The Lord God Omnipotent Reigns: The Telos of Christian Eschatology
Tony Richie, D. Min., Ph. D.
Associate Professor of Theology
The Greek word telos conveys the idea of an ultimate objective or aim. In other words, it has to do with purposeful goal. Telos (τέλος) literally signifies “end, ‘purpose’ or ‘goal’). Aristotle used telos to refer to the full potential or inherent purpose or objective of a person or thing, similar to the notion of an “end goal” or “raison d’être”. Moreover, it can be understood as the “supreme end of man’s endeavor.” Telos is the root of the modern term “teleology”, the study of purposiveness or of objects with a view to their aims, purposes, or intentions. Teleology is central in Aristotle’s work on biology and in his theory of causes. Aristotle’s notion that everything has a telos also gave rise to the philosophical field of epistemology. It is also central to some philosophical theories of history, such as those of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx. The telos of Christian eschatology moves beyond history in the sense of what has happened or when to why or perhaps, where. In other words, when we inquire about the “telos of Christian eschatology” we are asking where God is taking history and why. Not only the what and when of the eschaton but the why and the where are important.
Eschatological Realization of God’s Reign
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6 NKJV)
Resounding praise comes from a multiplicity of voices probably representing every creature in the universe and certainly the redeemed of all the ages. In short, there is an “explosive intensification of praise”. The reason for this universal praise is God’s reign. The word “reigns” (ebasileuson) is aorist past tense (actually an ingressive aorist), indicating that “at some point in the past God’s reign has become and is now recognizably present.” In Revelation 11:15, 17 this verb is used in both the future and aorist forms, indicating the “trans-temporal nature of this divine reign.” This declaration may likely reference the beginning of this reign in connection with the judgment of the Great Whore in the previous chapters. “The Lord God Almighty/Omnipotent (pantokrator) underscores the idea of God’s unrivaled power and immense greatness. In sum, the great God, whose current reign has already begun, is victorious over the Great Whore and is worthy of the praise of all.
Revelation 11:15-18 is explicit as well.
Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:
“We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,
And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,
And those who fear Your name, small and great,
And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world (18:36). This world rather has its own dark ruler (14:30) which has already been judged (16:11). However, this passage describes a transfer of power, really a transformation of loyalty, to our Lord and his Christ. This kingdom has no temporal limitations—i. e. it is eternal.
Compare also to Revelation 12:10: Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.
This hymn of praise celebrates the casting down/defeat of the Great Red Dragon/the Devil/Satan. With its emphasis on salvation and divine strength and power, it further celebrates the priestly kingdom, as it were, of those who reign with God and with Christ (1:6; 5:10). In short, the reign of God and of Christ together with the kingdom of priests is announced immediately subsequent to the critical defeat of the Evil One.
God’s Reign as the Eschatological Goal
These passages, as well as others, indicate that the goal of history, and therefore of eschatology, is the universal establishment of God’s righteous reign/rule or kingdom. It further indicates that God’s reign will be established in the context of two concomitant themes: salvation and judgment. Humanly speaking, salvation promises hope and help to those who will accept it through Jesus Christ and judgment promises warning to those who reject it. Beyond humanity, the spiritual powers of God’s creation, including the devil and his followers, judgment declares their appropriate fate as insurrectionists against God’s holy and righteous reign.
- Why does God’s kingdom/reign require establishing?
- How will God’s kingdom/reign be established?
- What will be outcome of God’s kingdom/reign established?
First, why does God’s kingdom/reign require establishing? Of course, this indicates the reality of opposition to God’s reign. Note that opposition to God’s reign separates from God and brings chaos, darkness, and death. It brings evil and sin as well as destruction and suffering, even damnation. Second, how will God’s kingdom/reign be established? Opposition to God’s reign is vanquished through the coming of Jesus Christ, first in the Incarnation, especially his atoning death, bodily resurrection, and ascension, and Pentecost outpouring, and second in his parousia and subsequent events.
Third, what will be outcome of God’s kingdom/reign being established? The establishment of God’s reign brings restoration. However, restoration must be understood in a specific fashion. When describing restoration in political terms it often means something like the return of a hereditary monarch to a throne, a head of state to government, or a regime to power. Of course, God has never been dethroned! Yet the challenge has been real and has been repulsed. In anthropological and cosmological terms restoration means something like the action of returning something to a former owner, place, or condition. Yet it is clear that the new creation will not be simply a return to the past but an advance into eternity. Yet “restoration” is still the best term. Peter describes “the times of restoration of all things” in Acts 3:21. This description can be associated with the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (תיקון עולם, lit. “repair of the world”). The Greek word for “restoration” ἀποκατάστασις (apokatastasis) basically means “to restore to an earlier condition”. It also means “reestablishment” “reconstitution” “restitution”. We might say that God will put everything back as it belongs. Or God will make everything right again.
Perhaps one of the best/broadest descriptive terms is Shalom. A contemporary Jewish author puts it this way:
Jewish history has seen the circumstances of a people bound to their ancient book, to their land, and to surrounding nations in a way that no other people has experienced. Like a long running dance, the back-and-forth between the Jewish people, their land, and other nations has spanned millenia. Their ancient book (Tanakh or Bible) claims that this dance is directed by the Creator of the universe, and that it will have a conclusion – that there will finally be shalom for not only the Jews but for the [sic] all other nations as well.
Shalom includes peace and harmony. It includes blessing. Shalom encompasses all human flourishing. It includes the flourishing of all creation. We might well say that shalom includes everything that is worth anything. Of course, we look for righteousness and holiness (which are part and parcel of the same reality). Righteousness and holiness come with shalom. We long for freedom/liberty. Freedom/liberty comes with shalom. The same is true of life. It is true of fullness. And it is true of glory. All will be filled with God’s glory (cp. Shekinah). In short, God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
My granddaughter Elizabeth ran relay races in elementary school. They ran on a circular track. In high school the coaches tried to get her to continue but she wouldn’t do it. Elizabeth said she was tired of running around in circles. She chose instead to play soccer! Well, at least they had a goal to run toward. She became a starting player all four years of high school. Many religions have a cyclical concept of time. They basically run around in circles. Abrahamic religions have a linear time view of time. There is a telos—a goal. Life has a purposeful goal. History has a purposeful goal. Eschatology has a goal—a telos. God’s righteous reign is the telos of eschatology and the prerequisite for eternity. We simply cannot enter eternity without God’s righteous reign being established once and for all. And it will be.
 This exposition draws from Chris Thomas, The Apocalypse, 560-61.
 This exposition draws from Chris Thomas, The Apocalypse, 343-45.
 This exposition draws from Chris Thomas, The Apocalypse, 369-71.
 The concept of Tikkun Olam developed systematically later (10-220 CE) but its early forms may be discerned in the OT and in earlier Jewish thought.