14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, / who is and who was, /for you have taken your great power /and begun to reign. /18The nations raged, /but your wrath came, /and the time for the dead to be judged, /and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, /and those who fear your name, /both small and great, / and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. [i]
John has been writing of God’s people in tribulation during the last days. He writes to the persecuted congregations of Roman Asia, and to you and me in our day. What are the last days? Peter defined it in Acts 2 as the time between the close of Christ’s earthly ministry and the visible appearance of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to the time of Christ’s return to consummate all things to himself. John, the congregations of Roman Asia, you, and I are all living in the last days. In these last days, the earthly church struggles against the world, the flesh, and the devil while bearing God’s seal of salvation guaranteeing us our citizenship in heaven despite physical peril.
John has also described the church in heaven, triumphant in the joy of face-to-face worship, awaiting the resurrection and God’s settling of accounts with the earth-dwellers. In the intermission between the 6th and 7th trumpets in chapters 10 and 11, John paints a vision of the earthly church’s mission to bear witness to the sweetness of the gospel and the bitterness of sin. The church’s legally-sufficient testimony of law and gospel form the basis of judgment upon earth-dwellers who refuse to turn from their idols of self-generated happiness.
Since Revelation 8:6 we have been studying the 7 trumpets and the scenes they depict, painted with the primary color of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the plagues God sent to harden Pharos’s heart. In the 5th and 6th trumpets of chapters 8-9, we saw God unleash the locust-like plague of demons who torture individuals and drive nations and armies to unleash death and destruction on a third of the earth. Empowered by Satan, the earth’s great armies wage war on one another destroying lives and land. Despite personal demonic torture and social-political upheaval, the earth-dwellers refuse to repent. They worship the demons torturing them as they chase after the Satanic addictions to self-sovereignty and self-generated happiness that bring only bitterness. The earth-dwellers rely on their own false perceptions of self-righteousness – “At least I’m not as bad as THAT person!”
Meanwhile, God’s people testify to God’s two words of law and gospel. That testimony is Christ’s sounding of El Deguello (no quarter) to the rebellious city of man. The earth-dwellers respond with hatred of the message and often the messengers. The final trumpet blast of Messiah’s final victorious assault upon the gates of hell sounds in our text this morning. It is the final woe, the fulfillment of the typological image of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the fall of Jericho. Babylon the Great, the city of man, the gates of hell will be swarmed and destroyed and there will be no time left for repentance. The wrath of God the Father and his Messiah comes in all its swift, devastating fury. And, it comes in response to the prayers of the saints praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
John’s visions of the 7th seal, 7th trumpet, and 7th bowl come after an intermission (like chapters 10 and 11). Each 7th vision focuses not on what’s happening on the earth, but on what happens in heaven as Christ executes his final judgment. That’s because Revelation’s purpose is to show God’s covenant plan of blessing and judgment from God’s heavenly vantage point. When the 7th seal was broken, there was about a half hour of awed silence over God’s terrible, swift justice. When the 7th bowl is poured out, God will shout, “It is done! (16:17). Here, when the 7th trumpet sounds, praise breaks out around the heavenly throne.
This text does not provide the details of the final judgment or the Kingdom come. Those pictures are found partly in the 7th seal and also later in the letter. What we have here is an emphasis on Messiah’s earthly return to reign visibly and eternally over the cosmos. Saints and angels in the heavenly throne room proclaim, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”[ii] This is not the beginning of a temporary 1,000-year kingdom for Jesus and the modern nation-state of Israel followed by a final battle. In these verses, the final battle is over and Jesus’ uninterrupted eternal reign has begun according to verse 15 (which is part of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus).
We read in 10:7 that God’s accomplishment of his plan in history would be completed when the 7th trumpet blew. Verse 15 announces Messiah’s return to rejoin heaven and earth torn apart by Adam’s rebellion. This is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord /as the waters cover the sea.” [iii] In the Kingdom come, believers will have resurrection bodies like Jesus’ and we will dwell with him in the renewed heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1).
Notice that the heavenly voices sing in verse 15, “The kingdom (singular) of this world….” That doesn’t predict a great one-world government in place before the last judgment. All the political entities of the world are summed up as one kingdom opposed to Messiah because “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). They are one kingdom, one beast (13:1-2), one great city-state. They are the city of man, Babylon the Great, the whole collection of demon-driven earth-dwellers jeering at God while hiding behind the flimsy gates of hell.
