A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XVII)

March 25, 2010

I do not have the “flex” time at the moment to consider all the usage of direct “kingdom” (of God) terminology in the Book of Revelation mentioned previously in this post.  So, I will only consider the four uses of the Greek basileia (“kingdom”) this time.  Next time, I will get into the various uses of basileuo (the verb “to reign”) and basileus (“king”).

Before I begin, I have to ‘fess up to the occasional problem I have of being somewhat less of a “techie” than my younger colleagues.  I still use my copy of Englishman’s Greek Concordance to find out how many uses of a term are found in the Greek NT and where they are located.  In this case, in the earlier post in which I introduced this subject, I misspoke, saying there are only three uses of basileia in Revelation that refer to God’s kingdom in some sense, when there are actually five (1:6, 9; 5:10; 11:15; 12:10).

Why did this happen?  Apparently, the Greek text known as the Textus Receptus (TR), which was behind the Authorized Version (a.k.a. “King James Version”), was used by George Wigram, who originally put together the Concordance well over 150 years ago and it reads basileus (“kings”) in both 1:6 and 5:10, as opposed to basileia (“kingdom”), which is the uncontested reading in the Fourth Revised Edition of the United Bible Societies Greek Text (1993), which I generally use.

Having made that clarification, let’s see what we can learn from these five passages.  And, from my observation from writing this, I think it is fair to say that what we will observe will be a totally comfortable fit with either the classical dispensational or covenant theology positions, though it is closer to one than the other.  See what you think… .

In Revelation 1:6, almost right out of the chute, John affirms that, by His blood, Christ has “set us free from our sins” and “made us a kingdom” (HCSB).  The wording does not explain how this has happened, although the aorist of poieo (rendered “made”) gets across that the “kingdom” is a presently-existing state that started in the past, apparently in connection with the shedding of Christ’s blood.

That sets us up for the second usage, just a few verses later, in 1:9.  John had used the plural pronoun “us” to refer to being “a kingdom” in 1:5, thus speaking of himself and his readers.  Thus, it is not at all strange that he would speak of himself as “your brother and partner in… kingdom…” in 1:9.  Whatever it means to be “a kingdom” in these verses, they are in it together.

To a large extent, the same ideas continue in 5:9-10, though that passage provides an expanded explanation: “… You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You made them a kingdom… and they will reign (the Gk. verb basileuo) on the earth” (HCSB).  This passage elucidates that the “us” of 1:5 is actually believers bought by Christ’s shed blood from every people group.  It also lays out that a key part of the “kingdom” idea is a future reign of God’s people “on the earth” (Gk. tes ges, “the earth—land, soil, ground”).

Take my word for it: the implications here are, to say the least, significant.  However, I am going to wait until after considering the final two passages before teasing them out.

In 11:15, we finally get to a usage in the Apocalypse that speaks of God’s rule over His kingdom.  Right after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, we read “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever!” (HCSB).  In this passage, however, it should be understood that the second use of “kingdom” in this verse is not present in the Greek text, but is instead supplied to smooth out the translation.  What this passage tells us is that, in some sense, at the end of the trumpets sequence, God is poised to take over “the kingdom of the world,” from which point forward He will never relinquish that rulership.

In what sense?  Well, 11:17 says that, at that point in the future, God will “have taken [His] great power and have begun to reign” (HCSB).  In other words, at that point, the Lord will have not yet completely taken over rulership of this world, as some believe is already the case.  In my understanding—and I will talk about this more in another post—since the various aspects of judgment listed in 11:19 are not actually poured out on the earth until the seventh bowl of wrath (16:17-21), this much earlier passage is merely stating the obvious situation in heaven that will soon also be universally recognized on earth.

The final usage of “kingdom” in Revelation is in 12:10.  Just after we are told of the expulsion of the Devil from heaven (12:9), we hear “a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come…” (HCSB).  Now, as far-reaching as that wording sounds, that cannot possibly be talking about God suddenly having unrivaled rulership on the earth.  You see, 12:12 speaks of the Devil’s temporary, but still extremely powerful, earth-bound feats from that point (i.e., his being finally and completely kicked out of heaven) forward.

So, as we conclude this post, having surveyed the five uses of “kingdom” related to God and His people in Revelation, what have we learned?  Here’s a few initial tentative conclusions worth I think are “chewing” on:

1)      In some very meaningful sense, believers are already “a kingdom” (Rev. 1:6, 9; 5:10).  Thus, there is no way of getting around the fact that there is some present-tense “kingdom” aspect presently at work.  We are the church, yes, but we are also somehow “a kingdom.”

2)      However, even though that present-tense reality is true, it is equally true that believers will not reign in regard to the kingdom until the future (5:10) and that reign is specifically said to be “on the earth.”

3)      Now, the only logical way that believers can be said to have been made part of God’s kingdom now is if He is presently “King” in a very real sense.  However, the clear implications of 11:15ff. and 12:10 are that, while His kingdom certainly exists in heaven, it will require a substantial part of the judgments of the Book of Revelation to take place before that kingdom truly spreads to this world and “the kingdom of the world” becomes His kingdom (11:15ff.).  In fact, you can make a case from 12:10 that, since it is only after the Devil gets kicked out of heaven that he proclamation about God’s kingdom takes place, maybe even the fullest sense of the “kingdom” idea wasn’t even present in heaven prior to that point.  (I hesitate to go any further on that—and may even backtrack a tad later—without more time for reflection).

So, having considered the first aspect of the usage of “kingdom” terminology in Revelation, where do we find ourselves “midstream.”  Well, I don’t want to go too far.  But, it is probably fair to say that what has been seen so far appears to reflect “kingdom” ideas that are more present-tense than that held by classical dispensationalists, but far more future-tense than that held by classical covenant theologians.

Will the usage of “king” and “reign” in Revelation stack up with what we have just noted in the use of “kingdom?”  We’ll know soon enough, because, as promised above, I will work with those terms in my next post.

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