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04 May 2019

Ruler of the Kings of the Earth

SYNOPSIS - The book of Revelation declares Jesus the present “ruler of the kings of the earth” in fulfillment of the promise to Israel of a Davidic king.

Throne - Photo by Willian B. on Unsplash
By Willian B. 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 to reign over the earth is based on his past sacrificial Death and Resurrection.

The “kings of the earth” may be allied with the "Beast from the Sea," yet Jesus, the "slain Lamb," utilizes them to achieve his purposes on the earth. At the end of the book, the same group is found in the "New Jerusalem" where they give honor to him. The suffering church participates in his reign even now (Revelation 21:22-24).
  • 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 occur before he receives his messianic authority.  He is the “lion of Judah”; already, the "Slain Lamb" sits on the throne of David. The book declares him the “ruler over the kings of the earth” with verbs in the present tense, and it connects his sovereignty to his past Death and Resurrection.

He bore the “faithful witness” in his death, therefore he became the “firstborn of the dead” when God raised him from the dead. By his death, he constituted his followers a priestly company that reigns with him, and in the same manner as he does (Revelation 3:21-22).

John described himself to the churches as “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 -  TribulationKingdomEndurance - All three 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 a coercive manner as they do.
When no one was found worthy to open the Sealed Scroll, John wept bitterly until he heard 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 by the heavenly voices that declared him "worthy to open the scroll" and reign, precisely 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).

His victory does not negate the hostility of the “kings of the earth” to God and His Messiah. On the Day of the Lord when the sixth seal is opened, the “kings of the earth” are among the groups that will attempt to "hide in caves and under rocks" to escape the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:15-17).

At the end of the age, the “kings of the earth” will be gathered along with the "Beast" to the battle at ArmageddonNote 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; that is to say, the demons gather this beastly force but only after the sixth angel pours out his vial on the “river Euphrates.” The "Lamb" remains in firm control, not the "Dragon." Satan may work his evil designs but only within the limits allowed by the Lamb (Revelation 16:12-14).

The “kings of the earth” allied 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).

Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash
Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash

When the Lamb appears at the final battle, his only weapon is a sword that he wields “
out of his mouth” - 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 begins to “battle” with the “kings of the earth.” Whose blood is it? How did it get on his robe? (Revelation 19:11-21).

The book of Revelation uses the Second Psalm to portray the reign of the Messiah and the hostility of the nations towards him - “The kings of the earth set themselves against Yahweh and against his anointed.”  In response, Yahweh 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 messianic authority?  As stated above, the book of Revelation connects his present sovereignty to his past 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 saw Satan as “a great red dragon” poised to devour a child about to be delivered from a womanly figure. She gave birth to “a male, a son, who is to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron,” another allusion to the second Psalm. Rather than being destroyed, this son was “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 before it.
But his 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.
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, especially the sevenfold series of trumpets and bowls 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).

Yet in the end, the nations and the “kings of the earth” are found before the Throne in the New Jerusalem honoring God and the Lamb. How is this complete reversal achieved (Revelation 21:24)?

Jesus was installed as the king who reigns over the Cosmos because of his Death and Resurrection. He “overcame” through his self-sacrificial 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 unleashed on God’s enemies miss something fundamental and startling. Tribulation, endurance, gospel proclamation, and priestly service are the appointed means by which victory is achieved in the Messiah’s kingdom - Redemption, not revenge.

Jesus already sits on the messianic Throne of David where he rules over the nations, though in unexpected ways. As his servants bear faithful witness, the Lamb expands and adds “territory” to his realm. 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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