The destructive forces released by the “last plagues” echo the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea – Revelation 15:5-8.
Having seen the saints standing victorious on the “sea of glass,” John then saw the “sanctuary” and the “Tent of Witness” opened in “heaven,” from which the seven angels with the “bowls of wrath” were dispatched to empty the deadly contents of their bowls upon the earth.
The “sanctuary” and the “bowls of wrath” are connected to the “fifth seal,” the “souls” of martyrs underneath the “altar” who pleaded for vindication against the “inhabitants of the earth.” They were told to wait until the full number of their “fellow servants who should be killed even as they” had been gathered. Here, the completion of the “wrath of God” is about to unfold in response to that plea – (Revelation 6:9-11).
- (Revelation 15:5-8) – “And after these things I saw, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened; and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the sanctuary clothed with a precious stone, pure, bright, and girt about the breasts with girdles of gold. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives to the ages of ages. And the sanctuary was filled with smoke by the glory of God, and by his power; and no one was able to enter the sanctuary, until the seven plagues of the seven angels should be ended.”
The ancient tabernacle included the altars of incense and of the whole burnt offerings. Here, the functions of both are combined. The “souls under the altar” correspond to the blood of sacrificial animals that was poured out at the base of the “altar of burnt offering.” Similarly, in the prelude to the “seven trumpets,” the “prayers of the saints” ascended like “incense” from the “golden altar,” then an angel threw coals from the altar onto the earth to release the angels with the “seven trumpets” – (Leviticus 4:7, Revelation 8:3-5, 17:11).
Previously, when the “seventh trumpet” sounded, the “sanctuary” was seen in heaven “opened” with the “Ark of the Covenant.” Now, the “sanctuary” is opened once again, however, what is seen is the “tent of the testimony.” Considering the Exodus typology, this alludes to the original stone tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments that was kept in the Ark of the Covenant. The “testimony” of God is His law, which is about to be enforced as the “bowls of wrath” are emptied – (Exodus 16:34, 25:21, 31:18, Revelation 11:15-19).
The image of seven angels arrayed in “linen” alludes to the priestly garb worn by Aaron and his sons as they performed their priestly duties, as well as to their “golden girdles.” Likewise, the “seven angels” perform priestly functions in the heavenly “sanctuary” – (Exodus 28:5,28:40-43).
Under the Levitical system, “linen” was a ritually “clean” material, unlike wool and other fabrics produced from animal products. Priests were required to wear “linen garments” before removing the ashes from the altar of the burnt offering. They would then change into another set of “linen” garments to carry the ashes outside the camp, where they would “pour them out.” Likewise, any remaining blood from an animal sacrifice was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offerings – (Exodus 29:12, Leviticus 4:7-12, 6:9-11).
The “seven bowls of wrath” correspond to the basins used by the priests to remove the ashes from the altar. Ashes symbolized the complete offering of an animal to God; nothing remained of the body except ash, which demonstrated its complete destruction – (Exodus 27:3).
So, also, the lives of the martyrs have been fully consumed (“slain”) by the persecution of the “beast.” They have become “whole burnt offerings” on the heavenly altar. The seven angels carry out what remains – “ashes” – and empty the contents on the persecutors of the saints – the “inhabitants of the earth,” the “beast,” and “Babylon.” The enemies of the “Lamb” will now drink the “wine of the wrath of God prepared unmixed in the cup of his fury” – (Revelation 14:10).
The image of “the sanctuary filled with smoke” echoes the incident when the Tabernacle was consecrated and filled with the presence of Yahweh. At that time, not even Moses could stand before the sanctuary. Likewise, when Solomon’s Temple was consecrated, the “priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” – (Exodus 40:34-35, 1 Kings 8:10-11).
The picture also echoes the vision from the book of Ezekiel when a man arrayed in “linen” was commanded to take live coals from between the cherubim and cast them into the city in preparation for judgment. Previously, the same passage was alluded to when the “prayers of the saints” ascended to God “like incense” and caused the angel to cast live coals onto the earth – (Ezekiel 10:2-4, Revelation 8:3-5, 15:8-16:1).
Likewise, no one can enter the heavenly “sanctuary” until the “seven last plagues” have been unleashed. The time of the final judgment has arrived, and no one can approach the throne until it is completed.
The “seven bowls of wrath” represent the final “wrath of God” that will be poured out on the “beast” and its allies. The seven “last plagues” correspond to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea following Israel’s passage through its waters. That is why here the saints are “standing on the sea of glass” and singing the “song of Moses and of the Lamb,” all in anticipation of the impending destruction of end-time “Babylon.”