Thy Kingdom Come (Rev. 11:14-19)
To pronounce a woe is to pronounce judgment. The seventh trumpet call is described here as the third woe in verse 14. But when we come to the sounding of the seventh trumpet we hear the seventh angel in a loud voice say, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (15). How in the world is that a pronouncement of judgment?
The answer to that is that it depends on who you are. If you do not belong to Christ, the coming of the kingdom of God will indeed be judgment for you. We see that in verse 18, where we read, “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.” The nations were angry, that is, they were hostile toward God and his people. This ferocity is behind all the persecutions God’s people have had to endure throughout history. But the wrath of the nations will one day be finally overcome and overwhelmed by the wrath of God who will exercise his great power (17) and destroy those who by their sin and rebellion destroyed the earth.
One day the dead will be raised and be judged and those who lived their whole lives resisting God’s right over them will be confronted by the power of God and by that power they will be eternally destroyed. There is no judgment, no woe, more final or more terrible than that.
But on the other hand, those who by God’s grace have through faith in Jesus Christ become a part of God’s kingdom will find this same event to be an event of breathtaking joy. To them the announcement that the kingdom of this world has now become the kingdom of God and of Christ will be the heralding of the very best of news. They will surely join the twenty-four elders and give eternal thanks to God for the coming of the kingdom of God in its fulness.
This is where history is headed. This is the reality by which we are meant to order our lives. And this needs to be said today because the oft-repeated mantra, “You’re on the wrong side of history” is also meant to order our lives in light of a so-called progressive agenda which sees the values of modern sexual confusion as more enlightened than the values of God’s word. But the values of secularism, though they may cost you today if you stand against them, will have no weight at the bar of God before whom we will all have to stand. The values of this world will one day be displaced by the values of God’s kingdom. The kingdoms of this world will not last forever; God’s kingdom will. This is the unavoidable reality that we will all face. This is the reality before which we must live our lives. The world passes away, but the one who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:17).
There are many different ways we can imagine this reality. There are many different ways the Bible helps us to do so. But the thing that is emphasized in these verses is the future of this world in terms of the kingdom of God. You see that in verse 15: there is this immediate reversal and change where the kingdoms of the world are displaced by God’s kingdom, and he reigns for ever and ever. You see it in verse 17 in the hymn of the elders who rejoice that God’s omnipotence has been exercised to fully bring about the eternal reign of God. You see it in verse 18 in the scene of final judgement as the King sits upon his throne and judges those who have committed treason against him.
This is the reality that I want to meditate on with you this morning. I want to talk about six realities about the future kingdom of God that should make us fall on our faces and worship God and give thanks to him.
And then I want to end by pointing to two reasons why we can be absolutely certain that this will come to pass.
Six Realities about God’s kingdom that should make you want to rejoice.
First, the coming of God’s kingdom will mean the final and complete overthrow of all evil in this world.
There is truth to the statement that the kingdom of God is present in the here-and-now, and that Jesus has received a kingdom and rules in the hearts of his people. That is true. The apostle Paul writes, “The kingdom of God is not [does not consist in] meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men” (Rom. 14:17-18). I take that to mean that a believer belongs now to the kingdom of God and experiences the kingdom through righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit as he or she serves Christ. There is also a sense in which the kingdom is not only present but growing. This is the lesson of the parables of the mustard seed and leaven in Mt. 13:31-33.
But the Bible makes it very clear that there is a “not yet” aspect to the kingdom of God, and that this “not yet” aspect is not something that will be grown into, but which will be climatically and immediately ushered in when our Lord returns in glory with the holy angels and establishes his kingdom in its fulness. You see this in the parables as well, especially the parable of the tares of the field (Mt. 13:36-43) and the parable of the net (47-50). There will come a time “in the end of this world” when the “Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (40-43).
You see this in the Beatitudes. The meek will inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5); this is future. The persecuted for righteousness’ sake will inherit the kingdom of God; this again is future (10-12). There is a blessedness which belongs to the age to come. Though there is joy to be had now, there is also a future entering into the joy of the Lord. Entering into the kingdom of heaven is associated also in the Sermon on the Mount with the final judgment: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Mt. 7:21-22). In that day – the day of Final Judgment. It will be in that day that men will either enter into or be turned away from the kingdom of God. There is a future coming of the kingdom, not absolutely, but in its fulness.
