This morning we are returning to our study of the book of Revelation. We’ve taken the summer off from our study so that we could tour the Holy Land. Because of our time away from Revelation I want to refresh our minds about the background of this powerful book. Revelation is what is called “apocalyptic” material. Apocalyptic literature is by nature very symbolic. You will read the word “like” on most every page as John compares what he is seeing, something beyond description, to something that he can use as a point of reference. Let me give you an example. In the very first chapter of Revelation John sees someone who looks “like a son of man.” John goes on to describe what he saw with these words.
2 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (Revelation 1:12-15 NIV)
Some of the other books of the Bible which are apocalyptic in nature are Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In all apocalyptic literature you will find visions that are rich with symbolism.
The overall theme of Revelation is that God rules and reigns in history, even when things looks bleak, and that He will bring history to a close with Jesus, His Son, ruling over all at His return.
Revelation can be broken down into five main sections. The first section, Revelation 1:1-8, is the introduction of the revelation of Jesus Christ and the writer, John, to the churches of Asia Minor. The second section is John’s vision of Jesus found in Revelation 1:9-20. The third section, Revelation 2:1-3:22, is where we find Jesus’ words of encouragement and warning to the seven churches. The fourth section is made up of seven cycles of judgment, each of which ends in a picture of Jesus’ second coming. The cycles of judgment are broken down as follows: (4:1-8:1; 8:2-11:19; 12:1-14:20; 15:1-16:21; 17:1-19:10; 19:11-21; 20:1-15). The last division of the book of Revelation is found in Revelation 21:1-22:5 and it is a vision of the New Jerusalem following Christ’s return.
I also want us to remember the context of the time in which Revelation was written. The Apostle John was exiled on the island of Patmos because of his faith. In Revelation 1:9 we read,
1I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9 NIV)
There was persecution going on in many of the cities and churches to which Jesus spoke in Revelation 2-3. Among Jesus’ words to the church in Smyrna we read,
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10 NIV)
One of the other churches that was being persecuted was the church in Pergamum. One of their members, Antipas, whom Jesus calls “my faithful witness,” was put to death for his faith. In Revelation 2:13 we read Jesus’ words to the church.
13 I know where you live– where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city– where Satan lives. (Revelation 2:13 NIV)
The last instance of persecution that I want us to look at is found in Revelation 3:10, as we read Jesus’ words to the church in Philadelphia. Jesus says,
10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10 NIV)
Outside of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches there are several other references to persecution throughout Revelation. Where was the persecution coming from? Who was responsible for turning up the heat on the Christians? I believe that you can trace the suffering of believers back to the Emperor. His name was Domitian and he executed a widespread campaign of persecution against the Church of Jesus. Domitian loved to be called “god.” Domitian reigned from 81-96 A.D. and his ego was off the charts. He ordered the crowd to greet him with the title, “Domitian, Lord and God” when he entered a public place. He began all of his edicts with the line, “Domitian, Lord and God, commands.”
Domitian was not the first persecutor of God’s people and he won’t be the last, but the same message rings out from heaven regardless of who the oppressor may be, “God reigns forever and ever!” There is but one “Lord and God” and his name is not Emperor Domitian, his name is not Adolf Hitler, his name is not Pol Pot, his name is not Saddam Hussein, his name is not Osama Bin Laden! There have been many persecutors of the Church, many who have tried to dismantle the Body of Christ by threats and violence, but none of them have succeeded. Let this serve as a fair warning to any persecutors who are yet to come—You will not succeed! Our God reigns! He rules over the affairs of history and He knows and cares for His people!
With this foundation laid for us let us turn to our Scripture for today found in Revelation 11:15-19. Read along with me.
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which 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.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 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. 18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great– and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. (Revelation 11:15-19 NIV)
The seventh angel preparing to sound the seventh trumpet sets the stage for us this morning. If you will remember we have already witnessed the first cycle of judgment with the opening the seven seals in Revelation 6-7. The seventh seal was actually opened in Revelation 8:1 where we read,
1When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1 NIV)
During the opening of the first six seals there was judgment of various kinds that came upon the earth and the heavens. Peace was taken from the earth and chaos broke out as people begged to die rather than face the wrath of the Lamb. When the seventh seal was opened we don’t find judgment or plagues, but silence. There was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Many Bible teachers say this is the first picture we get of Jesus’ return. If nothing else then at least this is a picture of all of heaven standing in awed silence before His presence. We see some similar pictures drawn for us in Habakkuk 2:20 and Zephaniah 1:7. Read along with me.
