will be no time to repent, so, in an act of divine mercy, the reader is warned of the coming day, for God desires repentance rather than obliteration.
kai "[after this I looked]" - and [after these things i saw]. Serving to indicate a step in the narrative where de would be expected, here reinforced by eidon, "I saw", and further reinforced by the temporal prepositional phrase "after these things."
en + dat. "I saw in [heaven]" - [and the temple was opened, of the tabernacle of the testimony,] in [heaven]. Local, expressing space.
thV skhnV (h) gen. "that is, the tabernacle" - of the tabernacle, tent = the tent of meeting. The function of the genitive here is unclear. The NIV has taken the genitive as adjectival, epexegetic / appositional, "the temple, namely ....", so Koster, Beale, Smalley. With this approach to the genitive, naoV means "temple" and refers to the heavenly sanctuary which John also identifies as "the tent of witness", ie., "the tent of meeting", or simply, "the tabernacle" constructed during Israel's wilderness wanderings. Both the tabernacle and the temple serve as earthly representations of the heavenly sanctuary. The genitive could also be adjectival, idiomatic / local; "I saw the temple in heaven open, with the covenant tent in it", TEV. This image seems unlikely. A third approach involves reading oJ naoV, "the temple", as "the sanctuary", and the genitive as adjectival, possessive; "the sanctuary of (which belongs to) the tabernacle (the tent which served as the model for the temple)", so Barclay, Phillips, REB. This third option would then serve to describe the sanctuary / holy of holies in the temple / tabernacle, a space separated from the alter by a heavy curtain. The holy of holies / sanctuary housed the ark of the covenant, the box containing the two copies of the covenant, which box was believed to be God's earthly throne. Does John have this arrangement in mind for his heavenly temple / tabernacle? If so, the curtain is open and the angels are coming out from the holy of holies where the throne of God is located. Koester argues that John views the heavenly sanctuary as "a single unit, rather than a structure in two parts; it is where God is enthroned." And as for the earthly representation of this heavenly reality, it is now "the Christian community; a worshipping community depicted as a temple under siege", 11:1-2.
tou marturiou (oV) gen. "of the covenant law" - of the testimony, witness. The genitive is adjectival, and may be simply classified as attributive, limiting "tabernacle / tent"; "the testimony tent." The tent of testimony (identified sometimes as "the tent of meeting", "the witness tent") housed the covenant tablets, the documents which witnessed to the agreement God has made with his people, so in its fullest sense the genitive is idiomatic / local, "the tent / tabernacle which housed the covenant documents in the Ark." Of course, in the heavenly reality there is no copy of the covenant; God preserves his promises in his own person. And in any case, it is likely that one of the two copies of the covenant in the Ark was God's copy of the agreement. Even in ancient times both parties to an agreement were provided with a copy of the agreement. So, the Israelis not only lost their copy to the Babylonians, but they lost God's copy as well. Luckily, clay tablets are not what seals God's promises!
ek + gen. "out of [the temple]" - [and seven angels came out] from [the temple]. Expressing separation; "away from." Typical redundant use of the preposition after the ek prefix verb "to come out."
econteV (ecw) pres. part. "with [seven plagues]" - having [the seven plagues]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting angels; "the seven angels, who had the seven plagues, came out of the temple." The variant article oiJ was probably added to reinforce the adjectival function of the participle, but of course, John's use of the anarthrous participle ecwn often drifts toward that of a finite verb (a periphrastic construction with an assumed verb to be), cf., 1:16; "I saw and the temple opened ...... and seven angels came out from the temple. They had (they carried with them) seven plagues and they were clothed in clean bright linen."
endedumenoi (enduw) perf. mid./pas. part. "They were dressed in" - [and] having been put on, dressed in, clothed in [clean bright linen and having been wrapped around the breasts golden sashes]. As with periezwsmenoi, "having been wrapped", the participle may be attendant on "having", assuming that "having" is verbal and not adjectival, otherwise it is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their "coming out." Dressed in "linen" means "a linen garment". Israel's priests wore linen robes, so probably John intends "a linen robe." The description of the linen probably means something like a bright white color, the color of purity, as worn by the Son of Man; "wearing a white shiny robe", TH. The golden sash also aligns with the Son of Man, symbolizing their royal and priestly function, so Smalley. "They were robed in linen, clean and shining", Barclay.
