15 And the seventh angel trumpeted, and there were loud voices in heaven saying, “The kingdom of the world has become [that] of our Lord and His Christ, and he shall reign forever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who are sitting before God on their thrones fell upon their faces and they worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and was, for you have taken your great power and you reigned. 18 And the nations were angry, but Your anger came and the time for the dead to be judged, and to give the reward to Your servants, the prophets, and to the saints, and to those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
This week we picked up on our discussion from last time of the use of the past tense in verse 15, and the fact that from God’s perspective, His rule is a done deal. Indeed, Jesus’ words in John 12:31 indicate that from the cross, the “ruler of this world” has been “cast out.” Satan’s dominion has been broken. What we see, therefore, from the time of Christ’s death and resurrection to the time of the seventh trumpet is the outworking of God reclaiming His rule in Christ. There’s sin and rebellion as the world kicks back, and even a seemingly overwhelming flood of lawlessness and hatred against God and His people. But this merely shows how much God’s judgment and condemnation of the world is justified. Men are not good at heart; they are corrupt, and only good by God’s common grace. All it takes is for God to assert His rightful reign over the earth for man’s sin to be made evident. The statement in 11:15 is something that has been true for a long time–the kingdom of this world has become that of the Lord’s–but with the sounding of the seventh trumpet, that fact is about to be made plain to all creation.
It’s important to remember that there is no cosmic struggle for power between God and Satan. From Job 1:6-12, Luke 22:31-32, and the things we have already read in Revelation, it’s clear that God is in sovereign control even over the forces of evil. He may permit Satan to have his way with people, but never outside of His decree. And a time is coming when the Lord will call an end to Satan’s activity, and bring judgment upon all those who followed in Satan’s rebellion. That’s essentially what we have here in 11:15, a declaration that sin and Satan’s reign is at an end. Satan may not go down without a fight, but his struggle is ultimately in vain. Unlike Satan’s temporary rule, Christ’s reign is eternal. There are echoes here of Daniel 7:23, a passage we will be coming back to as we proceed.
John then sees the 24 elders on their thrones. These are the elders he saw back in chapter 4, sitting on their thrones, ruling with Christ. We recalled the significance of the number 24: 12 tribes of Israel plus 12 Apostles, representing the Old Covenant and New Covenant believers–the entire church. This drawing together of Jew and Gentile was particularly significant in John’s day, since this was one of the biggest points of dissension in the church at that time. Jewish Christians had a tendency to consider Gentile believers as second-class, since they didn’t keep the Law and were not part of God’s original covenant people. Gentile believers tended to see their Jewish brethren as part of that which has passed away, no longer relevant. Paul hashes out these issues in Romans, but suffice to say, by showing the church in terms of the 12 tribes and the 12 Apostles, the Lord is declaring that God’s people are not nation-specific. They are, indeed, made up of people from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people, not just the Jews and not just the Gentiles.
The significance of them being seated on thrones before God (remember, the Two Witnesses were described as as the two olive trees and the two lamp stands “before God,” indicating divine acceptance and approval) is the fact that they are rulers with Christ, just as he promised. Back in Revelation 3:21-22, Christ promised the church at Laodicea that those who overcome will sit with him on his throne. This is a significant promise since the Laodiceans were one of the most harshly criticized churches. The Lord said he would “vomit” them out because of their lukewarm attitude. But such is God’s grace that those who are in Christ, and repentant of their sin, will have a place of high honor before Him.
While the elders are seated before God, nevertheless they know their place. They fall on their faces and worship Him. We are reminded here that this is a vision, and however we might imagine the elders sitting and falling on their faces, the logistics of the action are irrelevant; it’s the meaning of the words. They are seated in a position of great honor, and yet they humble themselves before the Lord and worship Him. A similar thing happened in chapter 4, where the elders fell down before the One seated upon the throne and worshiped Him when the four living creatures gave Him glory, honor, and thanks.
Verses 17 and 18 present the elders’ song of thanks and praise. Why are they thankful? I think this has something to do with Revelation 6:9-11, and the prayer of the saints under the altar: “How long?” These believers were patiently waiting for the Lord to vindicate His Name and His people. At that time, the Lord gave them a white robe and told them to wait. At last, the waiting is over. The Lord comes, and the church rejoices and gives thanks to God for His faithfulness.
