King and Shepherd

Jesus is the promised king from the second Psalm who rules from the messianic throne and “shepherds the nations”  Revelation 1:4-6

Shepherd - Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash
Revelation
 declares Jesus to be the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” His installation on the messianic throne was based on his past death and resurrection; it is an accomplished fact. He is the king promised by Yahweh, the one who reigns over the earth from “Zion.” But he rules in paradoxical and unexpected ways - [Photo by Pawan Sharma on Unsplash].

The second Psalm is a key passage applied multiple times to Jesus to portray his present messianic reign. It is the literary source for the title given to him, the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” the king appointed to “shepherd the nations.” Indeed, the “nations” are his “inheritance,” not enemies to be exterminated like vermin:
  • (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 gathered together, against Yahweh and against his Anointed One… Yet I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain. Let me tell of a decree, Yahweh said to me: You are My son; I, today, 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.
  • (Revelation 1:4-6) - “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 that loves us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father.
In the original Hebrew, the Messiah “smashed the kings of the earth with a rod of iron.” But the psalmist also exhorted them to serve Yahweh and pay homage to His son, “lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.” A glimmer of hope was offered even to the political forces that were hostile to the Messiah.

But in the Greek Septuagint version, the verb rendered “smash” is translated by the Greek verb for “shepherd.” Rather than “crush” the nations, the Messiah “shepherds” them. In Revelation, this change is reflected each time the Psalm is used:
  • (Revelation 2:27) – “He will 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 will shepherd them and guide them to fountains of waters of life.”
  • (Revelation 12:5) – “And she was delivered of a son, a male, 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.”
Noteworthy is how the same verb is applied to the hostile nations, and to those redeemed by the “Lamb” from the “Great Tribulation.” He will “shepherd the nations with a rod of iron,” but he also “shepherds” redeemed men from every nation “to fountains of living water.” It seems the same act of “shepherding” produces two very different results. Which result produces the greater number remains to be seen. However, the passage from the seventh chapter describes the men redeemed “from every nation” as a multitude so vast, that “no man could number them” – (Revelation 7:9-17).

The image of the messianic king “shepherding” the nations with his “rod of iron,” and even with a “sharp sword,” is perplexing. But in Revelation, Jesus does not fit comfortably into popular notions about the Davidic Messiah or how he rules from “Zion.”

In the interpretation of the first vision, Jesus declared that he had received his sovereignty after his death and resurrection. He is the “Living one; I was dead, and I am alive forevermore, therefore, I have the keys of death and of Hades.” His authority is based on his faithful endurance through death, not force.

Thus, the rule of the “Lamb” is paradoxical. He has all power but uses it for redemptive purposes; salvation is the goal, not vengeance. He “overcame” by his faithful obedience, by allowing his blood to be shed, the blood that now redeems men and women “from every nation.” It is that sacrificial offering that defines his present reign.

In his vision of the “Throne,” when no one was found worthy to open the “sealed scroll,” John wept bitterly. But one of the “twenty-four elders” commanded him to cease, and he heard the elder declare, “for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David overcame to open the scroll!”

However, when John looked, he saw the freshly slain Lamb, not the figure of a predatory lion. What he “saw” interpreted what he first “heard.” Thus, Jesus is the promised king who reigns from the Davidic throne, but he fulfills that role as the “slain Lamb.” And it was this figure that approached the “Throne” and received the “sealed scroll,” which he began to open at once. That is, his reign began immediately upon his arrival at the “Throne.”

This understanding is confirmed by the heavenly voices around the “Throne” that declared the “Lamb worthy to open the scroll.” He received absolute authority to rule 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… Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” - (Revelation 5:5-12).
However, his victory did not immediately negate the hostility of the “kings of the earth.” When the “sixth seal was opened,” at least some of them were among those that attempted to escape the “wrath of the Lamb.” When the “sixth bowl of wrath” was emptied, the “kings of the earth” were gathered to “Armageddon” for the battle of the “Great day of God the Almighty” - (Revelation 6:15-17, 16:12-14, 17:10-18).

At that final battle, Jesus was the “rider on a white horse.” His only weapon was the “sharp sword” that he wielded “out of his mouth,” the “word of God,” and with it he was “shepherding the nations.” It is his word that id the “iron scepter” he employs to rule the nations. But his robe was sprinkled with blood even BEFORE he engaged in “battle.” Whose blood was it, and how did it get there? - (Revelation 19:11-21).
The fact that the “Lamb” does battle and “shepherds” the nations with the “sharp sword” of the “word of God” tells us that what is described is not a literal battle between opposing armies. The “rider” ventures forth to conquer, but he does so with the “word of his testimony.” He is, after all, the “faithful witness.”

At times, the “kings of the earth” are hostile to the “Lamb,” which prompts judicial actions by God. Nevertheless, in the city of “New Jerusalem,” both the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” are found before the “Throne,” where they honor the “Lamb.” How did Jesus achieve this complete reversal? Certainly not through the employment of coercive force or acts of vengeance! - (Revelation 21:24).

Jesus was installed as king because of his death and resurrection. It is the "Lamb" clothed in the bloodstained robe who defeats the forces of the “beast,” and armed only with the “sword” of his “testimony.” He fulfills his messianic role as the “slain Lamb" who uses his authority “to shepherd the nations,” NOT to butcher them. Even now, he reigns from the Throne, but again, he does so in unexpected and paradoxical ways.

As the result of his death and resurrection, Jesus constituted his followers a “kingdom of priests.” As such, already they reign also with him, but they do so in the same manner. “He that overcomes I will grant to be seated with me in my throne, Just I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne.” The saints reign as priests, not tyrants. And they “overcome” just as he did - “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto death” – (Revelation 3:21, 12:11).

Bible Reading - Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

As the saints bear 
faithful witness, just as Jesus did, the kingdom of God progresses on the earth. Each new conversion means more recovered territory, and every convert represents another “nation, people, tribe and tongue.” At the time John wrote, no doubt, this appeared as only a very small trickle of men and women coming to faith in Jesus. However, by the end, it will become a “vast multitude of men and women from every nation that no man can number.”

But the “testimony of the Lamb” is also the “sharp sword” that divides humanity into two groups: first, the “inhabitants of the earth” who harden their hearts no matter what the “Lamb” does. Their names are excluded from the “book of life.” And second, those who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” and whatever the cost. Their names are “written in the Lamb’s book.” How one reacts to the “Lamb” determines whether one’s name is included or erased from the book.

Jesus is the promised Messiah, the son of David destined to reign from his throne on Mount Zion. But he does so in ways that deviate radically from the practices of the world’s political powers. And he began his reign over nations and kings following his death and resurrection; already, he is sovereign over the earth.

In Revelation, the “Dragon” and his vassals impose their rule through deception, intimidation, and violence. In contrast, Jesus, the “slain Lamb,” allowed his blood to be shed, the price he now uses to redeem men and women from every nation for his kingdom.




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