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THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES, PART 1

 

 

SCRIPTURE: Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. Revelation 15:1

 

We are living in the time of these seven last plagues. Chapter 15 begins with John writing, “Then I saw another sign in heaven.” This language is consistent with the introductions of previous series of visions in the Revelation. From this we assume that the visions to follow are separate from the previous visions we saw in chapters 12–14.

Previously we saw the visions of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and what I have called the seven systems of religion. In those visions we traced the church through different conditions in history from the beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost until our present time. The natural assumption is that the seven last plagues are a repetition of the historical sequence as many capable Revelation teachers have taught. The idea is that the first bowl of wrath in chapter 16 covers the same period of time as the first seal, the first trumpet, and the woman clothed with the sun in the opening of Chapter 13.

Chapter 15 is a preamble to the seven plagues in chapter 16, but notice two things in this chapter, there is imagery in this chapter that is carried over from the previous visions in the Revelation, and the imagery is stated in present tense, which indicates the events pictured are happening as the vision of the seven last plagues opens.

John is impressed with the significance of this vision as it opens. He calls what he sees a sign in heaven, that is, something that happens in the church Jesus built. This sign is great and marvelous. The meaning of the Greek words is important. Great means big and marvelous means to be wondered at.  What appears in this vision is perhaps more important to the readers of the specific time of these plagues than all the previous visions. The previous visions show us what has passed in the history of the church. What we see here relates to conditions faced by the church in the last days which are the cumulative results of the failings of the visible church up to this time. The sign John sees is a ministry sent by Jesus having the seven last plagues. These plagues are God’s judgment on what the errors of the past have introduced into the thinking and practice of the visible church of the last days.

As we have seen from our study of church history, so much exists today that obscures the church as Jesus built it. Church members have been lulled into accepting the present conditions in Christianity as being the church Jesus built. If the church of the Book of Acts suddenly appeared today, most Christians would not recognize it as a Christian church and would probably be offended by its beliefs and practices—perhaps even some people professing to be the church of God. The seven last plagues are carried out by a ministry Jesus raises up that will speak out on the issues that obscure the true church so that people wanting to be that church can distinguish the difference.

 

Who hears the messages of the angels with the seven last plagues?

 

Verses 2–3 reveal this audience. The first thing we see is “a sea of glass mingled with fire.” This sea of glass is seen first in chapter 4. We learned the sea of glass represents the work of redemption through Jesus Christ. Matthew Henry affirms this understanding as he wrote:

 

He saw before the throne a sea of glass, like unto crystal. As in the temple there was a great vessel of brass filled with water, in which the priests were to wash when they went to minister before the Lord (and this was called a sea), so in the gospel church the sea or laver for purification is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, who cleanses from all sin. . . . In this all those must be washed that are admitted into the gracious presence of God on earth or his glorious presence in heaven.

 

Next we see “those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark, and over the number of his name.” The Beast, his image, mark and number appear in chapter 13. They represent the visible church under the domination of Romanism and during the Protestant Reformation. Specifically, these things represent man-made churches that substitute some kind of official membership for the experience of salvation from sin.

And third, we see people standing on the sea of glass having the harps of God. These are people that are listening to the seven angels with the plagues. The message of the angels causes them to rejoice because in spirit they have accepted the redemption in Christ and rely on Him for salvation instead of some kind of church membership. These are people that hear the message of the Revelation and comprehend to some degree that most of what represents the visible church is not the church as built by Jesus Christ. Some have experienced the realization of that church because they know that the Holy Spirit added them to the body of Christ in salvation and they need no other kind of membership to get them to heaven. Others are looking for that realization; they know it must exist but they have not yet found it. In spirit they are free, but they may still be tied to a church organization because they have not yet found a representative body of people that are free from the beast and its influence.

 

The Beginning of the End-time Revival

 

In coming to Verses 5–8 we find Jesus beginning the work of the end-time revival. John sees a people that are ready and waiting for the revival. While they are waiting “the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.” This is something more than past movements in the history of the church.

