John closes the fifteenth chapter of the Apocalypse by telling us he saw seven angels come out of the Temple in heaven, and they had the seven plagues. They were clothed in pure white linen, with their breasts girded in gold. He also saw one of the four beasts, and he had seven golden bowls or vials, which were full of the wrath of God, and he gave them to the seven angels Then John said that the Temple in heaven was filled with smoke from the power and the glory of God (Revelation 15:6-8). What does this mean?
A similar situation occurred when the Temple of God was first built in Jerusalem. During the opening celebrations the glory of God filled the Temple and was so powerful that the priests and the Levites were unable to perform their duties (1Kings 8:10-11; 2Chronicles 5:13-14). Another interesting point would be that in the days of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and when the Tabernacle was first erected (Exodus 40:1-11, 33), the Cloud covered the Tent of the Congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses was unable to enter the Tent, and neither were the people able to journey toward the Promised Land. Only when the Cloud was taken up was Israel able to make any progress in their journey toward the promises. Why was that, and what, if anything, does it have to do with what is said in Revelation 15:8?
In the context of the Scripture saying that the Temple in heaven was opened, but men couldn’t enter, until the seven angels poured out their vials (or bowls), which also speaks of the coming or appearing of Jesus, Paul tells us:
For, as its appointed time, this will be brought about by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality, dwelling in unapproachable Light, and whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be eternal honor and power! Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15-16; emphasis mine)
According to Paul, LIGHT (i.e. God the Father; cf. 1John 1:5) is the Temple (Revelation 15:5a) of the Tabernacle of Witness (Revelation 15:5b, or the One who was Jesus in the days of his flesh). In other words, Jesus, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, dwells in unapproachable LIGHT (the Father), whom no man has seen nor can see (cf. John 1:18).
We are told that, New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven (Revelation 21:2-3), but there is no Temple in the new city, because the Lord God and the Lamb are its Temple (Revelation 21:22). In the context of Revelation 15:8, this shows us that the Temple was opened. That is, the Father opened himself and revealed the Ark of the Covenant, who is Jesus. He is the Witness of the Presence of God among men. We know God (the Father) only by and through knowing Jesus. Without seeing Jesus, there is no sure knowledge of God (Matthew 11:27). Before the seven angels with the seven plagues fulfilled their duties, only Jesus was able to enter the Temple (LIGHT – the Father; cf. 1Timothy 6:15-16).
This idea calls Jesus prayer to mind, which John recorded in the seventeenth chapter of his Gospel narrative:
That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me (John 17:21-23; emphasis mine).
First, Jesus prayed that we could be in the Father and in Christ, that is, that he and the Lord Jesus would be our Temple (viz. Revelation 21:22). Secondly, he prayed that he, the Lord Jesus, would be in us and the Father would be in him. In other words we would be the Temple of God or, in the context of Revelation 21:2-3, we would be the city of God, in which the Temple of God (verse-22) resides.
Yet, this couldn’t take place until the plagues were poured out upon Babylon the Great (Jerusalem), as John informs us in Revelation 15:8. In other words and according to Paul, the way into the Holy of Holies (i.e. the Father) wasn’t permitted, while the first Temple was yet standing (Hebrews 9:8). Therefore, entry into the Temple of God in heaven wasn’t possible, until Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. At that time the Old Covenant ceased to exist and the New Covenant, although initiated at Christ’s death, was established at Christ’s Second Coming and the Gospel went out to the nations from New Jerusalem.
On the other hand, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they were already in the Father and in the Lord, Jesus (1Thessalonians 1:1 & 2Thessalonians 1:1). Moreover, John tells us in his first epistle that God dwells in whomsoever confesses that Jesus is the Christ, and he who does so dwells in God (cf. 1John 4:15-16). How can we resolve these seeming contradictions? If no man was able to enter into the Temple (i.e. the Father; Revelation 15:8) of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (i.e. Jesus – Revelation 15:5), until Jerusalem was destroyed with its Temple (Revelation 15:8; Hebrews 9:8), how was it possible for anyone to be IN the Father (1Thessalonians 1:1; 2Thessalonians 1:1; 1John 4:15-16)?
I believe the answer to this dilemma is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. There he tells us that, not only is our hope of glory the fact that Christ dwells in us (Colossians 1:27), and remembering the fact that we yet hope for something tells us that what we hope for is not yet possessed (Romans 8:24), so not only is Christ in us our “hope” of glory, but our lives are hid with him in God (Colossians 3:3). So, being in the Father prior to the destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled by being in Christ our High Priest, who represented us before the Father in heaven, but after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Revelation 15:8) Christ’s prayer for his disciples (John 17:21-23) was fulfilled.