(5) After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened,
Earlier, John said that “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.” (see comments on 11:19). This is a similar concept, but a different message. Here is not a picture of the temple but the “tent of witness.” Both are figures of God’s house and dwelling, but this figure is probably in keeping with the theme of the song of Moses. It was Moses who had the unique duty of meeting with God in the tent and receiving everything that God commanded Israel (Exodus 25:22). God has not forgotten the covenant which he made with the house of Israel, but from his true and spiritual dwelling, his throne still encompasses the words of his promises to them.
(6) and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.
This verse is in connection to the opening of the tent of witness in verse five. The opening is for the dramatic exit of the seven angels with the seven last plagues. The whole chapter has been a scene set from within the spiritual temple/tabernacle; so the opening is not to speak of a new entrance (like that of 11:19), but an exit. Just as the door of any house is used as both an entrance and an exit. The seven angels are leaving the true sanctuary of God to execute the last plagues over God’s old and corrupted house (old covenant Israel).
“Clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests.” (For comments on the seven angels and the seven plagues, see 15:1). The appearance of these angels resembles that of priests prepared for the service of God. Jesus, the high priest, was seen earlier in similar garments (1:13). They are dressed for the occasion of executing the requirements of the old covenant against the house of Israel.
(7) And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever,
Seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God are introduced to the vision.
“Seven,” describes the completeness of the wrath of God upon old covenant Israel.
“Golden,” describes the glory and purity of the wrath of God.
“Bowls,” being the likeness of the golden bowls which were used in the service of the tabernacle (Exodus 37:16).
“Full of the wrath of God.” The prophets had used the same illustration of God’s vessels full of wrath to speak of the judgment of a nation (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 25:15).
“One of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels.” This illustrates that this judgment comes from the throne of God. The four living creatures are they which enclose the throne; they are the four corners of God’s chariot of judgment and war (see comments on 4:6). The idea that one of these creatures hands the seven bowls to the angels show the instrumentality of the creatures in executing the judgments of God which proceed from the throne that they carry.
(8) and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.
This is reminiscent of several occasions when the house of God was so full of the glory of God that it was engulfed in a cloud of smoke (Exodus 40:34-35; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Isaiah 6:4; Ezekiel 10:4, 43:5).
“No one could enter the sanctuary.” This figure is taken from Moses being unable to enter the tabernacle once it was completed, for the glory of God was too great (Exodus 40:35); also when Solomon completed the temple in Jerusalem, the priests were unable to enter into the service thereof because the cloud of smoke was too great (1 Chronicles 5:14). What we are seeing, to put it simply, is everyone getting out of the way! The Lord’s action against Israel is too great, too glorious, and a part of who he is in justice and righteousness. And his wrath is justly too great for anyone to come near the smoke of its burning.
“Until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” This is a trembling illustration of the greatness and power of God, who is so far above all others; so that on one could be able to come anywhere near his presence as he executes his judgment against the old covenant house.