A peculiar scene is described in chaps. 15, 16. On this one we need not now bestow more than a few words. Thus it connects itself with what came before us in Rev_11:15-18. Still more plainly it contains that which is shown us in Rev. 17, 18, the judgment of Babylon. "And I saw another sign in the heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having seven strokes, the last; for in them is finished the fury [ὁ Θυμὸς of God." You will observe that it is not yet the Lord's appearing. This is of importance to show the structure of this portion of the book. We must carefully beware of supposing that the seven Bowls or Vials are after the Son of Man is come for the harvest and the vintage of the earth, which are at the end. We must go back, therefore, not to the beginning of Rev. 14 but before its last acts. The last of the Bowls, or the seventh, is the fall of Babylon. This judgment of course corresponds with the third dealing of God in Rev. 14. The first is the separation of the godly Jewish remnant; the second, an everlasting gospel to the Gentiles; and the third, the fall of Babylon. Thus the last Bowl of wrath only brings us up to the same point. Hence the Bowls must not in any way be supposed to follow after Rev. 14, but only after its earlier part at the utmost. This is important, because each true landmark helps to gather a juster idea how to place chronologically the various portions of the book. The last Bowl is also the last outpouring of God's wrath before the Lord Jesus appears. It synchronises with the third out of seven consecutive acts in 14. The end of Rev. 16 does not in point of time fall lower than the third step in those of Rev. 14. The fifth from its nature is not a judgment,. but a comfort peculiarly seasonable at that juncture. Certainly the fourth, sixth, and seventh parts of Rev. 14 are events necessarily subsequent to the seven Bowls of God's wrath, which close before the Son of Man appears.
Let us look then a little into the subject. "And I saw as a sea of glass." Here it is distinguished in its accompaniments from the description in Rev. 4. There the elders were seen on thrones, with the sea of glass bearing its silent but strong testimony that these saints had done with earthly needs and defilements. A sea of glass would not avail for those who required the washing of water by the word. Their immunity is indicated by that symbol. This is not only intelligible but even plain. When the glorified saints are caught up to heaven, they no longer want what was set forth by the laver and its water to purify. The sea of glass attests that the purity was henceforth fixed. The fact is that they were outside and above the earth, where water is needed to cleanse the daily defilements. It is not blood we need for a perpetual standing, but the daily application of the washing of water by the word. If the Advocate wash not our feet, then have we no part with Him.
Here it is not merely a sea of glass, but mingled with fire. What does this teach? That these saints passed through the time of fearful fiery tribulation, as did not the elders. The absence of the fire in connection with the elders is just as significant as the presence of fire in connection with the saints in collision with the Beast and the False Prophet, of whom we are now hearing. If people ask, Are the saints to pass through the time of tribulation? the right answer is this, What saints are meant? Those represented by the elders were caught up to heaven at Christ's coming before that time. Scripture is positive. If one only means that saints called afterwards pass through that day of inflicted trial, it is unquestionable. In short we have only to distinguish persons and times, and all becomes plain: by confounding the two all is made a mass of obscurity. But scripture cannot be broken.
"And those that come conquerors from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing, upon the sea of glass, having harps of God." The victory over the Beast is never predicated of the elders in any sort; nor is there any association with the elders here. It is a closing scene of fearful trial'. This is important The only victors here noticed are confined to the time when Satan's last plans will be consummated. These are seen, as a sign in heaven, delivered if they died before the Beast falls. At the least the fact is undeniable that these conquerors belong exclusively to the time of the last efforts of the devil through the Beast and the False Prophet. They are strictly speaking therefore Apocalyptic saints, and the final company of those who refused to bow.
It will be recollected that according to Rev. 6 the first sufferers who died for the truth were to wait for another company to be killed as they were. But it is a mistake on every ground to interpret either the one chapter or the other as of Christ and the church. So with those standing upon the sea of glass mingled with fire. The structure of the book proves each to be a special company, and all distinct from the twenty-four elders, who really do represent the entire aggregate of those that rise at Christ's coming Although these joyful sufferers may have fallen under the enemy's hand, they really come off victors, and are here seen standing on the sea of glass having harps of God. It was therefore rightly styled "mingled with fire"; for this tribulation transcends all before. Their melody in praise of the Lord was none the worse for the sea of fiery trial through which they pass into His presence. The harps were of God, not man's.
"And they sing the song of Moses, servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." Thus it is plain that they are not Christians in the strict or true sense of the word. Assuredly they are saints most really, but they had not such relations as now subsist spiritually; they knew not the bond which is made good by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in those who are now associated with Christ. So exclusive is it for us that those who were under Moses are under him no more; they own no master or head but Christ. The souls of whom we here read retain their link with Jewish things, though beyond a doubt they serve God and the Lamb. Hence we hear of them "saying, Great and marvellous [are] thy works, Lord God the Almighty; righteous and true [are] thy ways, O King" - not "of saints" but - "of the nations."
There is beyond doubt no such thought or phrase in scripture as "King of saints." It is one of the worst readings of the rather vicious Text. Rec. of the Revelation. Not only is it against the best witnesses, but it conveys an unfounded notion of mischievous consequence For what can go more to destroy in principle and practice the proper relationship of the saints to the Lord? Elsewhere we never hear of such a thing as "King of saints," nor has it any just sense. To the saints the Lord Jesus stands undoubtedly as their Lord and Master; but "King" is a relationship with a nation living on the earth. It is not a connection that pertains to the new man. Besides, even these if martyred belong actually to heaven, where such a relationship would be strange indeed. Thus it is strange doctrine as well as a fictitious reading. The allusion is to Jer_10:7. There all may find "king of nations," with other words which are cited here. If these saints were not exclusively Gentiles, at least they comprehended such; and this has to be borne in mind in reading the passage. The true title then is "king of the Gentiles" or "nations." No doubt King of the Jews He is; but those in particular who were Gentiles themselves would and ought to rejoice in being able to praise Him as King of nations, as the Jewish prophet fully recognised of old.
"Who shall not fear [thee], O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only [art] holy (or, gracious): for all the nations shall come and do homage before thee." Here again it is not Israel, but all the nations shall come. "For thy righteousnesses were manifested." They anticipate the triumph reserved for God in the day of power and glory at Christ's second advent.
"And after these things I saw, and the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in the heaven was opened: and out of the temple came the seven angels that had the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and girded about their breasts with golden girdles And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the fury of God that liveth unto the ages of the ages. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no one was able to enter into the temple, till the seven strokes of the seven angels were fulfilled." It is not now the ark of God's covenant seen in the opened temple; it is characterised as the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in the heaven (not yet on earth); and judgments follow on apostate Gentiles, not the revelation of the divine counsels touching Israel. Doubtless the mass or many of the Jews worship at this time the man of sin in the ostensible temple of God, as it was historically and to their extreme guilt. But truly before God this house, which the Lord left in His day as "their house" and "desolate" indeed, will then be Satan's house beyond any other on earth.