By Christopher VanDusen
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ live in an evil world of evil people who do evil things as they’re ruled by “the evil one” — Satan. This world is his kingdom — the realm over which he has some control and influence through his hordes of demons and the things of this world they use (namely, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). But we know that the world will not always be dominant on the earth — in fact, the apostle John says that it’s “passing away” in 1 John 2. There will come a time when the Lord Jesus will have complete control over all the inhabitants of the earth, including Satan and his demons. But when will this happen, and what will take place when it does? The apostle John describes the answers to these questions in Revelation 11:15-19.
This passage shows the blowing of the seventh and last trumpet in a series of trumpet blasts signaling God’s various judgments on the earth. They began with the partial destruction of the earth, and the suffering of unbelievers on it, that has occurred throughout the course of history, and will continue until near the end. Then, John witnessed a vision demonic activity that God uses to punish unbelievers for their sins. Finally, he saw a specific event that will involve a great slaughter to occur just before the coming of Christ. This was the sixth trumpet judgment.
After the sixth trumpet, John sees several visions to prepare the audience for the last trumpet. First, he sees a Messenger, described like the Lord Jesus, who swears that the last trumpet will reveal “the mystery of God” that He announced to His prophets. This Messenger then shows John that he still needs to prophesy about “many” people, nations, and rulers. Second, in the eleventh chapter, John is commanded to measure God’s temple, and its worshipers, and sees a portrayal of the lifetime of two of God’s witnesses. The measuring of God’s temple symbolizes the protection of the church until just before the end of history, while the vision of the witnesses signifies the church’s work during history, and how it will end.
Now, in verses 15-19 of chapter 11, John experiences a vision of the final trumpet being blown, and a description of what it results in:
“15 Then 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.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and “begun to reign.
18 The 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.”
19 Then 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.” (ESV)
In this passage, four main things are revealed to John that describe when and how this age will end, and the next one will begin:
- The Transition to the Lord’s Kingdom is Proclaimed (v. 15)
- The Twenty-Four Elders Kneel and Praise (vss. 16-17)
- The Time has Come for Payment (v. 18)
- The Temple of the Lord is Clearly Perceived (v. 19)
The Transition to the Lord’s Kingdom is Proclaimed
First, John hears the last trumpet, and a description of what it announces:
“Then 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.’”
The seventh angel is the last one to blow his trumpet because the number, “seven”, represents perfection or completion. With the blast of this trumpet, the last of God’s judgments has come.
Knowing this, the inhabitants of heaven describe what has been announced by the trumpet. They’re “loud” because there’s a countless number of them, and they’re excited about what’s happened. “‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ . . .’” The world’s kingdom is “the kingdom of darkness” ruled by Satan, and oppressed by his demons. It’s dominated by rebellion against God, and the resulting suffering and hopelessness of such living. However, this kingdom no longer belongs to the sinful world, but has been transformed into “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ”. Since they distinguish between “our Lord” and “his Christ”, these two titles refer to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus, respectively.
As the “Lord” of heaven’s inhabitants, the Father rules them, as well as the universe. Now, at the blast of the last trumpet, in a special sense, He rules the world’s inhabitants, both human and demonic. However, He isn’t the sole Owner of this kingdom; “His Christ” is as well. “Christ” is a title that literally means “anointed one”, or the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King of God’s people, promised in the Old Testament. The title here specifically refers to Jesus’s office of King of the universe. Since the final judgment has come, He has now taken His throne over the new earth. This reign, according to the voices, will last “forever”.
The Twenty-Four Elders Kneel and Praise
In response to the transformation of the worldly kingdom into God’s kingdom, the symbolic figures of the twenty-four elders praise God in verses 16-17:
“And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,
‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
Who is and who was,
For you have taken your great power
And begun to reign.’”
When John first saw the vision of God’s throne room, he also saw these “elders”. The word “elders” literally means mature men, and was used to refer to the leaders of Jewish communities. In this vision, since there are twenty-four of them, they represent God’s people as a whole, since the Old Testament has twelve tribes of God’s people, and the New describes twelve leaders of God’s people — the apostles. Further, the fact that they sit on thrones around God’s throne speaks to their role as co-rulers of the earth with God. Revelation makes much mention of Christians’ privilege of sharing in Christ’s reign over the earth, both in the future, and now.
When the world’s kingdom turns into God’s kingdom, these elders fall on their faces in awe of God, and thank Him for bringing this transition about. They address Him as “Lord God Almighty”, which conveys His rulership, creatorship, and infinite power over the universe. As Lord, He rules the universe through His power and Word. As God, He owns the universe, and controls all events in it. As the Almighty, He is all-powerful, and can do whatever He wants with it, no matter what anyone might do to stop Him.
Second, the elders describe God’s eternal existence from a new perspective in Revelation. When they first praise God in this book, they describe Him as the One who “was, is, and is to come”. Now, they begin with His present existence, and end with His past existence, leaving His future existence out. Why? Because with the transition from the world having dominion to God having dominion over the earth, John has finally reached the end of history, and the beginning of eternity. God has accomplished His redemptive plan for the universe.
The reason the elders thank God is because He’s “taken [His] great power and begun to reign”. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t have great power before, but that now He’s begun to put it on display completely. The apostle Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, where he says,
“But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (ESV)
This delivery of “the kingdom to God the Father” is God’s seizure of His “great power”, and the beginning of His reign. The elders’ next narrative of this enthronement will also describe the destruction of God’s enemies.
