SYNOPSIS – Jesus is the present “ruler of the kings of the earth” in fulfillment of the promise to David of an anointed King – Revelation 1:4-6.
From the very start of the book of Revelation, Jesus is declared the “ruler over the kings of the earth” in the present tense – Even his enemies are unable to move against him without his knowledge or consent. His exaltation is based on his past sacrificial Death and Resurrection – It is an accomplished fact – NOT on hereditary rights or military might. He is the anointed king promised by Yahweh who now reigns over the earth from the throne of David, indeed, over the Cosmos.
At times in Revelation, the “kings of the earth” are allied with the “Beast from the Sea,” yet Jesus manipulates their plots to achieve his purposes. At the end of the book, the same group is found in the “New Jerusalem” where they give honor to the “slain Lamb.” In the letters to the seven churches, already we see the suffering church participating in his reign – 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 to receive 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” using verbs in the present tense, and it bases his sovereignty on his past Death and Resurrection.
Jesus bore the “faithful witness” in his death and, thereby, became the “firstborn of the dead” when God raised him from the dead. By his death, he constituted his followers a priestly company that now reigns with him, and in the same manner:
(Revelation 3:21-22) – “He that overcomes, I will give to him to take his seat with me in my throne, as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne.”
John labeled himself the fellow-participant “in the Tribulation, Kingdom, and Endurance in Jesus” with the churches of Asia. The single definite article – “the” – modifies all three nouns – Tribulation, Kingdom, Endurance – Together, the three form a whole. To reign with Jesus is to endure tribulation.
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, declaring, “For the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David overcame to open the scroll!” When John looked, he saw a freshly slain Lamb, not a predatory lion. What he “saw” interpreted what he first “heard.” Jesus fulfills the role of the messianic “Lion” as the slain “Lamb.”
This understanding was confirmed when the heavenly voices declared the “Lamb worthy to open the scroll.” His enthronement was because:
“You were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and made them a kingdom and priests, and they are reigning upon the earth” – (Revelation 5:5-10).
The victory of the “Lamb” does not negate the hostility of the “kings of the earth.” Later, when the “sixth seal was opened,” they were 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 to the battle at Armageddon. The verb rendered “gathered” is in the passive voice – Demonic spirits “gather” these “kings” but only after the sixth angel pours out his vial to prepare their 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” 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).
When Jesus appears as the “Rider on a White Horse,” his only weapon is the sword he wields “out of his mouth” – The “word of God.” With it, he “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 a key passage employed multiple times in Revelation to portray the reign of the Messiah and the hostility of the “kings of the earth.” It is the literary source for the title given to Jesus – The “Ruler of the kings of the earth.” Yahweh appointed His son to rule 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 the 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 sits in the heavens will laugh, — My Lord will mock at them: Then will he speak to 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 said unto me, My son, you are; I, to-day, have begotten you: Ask of me and let me give nations as your inheritance and as your possession the ends of the earth: You will shepherd them with a scepter of iron, — as a potter’s vessel will you dash them in pieces.”
In the original 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, the verb rendered “break” is translated by the Greek verb for “shepherd” – Rather than “break” the nations, the “Lamb” will “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 his sovereignty after 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” is seated with the “Lamb” on his throne – “Just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his.”
Thus, the authority of the “Lamb” – and of his reigning saints- is based on faithful endurance through tribulation and death, not force. “Overcoming saints” reign as “priests,” not tyrants.
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 – (Revelation 1:18, 3:21, 5:9-10, 12:11, 20:4-6).
At times, the “kings of the earth” are hostile to the “Lamb” and their opposition prompts judicial actions by God. Nevertheless, in the city of “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 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.
Already, Jesus sits on the Throne of David to rule 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 for his kingdom.