Over the next few months I will teach the “Revelation (Apocalypse) of Jesus Christ” in a bible class at the Woodmont Hills Family of God. I have a specific interest in doing this and it is to highlight the apocalyptic struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.
When the seventh angel sounded the seventh trumpet, “voices” (note the plural) announced:
“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”
This, I believe, is the fundamental agenda of the Apocalypse, that is, to announce the coming of the kingdom of God which consumes the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of God is breaking into the world and ultimately destroys the principalities and powers (to use Paul’s language) that presently de facto rule the cosmos. God will not let that stand since it de jure belongs to him.
In this series I will focus on Revelation 4-16 since it progressively unfolds the victory of God’s kingdom in a dramatic way.
Revelation 4-16 is the second of four visions. A superficial reading of the Apocalypse will notice how often John uses the language of “then I saw” or “I looked,” etc. John is a seer–he sees what God will do; he sees the coming reign of God.
The four visions in Revelation are highlighted by the four-fold use of “in the Spirit.” This is the language of Ezekiel 37:1 when Ezekiel was carried to the valley of bones. This phrase appears in the following places in Revelation:
- Revelation 1:10 — John sees the risen Christ on the isle of Patmos.
- Revelation 4:2 — John watches events unfold from the heavenly throne room
- Revelation 17:3 — John watches events unfold from an earthly wilderness
- Revelation 21:10 — John inspects the New Jerusalem from a high mountain on the New Earth.
This visionary notation structures the Apocalypse into four visions (a fuller schematic outline is available here):
- Vision One – The Kingdom Begun: Jesus Has Overcome (Revelation 1:9-3:22)
- Vision Two — The Kingdom Comes: The Heavenly Perspective (Revelation 4-16)
- Vision Three — The Kingdom Comes: The Earthly Perspective (Revelation 17-21:8)
- Vision Four — The Kingdom Fully Realized in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-22:7)
The second vision is the bulk of the book and, in many ways, its heart. This section literally unveils (reveals) the work of God in the world. Sitting on the isle of Patmos and living in the urban centers of Asia Minor, the imperial power of Rome appears dominant and controlling. Who can oppose it? And where is God when the saints are martyred and the church has been placed under a hostile siege? While the first vision encourages the faithful and confronts the problems in the seven churches, the second vision pulls back the curtain to peer into the heavenly throne room. Taken up into that throne room, John sees what is really real, what the true state of affairs is.
The second vision announces that God is on his throne and Ceaser has not deposed him. It announces that the Lamb has made the redeemed a kingdom of priests. It dramatizes the opening of the scroll that contains the destiny of the cosmos itself–the scroll is taken by the Lamb from the hand of the one who sits on the throne, its seven seals are opened, seven trumpets hearld its opening, and the seven bowls of wrath are poured out upon the kingdoms of the world (partial content of the scroll).
The second vision encourages readers to believe what they cannot see. God is enthroned even though the world looks chaotic and hostile. The kingdom of God will fill the earth even though the kingdoms of the world look impregnable. The Lamb is also a Lion–a king–who will defeat the enemies of God and secure the realm for God. The Lamb and his followers will sing a new song, a song of redemption, as they celebrate the victory of God in the world.
The second vision is not simply about Rome but it is the fight (war, struggle) that has been played out within the fallen world ever since the kingdom of darkness first entered God’s good creation. It is the struggle of the children of Seth against the children of Cain in Genesis. It is the struggle of Israel against the nations, the struggle of Yahweh against the gods of the nations. It is the struggle of Jesus against the demons, and it is the struggle in which believers are engaged against principalities and powers (and not simply against flesh and blood). It is a struggle that continues today in multiple forms.
The conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is embedded in the biblical story from beginning to end. The Apocalypse, through the eyes of John, unveils the progression and conclusion of that struggle. The significance of the Apocalypse for contemporary believers is not the specific prediction of specific historical events but the assurance that the struggle is not in vain. God’s kingdom is coming, is even now present, and will ultimately triumph over the kingdoms of this world.
In coming posts I will work my way through the dramatic picture of the second vision and, hopefully, speak to the present powers that confront the people of God.