Messianic Reign in Revelation

SynopsisIn the book of Revelation, Jesus began his Messianic Reign following his Death and Resurrection in fulfillment of prophecy.

Photo by Robert Wiedemann on Unsplash
Robert Wiedemann on Unsplash
The book of Revelation assures beleaguered congregations that Jesus is in firm control of events, despite appearances. His authority is based on his past Death and Resurrection, which also marked the commencement of his present reign on the messianic “throne.”

The kingdom of God may have a future consummation but, already, it is underway. Jesus is the “first and the last, the living one who was dead but now lives forevermore.” He has authority over life and death (Revelation 1:17-18).

A messianic prophecy used repeatedly in the book of Revelation to portray his present reign is from the second Psalm, especially, the promise that the “kings of the earth” would be subjected to the rule of the Son of God.

(Psalm 2:1-9) – “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 earthThou shalt shepherd them with a sceptre of iron—as a potter’s vessel shalt thou dash them in pieces.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

In the words of this Psalm, the churches of Asia would detect allusions to the Roman imperial authorities that were pressuring them to compromise their allegiance to the lordship of Christ. Such hostile acts typified what the psalmist said the nations would do -- Rage against Yahweh and against his Anointed One.
The book of Revelation identifies Jesus as, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” He bore witness in his sacrificial death, then became the “firstborn of the dead” in his resurrection. Consequently, he was appointed the ruler over the “kings of the earth,” the promised Davidic Messiah who has reigned ever since. The verbs applied to Jesus are in the present tense; they do not look forward to a yet future installation of him as the Davidic king; he fulfills that role in the here and now (Revelation 1:5-6).

His death “loosed us from our sins” and constituted us a “kingdom of priests,” a role given originally to ancient Israel. Christian believers participate in his reign as they carry out “priestly” functions. They “overcome” and, therefore, sit down with Jesus on his Throne, but they do so in the same manner he did; through faithful witness even to the point of martyrdom:

(Exodus 19:5-6) – “Now, therefore, if ye will, indeed, hearken to my voice, And keep my covenant, Then shall ye be mine as a treasure beyond all the peoples, For mine is all the earth; But ye shall be mine, As a kingdom of priests, And a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the sons of Israel.
(Revelation 3:21) – “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.
(Revelation 5:6-10) – “And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders a Lamb, standing, showing that it had been slain…and they sing a new song, saying—Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, And didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests—and they reign on the earth.
(Revelation 12:11) – “And they overcame him by reason of the blood of the Lamb, and by reason of their witnessing word, and they loved not their life, even unto death.

In the vision of the Sealed Scroll, John wept when no one was found worthy to open the scroll. One of the “elders” commanded him not to weep, for the “Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, overcame to open the scroll and its seals.” John looks but he sees a freshly slain lamb, NOT a lion. Jesus is the “lion of the tribe of Judah,” but he fulfills that role as the sacrificial lamb; what John sees interprets what he hears.

The Lamb is next seen standing “in the midst of the throne,” which portrays his enthronement. His first act is to “take the scroll out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne” and to open its seals. Already he reigns. He has “seven eyes, the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth,” for his authority extends to “the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession.”

This reign is based on the past death of the sacrificial Lamb. This is confirmed by a heavenly chorus that sings, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for 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 reign upon earth.” Not only does Jesus reign, but those purchased by him participate in his rule. The basis for this is his sacrificial death.

The Lamb begins to open the first four seals of the scroll. It is the Lamb that breaks open each seal and releases its contents; he is in firm control of events. “I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, Come” (Revelation 6:1-8).

(Revelation 12:1-5) – “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon beneath her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child and crieth out, being in pangs and in anguish to bring forth. And there appeared another sign in heaven; and lo! a great red dragon—having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads seven diadems; and his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bring forth, that as soon as she should bring forth he might devour her child. And she brought forth a son, a manchild, who was about to shepherd all the nations with a sceptre of iron; and her child was caught away unto God and unto his throne.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

In another vision, John saw a “great red Dragon” poised to destroy the child “about to be delivered” from the woman clothed with the sun. This child was identified as the “son who is to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron,” an allusion to Psalm 2:1-8. This was none other than Jesus, the promised Messiah.

In each case, the book of Revelation follows the Greek Septuagint version of the second Psalm, which translated the Hebrew verb “shepherd” into Greek rather than the original “rule.” Something more is intended than just subjugating rebellious nations.
This child is God’s Son and Messiah who is “caught up to God and to his throne” before the Dragon can destroy him. This is the same reality portrayed in Chapter 5 by the sacrificial lamb when he appeared before the throne after being “slain.” 

The Dragon failed to stop the accession of the Son to the Davidic throne. Consequently, a great voice declares, “Now is come the salvation, the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ, for the accuser of our brethren is cast down.” Thus, the Dragon was defeated on the Cross by the death of the Messiah.

There is no limit in the present to the authority of the Lamb, even the Dragon’s earthly agents cannot act without his consent. The horrific “beast from the sea” claims absolute authority over the earth and breathes great threats against the saints, but it cannot launch its “war” against them until authorized to do so by the Lamb (“it opened its mouth to slander God and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven…And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them” – Revelation 13:5-7).

In a later vision, John saw a rider on a white horse sallying forth from heaven with “a sharp sword proceeding from his mouth with which he should smite the nations. He will shepherd them with a rod of iron.” Once again, the book of Revelation applies the second Psalm to Jesus and, again, changes “rule” to “shepherd.”

In the present tense, this figure is designated the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” His white robe is sprinkled with blood, but the bloodstains are seen BEFORE he engages in battle with the “beast and the kings of the earth gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse” (Revelation 19:11-21).

The gathering of this force against the Lord’s anointed is described in verses 17-21 but not the actual battle. The scene concludes with the Beast and False Prophet “cast alive into the lake of fire.” As for the “kings of the earth” and their armies, it only notes “the rest were killed with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, even the sword which came forth out of his mouth.”

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash
Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash
The hostile kings of the earth appear once more at the end of the “thousand years.” Satan is released to gather the nations “from the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog to gather them to the war.” The same language from Ezekiel 39 seen in Revelation 19:17-21 is employed again; the same final battle is in view in Revelation 20:7-10. This is no regional war in the Middle East. It involves all nations and encompasses the entire earth. Not Israel, but the “saints,” those who follow the Lamb, are the targets of this final assault. But before this force can destroy them, “fire came down out of heaven and consumed them.”

Just as in Revelation 19:17-21, this final battle is followed by a judgment scene in which the Lamb’s enemies are tossed into the Lake of Fire, this time the Devil himself, “and the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the Beast and the False Prophet.”

This culminates in the Great White Throne of judgment and the end of death itself. “Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire,” an event the Apostle linked to the coming of Jesus at the end of the present age in his letter to the Corinthians, the “death of death,” so to speak (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

In Chapter 21, John sees New Jerusalem descending to the earth. This is nothing less than the inauguration of the “New Heavens and New Earth.” While Chapter 19 ended with the defeat of the “kings of the earth,” they appear again in New Jerusalem where the “nations shall walk amidst of its light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it… and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it” (Revelation 21:24).

In the New Creation, the leaves of the tree of life provide “healing of the nations.” The reign and victory of the Lamb mean something more than just the destruction of his human enemies. Through most of the book of Revelation, the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” remain hostile to the Lamb, yet, in the end, they participate in the New Creation.  Is this the result of the Lamb “shepherding” the nations with the “sword” that proceeds out of his mouth?


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