It was my habit — my sophomoric habit — to proudly argue from my ignorance that we ought always to consider last things last. That is, recognizing the great difficulty in grasping the meaning of the end times and the final book of God’s Word, I thought discretion the better part of valor, and I suggested formerly that we can wait to figure out what the end means until after we have mastered all the other important stuff, like the stuff I was interested in and with which I felt reasonably competent.
I was awakened from my eschatological slumbers, however, not by finally finding a crystal clear exposition of the issues but by simply seeing the title of the book. If God revealed truths about Jesus to John, and John, by the power of the Spirit, is revealing those same truths to the church, it is not humility but arrogance that suggests, “Let’s set this aside for another time.” Jesus is revealed in the book of Revelation. His kingdom is revealed in the book of Revelation. And that is something we are called to see, even as we are called to seek.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples that they were called to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. How, though, would they know when they had found it? What would their eyes see when they beheld it?
When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the One, Jesus sent back this message: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4–5). Are we to look for signs and wonders in order to recognize the kingdom?
In another instance, the disciples sought to keep children away from Jesus. They reasoned that He was far too busy for such a distraction. Jesus, however, had a surprising response: “They were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:13–14). Should we, then, be looking for the kingdom where we find children? Do we recognize its borders by the youth of its citizens?
In a third instance, after Jesus had been crucified, after He had been raised from the dead, and just as He was about to ascend to His throne, the disciples asked whether the kingdom would now come. Jesus replied that they would not be told the day and the hour, but that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth after the Spirit came in power. Should we, then, look for the kingdom where tongues of fire descend or where the gospel has discipled the nations?
The gospel did, even in the first century, go forth as Jesus predicted in Acts 1. Many were brought into the kingdom. When the Christian faith arrived at Thessalonica, the angry crowd described our missionaries as “men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). From humble beginnings, we see in the book of Acts the gospel changing the world. Is that, then, where we find the kingdom — where believers have unbelievers shaking in their boots?
It was not long after Jesus’ ascension, however, that a counteroffensive was launched on two competing fronts. First, the Jewish authorities kicked the faithful out of the temple and out of the synagogues. Second, the Roman Empire turned on Christians, persecuting them fiercely and putting them to death. It was in this context that John wrote what he saw. He showed the people of God the better country for which they longed. He showed them the kingdom they were seeking. Revelation reveals Jesus not in His humility, not in His tender care of the broken, not in the agony of His passion, and not in the joy of His resurrection. What the book of Revelation reveals is Jesus as our King, the Jesus who reigns. This is what is revealed — the King ruling over His kingdom.
Because we are soft, we think we are likewise being “persecuted.” Hollywood makes fun of us. Academia mocks us. And Washington turns a deaf ear to our concerns. We tear our clothes, throw dust in the air, and weep bitterly because we cannot see the kingdom, because we are weak and despised.
The same Spirit, however, who revealed the truth to John is revealing the same truth to us. He is giving us eyes to see. Our Lord reigns. He reigns in heaven, and from there goes forth into battle with principalities and powers. He reigns also, however, on earth — not just in our hearts and not just in our churches. No, Jesus reigns wher’er the sun doth its successive journeys run. All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto Him. Wherever there is a there, there you will find the kingdom of God. Last things first — Jesus is Lord.