The Witness of God's Covenant and Glory
This scene in heaven looked like the tabernacle, the centre of worship and the reminder of God's covenant law. The way into the Holy of Holies was open: the curtain to exclude people from the most holy place was not there (Matthew 27:50-51). Hebrews 10:19-21 assures believers that through the sacrifice of Jesus the way to God is now open. The description of the temple has important imagery. In other translations it is more accurately called the temple of the 'tent of witness', which is the Septuagint Greek translation of the 'tent of meeting' (Exodus 27:21).
The reason is found in Deuteronomy 21:26: "Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you." In other words, God's law was observing or witnessing the behaviour of God's people and they were accountable before it. God's wrath stemmed from breaking the law, which was His covenant promise of blessing for obedience or cursing for disobedience (Deuteronomy 30:19). The significance is not just a translation issue, because the word for 'witness' is the same as the word for 'martyr'. God's Word watched over the faithful believers who suffered and lost their lives because they refused to break God's covenant.
The angels were dressed as priests, ready to administer God's curses on the disobedient. They were given golden bowls. In Revelation 3:8 such bowls were full of the prayers of believers, constantly before God's throne - like the incense of worship - until each prayer is answered. Now the bowls are filled with God's wrath against sin. This too is a worship moment. The glory of God filled the temple in the same way as when it was first built, with smoke preventing Moses from entering (Exodus 40:34-35). God is glorified in the fulfilling of His promises – both to bless the repentant sinner and to curse the unrepentant sinner (2 Thessalonians 2:10). If people refuse to give glory to God by repenting of breaking His law, God will glorify Himself in pouring out His wrath upon them (Revelation 16:9-11). It is all about God keeping His Word: the Word that was in the Covenant box in the tabernacle and was God's witness against them.
This drama is uncomfortable for those who wrongly believe that God is always benign, and never against anybody, always wanting us to be happy. God is equally glorified in the suffering of the martyrs and in the punishment of the wicked. He is faithful to His Word, which 'witnesses' our faithfulness or faithlessness to His covenant. The glory of God is His supreme goal throughout history: we will share His glory if we keep His covenant. Much of the covenant of law we have broken, so He gave us a new covenant in the blood of Christ (Luke 22:20). God is glorified whenever a sinner repents (Luke 15:7), and is redeemed through the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9). What is the pastoral application for us today? Follow the logic of these truths: a) The glory of God is the reason and goal of creation. b) God's covenant Word stands as a witness of our lives. c) We have all broken the Old Covenant of law. d) How we respond to the covenant of grace will determine our relationship with God now and in eternity. e) So let us live in repentance and faith, and share the gospel with others, so that we will glorify Him now and share His glory in eternity to come.
© Dr Paul Adams