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"You Have Begun to Reign" (Revelation 11:14-19)

Revelation: The Time is Near



We’ve been considering what it means to represent Jesus Christ in this world. If you are a Christian, you live in a world that does not know Jesus Christ, and He calls you to represent Him here. We’ve seen that this world is hostile to Jesus, lying under the domination of Satan. But we cannot be hostile in return. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, shining Christ’s character as we speak for Him.


Nor can we hibernate from this world. We must engage so that our witness is seen and heard by those who so desperately need Christ. We’ve seen that this witness requires an impossible balance of courage and compassion. We must take sin seriously but not self-righteously. Our witness requires perseverance, representing Jesus faithfully to the point of death, even if death comes because we represent Jesus.


How can any Christian keep going under these conditions? One answer is: focus on the future. Persevere in the present by focusing on the future. As Jesus unfolds the book of Revelation for John, He inserts a scene at the end of ch. 11, which shows heaven’s perspective on what’s happening on Earth.


The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. 15Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.


Notice the shift in the middle of this chapter. The scene shifts from Earth (vv. 1-13) to Heaven (vv. 14-19). V. 14 is a transition. There is more agony ahead on earth, a third woe. But what’s happening in heaven while we represent Jesus Christ on earth? That’s the question answered by the scene in vv. 15-19.


On earth, Christ’s people joyfully endure hostile opposition. In heaven, they prepare for His return. One of the strongest motivations for persevering in Christ is the promise that He is coming back. Jesus Christ is going to return to earth one day. This hope forges faithfulness. So let’s explore this hope.


The Central Character of Christ’s Return

First, let’s look at the central character of Christ’s return. It is … Jesus Christ. This is obvious, but worth a closer look. V. 15 includes the song of heaven. “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever.” He is singular. This singular pronoun points back to the last person named which is “his Christ.”


The slain Lamb of Chapter 5 on the throne with God is now worshiped as “the Lord’s Christ.” He will reign over the kingdom of this world forever. He is returning to rule. He is coming again.

If Jesus Christ is the focus of this passage then the worship here belongs to him. He is the “Lord God Almighty” of v. 17. Some claim that the Bible never calls Jesus God. V. 17 is another of many texts that declare the opposite. In this context, twenty-four elders, who represent all God’s redeemed people from all ages, call Jesus, “Lord God Almighty.” They go on to describe him as “the one who is and who was.” Three times before this in Revelation, we have similar descriptions of God.


1:4, Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.

1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”


And in 4:8, the song of the living creatures,


Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”


Here at 11:17, there seems to be something missing. The song of the elders includes “the one who is and who was” but does not mention “who is to come.” But it does. The rest of the song describes the future coming of Christ. He is the central character of this scene.


Jesus Christ is the one who has taken his great power and begun to reign (v. 17). This can only be said of Jesus Christ as the unique God-man. As God, He has always had the power and has always reigned. But in his unique role as the God-man, he has taken his power and begun to reign.

When did Christ take up his power and begin to reign? In his death, resurrection, and ascension. Listen to a sampling of texts that declare this truth.


Acts 2:36 (ESV) 36Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”


Romans 14:9 (ESV) 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.


Ephesians 1:19–22 (ESV) 19That you may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.


Philippians 2:9 (ESV) 9Therefore [because of the cross] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name


Hebrews 1:3b–4 (ESV) After making purification for sins, [Jesus Christ, the Son] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.


1 Peter 3:22 (ESV) 22[The crucified and resurrected Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.


Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, accomplished what no one else could. His achievement earned him a kingdom. He will exercise his authority until he subdues all his enemies and establishes the full and final expression of his kingdom. This will happen at His second coming.


V. 18 adds that he is coming to judge: to reward (beginning of v. 18) and to punish (end of v. 18). Many passages reiterate Jesus’ role as judge. Just one example:


John 5:22–23 (ESV) 22For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.


Jesus Christ is the central character of this passage about his second coming. And the passage emphasizes two aspects of his character. He is the Ruler of all and Judge of all. He is the Almighty who reigns. And He is the one who rewards and punishes. No one operates outside his control and no one escapes His final appraisal. His second coming will put both qualities on display. At that time, he will not simply be the central character of this vision but the central character in all of his history.


