04 May 2019

The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth

Jesus reigns now
Despite appearances, from the get-go in Revelation Jesus rules over the “kings of the earth.” His authority is based on his past death, he was seated on his throne following his resurrection. The “kings of the earth” may be allied with the Beast, yet the Lamb uses them to achieve his purposes. The same group is seen later in the New Creation giving honor to Jesus (Revelation 21:24). The suffering church participates in this same reign even now, during the present age.
John to the seven churches in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits that are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him who loves us and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:4-6).
     Jesus is not waiting at present for some future event when he will receive his messianic authority.  He is the "lion of Judah," he already sits on David's throne. The book of Revelation declares him “ruler over the kings of the earth” in the present tense. It explicitly connects his authority to his death and resurrection. Christ bore “faithful witness” in his death and became the “firstborn” when God raised him from the dead. By his death, he made his followers into a priestly kingdom. They reign with him and in the same manner.
     John describes himself to the churches of Asia as “a fellow-participant in the Tribulation and Kingdom and Endurance in Jesus.” The single definite article or “the” in the Greek clause links the three nouns:  tribulation, kingdom and endurance, three parts of the same whole. Tribulation and faithful endurance are not things to avoid but the very essence of what it means to rule with the Messiah. He has authority over the political powers of this age but does not rule in the same manner as they do. His "weapon" is the sword of the word. Persuasion not force.
     When no one is found worthy to open the Sealed Scroll John weeps bitterly until he hears one of the twenty-four elders command him not to cease doing so, “for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, overcame to open the scroll!” But when John looks he sees a freshly sacrificed Lamb, not a lion. The “lion of Judah” is never mentioned again and “Lamb” becomes the primary label for Jesus for the remainder of the book. Sacrificial death is how he fulfills the role of the lion.
     This interpretation is confirmed when a myriad of heavenly voices declare the Lamb worthy to open the scroll and be seated on the Throne because “you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and you made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:5-10). Once more, the reign of Jesus is linked to his past death.
     None of that negates the hostility of “the kings of the earth” to God and His Messiah. On the Day of the Lord “the kings of the earth” are among the groups that attempt to hide in caves or under rocks to escape the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:15-17).
     At the end of the age, “the kings of the earth” are gathered along with the Beast to the battle at Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-14). Note well, the “kings of the east” are also labeled “the kings of the earth." The two groups are one and the same. The verb “gathered” is in the passive voice. Demonic spirits are sent to gather this beastly force but only after the sixth angel pours out his vial on the “river Euphrates.” Jesus is in firm control, not the Dragon, the Beast, Babylon, or the False Prophet. Satan works his evil but only when and within the limits allowed by the Lamb.
     On the Day of the Lord “the kings of the earth” are among the groups that attempt to hide in caves and under rocks (Revelation 6:15-17). God is no Calvinist. Men and women who resist the Lamb are responsible for their sins.
     The “kings of the earth” that ally with Babylon will be gathered on the last day to “the war” against the Lamb, along with the Beast and the False Prophet. But the Lamb overcomes them, “for he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” Note well the present tense; Jesus “is” not “will become” king. When he exercises his authority over the “kings of the earth,” the “called and chosen and faithful” saints accompany him (Revelation 17:10-18).
     When the Lamb appears at the final battle, his only weapon is a sword seen “proceeding out of his mouth,” the word of God. With it, he is to smite the nations and “shepherd them with a rod of iron.” But his robe is sprinkled with blood BEFORE he enters “battle” with the “kings of the earth.” Whose blood? How did it get there? (Revelation 19:11-21).
     Revelation several times uses Psalm 2:1-12 to portray the reign of God’s Messiah. In it, “the kings of the earth set themselves against Yahweh and against his anointed.”  In response, the Almighty identifies the Messiah as His son and gives him the nations for his inheritance and the “uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.” The Son will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Yet the psalmist then exhorts the kings of the earth to serve Yahweh and render homage to His Son, “lest he be angry and you perish in the way.” There is a glimmer of hope even for political forces hostile to God’s Messiah.
     When did the Son receive this authority?  The book of Revelation explicitly connects his rule with his death and resurrection. Jesus is the “Living one; I was dead and I am alive forevermore, therefore I have the keys of death and of Hades.” The saint who overcomes despite tribulation and death is seated with the Lamb on his throne:  “just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his.” Victory and authority are based on faithful endurance, not force (Revelation 1:18; 3:21. cp. 12:11).
     In a later vision, John sees Satan as “a great red dragon” poised to devour a child about to be delivered from a womanly figure. She gives birth to “a male, a son, who is to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron,” a clear allusion to Psalm 2. Rather than destroy this “son,” he is “caught up to God and to his throne.” This same event was previously portrayed as the freshly sacrificed Lamb elevated to the throne upon his arrival in the courts of heaven. Christ’s appointment to rule is based on his past death and resurrection.
     But the Lamb’s rule is paradoxical. Too often overlooked is how Revelation applies the psalm. John cites the clause from the Greek Septuagint version. Where the Hebrew has, “break them with a rod of iron,” the Greek reads, “shepherd them with a rod of iron” (Psalm 2:8-9). The Lamb has full authority and power but uses them for redemptive not destructive purposes. Salvation not vengeance is the goal.
     When the Lamb triumphs over the armies gathered against him, the Beast and the False Prophet are “thrown alive into the Lake of Fire.”  As for the “rest,” they are killed with the “sword of him that sat upon the horse that came forth out of his mouth.” The exact fate of the “kings of the earth” is not stated.
     Throughout the visions of Revelation the inhabitants and the “kings of the earth” are consistently hostile to the Lamb. Their opposition prompts judicial responses from God; in particular, the series of trumpets and vials of wrath. Yet the "plagues" unleashed by them fail to produce repentance. “The rest of the men not killed by these plagues repented not of the works of their hands” (Revelation 9:20-21). In the end, the nations and the “kings of the earth” are found before the throne in the New Creation honoring God and the Lamb (Revelation 21:24). How is this complete turnaround achieved?
     We ought to remember that Jesus was installed king over the Cosmos on the basis of his death and resurrection. He “overcame” through his death and resurrection. It is the Lamb clothed in the already bloodstained robe seen riding out to defeat the forces of the Dragon. He is armed only with the “sword” of the word of God. He fulfills the messianic role of the “lion of the tribe of Judah” as the sacrificial Lamb. He uses his messianic appointment and rod of iron “to shepherd the nations,” not to destroy them. ‘Paradox’ does not begin to describe how he reigns.
     Preachers and prophecy teachers who read the book of Revelation as a program of destruction, death, and vengeance against God’s enemies miss something fundamental. Tribulation, faithful endurance, gospel proclamation, and priestly service are the ways in which victory is achieved in the Messiah’s kingdom; redemption, not revenge.
    Men who in the end refuse to repent will pay the ultimate price, but the “Lake of Fire” was created for the Devil and his angels. The Lamb is “worthy” because by his death he redeemed men and women from every nation, people, tongue, and tribe.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their life even unto death.”