PART 5: COVENANT SUCCESSION AND CONTINUITY – The Seven Chalices (Revelation 15-22)

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text


As we have seen, the final section of Revelation corresponds to Christ’s letter to the angel of the church at Thyatira, which speaks of His judgment on “Jezebel,” the False Bride; and, like the letter to the angel of the church at Laodicea, it speaks against the economically wealthy yet spiritually wretched church (Judaism), which Christ is about to spit out of His mouth. This section also corresponds to the last of the four living creatures, the man-cherub, and (in St. John’s order) the last quarter of the Zodiac, ruled by the constellation of Aquarius the Water-Pourer; accordingly, the symbol of judgment in this section is that of the angels pouring out God’s wrath from their Chalices.

We have also noted that the last division in Revelation corresponds to the fifth and final part of the covenantal treaty structure: the succession arrangements. This deals with the continuity of the Covenant, the disinheritance of illegitimate members, and the inheritance of those who are faithful to their sworn obligations (cf. Deut. 31-34).[1] Moses begins this section of Deuteronomy with orders for extending the Covenant into the future. He charges the people (31:1-6), Joshua (31:7-8), and the priests (31:9-13) with the duty of following the Covenant program and ensuring its transmission to the coming generations. Then (31:14-15) God appears in the Glory-Cloud at the doorway of the Tabernacle to meet with Moses and Joshua, and instructs them to teach a Song of Witness to the children of Israel. He says to Moses: “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the Land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My Covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them…. Now therefore, write this Song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it in their mouths, in order that this Song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel…. Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this Song will testify before them as a witness” (31:16-21).

As Kline shows, the Song of Witness (Deut. 32) is “Yahweh’s covenant lawsuit against his ungrateful and unfaithful people, prophetically delivered through Moses, ‘the man of God’ (see Deut. 33:1, ‘the man of X’ being a title for the messengers of great kings).”[2] A model Covenant Lawsuit, the Song itself is structured according to the standard form of the treaty document. Thus we have the familiar outline:

I. Preamble (32:1-4)

II. Historical Prologue (32:5-14)

III. Record of Rebellion Against Covenant Stipulations (32:15-18)

IV. Sanctions:
     A. Curses Against Covenant-Breakers (32:19-25)
     B. Blessings on the Remnant Through Redemptive

V. Judgment (32:26-43)
V. Succession Arrangements (32:44-34:12)[3]

Both Moses and Joshua taught the Song of Witness to the people (32:44); it might well be called “the Song of Moses and Joshua.” Accordingly, in the corresponding fifth section of Revelation, St. John begins with a manifestation of God’s glory at ”the Sanctuary of the Tabernacle of the Testimony,” where God gives a covenantal commission to seven angel-priests; as choral accompaniment to all this the Remnant sings “the Song of Moses the bond-servant of God and the Song of the Lamb.” The Lamb, as all St. John’s readers know, is Jesus, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua; the Song is therefore “the Song of Moses and (the Greater) Joshua.”

In Revelation 15 and 16 the Tabernacle is opened and the priests are sent forth to pour out their Chalice-judgments upon Israel as punishment for her harlotry – the chief crime that called forth the original Song of Witness (Deut. 31:16). Here we should note one important element that ties Chapters 15-22 together as a literary unit. After the seven angels have poured out their Chalices of wrath, one of the same seven angels comes to show St. John “the judgment of the Great Harlot” (17:1). Later, in the final vision of the book, another of these Chalice-angels shows St. John the Harlot’s opposite number: “the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb” (21:9). Clearly, the visions relating to both the Harlot and the Bride are extensions of the Seven Chalices section of the prophecy.

As God had declared in Moses’ Song of Witness, He is the Jealous Husband, betrayed by the infidelity of this “perverse generation” (Deut. 32:5, 16, 20-21; cf. Matt. 17:17; Acts 2:40). The punishment He sends will be that already threatened in Deuteronomy 28:49-57: A fearful enemy nation will arise to destroy Israel, bringing vengeance upon God’s apostate “wife” (Deut. 32:21-25).[4] This theme is taken up and enlarged in Revelation 17-18, where the Harlot Bride is destroyed for her unfaithfulness. Yet the Remnant is saved; and, as we have seen, this “remnant” is ultimately larger than its original, being transformed into a great multitude that no one can count, vastly outnumbering the old Israel (Rev. 7). God guarantees the covenantal succession by establishing the transcendent New Covenant. Distinguishing His true heirs, He incorporates them into the Bride of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem; and Bride and Bridegroom meet in the sacramental meal, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:1-10).

After singing the Song of Witness, Moses outlines the future of the twelve tribes in a final Testament (Deut. 33; cf. Rev. 21:12), which proclaims the Coming of the LORD in salvation (Deut. 33:2), and exults in the priestly and regal dominion God will provide for His people:

There is none like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to your help,
And through the skies in His majesty.
The eternal God is a dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms;
And He drove out the enemy from before you,
And said, “Destroy!”
So Israel dwells in security,
The fountain of Jacob secluded,
In a land of grain and new wine;
His heavens also drop down dew.
Blessed are you, O Israel;
Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD,
Who is the shield of your help,
And the sword of your majesty!
So your enemies shall cringe before you,
And you shall tread upon their high places.
(Deut. 33:26-29; cf. Rev. 19:11-22:5)

Finally, the LORD takes Moses to the top of Mount Nebo, showing him the Promised Land, but informing him again that he will not be able to lead the people into it; his place must be taken by Joshua the Conqueror (Deut. 34:1-9). Nevertheless, Moses’ status remains unique, for “since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10). St. John’s message in Revelation, however, is that (as Moses wished), all the LORD’S people are prophets (Num. 11:29). Christians, as “bond-servants” like Moses (Rev. 15:3; 19:2, 5), are not inferior even to angels in their sanctuary privileges (19:10), but have complete access to God, exercising the same outspoken freedom of speech (cf. Heb. 10:19) that he enjoyed. Before God’s heavenly Throne “His bond-servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:4).

[1] See Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963), pp. 135-49; cf. Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).

[2] Kline, Treaty of the Great King, p. 139.

[3] See ibid., pp. 140-49; I have slightly amended Kline’s outline.

[4] Nevertheless, the nation used as the rod of God’s anger will itself be smashed for its own disobedience, and the Remnant of Israel will be saved (Deut. 32:26-43; cf. Isa. 10:5-34; Rev. 17:16-17; 19:17-20.