If you read the passage above silently, go back and read it again out loud, blessing yourself and anyone else in hearing distance (Yes, I am going to mention that every week! – Revelation 1:3).
You can finally exhale and slump back, deep into your seat, the final shots of the film are going past your eyes. The green hills of the shire, now free from any threat of danger. A couple, reunited, on a bench watching the sun set in each other’s arms.
This great picture that John has been painting about the impact the kingdom purchased by the blood of the Lamb has on the Christians losing their lives across the Roman Empire is finally reaching its completion. So much so, that John could have in fact finished right here and now at the end of chapter 11.
We’ll save the full story as to why he doesn’t for another time. However, what is clear at this point in Revelation, as I have mentioned before, is that John is not writing a list of chronological events that will one day happen. Because if the book of Revelation finished here, there would be nothing left to accomplish, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah.”
It is over. Finished. God has won and set his rule and reign over all of creation!
Instead, we must remember what the purpose of John writing Revelation is. Tom Wright, in “Revelation for Everyone”, reminds us at this point that the entirety of John’s writings are to express one single and great reality: “that through the awful turmoil and trouble of the world, God is establishing through Jesus a people who, following the lamb, are to bear witness to God’s kingdom through their own suffering, through which the world will be brought to repentance and faith, so that ultimately God will be king over all.”
Earlier this last week I took a few guys to a driving range to hit some balls and have a chat about how their lives and walks with God are going. After we chatted for a while we stopped, got in a circle, and started to pray for one another. A few minutes in, an older gentleman walked over and interrupted our prayers, asking what sort of “religion” we were. To this day, I don’t know what answer he was looking for, but “Christian” certainly wasn’t it because he kept asking it over and over like we were hiding something from him. Spurred on by wanting to set a good example for the guys I was with, I started to ask him about his faith, looking for opportunities to share the Gospel. He said that he did believe in God, and that he prays and believes God sometimes answers his prayers, but that it isn’t fair to expect God to do everything that needs to be done in our lives. He passionately told us not to waste our lives “just praying all the time”.
He needs to read the book of Revelation! Here, John is giving us the final trumpet, the final bit of God’s response to our prayers for rescue, and it sees God becoming “king over all.” Our prayers can and will accomplish the greatest of tasks, so time spent in conversation with our Father is never wasted.
However, what we pray is massively impacted by what we believe about God’s kingdom. If we believe that this “kingdom” is something that just happens inside of us, that our faith and beliefs are a private and personal matter only, our prayers won’t seek to see much change around us. John is working hard in this letter to show us that this is not the case, that God’s kingdom is real, active and has a massive impact on our lives. I believe that is where this man was at, his belief in God was real, but his belief in God’s kingdom was extremely lacking (as was his belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishing something for him personally).
Sometimes I come across people who do have a strong belief in God’s kingdom, but it is misplaced. They see God’s kingdom as the place they get to escape to once they die, to get away from everything that is broken and nasty about this world. Life becomes about running away from pain, hardship, responsibility; about waiting (usually impatiently) for their escape to finally come. But John’s teachings on God’s kingdom fight against this half-truth as well. God’s kingdom is something we enter more fully when we die, but John makes it clear that it is about restoration here and now, not escape. John wants these early Christians to stand up and persevere through this incredibly dark time, not try to run away from it.
This is all really important, because if we read Revelation thinking about God’s kingdom as that white and fluffy clouded domain that dead people go to, we will miss the life-transforming truths that John is working so hard to get us to understand. “God’s kingdom” does not equal our western images of “heaven”. The kingdom John is describing is one that may not yet be fully in control here on earth, but it is active and present. And one day it will be all that there is.
In chapter 4 the four living creatures worshipped God as the One “who was, and is, and is to come.” Now, the elders are worshipping God as the One “who is and who was”. Why the change? Because the “is to come” has now happened and the picture John is painting is a glimpse of what our future reality will look like. A future where God is reigning, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant being back where it belongs.
But even now, the picture is not all rosy. Reigning brings with it judgment. Much of the world imagines God’s judgments to be around choices of pleasure and enjoyment, and almost laugh at the thought of it, believing the pleasure was worth whatever it is that is coming. That is not the picture here. God is going to destroy, not what is fun, but what destroys us. He is going to remove the systems, powers, and people that are destructive forces in his people’s lives.
Like we said earlier, this could very well be the end of Revelation, but it’s not. John finishes with his trademark statement about lightning and earthquakes, reminding us that this will be a huge moment of transition for all that exists. And then, in chapter 12, he is going to start all over again seeking to declare that single reality Wright was speaking about from a new angle. Painting it from a fresh perspective that will hopefully expose and communicate deeper truths about the impact God’s kingdom can have on those who are suffering for it.
This is a continuation of our series on Revelation at Birchfield Church. So if you want to listen to my talks (and others as we go along), please feel free to visit our website here and do that. Also, Tom Wright’s book, “Revelation for Everyone”, has been a big help in understanding this book; so go and buy it now and then read it.
Grace and peace to you all.