(Chap. xi. 15-18.)
The third woe is the coming of the kingdom!
Yes; that to greet which the earth breaks out in gladness, the morning without clouds, the day which has no night, and the fulfillment of the first promise which fell upon man’s ears when he stood a naked sinner before God to hear his doom, the constant theme of prophecy now swelling into song and now sighed out in prayer, that kingdom is yet, to the "dwellers upon earth," the last and deepest woe.
The rod of iron is now to smite, and omnipotence it is that wields it. "And the seventh angel sounded, and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, ‘The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.’" Few words and concise, but how pregnant with blessed meaning! The earth that has rolled from its orbit is reclaimed; judgment has returned to righteousness; He who has learned for Himself the path of obedience in a suffering which was the fruit of tender interest in man has now Himself the sceptre; nor is there any power that can take it out of His hand.
There are no details yet: simply the announcement, which the elders in heaven answer with adoration, prostrate upon their faces, saying, "We give Thee thanks, O Lord God the Almighty, who art and who wast, that Thou hast taken Thy great power, and hast reigned. And the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead to be judged, and to give their reward to Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear Thy name, small and great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth."
There is nothing difficult here in the way of interpretation, except that the "time of the dead to be judged" seems to come with the period of the earthly judgments which introduce millennial blessing. We find in the twentieth chapter full assurance that this is not to be. The explanation is that we have here the setting up of the kingdom in its full results, and that the order is one of thought and not of time. The judgments of the quick (or living) and of the dead are both implied in the reign of our Lord and of His Christ, though they are not executed together. God’s wrath is mentioned first, because it is for the earth the pre-requisite of blessing, and because judgment is not what He rests in, but in His love. It is therefore put first, that the realization of the blessing may come after, and not give place to it. But this wrath of God which meets and quells the nations’ wrath goes on and necessitates the judgment of the dead also. Death is no escape from it: the coming One has the keys of death and hades. With this the holiness of God is satisfied, and the love in which He rests is free to show itself in the reward of prophets and saints, and those who fear His name, little as well as great. This seems as general in its aspect as the judgment of the dead on the other side unquestionably is. The foremost mention of the prophets, as those who have stood for God in testimony upon the earth, is in perfect keeping with the character of the whole book before us. And the destruction of those who destroy the earth is not noticed here apparently as judgment so much as to assure us of the reparation of the injury to that which came out of His hands at first, and in which He has never ceased to have tender interest, despite the permitted evil of "man’s day."