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04 May 2019

The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth

Crown - Photo by Mitya Ivanov on Unsplash
Despite appearances, from the beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus is declared the ruler over the “kings of the earth.” His exaltation is based on his sacrificial death and 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 found later in the New Creation giving honor to him. The suffering church participates in this same reign even now (Revelation 21:24).
 “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 for any future event to receive his messianic authority.  He is the “lion of Judah” and already sits on David's throne. The book declares him the “ruler over the kings of the earth” in the present tense and connects his sovereignty to his past death and resurrection.
Christ bore “faithful witness” in his death and became the “firstborn of the dead” when God raised him from the dead. By his death, he constituted his followers a priestly kingdom; they reign with him and in the same manner as he does (Revelation 3:22).
John describes himself to the churches as “a fellow-participant in the Tribulation and Kingdom and Endurance in Jesus.” The single definite article or “the” in the Greek clause modifies all three nouns:  tribulation, kingdom and endurance are parts of the same whole. To reign with Jesus is to experience tribulation and endurance.
Tribulation is not a thing to avoid but the essence of what it means to rule with the Lamb. He has authority over the political powers of this age, but he does not rule in the coercive manner that they do.
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 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 slain Lamb, not a predatory lion. The “lion of Judah” is never mentioned again in the book; “Lamb” becomes the primary designation for Jesus until its end.
This interpretation is confirmed when heavenly voices declare the Lamb worthy to open the scroll and to reign 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).
None of this 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 identical. The verb rendered “gathered” is in the passive voice; demons gather this beastly force but only after the sixth angel pours out his vial on the “river Euphrates.” The Lamb is in firm control, not the Dragon. Satan works his evil but only within the limits allowed by the Lamb.
The “kings of the earth” that ally with Babylon are gathered on the last day to “the war” against the Lamb, along with the Beast and 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” accompany him (Revelation 17:10-18).
When the Lamb appears at the final battle, his only weapon is a sword that he wields “out of his mouth”; that is, the word of God. With it, he smites the nations and “shepherds 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 is it? How did it get on his robe? (Revelation 19:11-21).
Revelation uses Psalm 2:1-12 to portray the reign of God’s Messiah - “The kings of the earth set themselves against Yahweh and against his anointed.”  In response, the Almighty identified the Messiah as His son and gave him the nations for an inheritance. The Son will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Yet the psalmist exhorted the kings of the earth to serve Yahweh and pay 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 the Messiah.
When did the Son receive this authority?  As stated above, the book of Revelation connects his authority to 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 1:183:21, 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,” another allusion to Psalm 2. Rather than being destroyed, this son is “caught up to God and his throne.” The same event was portrayed previously when the slain Lamb was elevated to the throne on his arrival in before the throne. Again, his appointment to rule is based on his past death.
But the Lamb’s rule is paradoxical. Often overlooked is how Revelation applies the second 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 all power but uses it for redemptive, not destructive purposes. Salvation is the goal, not vengeance.
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.” The fate of the “kings of the earth” following this battle is not explicitly stated.
Throughout the visions of Revelation, the “inhabitants of the earth” and the “kings of the earth” are hostile to the Lamb. Their opposition prompts judicial responses from God; in particular, the series of trumpets and vials of wrath. Yet the "plagues" they unleash 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 reversal achieved?
We ought to remember that Jesus was installed king because of his death and resurrection. He “overcame” through his death. It is the Lamb clothed in the already bloodstained robe who rides out to defeat the forces of the Dragon. He is armed only with the “sword” of the word. He fulfills the messianic role of the “lion of the tribe of Judah” as the slain Lamb. He uses his messianic authority “to shepherd the nations,” not to butcher 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 and startling. Tribulation, endurance, gospel proclamation, and priestly service are the ways by which victory is achieved in the Messiah’s kingdom; redemption, not revenge. Jesus already sits on David’s throne where he rules over the nations, though in unexpected ways. As his servants bear faithful witness, the Lamb expands his “territory” and adds to his kingdom. It is the Dragon who imposes his rule by shedding the blood of all who resist him. In contrast, the Lamb allows his blood to be to shed in order to purchase men and women from every nation for his kingdom.

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