This is the reason why we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” You don’t pray for something to come that’s already here. And we see the sense in which we are to pray for it: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is not the way things are. But there is coming a day when this will be true. There is coming a day when God’s will is done on earth as surely as it is done in heaven.
In that day, the back of wickedness will be broken. No longer will the wicked triumph. The oppression of the righteous and the advocacy of wickedness will be over. There will be no more devil to stand against. No more flesh to fight. No more world in the sense of humanity in rebellion against God. You see this in these wonderful words, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). This is the opposite reality to that which is expressed in the second Psalm: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed” (Ps. 2:2). To say that the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of the Father and the Son is to say that the kings who set themselves against God and his kingdom are no more. God alone rules. It is expressed in the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians: “For he [Jesus] must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26). All the enemies of Christ will one day be put under his feet.
You see this also in the judgment referred to in verse 18. The nations are angry now. They rage now: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (Ps. 2:1). But one day the wrath of man will hit an immoveable brick wall in the wrath of God. It is coming and it will judge the wicked finally and for all time. They destroy the earth now with their wickedness but there is coming a day when there will be no sinner to rage against the people of God.
This is beautifully portrayed in the words of the 37th Psalm: “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation. Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken” (8-15).
In this psalm, we see there all the things we are tempted to do when we think that wickedness is triumphant. We are tempted to fret and be envious of the wicked (1), to not trust in the Lord or delight in him (4), or to commit our way to him (5), or to rest in him and wait patiently for him (7), and we are tempted to be angry (8). Does the evil around you tempt you to be this way? To be envious and unbelieving and impatient? We can see how meditating on the final end of the wicked is not just for the purposes of having correct theological thoughts, but is absolutely crucial for joyful and hopeful and holy perseverance in the faith: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction” (Ps. 73:17-18).
Brothers and sisters, don’t let the prevalence of evil around you at the present time cause you to think and live as if this is the dominant and final reality. It isn’t. The time of the wicked is short. And if you are tempted to join the world in its rebellion against God, know this: the pleasures of sin only last for a season and you will reap eternal destruction in the hands of an angry God. Better to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Heb. 11:25).
Second, the coming of God’s kingdom will mean the full and complete establishment of righteousness in this world.
The overthrow of the kingdoms of the world is not an end in itself. It is to make way for the kingdom of God. Wickedness makes way for righteousness. The apostle Peter put it this way: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:10-13). Wherein dwelleth righteousness. Right now righteousness is a sort of foreigner in this world, as are those who are righteous. But there is coming a day when this will no longer be the case. Don’t you look forward to that? Don’t you look forward to a day when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea? Don’t you look forward to a day “when conditions are changed, when grief, aggressiveness, acquisitiveness, sin, and violence no longer dominate human society”?1 When the both the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule are automatically and immediately and flawlessly and universally obeyed?
Living in this world we sometimes forget that all the unhappiness in this world is either directly or indirectly related to human sin and rebellion against God. The attempt to cast Christianity in the light of a doctrine that keeps people from enjoying themselves is a deceptive ruse that averts their attention from the true source of unhappiness and misery in the world: selfishness and godlessness on the part of man. Paradise was lost because Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. We are still going after forbidden fruit, and still believing the lie that it will make us happy, but what we get is more fallenness, more estrangement, more bitterness, more hopelessness. It is only when sin is done away that joy will be fully restored and enjoyed undiluted and unmixed with sorrow and discontent. And the fact that this is certain to happen is surely a reason to rejoice.
Third, the coming of God’s kingdom will mean the public and eternal vindication of the persecuted people of God.
Along with the full establishment of righteousness will be the public vindication of God’s people. You see this in Matthew 25 when all people are gathered before the throne of Christ, and he openly welcomes his sheep into his kingdom but reject the goats. But you also see it here in verse 18, where the wicked are judged and the righteous are rewarded. There is a distinction being made here, and it will be public distinction.
Right now there is no such distinction. In fact, if there is a distinction at all, it is one where the wicked are rewarded and the righteous are punished. But there is coming a day when the cry of the martyrs will be answered: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10).
Sometimes the injustice of it all makes us want to do something wrong to get back at the wicked. We want revenge. We want to make them pay. It is just so wrong what they have done. But this is where the doctrine of future judgment is so important. It keeps us from taking into our hands what really belongs to God. The problem is that when men try to take the law in their own hands, when they are motivated, not by true justice but by hatred and bitterness and revenge, they only end up making a bad thing worse. Often, taking revenge on our enemies doesn’t end a cycle of injustice; it only perpetuates it.
