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18 July 2019

The Messianic Reign in Revelation


Jesus Reigns over the Cosmos
The book of Revelation assures beleaguered Christians that despite appearances Jesus reigns and is in firm control of history. His authority is based on his past death and resurrection that inaugurated his present reign.
The kingdom of God may have a future consummation, but it is even now underway. Jesus is the “first and the last, the living one who was dead but now lives forevermore,” and he has authority over life and death (Revelation 1:17-18).
A messianic prophecy used repeatedly in Revelation to portray Christ’s reign is Psalm 2:1-8, in particular, its promise that the “kings of the earth” would be subjected to the rule of God’s Son.
(Psalm 2:1-9) – “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples meditate a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his anointed…Yahweh said to me, You are my son, this day have I begotten you. Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
In the words from 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. Those hostile acts by Rome typify 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” (1:5-6). He bore witness in his sacrificial death, then became “firstborn of the dead” in his resurrection. Consequently, he has been appointed ruler over the “kings of the earth,” the promised Davidic Messiah who reigns even now.
The verbs applied to Jesus in this passage are in the present tense; they do not look forward to a yet future installation of the Davidic king. Jesus reigns in the here and now.
His death “loosed us from our sins” and constituted us a “kingdom of priests,” a calling originally given to Israel (Exodus 19:5). Believers participate in his reign as they carry out “priestly” functions.
Christians that “overcome” sit down with Jesus on his throne. They overcome and reign in the same way he did, through faithful witness even to the point of martyrdom (3:2112:11).
In the vision of the heavenly throne and the sealed scroll, John wept when no one was found worthy to open the seals and the scroll (Revelation 5:1-4). One of the “elders” commanded him not to weep because “the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, overcame to open the scroll and its seals.”
The words of the “elder” allude to a messianic prophecy from Genesis 49:9-10. John looks but sees NOT a lion but a freshly slain lamb. “I saw in the midst of the throne a Lamb standing as slain.” Jesus is the “lion of the tribe of Judah” but fulfills that role as the sacrificial lamb; what John sees interprets what he hears.
The Lamb is standing “in the midst of the throne,” demonstrating his enthronement. His first act is to “take the scroll out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne” and begin 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 death of the 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 that those purchased by him participate in it. The sole stated basis for this new reality is his sacrificial death.
The Lamb acts immediately by opening 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” (6:1-2).
In a later 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 is identified as the “son who is to shepherd all the nations with a rod of iron,” alluding to Psalm 2:1-8. This is none other than Jesus, the promised Messiah.
Noteworthy is how the book of Revelation follows the Greek Septuagint version of Psalm 2:7-8 by translating the Hebrew verb “shepherd” rather than “rule.” Something more is intended than just subjugating rebellious nations.
This child is God’s Son and messiah “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 where he appeared in the midst of the throne.
The Dragon has failed to prevent Christ’s accession to the Davidic throne. A great voice consequently 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” (12:4-5, 10-11). The Dragon was defeated on the Cross.
There is no limit to the Lamb’s authority, 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 (“it opened its mouth to slander God and his tabernacle, even them that dwell in the heaven”).
The inhabitants of the earth are overawed by its apparent might and render it homage; “Who is like the beast and who is able to war with him?” (Revelation 13:1-6).
Since Jesus already reigns, things are not as they appear. The Beast may possess the Dragon’s authority but cannot act until authorized to do so by the Lamb. Its right to “wage war with the saints” must be “given to it,” along with its “authority over every tribe, people, tongue and nation” (Revelation 13:7). The Beast will “overcome the saints” for a season, but only when and as far as allowed by the Lamb.
In a later vision, John sees 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.” Again John applies Psalm 2:1-8 to Jesus and again changes “rule” to “shepherd.”
In the present tense this figure is designated “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” His white robe is sprinkled with blood, but the bloodstains are seen BEFORE he engages battle with “the beast and the kings of the earth gathered together to make war against him that sat upon the horse” (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 battle 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.”
The kings of the earth hostile to the Lamb appear once more at the end of the “thousand years” (20:7-10). 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.
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 final 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 in his letter to the Corinthians, the “death of death,” so to speak (20:11-151 Corinthians 15:20-28).
In chapter 21 of Revelation, John sees New Jerusalem descending to the earth from heaven. 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 i:” (21:24).
In the New Creation the leaves of the tree of life provide “healing of the nations” (22:2). The reign and victory of the Lamb mean something more than just the destruction of his human enemies. Through most of Revelation, the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” are hostile to the Lamb and his people, yet they now 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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