August 2, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 16:00 in the audio file.
Or, Blessed Are All Those Who Rejoice in His Reign
What is the hope of every Christian? There are different ways to describe it, but “the outcome of [our] faith” is “the salvation of [our] souls” (1 Peter 1:9). “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). We want to be “complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). All of those are included in the promise of the gospel, they belong with our eternal life. And also, we want a life with the Lord and for the Lord. We want fellowship with Christ, to be face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and know His love and live in His presence.
You may say it some other way. But faith, as it is informed by God’s Word, has a picture of a way it will be. We might not dwell on our future because we’re distracted, or because we’re afraid we’ve got the details wrong, or even because we’re discouraged and begin to doubt. This is part of why God gave us the book of Revelation.
After this morning we’ll be halfway through the book, at least according to chapter divisions. What have you gotten so far? I suspect it’s a mixed blessing. I’ve heard that some don’t enjoy what seems to be an excessively detailed and academic lecture series. I know there are others who would say it’s not scholarly enough. (Maybe there is a group for whom it’s “just right.”) I also get that you may not always get the feels that any given paragraph is the gas you need for your week. Does anticipating a hoard of demon locust encourage you to fold the final load of laundry? Does the fact that I think it’s actually a hoard of demon locust irritate you every time you think about it while you’re doing the laundry?
Maybe you wonder, some Sundays more than others, what good this is doing. You could be in your seventies, you could be seven, you could be wrangling a seven-month old, you could be afraid that I’m about to make a numerical joke about the symbolism of the number seven.
I believe that even now, in the crazy-sounding and unrelenting prophecies of the end times, God is giving us courage to conquer. We need at least a little time each week to get our heads into a God-given vision of the future where He rights the wrongs and rewards the righteous and rules over His kingdom giving blessing to those who rejoice in His reign. You may be the youngest believer among us, or the busiest, or bruised. You may not remember all the intricacies of the seals and trumpets and bowls, but if you can sing like the great multitude that He shall reign forever and ever, it will be hard to knock you over.
We’ve come to the seventh trumpet, which I believe includes the seven bowls to be poured out in the following chapters.
As the final trumpet blows, John sees what will be the final reality on earth. When the seventh seal was broken there was silence in heaven for half an hour (Revelation 8:1). This is not hushed.
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.”
The lyrics may sound more familiar to you from Handel’s Messiah, especially the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Handel’s oratorio does make a glorious impression, but the original vision even more so. These loud voices were saying, not singing per se (though vigorous chanting supposedly spreads coronavirus anyway).
Contrary to the assertions of many commentators, the point of the prophecies of Revelation is not how the church is fulfilling the role of Israel in God’s plan. The point of the prophecies is that Jesus is coming again to reign on earth over a kingdom of Jews and Gentiles of every nation.
The kingdom of the world is seen as one great empire. (Some Greek manuscripts must have made it plural, so the KJV has “kingdoms”; the reality will be the same in the end.) All the rulers of the world who reject Jesus as Lord will not win. We’ll see in the next verse those who rage against Him, a reference from Psalm 2. The Lord and His anointed will win and the world will be given to the Messiah for His authority. When Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36), He didn’t mean that it wouldn’t work on earth but rather that its organizing principles and central energy is not earthly. But it does extend universally over all the earth (see Psalm 47:2, and many other passages).
It also extends in perpetuity, since He will reign forever and ever. While I am a premillennialist, meaning that I believe in a 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth before a final judgment and then a new earth and a new heaven, I don’t think that the end of the millennium means that His kingdom is finished. In one way, His kingdom was inaugurated when He rose from the dead. In another way, we are living by faith in it currently. In another way, He will crush His foes. In the end, we will reign with Him (Revelation 5:10; 20:4, 6).
Alongside the loud voices come the twenty-four elders whom we met in chapter 4.
16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying
Some understand the twenty-four elders to be a symbolic representation of all the saints, some more specifically as 12 for the the sons of Israel, so Old Testament saints, and 12 for the apostles, so New Testament saints. But wouldn’t those saints be included in the “loud voices” (verse 15)? And why do the elders talk about the saints (verse 18) in the third person if they themselves are in the same group?
Instead, the twenty-four elders are a divine class of being, a ruling class, as show by the fact that they sit on their thrones before God. As usual in Revelation, they lead in worship.
17 We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
We’ve seen the who is and who was before (Revelation 1:4, 8), but usually it includes “who is to come.” Now, He has come. That He has taken…great power does not mean that He didn’t have power before, but that He has now applied that power in full effect over those who would challenge His crown rights. He does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3), and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. That He has begun to reign looks at the inception of His conquering.
Some Preterists take this as the end of temple worship in AD 70, so God’s “reign” began in the world in a spiritual way as the gospel goes forth. But the emphasis here is on personal reign of judgment not redemption. Add to that, the rewards of His servants are for their endurance through difficulties, not their fruitfulness of ministry.
18 The 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 great and small,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.
The nations raged. The nations are always raging. The kings, princes, presidents, prime ministers, sheiks, and governors and county health directors do not want Him. Until Jesus comes, there is time to repent. When He comes again, your wrath came, and His wrath out-wraths their rage. It will be time for the dead to be judged, which may be a reference to the dead who are already physically dead, since there are living destroyers at the end of the verse. Such a judgment was prophesied in Daniel 12:2.
It’s a small chiasmus, or at least a sandwich, with the righteous referenced in-between the rebels. Look at these descriptions. The Lord will be rewarding all [His] servants, His doulois. There are two groups distinguished, the prophets and the saints, those who are called by God to proclaim His message and those who are called by God to believe and obey His message. Some speak, all are holy. They are also those who fear your name, both small and great.
The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the LORD,
both the small and the great.
And then we finish with more judgment: it is time for destroying the destroyers of the earth. It is just judgment. There is a sense of the lex talionis, the eye-for-an-eye, the get-what-you-deserve, the what-goes-around-comes-around. Not only do men not get away with what they’re doing, they will taste their own destruction.
Confirmation comes from the heavens.
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightening, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
For the temple in heaven to be opened and for the ark of his covenant to be seen within his temple means that there is no more division. When Christ rose from the dead the curtain was torn in two, and this vision shows that the most holy place, in God’s presence, is now open and accessible to His saints, those who rejoice in His reign. The ark itself was the main reminder of God’s presence.
And again the lightenings, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail punctuate the divine power.
This hasn’t happened yet. So what should you do?
Believe it. Pray for it (Revelation 22:20). Wait for it. Live in light of it (James 5:8).
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13)
I don’t know why this doesn’t get to count as optimism. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).
The King is coming, what does He want you to be doing until then? He has told you. There are a number of ways to remember it, and it doesn’t always look the same any given day of the week, but the agenda is basic: trust and obey. Keep His Word, in your confession and conduct. Instead of KISS: keep it simple, stupid, how about KIUS: keep it unstained, saints.
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13–16, ESV)