To understand the holy kingdom of God one must also understand Patmos. Naturally, much again has happened between Sinai and the Revelation to Saint John – most notably for Christians, of course, the life, death and resurrection of Christ. But we have also seen the fall of the people of Israel immediately after Horeb and the eventual fall of the holy, priestly city of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. What occurs at Patmos is thus simply the culmination of God’s creative, separating and sanctifying purposes no longer tied to a specific people or land, but rather bound to a particular covenant with and faith in Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean.
The revelation is of “him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever;” it is the revelation of the culmination of God’s activity in the world. The kingdom is at hand in the persecuted believers in Christ, those who believe that Jesus is the one sent by God to bring about God’s dominion. And our priestliness is again a right response to the saving work of God. Service is a right response. Our trusting faithfulness is foundational, but it is not ultimate.
The kingdom is not complete but comes from the heaven in which the ‘living creatures’ sing ‘Holy, holy, holy/ the Lord God the Almighty’ and in which the elders sing: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God/ …for you created all things.” The culmination of God’s purposes is not the destruction of creation but creation’s veneration for its creator: “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!’”
To this kingdom, everyone comes – “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” – and the effect, the fruition of the kingdom, is equally remarkable: “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
The kingdom is founded by the faithful but crowned by God; we in Christ bring God’s kingdom to the Father, who consecrates it with the new Jerusalem and begins a new creation. This kingdom does not need a temple because “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Nor does it need the light of sun or star, because “the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” The kingdom is life: “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’”
A few final observations must suffice. First, the order of creation is reversed: neither humans nor Sabbath are last but are in each case first. The trust of Sabbath, the trust that endures persecution, is the trust that separates God’s people within the world for God’s chosen purposes. It does not remove them from struggle but promises their victory over strife and their place in the kingdom, which is as its foundation. The servants at the bottom of most nations become the prized foundation of the kingdom of God. The martyrs murdered by nations become the exalted witnesses of God.
When they are raised, the work of God’s fruitful kingdom is no longer difficult and might be called Edenic. And all the creatures which listened by being in the first creation now sing of their creator; indeed the singularity of Patmos is its ensemble characteristic, as all participate in and add to God’s fruitful kingdom. And once again Patmos does not mark the terminus of God’s holy work, but only God’s immediate companionship within it, and the healing, lively and luminous nature of the work of the continuous exaltation of creator God.
Whatever else it might be, the image of God is holiness. The priestly nation is called “be holy, for I am holy,” and this call is reaffirmed by and after Christ. Thus our identity is both our image and our vocation; we are set apart not to be lords of all creation, but to serve it and thus to serve its creator. And we are to serve it by being holy, by being our selves – holiness, after all, is that which lets all creation thrive, which brings the kingdom of God to its fruition. The representation of God on Earth is servant-dominion, bounded grace, and restrained, covenantal fecundity and creativity, because that is the only version of those things that recognizes the nature of God’s work as creator and thus the only version of such things there is. Such is the purpose of the one who was and is and is to come. And so such is our purpose to recognize, continue and participate in its consummation.