A view from above
It can quickly become confusing. If you and I try to make Revelation 11:14-19 fit into a neat, linear, chronological sequence, it won’t work. Although it occurs in the middle of the book, this text points to events to be explained more fully at the end of the book. Yet these are not separate events but the same, only taken in at different points in the narrative. In Revelation, it’s more like we’re in a helicopter hovering over the action with the freedom to move quickly through space and time rather than in a car driving from one point to another.
Hovering over Rev. 11:14, we see that the second woe, announced by the sixth angel’s trumpet, has passed. And we see the announcement of the third woe, the seventh angel’s trumpet coming swiftly. In Rev. 8:13 the eagle announced three “woes” prepared for the inhabitants of the earth and tied them to the final three trumpet judgments. The first two woes occur in 9:1-21, but John announces the conclusion of the second woe here, only after the interlude of 10:1-11:13, perhaps to offer perspective about how God’s judgments vindicate his people. John never specifically identifies the beginning of the third woe.
As we hover, we see into the last days of time. In Rev. 11:15 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 Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
As the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, loud angelic voices in heaven declare the arrival of the eternal reign of God and his Christ. The long-awaited messianic kingdom has arrived as God and his Messiah now become king of the whole earth.
Drawing closer we see in Rev. 11:16-17, 24 elders, an exalted order of ruling angels seated on thrones before God. Representing the church in heaven they help lead heavenly worship. Falling on their faces they worship God, 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.” They omit ‘who is to come” since the future has invaded the present. The day of the Lord has arrived! God has begun to exercise his mighty power in all its fullness. He has defeated and judged his enemies, rewarded his servants and established his eternal kingdom. The seventh trumpet offers a glimpse of what will unfold in greater detail in Revelation 19-22.
Hovering back in time and then forward again we see in Rev. 11:18 how Psalm 2 has been fulfilled. “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 people who revere your name, both great and small–and for destroying those who destroy the earth. The elders continue their thanksgiving with language from Psalm 2 to indicate that God’s “wrath” will decisively overpower the nation’s “anger.” God’s wrath refers to his deliberate and intentional response to sin and evil based on his holy and righteous character. The seventh trumpet is indeed a “woe” of destruction for those who “destroy the earth,” probably a reference to evil forces, wicked people included, who seek to harm God’s children. But judgment is not altogether negative since it will include the rewarding of God’s people. In the original text, there are five categories listed: “servants, prophets, saints, those who fear your name, great and small.” While “prophets” often does refer to an office in the church, its location between “servants” and “saints,” as well as the context emphasizing the prophetic witness of the whole church, suggests that all five terms refer to God’s people. Every believer, no matter what their earthly status, will receive their reward from the Lord. God does not show favoritism.
Hovering back to the present we see that just last month, the Texas State Securities Board issued a statement. They found three people guilty in their roles in a multimillion-dollar investment scheme. Richard Tilford, who founded StaMedia, Inc. along with Bobby Guess and Timothy Lloyd Booth, had pitched their digital marketing company to unwitting investors, from 2013 to 2016. In total, the company raised over $23 million, with some investors handing over as much as $500K to the company. Court records and news reports indicate the money was used for exotic cars, extravagant vacations, luxury homes, and other personal expenditures. Although investors were promised a 9% return on their money, most investors never saw a dime. With stories like the StaMedia scandal, we understand the reality of accountability. Countless lives were impacted when these white-collar criminals used their positions of responsibility to build a Ponzi scheme that eventually defrauded investors of millions of dollars. For his crime, Richard Tilden, was sentenced to 40 years in prison, along with Bobby Guess and Timothy Booth. The God of the universe has invested in us his gospel, his Holy Spirit, and a great calling. You and I are called to live as people who one day will account for what we did with these great gifts.
You and I will one day give an account to God. Therefore, how we live and what we do matters. All of us will face judgment–some will be condemned, while others will be received and rewarded by God. The last judgment marks the time when God will condemn his enemies and reward his people. Somehow, we’ve lost sight of the biblical teaching that Christians too will face judgment. Yes, the grace we’ve experienced in Christ secures our eternal destiny, but we must still give an account of how we’ve lived our lives. Paul refers to this end-time reality as “the judgment seat of Christ or “God’s judgment seat.” The basis of judgment will be our relationship to God reflected in our way of life. As God evaluates our character, we will either receive a reward or forfeit such a reward, although we ourselves will be saved. What we do matters. An authentic faith in our Lord Jesus Christ will demonstrate itself through attitudes, actions, and words. Jesus warns again and again that everything we do will be brought into judgment, we will stand before God, and our lives will be reviewed by our Father. Obviously, our sins will be covered by the atonement and righteousness of Christ, and we will have the supreme advantage of standing at the judgment throne of God, where Christ is the judge and our defense attorney. That’s something an unbeliever doesn’t have. Their judge is not their defense attorney–they don’t have a defense attorney. All they have is a prosecuting attorney.
We recognize that we are justified through what Christ accomplished, through the atoning grace of Jesus. But we are still to be judged according to the level of our obedience in this world. There are at least 25-five times in the New Testament that we are told we will be rewarded according to our works. We don’t get there by our works; we get there through the work of Christ. What rewards we receive in heaven will be distributed according to the level of obedience and response we give to the teaching and commands of Christ. So, our lives will be evaluated, and some of us will receive greater rewards than others as we are evaluated at the last judgment.
Hovering again into the final days we see in Rev. 11:19 God’s temple temporarily opened in heaven and within his temple the ark of his covenant can be seen. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a severe hailstorm come from above the ark. Heaven now responds to the song of the elders. God’s heavenly temple symbolizes God’s presence among his people. The ark came to symbolize God’s covenant faithfulness throughout the entire story of salvation. Surprisingly, the ark can now be seen by everyone rather than just by the high priest once a year. God will keep his promises, destroy his enemies, and bring his people into his presence, thus fulfilling the original purposes of creation. The storm theophany occurs at the end of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments and designates the final judgment of God.
God is faithful, and one day we will experience his glorious presence forever. The opening of God’s temple, where the ark of the covenant can be seen by all, represents God’s invitation for his people to experience and enjoy his faithful presence forever. Anyone who attempts to live in obedience to Jesus Christ in this world will face opposition and sometimes direct hostility. God’s people were suffering in the first century, and they continue to suffer. We live as aliens and strangers in a broken world where things are not the way they are supposed to be. While remaining grateful for life as a beautiful gift, we also experience the struggle and the pain. Here in Revelation 11, we have a glimpse of what God plans to do about it. He will right wrongs, vindicate his people, end suffering, and make all things new. God is faithful to keep his covenant promises. Our deepest longings, hopes, and dreams will all be fulfilled and realized as we experience the glorious presence of God, for which we were created.
Rev. Charles Eldredge is pastor of Maitland Church of the Brethren, Lewistown, PA where he is currently serving in his 28th year. He graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in S. Hamilton, MA.