Back in chapter 5, we heard about the scroll with seven seals which was in the hands of the Lord God Almighty. And John watched as six of the seven seals were opened; and various woes and troubles were sent on the world as each seal was opened. And then there was a delay before the opening of the seventh seal. And in that delay, John heard about the sealing of the Lord’s people; and he also saw into heaven where there was a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, who stood before the throne of God and they praised the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who had been slain. It was the church triumphant, safe in heaven, worshipping the Lord. And then John saw the opening of the seventh seal; and there was silence in heaven. And I suggested that the silence signifies God’s judgment on his enemies. Whereas the church is safe in heaven, all of God’s enemies will one day be judged and condemned; and after their condemnation, there’s only silence.
And then, following the opening of the seven seals, John heard the sounding of six of seven trumpets. And the sounding of these six trumpets announced all kinds of plagues on the wicked. And I suggested that these plagues represent all the temporal punishments which the Lord sends on the wicked in this world. However — do you remember? — they did not repent; despite all the temporal punishments which befell them, they did not repent of the sinful works of their hands, but they continued in their unbelief and rebellion.
And then, just as there was a delay between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, so there was a delay between the sounding of sixth and seventh trumpets. And between the sounding of the sixth trumpet and the sounding of the seventh trumpet, we read how John was re-commissioned to preach God’s word, which is both sweet and bitter: sweet because it’s good news; bitter because those who proclaim it must often experience the bitterness of rejection and persecution from those who will not accept it.
And that’s what the passage we studied the last time was about, because verses 1 to 14 of chapter 11 tell us how the church is like a city, which is trampled upon; and the church is like two witnesses, who were killed and whose bodies were left lying in the street; and everyone who saw their dead bodies celebrated. But, in the end, the two witnesses were brought back to life and they were summoned into heaven. Well, it’s a picture of how the Devil and the world despise the church and its message and they persecute the Lord’s people in these, the last days. But it’s also a picture of the security of the church, because despite whatever we may have to suffer in this world, there’a glorious future for God’s people in the presence of the Lord.
And so we come to the sounding of the seventh trumpet. And just as the opening of the seventh seal signified the judgment to come on God’s enemies, so the sounding of the seventh trumpet signifies the judgment to come on God’s enemies and God’s victory over them.
And do you remember what I said about the biblical background to the seven trumpets? Many of the plagues which fell on the wicked when the first six trumpets were sounded remind us of the Ten Plagues which God sent on the Egyptians. And just as the the Egyptians were destroyed in the end, and the Lord and his people were victorious, so here — with the sounding of the seventh trumpet — we see the victory of God over his enemies.
And then, the sounding of the trumpets also reminds us of what happened to Jericho. Do you remember? For six days, the Israelites walked around the city, blowing seven trumpets; on the seventh day, they walked around the city seven times, blowing seven trumpets. And after they had done that, the walls of the city collapsed. The people of the city were destroyed and the Lord and his people were victorious. And here too, after the sounding of seven trumpets, we see the victory of God over his enemies.
The sounding of the seventh trumpet signifies the judgment to come on God’s enemies and God’s victory over them. And really, today’s passage is divided into two choruses: in verse 15 we hear what these loud voices in heaven said; and in verses 16 to 18 we hear what the 24 elders in heaven said.
And so, in verse 15 we hear what these loud voices in heaven said. Perhaps they’re the voices of angels, but we don’t really know. However, listen again to what they said:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign for ever and ever.
They’re announcing how God’s kingdom, or God’s rule, will finally be extended throughout the world, so that the Lord God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ will rule over all things and all their enemies will be completely subjugated.
Now, this has not yet taken place. John is seeing into the future and he’s seeing what will one day happen. But it hasn’t happened yet. And so, everywhere we look in the world today, we see men and women and boys and girls living in rebellion and refusing to obey God’s will. That’s the way things are now; but one day, God’s rule will extend throughout all the world.
In one sense, God rules over everything all of the time. In our church’s Shorter Catechism we say that God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preservation and control of all his creatures and all their actions. God upholds and controls all his creatures and everything we do. So, right now, and all of the time, he rules over all things. However, as part of God’s plan for the world, he has allowed unbelief and sin and rebellion into the world so that the Devil opposes him and resists his will; and sinful men and women oppose him and resist his will. Though God upholds and controls all things, nevertheless, for the time being, he lets his enemies rebel against him. But the time is coming, when his enemies will be destroyed and he will reign over all.
