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04 May 2019

Ruler of the Kings of the Earth

SYNOPSIS - Revelation declares Jesus the present “ruler of the kings of the earth” in fulfillment of the promise of a Davidic King – Revelation 1:4-6

Throne - Photo by Willian B. on Unsplash
Despite later appearances, at the very start of the book of Revelation Jesus is declared the “ruler over the kings of the earth” – In the book, even his enemies are unable to move against him without his knowledge and consent. His exaltation is based on his past sacrificial Death and Resurrection – An accomplished fact – NOT on hereditary rights or military might.

At times, the “kings of the earth” are allied with the "Beast from the Sea," yet Jesus manipulates their plots and efforts to achieve his purposes. At the end of the book, this same group of “kings” is found in the "New Jerusalemwhere they give honor to the “slain Lamb.” Already, the suffering church participates in his reign as a “kingdom of priests” - (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 before he receives his messianic authority.  He is the “lion of Judah” – Already, the sacrificial Lamb has been elevated to 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, and he became the “firstborn of the dead” when God raised him from the dead. By his sacrificial death, he constituted his followers a priestly company that reigns with him even now, and in the same manner as he does:
  • (Revelation 3:21-22) – “He that overcometh, I will give unto him to take his seat with me in my throne, as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne” - (The Emphasized Bible).
John described himself to the churches as a fellow-participant “in the Tribulation and Kingdom and Endurance in Jesus.” In the Greek clause, the single definite article or “the” modifies all three nouns -  TribulationKingdomEndurance - All three are parts of the same whole. To reign with Jesus is to experience tribulation and to endure it faithfully.

"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 same coercive manner that the regimes of this age do.

When no one was found worthy to open the “sealed scroll,” John wept bitterly until one of the twenty-four elders commanded him to cease and declared - “For the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David overcame to open the scroll!” However, when John looked, what he saw with his eyes was a freshly slain Lamb, not a predatory lion. What John “saw” interprets what he first “heard.” The “Lion of Judah” is never mentioned again in the book, and “Lamb” becomes its primary designation for Jesus, including in the vision of “New Jerusalem.”

This understanding was confirmed when the heavenly voices declared him "worthy to open the scroll" and to reign. His accession to the Divine Throne was 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).

The victory of the “Lamb” does not negate the hostility of the “kings of the earth” to God and His Messiah. Later, when the “sixth seal was opened,” the “kings of the earth” are among the groups that attempted 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” are gathered along with the "Beast" to the battle at Armageddon. The verb rendered “gathered” is in the passive voice; that is to say, demonic spirits may “gather” this beastly force but only after the sixth angel pours out his vial on the “river Euphrates” to prepare the way. 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).

In another vision, the “kings of the earth” that are allied with "Beast" are gathered 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” – A declaration made in the present tense - He “is” Lord and King - (Revelation 17:10-18).

White Horse - Photo by Tiago Almeida on Unsplash
Photo by Tiago Almeida on Unsplash

When Jesus appears as the “Rider on a White Horse” at this final battle against the “Beast,” his only weapon is the sword that he wields “out of his mouth” - The “word of God.” With it, “shepherds the nations with a rod of iron.” But his robe is sprinkled with blood BEFORE he begins to do “battle” with the “kings of the earth.” Whose blood is it? How did it get on his robe? - (Revelation 19:11-21).

The second Psalm is key employed multiple times in Revelation to portray the reign of the Messiah and the hostility of the “kings of the earth” against “Yahweh and his anointed.”  This Psalm is the literary source for the title given to Jesus in Revelation – the “Ruler of the kings of the earth.” In response, God appointed His son ruler over the earth and gave him the “nations for an inheritance”:
  • (Psalm 2:1-11) – “Wherefore have nations assembled in tumult? Or should peoples mutter an empty thing? The kings of earth take their station, and grave men have met by appointment together,—against Yahweh and against his Anointed One [saying]: Let us break asunder their bonds,—and cast from us their cords! He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh,—My Lord will mock at them: Then will he speak unto them in his anger, and in his wrath confound them: Yet I have installed my king,—on Zion my holy mountain. Let me tell of a decree,—Yahweh hath said unto me, My son, thou art, I, to-day, have begotten thee: Ask of me and let me give nations as thine inheritance, and as thy possession the ends of the earth: Thou shalt shepherd them with a sceptre of iron,—as a potter’s vessel shalt thou dash them in pieces. Now, therefore, ye kings, show your prudence, Be admonished, ye judges of earth: Serve Yahweh with reverence, and exult with trembling: Kiss the son, lest he be angry and ye perish by the way, for soon might be kindled his anger,—How happy are all who seek refuge in him!” – (The Emphasized Bible).
In the Hebrew text, the Messiah “breaks the kings of the earth with a rod of iron.” Yet the psalmist exhorted them to serve Yahweh and to pay homage to His son - “Lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.” A glimmer of hope is offered even for the political forces of the earth that are hostile to the Messiah.

In the Greek Septuagint version of the Psalm, the verb rendered “break” is translated by the Greek verb for “shepherd” – Rather than “break” the nations, the “Lamb” is to “shepherd” them, a change reflected in the book of Revelation, and to great effect:
  • (Revelation 2:27) – “He shall shepherd them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of my Father.”
  • (Revelation 7:17) – “For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them and guide them unto fountains of waters of life.”
  • (Revelation 12:5) – “And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron.”
  • (Revelation 19:15) – “And out of his mouth proceeds a sharp sword, that with it he should shepherd the nations.”
The “Son” received this messianic authority following his Death and Resurrection. In the first vision of the book, Jesus is declared 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.” The victory and the authority of the “Lamb” and his reigning saints are based on faithful endurance through tribulation and death, not by means of force. “Overcoming saints” reign as “priests,” not tyrants - (Revelation 1:183:21, 5:9-10, 12:11, 20:4-6).
Thus, the rule of the “Lamb” is paradoxical. He has all power but uses it for redemptive purposes, not destruction. Salvation is the goal, not vengeance.
At times, the “kings of the earth” are hostile to the “Lamb” and their opposition prompts judicial responses from God – (the series of trumpets and bowls). But 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).

However, in “New Jerusalem,” the nations and the “kings of the earth” are found before the Throne honoring the Lamb. How is this complete reversal achieved? Certainly not through the employment of coercive force and acts of vengeance - (Revelation 21:24).

Jesus was installed as the king who reigns over the Cosmos because of his Death and Resurrection. It is the "Lamb" clothed in the (already) bloodstained robe who defeats the forces of the “Beast” armed only with the “sword” of his “testimony.” He fulfills the messianic role as the "slain Lamb" and uses his authority “to shepherd the nations,” NOT to butcher them.

Jesus sits already on the Throne of David where he rules over the nations, although in unexpected and paradoxical ways. As his servants bear 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, Jesus allows his blood to be shed to purchase men and women from every nation to become “priests” in his kingdom.

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