The Time has Come for Payment
The elders end their praise of God in verse 18 by describing the background and ways in which God the Father took His great power at the end:
“‘The 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.’”
First, they describe the background of God’s seizure of power. It was when “the nations raged”. At least twice in Revelation, events are described depicting the gathering of the unbelieving nations in a great, global, war. First, a massive army of horsemen is seen by John with the blast of the sixth trumpet. Second, the vision of God’s two witnesses portrays the nations as killing them because they had tormented them with their preaching. Further, there will come at least two more visions of the nations waging war on God’s people. In all these instances, one of the motivating factors of these acts of war is rage. This rage, or great anger, is felt by the nations because they hate God, and love their rebellion against Him.
However, God also has great anger against the nations. This is His wrath, which the elders say “came”. This means that God finally expressed His wrath against the nations in the final judgment on them. That’s why the elders also say that God’s wrath came at the “time for the dead to be judged”. This refers to all the dead of all the ages. Since they are judged, this must mean that they had to be raised from the dead. Jesus Himself said that a time would come when all would be raised from the dead — “. . . those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29 ESV).
The word “judgment” doesn’t only refer to punishment, or condemnation. It also describes God’s act of evaluating His people’s lives to reward them for their goodness. That’s why the judgment happens at the same time as “rewarding [His] servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear [His] name, both small and great”. The only word that describes a distinct group of people is “prophets”, or those commissioned by God to receive and pass on direct revelation from Him. The term “saints” just means “holy ones”. However, both prophets and saints are “those who fear [God’s] name”, or revere who He is. All of these people are literally God’s “slaves”, from the Greek word doulos. But it’s not just the great ones who are rewarded. Even those who are “small” in size or in reputation are rewarded by God.
Finally, God’s judgment on the nations is completed by “destroying the destroyers of the earth”. Who are these people? They are the unbelieving “nations” whom John elsewhere calls “those who dwell on the earth”. The elders call them “destroyers of the earth” because it’s their rebellion that has been shown to result in God’s destruction of the earth, in judgment on them. In the first several trumpet judgments, John sees partial destruction on the earth, which is in response to the sins of unbelievers. So, by sinning against God, they destroy the present earth. As the apostle Peter promises in 2 Peter, God ends this present age by completely destroying the earth. But God also destroys its evil inhabitants who bring destruction. This destruction is described multiple times in the New Testament, and in Revelation, as being everlasting, and without end. It doesn’t mean that these people are wiped out of existence, but that their ability to experience anything pleasurable is taken away from them. In other words, their ability to do what God originally created mankind to do — enjoy Him and His world — is destroyed.
The Temple of God is Clearly Perceived
The visions brought about by the seventh trumpet conclude with the unveiling of God’s temple for all to see:
“Then 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.”
First, John sees an image of the opening of “God’s temple in heaven”. What this temple looked like we can’t say, but John knew it belonged to God, and that it was in the place where He most manifests Himself — heaven. Since God’s temple is the place where He most vividly manifested Himself to His people in the Old Testament, this must represent the greatest manifestation of God of all time.
This manifestation is displayed by the presentation of “the ark of [God’s] covenant . . . within his temple”. In the Old Testament, the “ark”, or literally “box”, was the container in which Israel kept two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, as well as Aaron’s rod that budded, and the heavenly bread that they ate in the wilderness. It was made primarily of wood, but was overlaid with gold. On top of it were two golden statues of angels, representing God’s presence in heaven. Between these angels, God manifested Himself in the form of a cloud and/or fire. It was also here that blood was dropped to atone for Israel’s sins that they had committed ignorantly. Hence, it was called “the mercy seat”, or where God “sat” to bestow mercy on His people. In John’s vision, the ark represents God’s holy and awesome presence, and its appearance represents the fullest manifestation of His presence at the final judgment.
This appearance triggers lightning, thunder, an earthquake, and “heavy hail”, which are all pictures of God’s all-powerful judgment that He’s now rendering through the final judgment.
Long for the Kingdom, Thank God for His Judgment, and Look for His Appearing
So if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus, how does this passage apply to you?
First, we ought to look forward to the day when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. Although the world is now dominated by sin and Satan, there will come a time when the world will be manifestly and clearly dominated by God, and His will. All opposition to Him will be punished, and the only people on the new earth will be those who love Him.
Second, we ought to be thankful to God for promising to reward His slaves, and to destroy His enemies. Eventually, all of our suffering for His sake will be rewarded, and all those who make life on this earth miserable due to their evil will be punished.
Finally, we ought to eagerly anticipate the appearing of the fullest expression of God’s presence. This will come in the form the Lord Jesus Christ, who will eventually be seen by all. John says in 1 John 3:2 that when we see Him, we’ll be like Him, since we’ll see Him just as He is.
If you aren’t a slave of God, a holy one, and someone who fears Him in reverence and awe, then you are yet a “destroyer of the earth”, and will be destroyed at the last judgment if you don’t repent. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, the live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross, taking God’s punishment for our rebellion. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as the Ruler of the universe, and the only Mediator between God and people. He’s now commanding everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior to receive His forgiveness, mercy, and peace. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion, and are trusting only in Jesus to provide you with God’s forgiveness. If you have, then He requires all of His people to be baptized under water as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of faith.