This doesn’t just apply to people who have suffered what we might call an atrocity. It also applies to the rest of us who think someone has wronged us and now we need to get them back. I had someone tell me once that they planned to get revenge on someone, and it took them 30 years to do it. Talk about revenge being served cold! We all therefore need to look forward and to remember that God will make all things right. We need to remember Rom. 12:18-21: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” In particular, the way you do verses 18 and 20 and 21 is by really believing the truth of verse 19. God will repay; of that, we can be absolutely and infallibly certain. And even better: the justice that God achieves will be fully in accord with his holiness and justice and truth.
Fourth, the coming of God’s kingdom will mean eternal reward for all who love Jesus Christ.
Note that word “reward” in verse 18. I know that some folks in our neck of the evangelical world shy away from the notion of heaven as reward. They think that to say such things is to compromise the gospel of grace. They think that if God rewards his people then that must mean that our enjoyment of the age to come is merited in some way by us. This is not true, of course, but the first thing we must recognize is that reward is a very Biblical category for thinking about the age to come.
The Bible does not shy away from this. It encourages us to see the age to come in terms of reward. There are not just one or two passages about this. It is pervasive. Consider the following examples:
▪ “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). God will give Paul a crown “at that day,” that is, at the day when the kingdom of God in fully ushered in.
▪ Moses was able to esteem “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Heb. 11:26). Now if that is a reference to the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, that’s not much of a motivation to live like Moses lived! No, this is a reference to the reward of heaven.
▪ “Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Mt. 19:27-29).
▪ “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mt. 5:12).
▪ “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Mt. 16:27).
▪ “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24).
Now it is true that we should jealously guard against any notion that we can merit anything. All of salvation is all of grace. We can boast of nothing. So we cannot say that we are rewarded in the sense that we are given a prize because we achieved something independently of God, however small or great. God owes no man anything. We are debtors to God, not he to us (Rom. 8:12).
However, in God’s generosity and grace, he is pleased to crown the gifts of his grace in us. That is the way we should view this reward. It doesn’t mean I merited anything. It is simply God magnifying his own grace in us by rewarding those who by God’s grace persevere in the faith.
But the fact that the Lord speaks about this in terms of reward says something about the nature of the kingdom of God. It is an indication that our enjoyment of the age to come is the eternal answer by God to the trials and suffering we have had to endure on the way to heaven. Though our trials don’t merit the crown, yet God is pleased to grant a crown of glory to those who by his grace endure to the end. Isn’t this what the apostle said? “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
Another way to look at this is that our sufferings which we endure through faith in Christ mean something in heaven. Let’s let the apostle put it to us in his words again: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Now remember that Paul said in Rom. 8:18 that our sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be manifest in us. So we shouldn’t think that we get so much glory for so much suffering. That can’t be what Paul is saying here. Our suffering and God’s glory are incommensurable things. Rather, what he is saying though is that God wants us to see that the eternal weight of glory is like a reward given to the runner who made it through a difficult obstacle course and made it to the end when others gave out and gave up.
In other words, what I am trying to say is this: the idea of the kingdom in terms of reward is meant to convey the reality that it is worth it to persevere in the faith of Christ through persecutions and trials and discouragements and unanswered questions and heaviness and grief and sorrow. It is worth it in the same way that an athlete finds it worth it to discipline themselves and overcome numerous obstacles to win a race in order to win the crown. The kingdom as rewards says, in the words of the hymn: “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus!”
One more thing here: there is a reward for all who are faithful to Jesus, no matter how small or insignificant they are. We must not miss this here in verse 18: “thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great.” In Revelation, the prophet seems to be exalted as perhaps the most important office in the community of God’s people. However, the reward is not just for the prophet, it is for anyone who fear the Lord, to all who are sanctified, both small and great.” As our Lord was wont to say: in the age to come the first will be last and the last first. The reward does not just go to those who have been recognized by men here. It goes to all, no matter how unnoticed they are, yet who are noticed by the God of heaven.
Fifth, the coming of God’s kingdom will mean a more glorious display of the perfections of God for all to see, especially his power.
God’s glory is not something which is contingent upon his creation. However, the display of God’s glory is sometimes more clearly seen in some things than in others. What we see here is that in the full coming and establishment of God’s kingdom, God’s power will be clearly displayed: “And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned” (Rev. 11:16-17).
