A Handful of Mud: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XIX)

March 27, 2010

We are considering the concept of the “kingdom of God” in the Book of Revelation.  So far,  I have done: 1) a couple of introductory survey posts on how the idea of the “kingdom of God” has shifted in the last several decades; 2) a quick look at the uses of “kingdom” in the book related to God’s side of things–there are actually quite a few more having to do with earthly kingdoms; and 3) another quick look at the uses of the term “king”–where, again, there are more having to do with those who oppose God.

Now, to complete the informal word study portion of this study, I am going to look briefly at the usage of the Greek verb basileuo (“to reign”) in Revelation.  It is found seven times in the book (5:10; 11:15, 17; 19:6; 20:4, 6; 22:5), all of which have to do with God’s kingdom (which is dramatically different than what was seen in the previous studies of the usage of “kingdom” or “king”).

Interestingly, none of the seven passages are what you could call a “stand-alone.”  What does that mean?  Simply that these passages all cluster together in groups of two or three very similar meanings.

For example, in the first usage in the book, in Revelation 5:10, we find that those redeemed by Christ’s blood from “all the nations…” (v. 9), and who have been made “a kingdom and priests to our God” (v. 10a), “will reign on the earth” at some future point.  Then, in 20:4, 6, we are told that a group of what is clearly believers–whether strictly martyrs or a wider group can be debated–“will reign with [Christ] for 1,000 years” (all quotations are from the HCSB).

Next, as we have seen previously, at the time of the blowing of the seventh–and final–trumpet, it is stated that “… He will reign forever and ever” (11:15).  Very similar is the wording in a section describing the eternal state in 22:5: “… they will reign forever and ever.”  The pronoun “they” could be talking about God and the Lamb (22:1, 3a).  However, since mentions of God’s servants (i.e., you and me) are found closer (vv. 3b-5a), it may well be that this statement is intended to extend the duration of 5:10 and 20:6.

Finally, even though the majority usage of “reign” in Revelation looks ahead to the future, the instances in 11:17 and 19:6 may–or may not–adjust things somewhat.  In 11:17, at the point of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, in the heavenly throne room, the 24 elders declare “… You have taken your great power and have begun to reign” (HCSB).

The HCSB rendering not withstanding, it is very difficult to know what to make of the use of the aorist of basileuo here.  Is it speaking just of a general fact, or past tense, or of beginning something new, or futuristically, since the aorist can mean any of those time-wise?  A case can be made for more than one of these possibilities.

Then, in 19:6, in the wake of the judgment of Babylon the Great (see esp. ch. 18-19:5), and just before the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-9) and the Second Coming of Christ (19:11ff.), it is similarly stated that “our Lord God, the Almighty, has begun to reign” (again, HCSB).  Again, the aorist form (ebasileusen) is not immediately obvious in its force.  In fact, in several of the key passages about the kingdom in Revelation, we find aorist verbs or participles and none of them are transparent as to their temporal implications.

A couple of parting thoughts on the use of “reign” in the Apocalypse: 1) the majority are clear and are future in time orientation, looking ahead to the 1,000 years (5:10; 20:4, 6) or eternity future (11:15; 22:5); and 2) the only two remaining uses (11:17; 19:6) may speak of something that begins earlier, but because they essentially say precisely the same thing–at earlier and later points in the unfolding of the escalating judgments of the book–a good case can be made that the almighty power of God’s reign in heaven is about to spill over to earth, through the bowls of wrath (11:17) or the Second Advent (19:6).

Next time, I will pull together my overall findings, as well as some other aspects of Revelation that are relevant to a full-orbed understanding of the “kingdom of God” in the Apocalypse.  Further, I will attempt to tie in what is seen in Revelation to what is taught in other key passages on God’s kingdom earlier in the Scriptures.

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