A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XVIII)

March 26, 2010

Now it’s time to look at the relevant usage of “king” and “reign” in Revelation (although I have decided to only consider the first in this post).  The usage of “kingdom” was eye-opening to me and it will be interesting to see what can be learned to help us understand the meaning of the “kingdom of God” in the Apocalypse.  Following this post and the next one on the use of “reign” in Revelation, I will attempt to pull together my significant findings with some other helpful angles in the post after that and draw some broader conclusions.

Although the Greek term basileus (“king”) is found 19 times in Revelation, only three of those uses have to do with the “kingdom of God” (15:3; 17:14; 19:16).  The remaining 16 describe either the “kings of the earth”–although one of those uses is positive, referring to the post-sin state in the new heavens and earth (21:24)–or the “king” fallen angel of the Abyss (9:11).

If nothing else, that overwhelming proportion of focus on other kingly figures besides the Lord–over 84% of the usage–should cause us to be careful in our assessment of the nature/status of the kingdom of God in Revelation… especially in the earlier part of the book.  After all, it must not be overlooked that the three uses that do speak of the Lord are all found in relation to either the final cycle of judgments, the bowls of wrath (15:3), or Christ’s Second Coming (17:14; 19:16).

As we briefly look more closely at those three, it is interesting to note that two of them describe who Christ is in comparison to all other kings (i.e., of the earth or the angelic realm).  It is also intriguing to note the mirroring wording of the expressions: “Lord of lords and King of kings” in 17:14 vs. “King of kings and Lord of lords” in 19:16.

Is it likely that the reversed wording here is merely coincidental or stylistic?  Very doubtful, because anything like this hardly ever is in Revelation.  If not, what are we to make of this inverted effect?

I have pondered this for years, without coming to any fresh, insightful perspective.  However, I am going to throw some mud on the wall (i.e, brainstorm) at this point and see what might come from thinking “outside the box” on this subject (given that thinking inside the box on this for quite some time now has not gotten me anywhere!).

From one angle, the wording in 17:14 probably at least generally echoes Daniel 2:47, where we read: “God of gods, Lord of kings…” (HCSB).  However, I do not think that is all there is to it.  See what you think.

Try this on: often in Scripture, reversed significant wording sets up a “bracketing” effect.  It calls attention to what is found in between the two “book-ends.”

What do I mean?  Well, the wording in Revelation 17:14 (“Lord of lords and King of kings”) is found at a point in which the destruction of Babylon the Great–who would be “queen” (see 17;4-6) is just beginning to be discussed.  By contrast, the wording in 19:16 (“King of kings and Lord of lords”) occurs just after that discussion has ended in the praise (i.e., the real “Hallelujah Chorus”) of the great multitude in the earlier part of ch. 19 and is now shifting to the true King.  Thus, these two uses of “king” for the Lord appear to reflect the permanent changing of the (Royal) guard,” so to speak, here on earth.

The one remaining use, in 15:3, is striking for where it is found.  Without question, the “overcomers” standing on the sea of glass in heaven in 15:2 are there because they responded to the proclamation of the “eternal gospel” in 14:6.

How do I know that?  Because the content of that message in 14:7 is: 1) fear God; 2) give Him glory; and 3) Worship the Creator of heaven and earth–exactly what the “overcomers” are singing about in 15:4 (i.e., 1 and 2) fearing and glorifying the Lord; and 3) worshiping Him).  In other words, 14:6-7 is the cause and 15:2-4 is the effect.

The wording “King of the Nations” (15:3, HCSB) makes perfectly good sense in this specific context.  In 14:6, the “eternal gospel” was announced to “every nation, tribe, language and people,” practically speaking the same group that is the target of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19; Lk. 24:47), but, even more relevant to the Apocalypse, the group (“all the nations”) that Jesus prophesied would hear the “gospel of the kingdom” before the end (i.e.,of the age) would come in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:14).

Thus, it appears that, at this juncture, just before the pouring out of the climactic bowls of wrath (Rev. 15-16), the Lord is clearly staking out His kingship in one way by saving from within the otherwise Beast-dominated limited period (“42 months”; 13:5) of the Great Tribulation (see the wider description in ch. 13) a final group out of “all the nations” (14:6-7; 15:2-4), a climactic harvest (see 14:14-16), thus making Him “King of the Nations” (at least beyond the “earth-dwellers” [i.e., the non-elect, who worship the Beast; see 13:8; 17:8]) in that focused sense even before he returns to earth as “Lord of lords and King of kings” (17:14)/”King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16).

Having made these observations, I am going to “chew” on these tentative conclusions for a bit before proceeding further.  In this case, getting “outside the box” was even far more eye-opening than anticipated.

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