And, of course, that’s what the Lord Jesus taught us to pray for. In the Lord’s Prayer, he teaches his church to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, which means we’re praying that Satan’s kingdom will be destroyed; and we praying that the kingdom of grace will advance throughout the world through the reading and preaching of God’s word; and we’re praying that Christ will rule in our hearts more and more; and we’re praying that Christ will come again, because when he comes again, the Lord God Almighty and the Lord Jesus Christ will reign over all for ever and for ever.
So, think back to what we were thinking about the last time. In these, the last days, the church is like a city which is trampled upon. In these, the last days, the church is like two witnesses, who are killed. In these, the last days, the church is often disregarded and despised and persecuted. But in the end, in the end, our God will come and condemn his enemies and he will reign over all. So, no matter what the cost, we ought to remain faithful to him, because in the end he will reign; and we will reign with him if we remain faithful.
Verses 16 to 18
After that, John saw the 24 elders — we read about them in chapter 4 — who fell on their faces in humble adoration; and they worshipped God, saying:
We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.
Let me pause there. Back in chapter 1, John referred to God as ‘the one who is, and who was, and who is to come’. In other words, he was referring to what God is doing now, in the present; and to what he had done in the past; and to what he was going to do in the future. Now, in chapter 11, the elders refer to God as ‘the one who is, and who was [full stop]’. The words ‘and is to come’ have been dropped, because — in John’s vision — he has now come. Remember, of course, that John is seeing into the future and is describing things which have not yet taken place. But in his vision of the future, God has come and has taken his great power and he has begun to reign over all. So, there’s no need to refer to ‘what is to come’, because God’s plans for what is to come will be fulfilled when Christ comes to punish his enemies.
Look now in verse 18 which begins with the words ‘The nations were angry’. Does that ring any bells with you? Psalm 2 begins:
Why do the nations conspire….
However, the Greek translation of the Old Testament puts it like this:
Why do the nations rage….
The 24 elders are picking up on the language of Psalm 2 which is about how the nations of the world conspire and rage and take their stand against the Lord Almighty and against his Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Psalm continues:
‘Let’s break off their chains’, they say, and throw off their fetters.
That’s what the nations say. And all around the world, men and women and boys and girls rage against the Lord and his church and they take their stand against us and against what we believe. But then, in Psalm 2, the Psalmist tells us how the One enthroned in heaven laughs; the nations cannot overthrow him. And he rebukes them in his anger and he terrifies them with his wrath. Well, back in Revelation 11, the nations were angry; but God’s wrath against them has come. The time has come, say the elders — and remember John is seeing into the future — the time has come for judging the dead in order to condemn them.
But the time has also come for rewarding God’s servants. Do you see that in verse 18? Who are his servants? Here they’re identified as the prophets and the saints and all those who reverence his name. Rather than being three separate groups of people, we’re probably to take this as a threefold description of the members of the church, because the church proclaims God’s word; and we’re called to live holy lives; and we seek to honour the name of the Lord. And so, God’s people are distinguished from those who disregard God’s word; and who live sinful, not holy lives; and who dishonour the name of the Lord.
So, while those who destroy the earth by their wickedness are destroyed, the members of Christ’s church — both great and small — are rewarded. And, of course, none of us deserves to be rewarded. And we don’t deserve to be rewarded for at least two reasons. Firstly, because we’re sinners who deserve to be condemned. But instead of condemning us, God graciously forgives his believing people for the sake of Christ who died for us. Secondly, we don’t deserve to be rewarded, because even when we do what’s right, we’re only able to do what’s right because the Lord enables us to do it by his Spirit who lives in us. As so, we don’t deserve to be rewarded, do we? Nevertheless the Lord graciously and freely promises to reward his people. We don’t deserve it, but he’s is gracious and kind to us.
Think again of the passage last time. In these, the last days, the church is like a city which is trampled upon. In these, the last days, the church is like two witnesses, who are killed. In these, the last days, the church is often disregarded and despised and persecuted. But in the end, our God will come and punish the nations and he’ll reward his faithful people. So, we’re to remain faithful to him, while we wait for the end to come.
And finally, look at verse 19 where John see God’s temple in heaven. And the temple is open. And in the temple, John sees the ark of the covenant. The temple and the ark symbolise God’s presence with his people. But then there are also flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder; and there’s an earthquake and a great hailstorm. What’s going on? Well, John is saying to us that, in the end, God’s people will be brought into the presence of God, which is signified by the temple and the ark; whereas the wicked will face condemnation and wrath, which is signified by the storm.
In the Old Testament, after the sounding of the seven trumpets, the city of Jericho collapsed and God’s people went in and they began to rule over the land of Israel. And in John’s vision, the sounding of seven trumpets announces the collapse of the nations when God comes to judge and to condemn them; and all of God’s people are brought into the presence of the Lord and we will reign with him over the new heavens and the new earth for ever and for ever.