The Certainty of His Coming

But perhaps the most striking feature about Christ’s coming in this passage is the certainty of it. Those in heaven sing about the second coming as if it’s already happened. Jesus Christ’s kingdom has already overtaken this world (v. 15). He has begun to reign (v. 17). His wrath has already come (v. 18). Judgment is certain.


We know that we have not yet experienced the full expression of Christ’s rule in this world. But we also know that nothing can stop it. From heaven’s perspective, this is a done deal.


The Celebration of His Coming

Such certainty leads to the third feature of this paragraph: The celebration of Christ’s coming. Heaven’s worship in this context, centers on the return of Christ to earth. Trumpets sound. Loud voices are singing. Human beings who have the right to sit on thrones with substantial authority are on their faces worshipping their Lord. There is great reason to celebrate.


Jesus Christ gets ready to return. His rule will be validated. His justice will be administered. His faithful servants receive the proper reward. Those who destroy the earth will themselves be destroyed (v. 18).


Consider the phrase that opens the song of the elders in v. 17, “We give thanks.” This is the heart of worship. We give thanks. We give thanks, Lord Jesus, for who you are. We give thanks for what you have done. We give thanks for what you are about to do for we know you will certainly do it.


We are humble creatures who owe everything we are and all that we have to you. So we give thanks. We are sinners who have been redeemed by your blood so that we can rest in your presence without fear of judgment. So we give thanks. We have prayed for justice and you are answering our prayer. We give thanks. We have served you not in our strength but in yours, and you reward us. We thank you.


The second coming of Jesus Christ will bring the satisfaction of all our longings. Every wrong will be righted. Every right will be rewarded. When He comes, we will have nothing to say except, “Thank you, Lord Jesus.”


The Circumstances of His Coming

So when he does come, what will happen? What are the circumstances of Christ’s coming? This particular scene does not give us much detail. But notice what is here.


First, the timing of Jesus’s return. V. 14 prompts us to conclude that the third woe includes most of the rest of Revelation. There is not another verse like it in the book. In 9:2 John noted the end of the first woe and the beginning of the second. Here he marks the end of the second and the beginning of the third. But he never marks the end of the third. When this woe ends, all woe ends. It takes us up to the very end when Jesus comes.


And we learn that this third woe will happen soon. Sadly, so many Christians have sunk into the quicksand of predicting when Jesus will return. They have strung together convoluted arguments setting dates and stirring up controversy.


The question, “When will Jesus come back to earth?” begs a simple, one-word answer. It is the same answer that the apostles and the fathers and the reformers and the faithful of every generation have given. It’s the answer that strikes fear and stirs hope all at the same time. The answer is … soon.


This is Jesus’s promise. Four times in Revelation – 3:11, and then three more times in Ch. 22 (vv. 7, 12, & 20) – Jesus promises “I am coming soon.” What a fascinating promise. It provides both a sense of urgency and a sense of calm all at the same time. Jesus is coming soon. We must be ready. That’s urgency. Jesus is coming soon. Don’t worry. That’s calm.


When scoffers mocked the first generation of Christians because Jesus had not returned, Peter shot back. A thousand years is just like a day to him. According to His count, in 2023 we are a little over two days removed from His departure. We may think that he’s not coming soon enough. But our sovereign Lord says, “Soon.”


The other circumstances of Christ’s return set out here are also simple. He comes to judge. He rewards and punishes (v. 18). As He tells us,


Revelation 22:12 (ESV)12“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.


Those who remain faithful to Him while living in this enemy-occupied territory will receive rewards. V. 18 calls them servants, prophets, saints, and those who fear His name. These descriptions could all refer to the same people because (as we have seen in Revelation) all Christ’s people are his servants, who prophesy, and who are saints because they fear him and find their salvation only in his name.


He also comes to reign. Never again will those who wish to destroy the earth succeed because he will reign forever and ever.


What may be most surprising about the circumstances of Christ’s return here is the way the vision communicates them. Look at the whole heavenly scene.


Seven trumpets are blowing. We began to hear these trumpets in Ch. 8. There four of them sounded. Two more joined in Ch. 9. Now the seventh and last sounds in Ch. 11:15. We should not think that one trumpeting angel stops so that another can start. Rather, they join in succession. By the time we come to the end of chapter 11, the majestic sounds of seven trumpets fill Heaven’s royal palace.


