Then after these things I saw, and the sanctuary of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened,
and the seven angels emerged, the ones holding the seven calamities, out of the sanctuary, having been arrayed in radiant, pure linen and having had golden belts girded all around upon the chests.
Then one out of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden cups, broad and shallow, used for pouring libations, which are full of the passion of God, the One living into the eons of the eons.
Then the sanctuary was completely filled with smoke out of the glory of God and out of the mightiness of God, and not any was able to enter into the sanctuary until the seven calamities of the seven angels would come to completion.Revelation 15:5-8
As John watched, smoke filled the heavenly Holy of Holies, preventing anyone from entering in. For John, this would have brought to mind God’s instruction to Moses that God later portrayed in all reality.
First, Moses was to blend an incense for his encounters with God in the Holy of Holies.
The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (an equal part of each), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy, and you shall beat some of it into powder
and put part of it before the covenant in the tent of meeting, where I shall meet with you;
it shall be most holy for you.Exodus 30:34-36 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
Then, the high priest was to use a special blend of incense for his annual intercession on the Day of Atonement, again in the Holy of Holies.
take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of crushed sweet incense, and he shall bring it inside the curtain
and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may shroud the cover that is upon the covenant,
or he will die.Leviticus 16:12-13 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
This was because of God’s actual presence in that holy place.
So Moses finished the work.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.Exodus 40:33-35 (NRSVUE, emphasis added)
This event happened once more in Israel’s history, the day Solomon dedicated the temple.
And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.1 Kings 8:10-11 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
Now that the inner sanctuary was filled with the smoke of God’s glory, no one would be able to enter with intercession or atonement for those upon whom God’s judgment was about to befall.
These seven calamities are an expanded view of the seventh trumpet sounded in Chapter 8. The seventh trumpet completes what these theologians see as visions of what would happen during the history of the church.
It also ushers in the seven bowls of God’s wrath, the anticipation of which brings great rejoicing in heaven. Finally, Jesus has taken hold of His power and is actively reigning over the world as His right and His due.
Each bowl gives a more complete picture of the earthly events that began with the French Revolution in May 5, 1789, and will continue until the church centered in Rome is brought to an end. The seven trumpets sounded the judgments intended for the Roman Empire. The seven calamities extend as judgment against the church that grew out of the Roman Empire and retained Rome’s paganism:
- Idolatry, the use of images during worship.
- Homicide, the murders of hundreds of thousands religious dissenters during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
- Porn, the often open and public sexual immorality of leaders in the church, even at the highest levels. Documented affairs with both women and men, of adultery, and even bestiality, and of many illegitimate children who were later appointed coveted posts in both the church and state offices, fill history books on the church.
- Robbery, the selling of “indulgences” as tantamount to theft of gullible supplicants. As an aside, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it was believed that with repentance must also come penance in the form of good works. “Indulgences” could be purchased, however, to pay off some of the debt of penance to God.
Scholars understand these vessels of wrath to be in the form of a chalice: ceremonial cups used in rites of offering, where a libation would be poured out to God. In this case, though, it is God Who is pouring out heavenly libations upon the earth—what John would later understand to be the precious blood of martyrs.
In a very real way, when Rome ransacked Jerusalem and set God’s holy city on fire, the smoke of the carnage filled the ruined Holy of Holies. What had been sacred was now desecrated, made desolate and profane. God’s eternal and infinite presence was visible only in judgment, and no person could now enter the place of intercession and atonement.
Because the seven angels emerge from this inner sanctuary within the heavenly tabernacle, where the testimony resides, the seven bowls are seen as God’s judgment specifically on behalf of God’s covenant with Israel. All the nations of earth will have persecuted, oppressed, and massacred those of Jewish faith and heritage for millennia. Now, God’s accumulated judgment will be poured out once and for all in a great reckoning.
In this vision, the bowls are seen to contain incense, a repeated symbol in Revelation for the prayers of believers. God’s answer to these prayers for justice, for the righting of wrongs, for vindication and recompense is a resounding ”Yes!” God had promised to repay evil with judgment, and now the hour of that judgment had finally come.
Long ago, Moses had predicted this day would come.
Their vine comes from the vinestock of Sodom,
from the vineyards of Gomorrah;
their grapes are grapes of poison;
their clusters are bitter;
their wine is the poison of serpents,
the cruel venom of asps.
Is not this laid up in store with me,Deuteronomy 32:32-35 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
sealed up in my treasuries,
for the day of vengeance and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip?
Because the day of their calamity is at hand;
their doom comes swiftly.
Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul reminded his readers God would personally redress their wrongs.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.”Romans 12:19 (NRSVUE, emphases added)
It is possible the seven golden bowls of God’s wrath are to be associated with the seventh trumpet, and the third woe.
Perhaps one thing commentators in this camp might add is the emphasis on the full manifestation of God’s Person. Moses had once asked to see God’s glory, but God knew Moses could not survive such a revelation, and instead permitted Moses only a glimpse of God’s splendor.
John now saw the smoke of God’s Shekinah, pillar of cloud and fire, and it was a protection for him and for all of heaven. None may approach God in all God’s glory, as God had explained to Moses, for they would certainly die.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg