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20 December 2019

The Redemption of the Nations in Revelation

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The book of Revelation presents images that are jarring, paradoxical and, occasionally, subversive.  They challenge human wisdom and institutional explanations of how God will consummate His kingdom, overthrow His enemies, and judge the nations. Just as his contemporaries did not understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was, so interpreters often fail to comprehend the Lamb of Revelation.
The significance of the visions of this book is missed when we lose sight of Jesus in his role as the sacrificial Lamb who came to redeem humanity, not to destroy all but a tiny remnant of men and women. The clues are there but are too easily overlooked.
For example, in the image of Jesus riding a white horse, some commentators see him as the agent of God’s horrific wrath, an enraged Messiah bent on lopping heads off heads with his mighty sword. He is coming to tread the wine-press God’s wrath; therefore, his robe is stained with the blood and gore of his slaughtered enemies. Perhaps we ought to remember the words of Jesus: “I will have mercy, not sacrifice” (Revelation 19:11-16).
But the blood is seen “sprinkled on his robe” before he engages the forces of the Beast in verses 17-21. Whose blood is it? How did it get there?  The only weapon described is the great sword, but it proceeds out of his mouth and is not wielded by his hand. Rather than a blade hanging from his belt, on his thigh is written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is the Word of God sent to judge and make war in righteousness (compare Isaiah 11:1-10).  His troops are “clothed with fine linen, white, pure,” and no weapon is in sight among them. And his sword is used “to shepherd the nations,” not to crush them.
When the final battle begins, there is no mention of the “nations,” only of the Beast, the False Prophet, and the “kings of the earth and their armies.” There is no description of an actual battle; no horrific scene of slaughter or blood flowing like rivers. It states simply that the Beast and False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire, while “the rest were slain with the sword of him that was sitting upon the horse, which went forth out of his mouth.”
This “battle” appears to be the end of the nations and the kings of the earth; however, both groups reappear in New Jerusalem where the nations walk in the Lamb’s light and the “kings of the earth bring their glory into it.” A river flows out from the divine throne that is bordered by the tree of life; “Its leaves were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 21:24-26, 22:1-2).
In the prologue of the book, Jesus is called “the Ruler of the Kings of the earth,” the one who redeemed us from our sins by his blood and, thereby, made us into a “kingdom of priests.”  This sentence uses past tense verbs to describe things already achieved through his death and resurrection. Saints already reign with him but do so as “priests,” mediating his light and knowledge to a darkened world. They “overcome” and reign in the same manner Jesus did – by self-sacrificial service, perseverance, and, if necessary, martyrdom (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:21, 12:11).
If Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” what kind of king would he be if he allowed Satan to conquer the kings of the earth and their nations? He is the Messiah who overcame in order to “shepherd the nations.” What kind of shepherd allows a beast to slaughter the sheep? (Revelation 12:5, 19:15).
In Revelation, “nation” is a fluid term; it is used negatively and positively. For example, the “Beast” is granted authority over men from every “nation,” people, tongue and tribe. But, far more often, the Lamb is the one who has purchased by his blood “men from every nation, people, tribe and tongue”; he is their designated king and they belong to him (Revelation 5:9, 13:7).
At times, the “nations” are victims of the Dragon and his agents. “Babylon” is condemned because “she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” She “by her sorceries deceived all nations.” Ultimately, it is Satan who “deceives all the nations.” How can the Lamb “overcome” to reign over the nations and peoples of the earth if he allows the Dragon to keep his ill-gotten gains (Revelation 14:8, 18:3, 18:23, 20:3-8)?
 In the end, both the “nations” and their “kings” are found in the city of New Jerusalem where they give honor and glory to the Lamb. This was predicted earlier in the book; “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” (Revelation 15:4, 18:3).
This last prediction finds its fulfillment in the New Creation where the “nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it…And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.” In the new heavens and earth men and women will find the “tree of life…and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 21:24 - 22:4).
This is not to say that the Lamb has no human enemies. There are men whose “names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life” and unrepentant sinners find themselves in the “Lake of Fire.” The Lamb has four “cosmic” enemies that oppose him at every turn; the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, and Babylon. Human beings that ally with the Dragon find themselves in the Lake of Fire.
The term applied most frequently to men and women who oppose the Lamb is the “inhabitants of the earth” (e.g., Revelation 3:10). This group will face the “hour of trial, which is going to come…to try the inhabitants of the earth.” The martyrs under the altar summon God to avenge their blood on the “inhabitants of the earth.” The seven trumpets inflict plagues upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” This group that rejoices over the deaths of the two witnesses.
The “inhabitants of the earth” subjugate themselves to the Beast and embrace its “mark.” The “inhabitants of the earth” are defined as the very ones “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” This group does not represent all humanity but men and women that are consciously opposed to the Lamb at every turn (Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10).
The “inhabitants of the earth” are never presented in a positive light; no member of this group is found in the New Jerusalem, though the “kings of the earth” and the “nations” are there. The Lamb does not redeem the “nations” through military conquest or governmental force, but through the perseverance and the testimony of the saints, they who overcome, “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).

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