When the Kingdom of the World has become the Kingdom of Christ1
When the seventh trumpet is sounded in Revelation 11:15 we read an astounding statement that serves to reinforce our confidence that when all is said and done, God wins! There John records the words of multiple “voices” in heaven, saying: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
The declaration is that what Satan formerly ruled, in a manner of speaking, as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2; cf. 6:12) and “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), has now finally and wholly been taken by the Lord and His Christ! Note that in v. 15 we read of the “kingdom of the world” (singular) not “kingdoms” (plural). All the secular empires of this earth are actually one earthly kingdom ruled by Satan, but now under the sovereign sway of Jesus.
Whereas in 1 John 5:19 we are told that now, in some sense, in this present age, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” a day is coming (this day, described in 11:15-19) when such shall no longer be! This is the consummate overthrow of all God’s enemies and the manifestation of the universal and cosmic extent of his rightful rule! Whereas the “world” could refer to the totality of creation it more likely “refers to the human world that had been in opposition to God and in conflict with his purposes” (Aune, 2:638). Interestingly, the only other verbal parallel to this phrase is found in Matthew 4:8 where Satan offers dominion of “the kingdoms of the world” to Jesus if he will only bow before him. The implication is that such dominion was, at that time, Satan’s to offer. But no longer! G. B. Caird explains:
“In one sense God’s sovereignty is eternal: he entered on his reign when he established the rule of order in the midst of the primaeval chaos (Ps. xciii. 1-4); he has reigned throughout human history, turning even men’s misdeeds into instruments of his mercy; and above all he reigned in the Cross of Christ (xii. 10). But always up to this point he has reigned over a rebellious world. A king may be king de jure, but he is not king de facto until the trumpet which announces his accession is answered by the acclamations of a loyal and obedient people” (141).
Four additional observations are called for. First, the past tense “has become” in v. 15 is used proleptically, that is to say, a future event is so certain to occur that it is described as a reality of the past. Second, who is the “he” in v. 15 that “will reign forever and ever”? Is it God the Father, the “Lord” of v. 15, or God the Son, i.e., “his Christ”? Or is it both, as John envisions them as an inseparable unity? Third, a phrase parallel to “he shall reign forever and ever” is found in Revelation 22:5 where it refers to us in the New Jerusalem! God will reign forever and ever, but so will we . . . with him! Finally, this verse is not saying that political parties and positions of earthly power and authority will be taken over by Christians so that the world will finally be Christianized. Verse 15 does not refer to what will happen before Christ returns but what will happen when and after he returns. It describes not this present age in which we live but the future age of eternity.
Immediately following this declaration of the eternal reign of Christ we find the twenty-four elders once again resuming their familiar posture: face down in the presence of God! Their cry is one of gratitude.
“And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign’” (Rev. 11:16-17).
They address God as the “Lord God, the Almighty” (cf. 19:6). The word “Almighty” (pantokrator) means sovereign ruler or ruler over all. The Roman Caesars presumptuously adopted this title for themselves. But this day will expose them as charlatans and usurpers as God exerts his rightful Lordship over all.
But something is missing. Their declaration “who is and who was” (v. 17) lacks the third element found earlier, “who is to come” (1:4; 4:8). In all likelihood this means that the final part of the threefold name for God (“is, was, is to come”) is not merely a reference to his sovereignty over the future or of his timeless nature, but specifically speaks of the end time, when God, by means of the return of Christ, will break into world history and overthrow once and for all every opposition. The God who “is to come” has come! The promise of ultimate victory is so utterly immutable that John speaks of it as if it had already arrived.
Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who reign forever and ever!