The announcement had been made of the oppressive house of Israel, “fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” (14:8). The angel put in his sickle into the harvest of the land and has brought forth the faithless house of Israel to be thrown into the “great winepress of the wrath of God.” (14:19). Now chapter fifteen begins the section that will detail the wrath of God that would be poured out “soon” (1:1; 22:6) on the covenant people.
(1) Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
John sees another sign, which he describes as “great and amazing.” This is similar to the sign of the pregnant woman, which he said was “a great sign” (12:1). Maybe there is a contrast here to the sign of the dragon, the sea beast, and the land beast, who one might be tempted to fear; but they are not great signs. What Satan has planned will bring no accomplishments; but what God has planned is “great and amazing.” Who ought to be feared?
“Seven angels.” Are these the same seven angels who blew the seven trumpets? It’s possible, but doubtful. If they were, John probably would have indicative that. You can see how he spoke differently of the seven trumpeters (8:2). The angels with the seven plagues seem to be separate from the trumpeters and after their task is complete, they are later identified by their role of pouring out the plagues (17:1; 21:9).
“Seven plagues.” The use of the number signifies the whole totality by which these plagues are poured upon the house of Israel by the “seven” angels. When we hear the word “plagues,” we usually think of the ten plagues of Egypt; this is good, and the details of these seven plagues in the next chapter will show sticking similarities to the plagues of Egypt. However, let’s not forget the great plagues which befell the rebellious house of Israel (Exodus 32:35; Numbers 11:33, 14:37, 16:46, 25:9). The song of Moses must also be referenced here, as it will play a role in the vision of this chapter (15:3). The song of Moses spoke of the faithlessness of Israel and the plagues that befall them because of it,
“They shall be wasted with hunger, and devoured by plague and poisonous pestilence; I will send the teeth of beasts against them, with the venom of things that crawl in the dust.” (Deuteronomy 32:24).
Possibly the greatest significance of the plagues introduced in this chapter, is their relation to the curses of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28), many of which were plagues. Such as famine and starvation (28:16-18, 22-24), consuming diseases (28:21, 22), grievous boils (28:27, 35), darkness and madness (28:20, 28-29), Locusts (28:38, 42), and if that were not enough, God said,
“And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. (61) Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:60-61).
Therefore, I hope we will consider that what we are about to see is not merely a reflection of the plagues which befell Egypt, but the fulfillment of the law of Moses against the rebellious house of Israel. Allow me to summarize, the Lamb had broken the seven seals on the covenant document; it is now unraveled for all to witness the indictment against the house of Israel. The gracious Lord brought seven final warnings, but they did not repent. Now the Lord, by loyal to his word, will fulfill the promises of the covenant curses. These seven plagues are a sign, “great and amazing,” of the final execution of the Old Law in order for the covenant to pass away (Hebrews 8:13).
“Which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” The statement “great and amazing” points to the great significant of this sign, and we soon hear why; with the accomplishment of this sign the wrath of God will be completed. This does not suggest the end of all time; let’s keep to the context! This is the wrath of God which is poured out on house of Israel; a just retribution to the sins by which they broke the covenant of God.