peri + acc. "around [their chests]" - [wrapped around] around [the breasts]. Spacial, "around". Again, a typical redundant use of the preposition after the peri prefix verb "to wrap around." "They wore belts made of pure gold", CEV; "they were wearing golden sashes around the waists", Koester; "they wore golden vests", Peterson.
ii] The seven angels receive their divine commission, v7-8. John continues to set the scene for the terrible judgments about to come. By divine authority, the angels receive the bowls full of the wine of God's wrath. As they prepare to enact divine judgment, God's presence, imaged in smoke, fills the sanctuary.
kai "then" - Indicating a minor step in the narrative.
ek + gen. "[one] of [the four living creatures]" - Here the preposition stands in the place of a partitive genitive. The bowls come from a being close to the throne of God indicating a "divine commissioning of the avenging agents of God", Smalley.
toiV ... aggeloiV (oV) dat. "[gave] to the [seven] angels" - [gave] to the [seven] angels [seven golden bowls]. Dative of indirect object. Note that being the first mention of these golden bowls there is no article in the Gk. (anarthrous).
gemousaV (gemw) pres. part. "filled with" - being full. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "bowls"; "bowls which are full of the wrath of God."
tou qumou (oV) gen. "the wrath" - the wrath, anger. Genitive complement of the participle "being full of." Probably short for tou oinou tou qumou tou qeou, "[full of] the wine of the wrath of God", 14:10, where the genitive "wrath" is adjectival, epexegetic, specifying "the wine"; "the wine which is / which represents the wrath of God." "Babylon the whore made the world drunk on the wine of her immorality until God gave her the wine of wrath and the ungodly were trampled in the winepress (Rev.14:8, 10, 19-20)", Koester.
tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive, expressing a derivative characteristic of God, "God's wrath", although John may have in mind the action associated with God's anger, so verbal, subjective, so Mathewson. Possibly ablative, source / origin; "filled with what came from the wrath of God", Cassirer.
tou zwntoV (zaw) gen. pres. part. "who lives" - the one living. John may intend this participle as a substantive standing in apposition to "God"; "the wrath of God, the one who lives forever"; "God, of him who lives forever and ever", Cassirer. Usually treated as adjectival, attributive, as NIV, ESV, Barclay, Moffatt, Berkeley, ....
twn aiwnwn (wn onoV) gen. "[for ever and] ever" - [into the ages] of the ages. Technically the genitive may be classified as adjectival, partitive, or possessive, although the phrase as a whole is idiomatic for "forever."
kapnou (oV) gen. "[was filled] with smoke" - [and the temple was made full] of smoke. Genitive of direct object of the verb "to make full of." Smoke (the cloud of Yahweh's presence) often attends a theophany in the OT, cf., Ex.19:16-18, 1Kgs.8:9-11
ek + gen. "from [the glory of God]" - from [the glory of god and] from [the power of him]. Here expressing source / origin; "from".
eiselqein (eiVercomai) aor. inf. "[no on could] enter [the temple]" - [and no one was being able] to enter into [into the temple]. The infinitive is complementary, completing the verb "to be able." Note the repetition of the prepositional prefix eiV, "into"; common form.
acri + subj. "until .... were completed" - until [may be completed the seven plagues]. Serving to introduce an indefinite temporal clause. John doesn't tell us why entry into the heavenly sanctuary / temple is not allowed as long as the smoke theophany continues, cf., Ex.40:35, 1Kg.8:11. John is probably trying to convey the mystery and majesty of what is going on; "God is so energized and agitated that this cloud will prevent anyone from entering the temple", Boring, so Caird, Beasley-Murray, cf., Swete who sees it as a restriction on approaching God at a time of judgment. Reddish, Bruce and Mounce, suggest that a closed sanctuary indicates that the time for answered prayers was over; this is a moment of wrathful judgment apart from grace. Smalley lists the options, while reinforcing the view that grace still applies; God always remains "a saving God." Yet, surely the purpose of John's vision is to prompt an acceptance of God's saving grace while there is still time to do so.
twn ... aggelwn (oV) "of the [seven] angels" - The genitive is usually taken as verbal, subjective; "the seven plagues poured out by the seven angels."