Revelation (Part 19): Understanding the Kingdom
Christ’s kingdom is one that concentrates on love relationship resting in the infinite and ultimate truth, goodness, and beauty of God. In fact, we may also say it in reverse—that God’s truth, goodness, and beauty necessarily rest on love relationship. Truth, goodness, and beauty without love relationship knitting them together is a false truth, goodness, and beauty—the selfish kind that characterizes the world. Thus, the world’s kind of kings and kingdoms actually depicts an anti-kingdom to Christ’s kingdom—antichrist to Christ.
And yet we Christians often cannot help but try to emulate the world’s kingdom philosophy in our Christianity, even characterizing our God and Christ in those robes of selfish power and command. God demands obedience, we argue. Doesn’t the Bible show a wrathful, judging, punishing God for all those who move against his prescribed commands? This overall view of an authoritarian God who must strike out in unbridled wrath because his pride was offended by those he created to be slavishly obedient minions violates what God has truly taught us about himself, about his purpose for creation, and about the virtue and priority he has placed on faith and love.
If God truly is love, if God is truth, goodness, and beauty, wherever God is not (whatever God turns away from) must be left devoid of love, truth, goodness, and beauty. Does that not picture death? The meaning of life is relationship with God. The meaning of death is separation from God. The horror of death is that it necessarily is without any vestige of love, truth, goodness, and beauty precisely because God is not there. The dread in that scene is made even more poignant when we realize that we were created to desire—to be satisfied only by—truth, goodness, and beauty. Without it, then, the soul flounders in despair of the infinite kind.
These images are easy to understand as we view absolute delight in God and sheer horror without him. But in this age in which God is simultaneously teaching/gathering his faithful and judging/rejecting the unfaithful, we find difficulty holding true to God’s essence and, therefore, attribute to him instead the characteristics of a selfish king.
Love relationship cannot be coerced. Love—unless it is a giving of self—is not love. Tricking or forcing someone to love does not yield the purity of relationship that God desires or that we, created with the desire for love, hold. That is the reason God emphasizes faith as a condition for salvation. Faith is conditional for salvation because faith is conditional for relationship. And it is relationship (not selfishness) that characterizes God’s kingdom.
In Revelation 11’s last trumpet scene, the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah. While Christ was king since the resurrection and God has been king forever, the second coming marks the end of the rebellion of selfishness. Truth, goodness, and beauty in relationship become creation’s primary attribute as evil is swept away. That is how the kingdom of this world becomes God’s.
And the 24 elders (symbolic of governmental authority—see chapter 4) confirm this in verse 16 as they worship and praise God with their thanks and proclamation of judgment and blessing. Judgment and blessing are not two separated ideas; they are two sides to the same coin. Blessing showers its goodness only as judgment pushes away evil. That is why in this scroll scene, we saw both the judgment of the trumpets (Rev 8-9) as we see the blessing for the faithful (Rev 11). It is just so throughout this age, and it will be so at the end.
The last scroll section begins in chapter 20 of Revelation. As we moved from the first scroll scene (chapters 4-7) to the second scroll scene (chapters 8-11), we saw a natural, chronological progression from the OT preparation for the Kinsman Redeemer to the current age of accomplished fulfillment of the redemption means and revelation. Chapter 11 described this current age from the perspective of the witness to this redemption through the words and works of the Redeemer—to be carried on by us, those who believe and have been given life (relationship with God).
The progression from that scroll section to the final one, rather than moving chronologically, overlays the current age to repeat this time period in order to offer another perspective. In other words, the sequel to the second scroll section that depicts this age (Rev 11) is the same period as the prequel to the third scroll section that also depicts this age (Rev 20:1-10). The Revelation 11 perspective was in this age’s witness of the Kinsman Redeemer’s accomplished means of redemption. The Revelation 20:1-10 perspective is in this age’s judgment reign of God’s faithful.
What lies between these second and third scroll sections is eight chapters of description of the self or human-focused, as they operate in this world in this age. We will come back to review that section in detail. But I think it would be best now if we move to that third scroll section to ensure our understanding of how these three scroll sections form the basic skeletal structure of the whole book.
Chapter 20 begins with an angel from heaven coming down to seize and chain the Devil. Again, as in chapter 10, I believe this angel is Christ himself. Remember that the word angel is not a classification of being but rather a function. It means messenger, and aptly describes Jesus, who is the ultimate conveyor of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty to this world. We also recognize that Jesus coming down from heaven to die and rise again, triumphing over sin and death, is exactly the picture we see here of the angel coming down from heaven to seize Satan and bind him so as to prevent his deceit.
Four names or descriptions are given to this evil one. He is called a dragon. The root of this word means to look, as in drawing attention or fascinating the viewer. He is a serpent. The root here speaks of a sharpness of vision, indicating cunning and slyness. His name is Devil, which means to scatter reason or, in other words, to deceive. And the Hebrew name Satan means adversary. All of this description indicates that this Evil One is the adversary of God, fascinating God’s image bearers—his prey—in order to slyly deceive them, leading them astray from God’s truth, goodness, and beauty, just as he did with our first parents in the garden.
But the scene’s imagery shows Christ reining in that deception. Through his death and resurrection—his triumph over sin and death—Jesus is able to present the full gospel witness, the complete revelation of God for redemption. That testimony of the Kinsman Redeemer is not kept from the world by the wiles of the Devil. It goes forth in its ultimate offer of love relationship in the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. And here is the reason that the Bible emphasizes the importance of faith. Salvation is not simply a rescue from death and hell. It is a rescue to life. Life is relationship with God. Faith then is belief in Christ—in the gospel that Jesus is Lord. He is not Lord in the earthly sense, merely as the leader of the world. He is Lord in the Godly sense in that he offers relationship with God to depose the selfish sin nature of the world. Acceptance then—faith—is saying yes to that relationship. It is desire for relationship with God in his truth, goodness, and beauty. Life (as defined) needs that faith in Christ and in God—the love and trust and desire for relationship with him. To think that God merely separates some that he will keep from going to hell is not the biblical picture of salvation. Salvation is all about relationship—the desire for it (faith) and the realization of it (through Jesus’s rescue). We are justified (declared to be faithful to God’s covenant relationship) through faith (the realization of and desire for that relationship). And all that was made possible by Christ’s victory in giving his spotless life in death so that we could travel through his death, be carried to resurrected life in the righteousness of Christ, and brought back to the embrace of God.
Can we lose that salvation—that relationship that we’ve now gained? No. We have not been brought back to the state of Adam and Eve in their beginning knowledge of God. Relationship requires growth in knowledge of the one with whom you have relationship. God provided them with the Garden—the place of his pleasure—in which they would have that opportunity to grow into knowledge of him—his truth, goodness, and beauty. But before learning that—before being completely aware of how relationship could exist only in that truth, goodness, and beauty that is God—Adam and Eve chose to trust self rather than relationship. They fell, which besides making necessary the redemption that only God could bring, made the learning process for God’s image bearers much more difficult. But that progressive revelation of both redemption and knowledge of God was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. As that revelation pours over us in our redemption, we are in a state beyond that which Adam and Eve stood. We who have been given life now know our God. We were made creatures who desired truth, goodness, and beauty. The satisfaction we experience in the knowledge of God makes it impossible for our spirits to seek satisfaction elsewhere. We still fail in the unredeemed flesh. But when that too will be redeemed, our souls (spirits and bodies), completely satisfied will never turn away. We will be kept by God’s satisfying love (expression of his truth, goodness, and beauty) forever.