The description includes Rome, Nazi Germany, Communist regimes, tin-horn dictatorships, and even the modern humanistic societies of America and its Western allies. All kingdoms are only one kingdom that must and shall be crushed under the glorious weight of “kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.”[iv] God’s saving kingdom began the moment the pre-incarnate Christ covered Adam and Eve in robes of a sacrificed animal and promised to send the Seed of the Woman to crush the serpent’s head. It gained purchase in the whole world when Jesus rose from the grave and the Shekinah glory of God the Spirit danced on the heads of his witnesses at Pentecost when Peter announced the last days. There are now two kingdoms at war in this world: the city of man, and the city of God.
The city of God is the true Kingdom that will destroy the gates of hell. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8).[v] When the demonically-driven earth-dwellers celebrate the death and destruction of God’s witnesses, the Lord raises up more (11:11). No age will be left without testimony that the City of God must and shall prevail. See Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” [vi]
The gospel is an announcement, not an inward feeling but an objective, proposition of truth; it’s not a political or social movement. It is the message that the Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29, 36; Rev. 5:6), Jesus of Nazareth came to earth as God incarnate, lived perfectly under God’s holy law, suffered as an innocent for the sins of his people on Calvary’s cross, died the death his people deserve, rose again on the third day, ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and sent out his Holy Spirit to dwell with his people so that they could become the new and true temple, the City of God on earth sealed by the Spirit into true and eternal citizenship in the new heavens and earth which the Lion-Lamb establishes right here in Revelation 11:15-19.
Verses 15 and 16 announce that God has taken to himself the rule he formerly allowed the devil to have over the world. The Old Testament allusion here is to Daniel 7 where Daniel sees the evil kingdoms of the world defeated and handed over to the authority of the Son of Man, who reigns forever. The Exodus theme is also in view; the line, “The Lord will reign for ever and ever” comes from the song of Moses in Exodus 15 in response to God’s drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. [vii]
Think about this: many of the small congregations of Roman Asia in John’s day are desperately poor. Their members cannot make a living because they refuse to worship Roman demon-idols or offer incense to Caesar as a god. Many have their homes and property confiscated. Many are imprisoned, and some are being killed. Not only is there no immediate end in sight, their situation will get much worse. They are starving. They are targeted by local, regional, and national governments. Their neighbors treat them as if they have contagious diseases. When they gather for worship, they must do so in the dark in secret places for fear of being arrested or tortured to death as some of their friends and family already have been.
What’s the message they receive from Jesus? Does Christ tell them if they can muster up enough faith they can move God to restore their finances, their health, their relationships, and grant all their wishes great and small? Does he tell them “cowboy up” and take control of their circumstances? Maybe their hope is in infiltrating the “7 mountains” of culture (family, arts, government, business, etc.) so they can take over the world and create their own kingdom of Christendom. Does Jesus leave them some platitude like, “Every cloud has a silver lining”?
No, the constant message of Jesus’ letter to his people oppressed by the world, the flesh, and the devil is something for which you and I have but a dim appreciation. He promises a day when God will rejoin heaven and earth and we will live in his presence without sin in us or around us anymore. Sin will no longer be a part of our DNA; we will have new hardware to go along with the Jesus 2.0 software the Holy Spirit installed when he regenerated your heart to trust into Christ. That’s the hope Jesus passes on to his oppressed witnesses. It raises the question for us – for me, anyway – of what we truly treasure and trust. Is the hope Messiah offers truly better than my desire to manage my circumstances for happy outcomes in the here and now? Only in my brief moments of gospel sanity is my answer to that question, “Yes.”
The 24 elders, who represent Old and New Testament saints in glory, reflect the gospel sanity of being all about Jesus. So, their song gives us the appropriate response of hope and joy to Messiah’s consummated kingdom. They sing, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty….”[viii] The word “almighty” means “ruler of all.” It was a title the Caesars took for themselves. It’s rather like the phrase “the most powerful man in the world.” Often, you hear that title applied to United States presidents in the same way people were happy to place their hope and trust into rulers of Rome. There IS a “most powerful man in the world” – the Man in Heaven.
