In Revelation 11:14 the pivotal announcement was made, “the second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.” The first two woes are the anger and strife of nations, while the third is the wrath of God—“The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come...that you should reward Your servants…and should destroy those who destroy the earth.” The wrath of God, announced in Revelation 11:18, is declared in Revelation 15:1 to be “The Seven Last Plagues, for in them is filled up the wrath of God.”

The first announcement of the wrath of God was accompanied by the statement, “The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in the temple the ark of His covenant” (Revelation 11:19). Then followed chapters 12-14 which elaborated on the players and events of the great controversy. John returns to the chronological timeline in the same way he left it, with the announcement, “The temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened.” But the temple is not opened to provide access to God's mercy; it is opened so that the seven angels with “the seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” can come out to “pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth” (Revelation 15:7, 16:1). As soon as the angels have come out, the temple is closed to access—“And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from His power; and no one was able to enter into the temple, until the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled” (Revelation 15:8). In order to understand what is happening here we need to study the three Old Testament passages that refer to a cloud filling the temple so that no one could enter.

Nearly 25% of the book of Exodus is concerned with the building of the wilderness tabernacle. “When Moses finished the work, then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, and Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting because… the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:33,34). The cloud filled the tabernacle when the work of building it was completed. Now the church is God's temple;[1] God is building His people as “living stones” into a “spiritual house” through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 2:5). The temple is “finished” when God’s people reach the “unity of the faith” and “the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians4:9-13).[2] Applying this to Revelation 15:8, when Christ has “finished the work” of perfecting the church, the cloud of glory will fill the heavenly tabernacle and no one will be “able to enter the temple till the seven plagues [are] fulfilled.”

The same theme is found in the inauguration of Solomon’s temple, with the emphasis specifically on the unity of God’s people. “When the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord…the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:13,14). The cessation of the temple ministry by the priests was associated with unity and perfect worship by the “trumpeters and singers” who were “as one…in praising and thanking the Lord.” If we apply this passage to Revelation 15:8, when God’s people reach the unity of worship and praise that characterized the early church, the temple of God in heaven will be “filled with…the glory of God.” Then the seven last plagues will be poured out, which will protect God’s people from their enemies and prepare the way for the Second Coming of Christ.

The same event is recorded in 1 Kings 8. There it says that the priests took the ark of the covenant into the Most Holy Place “and it came to pass, when the priests came out of the Holy Place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud” (1 Kings 8:10,11). In all three passages, when the cloud filled the temple, the ministry in the temple came to an end, and this passage emphasizes that this happened when the priests came out of the Most Holy Place.[3] Jesus is our great high priest in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 8:1,2), and he is constantly mediating for sinners, applying the merits of His sacrifice on behalf of those who repent of their sins (Hebrews 7:25). He will continue to do so until everyone on earth who ever will repent has repented. Then He will “stand up” (Daniel 12:1) and leave the Most Holy Place, ending His ministry of mediation to bring sinners to repentance.

Considering these three passages together and applying them to the end of time, when God’s church has reached the perfection of unity and worship, then Jesus, our high priest, will end His ministry of intercession and will leave the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. By this time the ministry of the two witnesses (the 144,000 who will proclaim the three angels’ messages[4]), will have done its work. Everyone on earth will have made their choice, as reflected in the solemn announcement, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.’ And behold I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:11,12). This has been called the “close of probation,” when the Lord’s work of intercession is finished.

Isaiah 26:21,22 shows that when “the Lord comes out of His place” (finishes His ministry of mediation) it initiates a brief final period when the work of God’s people for sinners will have ended. They will “hide themselves” in the safety of Jesus’ protection, and God Himself will punish Satan and bring iniquity to an end. “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the Lord comes out of His place[5] to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain. In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent [Satan]” (Isaiah 26:20-27:1). The rest of the book of Revelation deals with the events after probation has closed, when the impenitent, spurred on by the devil, will try to annihilate God’s people, who will be protected by the wrath of God and the Second Coming of Christ.

[1] “You are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people” 2 Corinthians 6:16, See also 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:19-22.

[2] To each one of us grace was given…for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians4:9-13.

[3] This is consistent with the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement: when the high priest came out of the Most Holy Place, he was finished making atonement for the people and from then he made atonement for the temple itself and assigned punishment to the scapegoat, who represented Satan, the instigator of sin (See Leviticus 16:17-22 and 4: The Day of Atonement).

[4] These are different aspects of the same end-time work of calling the great multitude out of spiritual Babylon.

[5] The Hebrew word for place, maqown, is used to designate the place for the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:17, 1 Kings 8:6,7,21, 1 Chronicles 15:1, 3). 2 Chronicles 5:7 makes it clear that this is the Most Holy Place of the Sanctuary: “Then the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place (maqowm), into the inner sanctuary of the temple, to the Most Holy Place, under the wings of the cherubim.