We saw the reaping of the earth and the gathering of the vine of the earth in chapter 14. The reaping of the earth we learned was due to the restoration of the biblical truth of the church that began with the Primitive Church Movement around the turn of the nineteenth century. That Movement failed to unite and produce one visible biblical church and resulted in the silence of the seventh seal of chapter 8. That silence birthed the ministry of the seven trumpets that sounded a warning from God. The moving of God that followed this is called gathering the vine of the earth; a much smaller event than the previous Movement. One reason for such a small move among the people of God was that there was no additional New Testament teaching to be brought out on salvation and the church that had been lost for centuries. We have the same gospel message that was preached but fewer ears to hear and respond. The gathering of the vine of the earth at the close of chapter 14 connects that move of God to the messages of the angels with the seven last plagues of God’s wrath.

John now sees the temple is open, which is different from what he saw in chapter 14. In chapter 14:15 John sees an angel coming out of the temple that reaps the earth during the Primitive Church Movement. In Verses 17 and 18 John sees two angels coming out of the temple who participate in the gathering of the clusters of the vine of the earth. The presence of the temple represents the knowledge and understanding of the presence of the biblical church but because the temple was not opened the effect of that truth is somewhat limited.

Now in chapter 15, verse 5 the temple is finally opened. This suggests a final revelation of the nature of the true body of Christ. Keep in mind, this is not a denomination, a movement, or a fellowship of churches, it is the uninhibited work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of born again Christians.

1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches us the true nature of the church Jesus built: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” The biblical church is characterized as the body of Christ. People are not brought into the body of Christ through church membership, baptism, confessions or any human agency. People are brought into the church only by the action of the Holy Spirit. Here it is said to be a baptism, not in water, but performed by the Holy Spirit and we know from the teaching of Jesus that the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms the spiritual and moral nature in the new birth. There are no natural human distinctives that merit membership in the body of Christ; it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that we are born again and made part of the body of Christ.

The very nature of the body of Christ is that of unity and purpose among its members. And most importantly, all members of the body of Christ, whether they be ears, eyes, feet, or arms, all members share the spiritual DNA of Christ. That DNA is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that manifests itself in holiness of life.

This greater comprehension of the body of Christ, the temple, releases seven angels, a ministry dedicated to and used by God to deliver the seven last plagues. Notice the characteristics of these angels: They are “clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.” They resemble the 24 elders around the throne seen in chapter 4. This suggests that God raises up a ministry that captures the spirit and characteristics of the ministry of the early church fresh from the Day of Pentecost. Also, one of the four living creatures of chapter 4 gives them bowls full of God’s wrath. You will recall that the first living creature is a lion. The lion characteristic represents the grace to reign over sin. Holiness is not found in legalism; Holiness is not found in some kind of illusive human perfection; Holiness is found in the grace of God that empowers obedience to the revealed will of God. Holiness is more than just not sinning; holiness is obeying God.

Something remarkable happens as soon as this ministry receives the reigning grace—the temple is “filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power.” This is reminiscent of two wonderful and essential events that have happened in God’s relationship with mankind. First was the consecration of the tabernacle in the wilderness by Moses. Second was the consecration of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon. Those events served as the inauguration of God’s ministry to mankind in those times, in like manner the opening of the temple and the giving of the bowls of God’s wrath to the ministry inaugurates God’s ministry of the long anticipated end-time revival.

The last statement in verse 8 is that “no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.” This is not a negative statement of barring people from entering the temple, the true body of Christ. It is a positive statement that people can come out of their Babylonian conditions under whatever name that might be, including even the name Church of God, only after the messages of this wrath are completed in their own lives. In this sense we see the final restoration of the church as Jesus intended to build it. It will not be a denomination or movement as we have seen in past movings of God in history. It will be a movement of individuals responding to the work of the Holy Spirit through the messages of the seven plagues.

No indication is given as to how long this end-time revival will last but it is for certain that as people hear the everlasting gospel and respond by forsaking their sin and leaving their spiritual captivity in the spiritual Babylon they will step into the glorious truth and reality of the body of Christ. They will step out of spiritual darkness and bondage into the temple and onto the beautiful sea of glass.

Church; pray for this revival!