Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XX)

March 30, 2010

The time has come to put together my tentative findings from studying the various key words in the concept of the “kingdom of God” in Revelation.  This post allows me the opportunity to both ponder the ramifications of what I have found when I combine all the mini-word studies, as well as compare that data with the various perspectives I surveyed on the front end: the classical dispensational and covenant theology views, as well as those of the “cutting edge” in both wider theological traditions.

There is also one other thing that I believe will be most beneficial to consider at this point: the “kingdom” idea present in Daniel 7.  A number of my earlier studies in this series focused on Daniel 7, given that 7:13-14, along with Zechariah 12:10, are the only two passages that are long enough to be considered actual “quotations” in the Apocalypse (see Rev. 1:7)—not to mention that Jesus had previously also put them together in Matthew 24:30.

In many respects, as I also noted in initially approaching this subject, the easiest way to get a grip on how full-orbed a “kingdom” concept is present is to lay out the basic elements of a kingdom and see how things stack up.  In my mind, that is no more complicated that to list: 1) a ruler (i.e., the king); 2) the rule (i.e., the king’s sovereignty); 3) those ruled (i.e., the subjects); and 4) the realm (i.e., the place ruled by the ruler).

So, what have we seen in the Book of Revelation, in regard to these basic “kingdom” elements?

First, while it is obvious that Christ is already the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), He does not extend that power into this world until well down the line in the Apocalypse.  Relatedly, the assertion that He is “King of the nations” (15:3) is not made until just before the bowls of wrath, the climactic judgment cycle of the book, is about to begin.  Perhaps significantly, in Daniel 7:13-14, the Son of Man is not “given authority to rule” until after he comes with the clouds of heaven.  That may well explain the seemingly late proclamation of Christ’s kingship in Revelation.

In regard to the “rule” (i.e., sovereign reign) seen in Revelation, the focus seems to be on the earthly and eternal reign of Christ and His saints (see 5:10; 20:4, 6; 22:5).  This seems to connect Revelation and Daniel 7.  There is heavenly power to rule already (11:15, 17), but it does not appear to be actualized—at least not anywhere close to fully—until Christ comes back (see 19:6).

Without question, the “subjects” (i.e., those ruled) are in clear view from the very beginning of the Apocalypse.  In 1:5, 9 and 5:10, believers are unequivocally called a “kingdom” here and now.  This goes beyond what Daniel 7 promises, which is that the “kingdom” will be climactically given to the saints (7:27).  The only other mention of the “kingdom” in Revelation is in 12:10, where the coming of the kingdom is linked to the expulsion of the Devil from heaven.

Oddly, there is virtually nothing said about the “realm” (i.e., place/land) aspect of the wider “kingdom” idea until the 1,000 years in Revelation 20:4ff. and the new heavens and earth in 21:1ff.  As important as it seems that such an aspect would be in an overall “kingdom” concept, at least at this stage in my research/thinking, it appears that it is the least important in Revelation.

So, how do I put this together in comparison to the prevailing “kingdom” viewpoints in American evangelical circles in the early 21st century?  Well, it appears that covenant theology adherents have a point in their idea that the church is, in some sense, “kingdom” today.  Revelation 1:5, 9 and 5:10 appear to back that perspective.  And, yes, it also is most likely correct to say that Christ is already, in some sense, a “ruler” exercising sovereignty, though the most striking uses of His sovereign names/descriptions will come up against His Second Coming.

However, what is still totally future in the Apocalypse is the “realm” angle of the overall “kingdom” idea.  The dispensational viewpoint definitely has the upper hand in that regard.

When the dust settles, it actually seems like both are partly right and partly wrong.   The covenant theology perspective has a point that there is more present-tense “kingdom” now than admitted by classical dispensationalists.  The dispensational viewpoint has an even stronger point in regard to the “kingdom” aspect that is still future.

Where does that leave things?  At this early juncture (i.e., I still need some more time for reflection, in which I could easily see nuances that will cause me to correct this tentative “first look” opinion), it appears that the “cutting edge” wings of both (progressive) dispensationalism and its counterpart movement within covenant circles are closer to what we see in studying the relevant terminology in Revelation.  Of those two, progressive dispensationalism is currently closer, since no covenant types I am aware of—no matter how cutting edge—are yet at a point of differentiating between an earthly kingdom and an eternal heavens and earth.

For now, Selah and Amen on this subject!

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