20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20 NIV)
7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. (Zephaniah 1:7 NIV)
At the sight of God all jaws drop in awe! In God’s presence we are to listen, to be still, and drink in His glory and majesty. When was the last time you drew so near to the Lord that you were speechless? If this is only a reference to the return of our Savior then imagine what it will be like when He actually splits the sky and comes for His own! What a day that will be.
Let’s move on. So we’ve looked at the breaking of the seven seals and we’ve gotten a glimpse of the glory of the silence of heaven. Immediately following the breaking of the seventh seal and the silence in heaven we read,
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. (Revelation 8:2 NIV)
And so begins the second cycle of judgments. Something is different now. The judgments are more intense, more dramatic. If you study the seven trumpet plagues alongside of the ten plagues God brought on Egypt you will see many similarities. Even though the seven trumpet plagues are more intense and more widespread than the seven seal judgments, they are not as devastating as the seven “bowl” judgments (15:1-16:21) that are yet to come.
We won’t take the time to examine the first six trumpet judgments because you can go back and read the study, “What Will You Do When The Trumpets Sound?” to catch up on the details of each of the first six trumpet judgments. I want us to fix our attention on the blowing of the seventh trumpet. Look at Revelation 11:15 with me.
15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which 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.” (Revelation 11:15 NIV)
When the seventh trumpet sounds something altogether different takes place. There is the sound of loud voices in heaven. Do you remember what happened when the seventh seal was broken? There was silence in heaven for half an hour. Now, as the seventh trumpet sounds there is the sound of loud voices ringing out. The word John uses for “loud” is the Greek word, “me,gaj” (megas) and the word means, “great, mighty, loud, strong.” What a contrast! All of heaven is shouting at the top of their lungs. What are they shouting about? A football game? Naw. Somebody won the lottery? Who needs a lottery in a place where the streets are paved with gold? What are they shouting about? They are shouting about their King. They are crying out,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
What an amazing statement! You have to remember that John is exiled on the island of Patmos, Domitian is dominating the Christians, and the prospects of any change of circumstances looks grim at best. Yet, in spite of the circumstances of those in Philadelphia, Smyrna, Ephesus, and Christians everywhere the voices ring out—“He will reign for ever and ever!”
You may not be facing some of the problems that the first century Christians were facing, but you are facing your own Domitian, your own problems that have you paralyzed, and you need to hear these words today my friend—“Our God reigns!” The day is coming when He will put every evil doer under His feet, the day is coming when He will remove every trial from your life, the day is coming when He will dry every tear from every eye, but it is also true that He reigns today, in the midst of your tears, in the midst of tragedy, in the midst of your trials—“Our God reigns.”
Let’s turn to Revelation 11:16-17 and see this picture of glory continue to unfold before our eyes.
16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 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.” (Revelation 11:16-17 NIV)
This is not the first time that we have read about the twenty-four elders in the book of Revelation. Normally the elders are seated, but there are times in Revelation where the elders leave their seats and fall on their faces before the Lord. The last time that we ran into the elders in Revelation was back in chapter 7. Turn to Revelation 7:9 and let’s read together what happened.
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:9-12 NIV)
The entire assembly, including the elders, fell on their faces and worshipped the Lord! This is the same picture, described in a different way, as the picture we get in Revelation 11. In the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible we read,
Revelation is thus a picture book, a dramatic presentation that enables the reader to have a God-centered view of history. It is not a puzzle book to be used as a source of arcane calculations. (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, pg. 2054)
That is such a helpful truth for us to learn. Revelation is apocalyptic literature. It is descriptive, highly symbolic, and yet absolutely true. There are many who have tried to take the book of Revelation and put together the pieces to develop a time-line of what is going to happen in the future and you wouldn’t believe some of the things they have come up with. I want to urge you to avoid the temptation of trying to develop a time-line, or chronology of the end times, and focus on the pictures of Revelation. The most overwhelming and glorious picture that is given to us is this: Our God reigns and He reigns for ever and ever! No matter what is taking place in the present—Our God reigns! The twenty-four elders cry out,
“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.” (Revelation 11:17 NIV)
There is an interesting twist in this verse that we have not seen up until now. We have seen the phrase, “from him who is, and who was, and who is to come” in several places so far in Revelation. Let me give you one example from the opening chapter of Revelation. Turn to Revelation 1:4 and let’s read together.