The elders refer to the Lord as “the Almighty, the one who is and who was.” In 1:4 and 1:8, we saw the formula, “the one who is, and who was, and who is coming.” Some later manuscripts add “and who is coming” to 11:17, but this is clearly an addition, where a scribe thought he knew how this passage was supposed to read based on 1:4 and 1:8. Not only is the textual evidence in favor of leaving off “and who is coming,” but it makes better sense in the context to leave it at, “who is, and who was.” After all, this is the seventh trumpet and the Lord has come. Revelation 1:4 and 1:8 are looking forward to the Lord’s return. This passage is speaking of that very return. Omitting the final part of the phrase underscores the fact that He has come.
The song of the elders goes on to say that the Lord has taken His great power and has ruled. Again, God has not taken something that wasn’t His to begin with. Rather, God has allowed wickedness to rule, and rebellion to have its way for a season. But now, with the seventh trumpet, God is taking back the reins and asserting His rightful rule and divine authority over all creation. “You reigned” is past tense, and might be better translated as “you have begun to reign.” This rendering is one way the verb tense can be translated, and it makes better sense with “you have taken.”
We need to remember that John is here describing a vision of something that has not yet happened. I’ve been very reluctant to assign any kind of chronology to these visions, other than to say that the Lord presents these visions to John in this sequence. But the sequence shouldn’t be interpreted as a reflection of the order these things will happen in time. With the seventh trumpet, however, we are definitely talking about an event that has not yet happened: the Lord’s return. Indeed, it seems that the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet mirror each other. The seventh seal speaks of a silence in heaven, which we understood to be like that hush in the courtroom prior to judgment. In the seventh trumpet, we have a similar thing, only this time there’s more than just a hushed silence: the Lord has returned, and final judgment has come. So everything in the six previous seals and trumpets lead up to the Lord’s return.
In verse 18 we have another allusion to Psalm 2, this time Psalm 2:5, where the nations rage, but the Lord will speak to them in His wrath. Some want to see a chronological sequence in this: the Lord takes power and begins to rule, but then a rebellion breaks out which God quashes by exerting His wrath on the rebels. This goes against what was said in verse 15, that His reign will be eternal. Rather, this whole hymn of praise and thanksgiving reads to me like the song of Moses after Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18). It is recounting the way in which God has brought glory to Himself and redemption to His people. The nations were angry, but the Lord visited their anger with His own wrath. Haven’t we seen the anger of the nations in the seals and the trumpets? In Revelation 6:16-17, the sixth seal is opened, and the wicked cry out for the mountains to fall and hide them from face of the One sitting on the throne, and the wrath of the Lamb. This is noted as the coming of the day of “their wrath.” It is describing events leading up to the opening of the seventh seal, which parallels the blowing of the seventh trumpet. In other words, the sixth seal proclaimed that the day of the Lord’s wrath was imminent; in the seventh seal/trumpet, that day has come.
The elders say this is “the time of the dead to be judged”–i.e., the time for the judgment of the dead. This echoes Daniel 12:1-2, and looks forward to Revelation 12:20, where the dead, both great and small, will stand before the throne, and the books will be opened. We need to remember that this is both a vision, and it’s poetry, so we shouldn’t base our theology of what happens when we die on this verse alone. Indeed, the New Testament is quite clear that upon death, the soul goes to its rightful place (believers to be with the Lord, unbelievers to eternal punishment), and the body awaits that final day when it will be raised (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; Philippians 1:21-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), so judgment happens at the point of death. In fact, strictly speaking, judgment has already happened by virtue of sin and the unregenerate heart (see John 3:18). I believe the point the elders are making here is that God’s judgment is not just upon those who are alive at the time of His coming. All will face the wrath of the Lamb and divine judgment, even those who have died. They don’t intend this statement to be a reference to when that judgment actually occurs. Indeed, at the End, the judgment we’ll see is the physical outworking of the judgment that God declared upon the world from the time sin entered. And only those in Christ, by his grace, are saved from it.
We will continue, and, Lord willing, conclude chapter 11 next time.