The elders proclaim God as the One “who is and who was….” When we last heard that line of praise in Rev. 4:8, there was an additional phrase in the title. “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”[ix] When the 7th trumpet blows, eternity no longer “is to come.” The future hope of God dwelling face-to-face with his people has become an eternal reality. The next line of the praise chorus makes this obvious, “for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” [x] Why is this such a big deal? Because the entire story of scripture is that of God restoring his creation, of heaven and earth rejoined. Salvation is not “pie in the sky when you die.”
Christ is restoring the whole universe into a better Garden of Eden, a better temple, one giant Holy of Holies. God has finally come down to the earth he left when he booted Adam and Eve from his perfect Garden-Temple of Eden. He banishes the curse and presence of sin. He restores his beauty to all that is ugly and hideous. This is the final overwhelming eternal presence of God to which all biblical prophecy points.
Verse 18 sums up the judgment and blessing of the Last Judgment. On one side of Messiah’s completed reign is his final wrath poured out upon all earth-dwellers and the demonic forces that rule them. On the other side is the eternal blessing of his presence for all whom he has sealed with trust into him. First, the elders sing from Psalm 2 of the rage of the earth-dwellers against God’s rule and their plots to overthrow God and his Messiah. The allusion to Psalm 2 lets us know that Messiah has smashed the rebellious and shattered them like pots. They are the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction whom God patiently endured until this final day of destruction (Rom. 9:22). The same root word forms both the rage of the nations in verse 18 and the word wrath of God. The earth-dwellers were wrathful toward God, his free offer of salvation, and his witnesses. God responds with wrath in return.[xi] They have been the destroyers of the earth, God responds by destroying them.
Then the elders sing of the reward that comes to us who are “servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great….” [xii] These terms describe all God’s people at the same time. We are servants because we serve God by being prophets who speak God’s words into the lives of others for their blessing or judgment. We are saints because we have been declared holy by receiving Christ’s perfection deposited into our spiritual accounts. We are small to the earth-dweller but great to the Father who sent out his own unique Son to pay the price of sin we deserved. Our reward is God himself.
Some preachers like to speak of other kinds of rewards for the saints. They picture those who have done radical things in service to God as receiving mansions and ornate crowns and jewels. So, to them, Billy Graham is living in a huge mansion dripping with bling while you (if you haven’t tried harder and done more) might find yourself spending eternity in a cardboard box in the alley behind Billy’s estate. Of course, that is ludicrous! God has over and over stated in scripture how he rewards all his saints:
My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.[xiii]
That promise, in those exact words, is found 10 times in both the Old and New Testaments and numerous times again in other variations. We hear it again at the close of this letter in chapter 21:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” [xiv]
Paul told the congregations of Rome, in Romans 8:17, that those trusting into Christ are “joint heirs with Christ.” Here’s a bit of free legal advice I picked up from my Wills and Estates course in law school: JOINT HEIRS RECEIVE AN EQUAL PORTION. Billy doesn’t get a mansion while you get a cardboard box because we ALL receive Immanuel, God with us. What makes that the best possible reward is THAT is what we were created to do, live perfectly with God and enjoy him forever.
All of our feelings of incompleteness, all of our dissatisfaction, all our rage and bitterness, all of our demands for things to go the way we want them to go, all of our attempts to run our own lives our own way, all of the offenses against one another to which we cling like invaluable treasure, all of the things that are not Jesus for which we long – all of it comes from our failure to trust that there is an eternal weight of glory at the end of our light and momentary troubles. Is God’s promise that he will be your God, you will be his, and he will dwell with you enough?
The passage ends with a glimpse of the ark of the covenant in the heavenly temple. Why that OT imagery? Because it is the symbol of God dwelling with his people. To those who laughed at Joshua and the Israelites marching around their walls blowing those goofy-sounding ram’s horns, the ark was a joke – until the 7th trumpet sounded, and the gates of hell came crashing down. But to those who trusted into the promises of God to dwell with them and be their God, the ark in the temple was the down payment of their comfort, their promise, their protection, and their power.
If you are here this morning and your trust is in your own skills, your own choices, your own values, then you have built your life right upon the fault line of the greatest earthquake this world will ever experience. Give ear to St Author of Hebrews:
25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. [xv]
We invite you to come and stand upon the solid rock that is Christ Jesus. His bride, the church calls to you. His spirit calls to you. See to it you do not refuse him who is speaking.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. [xvi]
[iv] Phillips, 330-331.
[vii] Beale, 611.
[xi] Phillips, 334.