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Revelation 1:4-5a NIV)
The phrase also appears in Revelation 1:8; 4:8, but in Revelation 11:17 the phrase is changed. No longer do we read about the One who is to come, but we read, “the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.” Do you see the difference? No longer is the hope of His coming a future hope, He has come! When will that day be, when will the day of His coming take place? That’s a great question. Those who interpret the book of Revelation through a Preterist lens say that He came at the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Those who interpret the book of Revelation through a Futurist lens say that He will come back after the Battle of Armageddon. Those who interpret the book of Revelation through an Idealist lens say that the book is full of spiritual warfare principals for you and me, but we shouldn’t make any more than this out of it. Let me share with you what I have learned from studying the Scriptures this week.
The “Day of the Lord” comes again and again. There will be a final coming at the end of time to right all wrongs and unfold the beautiful picture of the Lord’s reign that we’ve read about this morning, but the Lord has come throughout history to execute judgment and deliver His people. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In Isaiah 13:6-9 we read about the “Day of the LORD.”
6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty. 7 Because of this, all hands will go limp, every man’s heart will melt. 8 Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor. They will look aghast at each other, their faces aflame. 9 See, the day of the LORD is coming–a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger– to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. (Isaiah 13:6-9 NIV)
In this instance the cruel Babylonians, or Assyrians as some believe, had been oppressing God’s people. God made the announcement; He sent word to the oppressors that He was coming to destroy the destroyers. In Isaiah 13:19 we read,
9 Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians’ pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. (Isaiah 13:19 NIV)
At the same time that God would send an army of His own, the Medes, to destroy the Babylonians. Judgment also came to Judah and Israel, but in the midst of the judgment and exile, God speaks a word of hope to His people. Look at Isaiah 14:1 with me.
1The LORD will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob. (Isaiah 14:1 NIV)
That is just one example of how God “comes,” what the Old Testament calls, “The Day of the LORD.” I mentioned to you earlier that it is amazing that John could write about God’s reign in the midst of oppression, but John knew that Emperor Domitian would have his own appointment with the “Day of the LORD,” and he did. The mighty Roman Empire fell, but the Kingdom of God endures forever and ever!
Let’s move on in our study. Take a look at Revelation 11:18 with me.
18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great– and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18 NIV)
“The nations were angry; and your wrath has come.” We live in a rebellious world. The world does not seek after God, the world seeks self. God stands in the way of self my friends because those who are focused on themselves end up being destroyers, both of themselves and others. This is not a new phenomenon. Turn with me to Psalm 2 and take a look.
1Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. 3 “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” 4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. (Psalm 2:1-7 NIV)
Our world is rebellious down to the individual. As individuals we try to get what we think is best for us, even if it costs someone else. As a community, state, and nation we see the same thing. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we try to be sophisticated about it, we try to justify our actions, but at the heart of many of our actions is this: we are looking out for number one. There is always a residue of rebellion lingering in the hearts of people. We may fool some folks, but we will not fool God. John tells us that there is a time coming when God will judge the dead. He will reward His servants, those who fear His name, and He will destroy the destroyers, those who live in rebellion instead of submission to God.
In our last section of our study for today we see the temple in heaven opened and the ark of covenant is in view. Read along with me.
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. (Revelation 11:19 NIV)
This morning we have taken a look at a beautiful picture of God’s rule and reign over all of creation. You always have to keep in mind who first read this letter—it was the folks in the seven churches who were written to in Revelation 2-3, those who were suffering. I’ve got a question for you. When you are suffering where do your thoughts turn? Do they turn to God’s presence with you, His strength to lead and guide you, His Spirit to intercede for you when you don’t even know what to pray for? Is this where your mind goes when you are suffering or do you question God, get angry at God, and doubt His promises and His Word? If you are like me then you can answer “Yes!” to both options. I’ve been in both places. I’ve trusted God and I’ve doubted God. I’ve found Him to be my strength and comfort and I’ve been angry at God. I have no doubt that those who were suffering in the first century would say, “Amen!” if they were here this morning. Maybe that is why the Lord ends this beautiful section of Scripture with a vision of the Heavenly Temple and the Ark of the Covenant.
In the Old Testament the Ark of the Covenant symbolized the wonderful presence of God with His people. (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 10:8; Joshua 3:5-17; 1 Samuel 4:4-7 NIV) The ark was a reminder that God was with His people. The Ark of the Covenant disappeared in Israel’s history, evidently destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Those who read this letter in the first century, and those of us who are reading this letter this morning, can be reassured that God is with us. We don’t know where the Ark of the Covenant is this morning, but we can know that God is on His throne. He is the Sovereign King of glory my friends. His Kingdom will endure for ever and ever! His reign will never end!
Do you have that assurance–The assurance that God is with you this morning? If not, then won’t you invite Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior so that you know, with no doubt, that God is not only on His throne, but that He is living in your heart.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 10, 2006