Add to this brass ensemble the voices of Christ’s faithful ones singing loudly. The second half of v.15 and all of vv. 17-18 are poetry in the original Bible. Translators display this by setting the words in poetic lines. This choir is reciting or singing this poetry.


So seven trumpets are blowing. And God’s people are singing loudly. Then, in v. 19, the Ark of the Covenant appears with great fanfare including lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail.


Does this sound vaguely familiar? When Israel passed beyond the wilderness and crossed the Jordan River, they encountered the city of Jericho. Jericho represented the forces of evil occupying the promised land. It was the city standing in opposition to God.


At the culmination of a week of worship, on the seventh day, God’s people marched around Jericho seven times. Seven trumpets blew. The people shouted. And the city crumbled so that the people could enter and occupy it.


That scene from 1400 BC anticipates the end of history. The ark appears in heaven as Christ’s armies prepare to march on the great city. They shout Christ’s praises. Seven trumpets blow. Soon the Lord will give the word and the great city will crumble. The great city goes by many names (Last week we saw in v. 8 that one title it has is “Sodom and Egypt”). The most common name for this city is Babylon, the ancient name that stands for organized opposition to God’s purposes in this world.


Beginning in Revelation 14 and culminating in ch. 18, we will see great Babylon crumble in a way that is more astounding than the fall of Jericho in Joshua 6. The fall of Babylon will make way for the new city, the holy city, which comes down from heaven in ch. 21.


Application

This amazing heavenly vision at the end of Revelation 11 shows us, at least, the central character, the certainty, the celebration, and the circumstances of Christ’s return to earth. There are no direct commands in this passage. There are no assignments for us here. We are called to watch and wonder at what heaven is doing so that we persevere here until Christ comes or calls us home. So, what are applications we can make today?


1. Let’s pursue gratitude. We can give thanks in all circumstances just like the heavenly choir because we see that Christ is in control and one day he will make everything right. He will judge and reign. Everything that happens to us here relates to our final reward. When I fear or complain about my circumstances here, I fail to believe the promises of the gospel. Deep gratitude is the evidence of genuine faith.


2. Let’s Sing about the Second Coming and let’s sing loud. Elders set the example here as they represent all of God’s people. If we truly hold out the hope that our Savior will return as King and nothing can stop Him, we have reason to sing.


3. Let’s Not Retaliate. The song of heaven celebrates the truth that Christ will return to set things right. We don’t have to. That’s not our job. We desire justice. We pray for it. We work for it. But, ultimately, it’s Christ’s work. No scheme of human justice will ever be complete or perfectly just. Often, human justice fails. However, we don’t give up because the world is unfair. We don’t respond like the world when we are wronged by the world. We ground our hope in Christ and the promise of his return.


4. Let’s serve because Christ is important not because our job is important. Notice in v. 18 that Christ rewards his faithful ones “both small and great.” It matters not to Him if the way you serve was spectacular or secret. What we think of as small may be monumental according to heaven’s measure. What we deem great may be ordinary to the Lord. Faithfulness to his assignment is the measure of our service. Jesus was not against us seeking greatness. He simply said that the one who wishes to be great must be a servant to all.


5. Let’s admit our need for salvation. The last phrase of v. 18 is haunting. Every sin destroys something of the design and order that Jesus Christ established in His creation. Every one of us has contributed to the destruction of what is true, good, and beautiful in God’s world.


We cannot do enough to repair the damage we have done. We cannot find in ourselves the healing we need for the damage done to us. In the end, those who remain in sin will be destroyed as they have destroyed. The only alternative is to cast your hope on Jesus Christ so that He might make you right with God. Only then can you serve Him faithfully until He returns.


The coming judgment will divide everyone into just two humanities. The old humanity, raging against Jesus Christ and his reign (beginning, v. 18), or the new humanity, fearing Jesus Christ and celebrating his reign. I hear the sounds of his coming from the pages of Revelation 11. Will that day mark the coming of your city or the crumbling of your city? The old spiritual asks,


When judgment day is drawing nigh, where shall I be? When God the works of men shall try, where shall I be? When east and west the fire shall roll, where shall I be? How will it be for my poor soul, where shall I be?

O, where shall I be when the great trumpet sounds? O, where shall I be when it sounds so loud? When it sounds so loud that it wakes up the dead, O, where shall I be when it sounds?

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