Ruler of Kings

The faithful witness, Jesus, now reigns supreme over the kings of the earth, including his enemies

Jesus is called the “ruler of the kings of the earth” in the present tense. His sovereignty over the earth is based on his death and resurrection, NOT on any hereditary rights, economic control, or military might. He is the anointed king who now reigns on the messianic throne.

In the book of Revelation, at times, the “kings of the earth” are allied with the “Beast” and do the bidding of the “Dragon.” Nevertheless, the “Lamb” uses their plots and actions to achieve his purposes.

Even his enemies cannot move against him without his consent, and by the end of John’s vision, the same group is found in “New Jerusalem,” and there, they give honor to the “Lamb.”

  • John to the seven churches in Asia: Grace to you and peace 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” - (Revelation 1:4-6).

FAITHFUL WITNESS AND FIRSTBORN


He is the “faithful witness” and the “firstborn of the dead.” The former designation refers to his death, and the latter to his resurrection. All three designations - “faithful witness,” “firstborn of the dead,” and “ruler f the kings of the earth” – allude to the eighty-ninth psalm:

  • (Psalm 89:27, 37) - “I also will make him my first-born, the higher than the kings of the earth His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.”

His “faithful testimony” was given in his death; therefore, Yahweh made him the “firstborn” and the “highest of the kings of the earth.” In the Hebrew text, the Psalm uses the noun ‘elyôn for “higher,” and it is applied comparatively to denote the sense “supreme, lofty, highest.”

But Revelation combines this passage with words from the second Psalm, and the verbal link is the clause “kings of the earth.”

In the Psalm, the “kings” rebel and conspire against Yahweh’s anointed king. But their plot backfires because God gave the “nations” to His Son for “his inheritance,” and the “ends of the earth” for his “possession.” Thus, Jesus “rules over them with his iron scepter” - (Psalm 2:1-11).

And in the passage, rather than use the Greek comparative adjective for “highest,” the text calls him the archôn or “ruler” over the "kings of the earth." The term does not mean “king,” though kings certainly “rule.” The point is not that he is the “king” or even a king among kings, but that he holds a far higher rank.

SUPREMACY


The noun archôn often denotes someone who is a “prince,” “chief magistrate,” or the supreme sovereign, and that is the sense here. The intent is not to contradict the book’s later declaration that he is the “King of kings,” but to highlight just how much higher he is than the political rulers of the present world order.

The extent of his sovereignty is stressed in the book’s first vision where Jesus calls himself the “living one who was dead and lives forevermore,” and he now holds the “keys of death and Hades.”

Hence, not even the realm of the dead is beyond his sovereignty. And like his supremacy over the “kings of the earth,” so, also, his authority over death and Hades is based on his death and resurrection.

And his sovereignty extends over his mortal enemies. For example, Satan is bound from “deceiving the nations” until he is “released from the Abyss.” The “Beast from the sea” cannot wage “war” on the saints until he is authorized to do so (“and it was given to him to make war against the saints” – Revelation 13:7, 20:1-3).

But his rule over the earth does not immediately negate the hostility of the “kings of the earth.” For example, when the “sixth bowl of wrath” is emptied, the “kings of the earth” are gathered for the “great day of God Almighty.”

At this final conflagration, the “kings of the earth” and their “armies” are gathered along with the “Beast” and the “false prophet” to wage war against the one who is “riding on a white horse.” But the “Lamb” overcomes them because he is “king of kings and lord of lords” - (Revelation 16:12-16. 17:10-18, 19:19-21).

At the end of the battle, the “Beast” and the “False Prophet” are “cast alive into the lake of fire.” But that is not the fate of the “kings of the earth.” The “rest were killed with the sword of the one who was riding on the white horse,” and the vision identifies this “weapon” as the “word of God.” While this image suggests the “kings of the earth” are put to death at this point, that is not necessarily the case.

SHEPHERD OF NATIONS


The second Psalm is alluded to again in three additional passages where the original Hebrew verb for “rule” is changed to the Greek verb that means “shepherd.” Thus, the messianic “son” is destined to “shepherd the nations.”

What this means is demonstrated in the vision of the “innumerable multitude” in which Jesus “shepherds” men that have been redeemed from every nation to the “living waters” in New Jerusalem.

And in the vision of the “rider on the white horse,” the royal figure uses his “iron scepter” to “shepherd the nations,” not to grind them into dust – (Revelation 2:27, 7:17, 12:5, 19:15).

The change from the image of a conqueror to that of a benevolent ruler who “shepherds” his flock is unexpected and paradoxical. While the “Lamb” wields an “iron scepter” and a “great sword,” he uses them to guide the nations and the “kings of the earth” to something other than their final destruction.

The idea of a more benevolent fate for the “kings” is hinted at in the second Psalm. After warning them of dire consequences if they continue in their rebellion, the Psalmist exhorts them to fear Yahweh and “kiss His son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way” – (Psalm 2:9-11).

The presentation of Jesus as the sacrificial “Lamb” who now “shepherds the nations” explains how the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” are found enjoying the glories of “New Jerusalem.” And what kind of sovereign and shepherd would he be if he only led his subjects to their doom?

In the holy city, the “nations walk amidst its light, the kings of the earth bring their glory into it.” And in “New Jerusalem,” John sees the “tree of life” that “heals the nations” and removes the original “curse” caused by Adam’s disobedience.

And so, the “slain Lamb” shepherds the nations and the “kings of the earth,” guiding them to life and salvation in the “new heavens and new earth.”


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