One of the characteristics about God’s kingdom now is actually weakness. The apostle Paul himself was well aware of his own limitations and weakness: “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). This was not just something he felt but that others saw: “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). In this, he compares himself with his Lord: “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you” (2 Cor. 13:4).
What Paul says in 2 Cor. 13, however, also points us to the fact that God’s kingdom will not always be characterized by weakness. Our Lord was crucified through weakness – a weakness willingly taken on for our sake – but he didn’t remain weak; he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and “lives by the power of God.” And by that power he will return and put all his enemies under his feet. By that power he will fully establish his kingdom.
That is the point of Rev. 11. One day God’s power will be more fully known. I say, more fully known because I don’t think it is possible for finite beings to fully know an infinite Being. Note how God is addressed here: “Lord God Almighty.” He has taken his great power – he has manifested it ways for all to see in the judgment of his enemies and the reward of his children.
The apostle Paul points to this reality in Rom. 9, in answering the question why God would choose some to eternal salvation and not others. He responds in this way: “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (22-23). In other words, what is behind the Pharaohs of the world is the willingness of God “to make his power known” in the judgment of his enemies and the rescue of his people.
Brothers and sisters, right now it seems as if the wicked are triumphant. The beast arises and kills the two witnesses. He wages war with the saints and overcomes them. But his time is short. God’s power will one day be fully displayed in the destruction of his enemies and the salvation of his people. And surely that is something in which we ought to rejoice.
Sixth, the coming of God’s kingdom will mean the complete undoing of all that sin has done to the physical creation, especially the earth.
I find it interesting that the wicked are described in verse 18 as “them which destroy the earth.” I don’t think that we should interpret the destruction of the earth here in light of twenty-first century environmentalist concerns. This is not primarily talking about atom bombs and fossil fuels. Rather, we should interpret this in light of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:19-22). The apostle is saying that sin has done something even to the physical creation around us, and that it is, as it were, groaning and travailing in pain as a result. So those who destroy the earth are those who are in rebellion against God.
However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a physical dimension to this. For example, every war waged on the earth is the product of human sinfulness. Wars bring death, not only on the battlefield, but from the things they leave in its wake: famine, disease, poverty, grief, despair. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied against ancient Babylon (the OT backdrop to the “great city” of verse 8): “Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain” (Jer. 51:25).
But there is coming a time when wars will be no more, when the “wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:6-9). There will come a time when the earth will no longer work against us, as it has since the Fall of man into sin, but will once again work with us. There is coming a time, which our Lord calls “the regeneration” (Mt. 19:28) – not the regeneration of the soul, but the regeneration of the world, a new heavens and a new earth.
Even now the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament his handiwork (Ps. 19:1). Nature shows often help us to see this. But I often think as I watch those shows, as they highlight this or that remote region in the world, how that those places would be places of death for most of us if we were just left there. Beautiful, yes, but not places we could live. However, the world to come will not be like that. No more death. The world will not kill us anymore. For those who destroyed it are themselves destroyed. All things will be made new. And surely that is a reason to rejoice.
Why we can be sure this will come to pass.
Briefly, let me give you two reasons. First, because God is all powerful: he is preeminently displayed here in terms of his power. God is omnipotent; he is sovereign, and he exercises his sovereignty for his glory and the good of his people. There really is nothing that can keep God from implementing his plan for the end of the world.
Second, because God is our Savior through Christ. The kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. It is said this way because it is through Jesus Christ that God is bringing about this kingdom. It is why when Jesus preached, he preached the kingdom of God (Mk. 1:15), because that is what he had come to bring about through his atoning death. What this means and why this is good news is that the future doesn’t hang on our worthiness or merit or goodness; it is the sure gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ. It is not a gift given to those who think they are righteous, but to those who know they are not righteous and who seek righteousness in Jesus Christ alone, who by faith trust in him as Lord and Savior.
We can summarize both reasons with this: God is a powerful Savior. Or as the OT reminds us again and again, salvation is of the Lord. He is with his people because he has made atonement for them. God’s presence and atonement are both symbolized by the appearance of the ark of the covenant in God’s heavenly temple.
Do you believe this? It is one thing to say we believe it, but to appropriate it personally, to really put our trust in Christ and to believe that he will through grace bring us to the glory of the kingdom fully come – this is the key to true joy and peace.
1 G. E. Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1952), p. 67.