There are many hermeneutical issues surrounding the Apocalypse, of course. And I will assume my own perspectives in this final installment on “Reverse the Curse.”
One of my primary assumptions is the progressive cyclical undestanding of the seven seals, trumpets and bowls of wrath in the second vision (“in the Spirit,” 4:3) of Revelation (chapters 4-16). [The first vision pictured Jesus among the churches of Asia Minor, 1:9-3:22; "in the Spirit," 1:10.] The progressive character is seen in the movement from how the seals affect 1/4 of the earth, while the trumpets affect 1/3 of the earth, and the bowls are poured out on the whole earth. History repeats itself in the battle between good and evil, between the Beast and God’s Christ. But history moves forward to a consummation where good triumphs over evil, where the Dragon joins his cohorts in Gehenna and God renews heaven and earth (Revelation 20:11-22:6). It is a cycle within history that repeats itself over and over again but history also progresses toward a goal. It is a spiral toward the divine telos.
The second vision, then, moves from the ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God (4-5) to the final battle (16). The third vision elaborates on the players in the drama–the woman of Babylon (17), the merchants (yes, economics in chapter 18) of wealth, the final battle (19), the reign of saints/binding-unleashing of Satan (20), and the new heavens/new earth (21:1-8). The second vision sees the drama from the throneroom of God (“in the Spirit,” 4:3) while the third vision sees the drama from the earthly wilderness (“in the Spirit,” 17:3). But the two visions are looking at essentially the same drama from different angles–a cyclical, repetitive but progressive, movement of history toward the divine goal.
The fourth vision has the vantage point of a high mountain on the new earth overlooking the new Jerusalem. It is a vision of the consummation itself (“in the Spirit,” 21:10).
With that brief statement of my hermeneutical approach below I offer my understanding of the final act in the divine drama where God finally and fully reverses the curse.
“Now has come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of God and the authority of Christ. For the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down…Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:10, 12).
Revelation 12-14 is a kind of interlude in the progressive cycle of the “sevens” in Revelation 6-11, 15-16). This interlude identifies the players–the Dragon (12), the Beasts (13), and the redeemed (14). One might say it is the playbill of the apocalyptic drama; the resumes of the actors in the drama are provided.
What is clear in Revelation 12 is that the Dragon’s abortive attempt to kill the Messianic child means defeat. He is cast out of the heavens but he has been cast to earth. The accuser (Satan) has been “hurled down,” but the earth will now feel his fury. His intensity increases, his anger rages, and his object is the earth, sea and church. Satan attacks the whole creation and pursues the church seeking to devour Christ’s faithful followers.
There is victory but there is woe. Heaven has cast out the rebel but the rebel still roams the earth. The redemptive work of Christ is final; heaven is secured. But Christ-followers on the earth are subject to the vicious hurts that Satan hurls their way. The curse has not been fully removed. In the cylical movements of history, Satan is active through his Beasts to harm the people of God. At times Satan is bound, and at times he is unleashed. At times the locusts are held in the abyss and at times they are released. There is no rest from the curse as Satan uses that brokenness to frustrate and undermine the patience and faithfulness of God’s people.
Nevertheless, the cosmos rejoices because the kingdom of God has been established in the heavens; it is secured by the victory of the slain Lamb. This is salvation; this is the power of God. He has acted to defeat the Dragon. There is hope. All is not lost. There is more to come.
“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15).
The seventh trumpet announces the reign of God. More than that it announces the destruction of the “kingdom of the world” as God’s reign through his Christ has triumphed over the kingdom of darkness. The reign of Christ will last forever.
But this is a trumpet announcement. It has not yet been fully implemented at this point in the Apocalyptic drama–the final battle has not yet occurred. But the outcome is so certain that it can be announced as a done deal though it has not yet happened. The kingdom of God which will fill the earth and transforms it into a new place has not yet fully arrived. This is a Hebraic way of speaking, common to the Hebrew prophets, that is, to speak of the future as if it is present reality. The future is certain; it will happen. In that sense it has already happened. But it has not yet fully happened.
The imagery is important here. What is announced is the kingdom, about who reigns. It is the “kingdom of the world” vs. “the kingdom of our Lord.” This is the battle that sustains the drama of the Apocalypse. Who will win? Where is your allegiance? Who will follow Christ? Who will persevere in their witness to the reign of God even to death?
Do we invest in the kingdoms of this world or in the kingdom of our Lord? Whose life do we live, and which is the light of the reign of God in the cosmos? During this political season perhaps it is best to remember whose kingdom really matters. The kingdom of the United States is really part of the “kingdom of the world.” Only the kingdom of God deserves our allegiance and full commitment.
The goal of God is to replace the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is not a transformation of one into the other but the supplanting of one with the other. Good does not transform evil but triumphs over it and supplants it as the reigning reality in God’s renewed creation.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 2, 3b-4).
“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5a).
“No longer will there be any curse…They shall see his face…There will be no more night…And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3a, 4a, 5a, 5c).
The new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven to the earth, a renewed (new) earth. It is a cosmic redemption, a cosmic salvation. The earth as well as the nations are healed. There are no more woes upon the earth–no more death, no more pain, no more mourning, no more tears. The old order has passed away and a new order has become a reality. Everything–including the earth, the whole cosmos–is new.
God now reigns upon the earth. In the new Jerusalem there is no temple because God himself and his Christ reign there. God is present with his people–fully so, Father, Son, and Spirit dwell with God’s imagers upon the new earth in the new Jerusalem. Now the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of Jesus Christ; it is the kingdom of God upon the earth.
The curse is reversed. There is no more curse. “No longer will there be any curse” is equivalent to “there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain.” What happened in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3 is reversed in the new Jerusalem upon the new earth in Revelation 21-22.
This is salvation. This is the hope of the world. This is the good news of the kingdom. Brokenness is healed; fallenness is redeemed; death is destroyed. Darkness is replaced by light; mourning is replaced by dancing; tears are replaced by smiles; and pain is replaced by pleasure. The kingdom of God has supplanted the kingdom of the world. New life brings new joy and new songs. The curse is gone…and we see the face of God! Now, as well as then, is a time to celebrate!