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13 August 2019

Redemption of the Nations

New Jerusalem - clipart.christiansunite.com
          The book of Revelation presents images that are jarring, paradoxical, and subversive. They challenge human wisdom and institutional interpretations of how God will consummate His kingdom, overthrow His enemies, and judge the nations. 
          The significance of these images is missed when we lose sight of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb who died to redeem humanity, not to destroy all but a tiny remnant of men and women. The clues are there but easily overlooked.

  • John, unto the Seven Assemblies which are in Asia, Favour to you, and peace, from—Him who Is, and who Was, and who is Coming, and from—The Seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from—Jesus Christ,—The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us out of our sins with his blood,— and he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father, Unto him, be the glory, and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen. Lo! he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, such also as pierced him, and all the tribes of the land shall smite themselves for him. Yea! Amen” (Revelation 1:4-7, Emphasized Bible).
          A good example is the picture of Jesus riding a white horse and leading his heavenly “army” he is seen as the agent of God’s horrific wrath, an enraged Messiah bent on lopping heads off heads with his great sword (Revelation 19:11-16). He has come to tread the wine-press God’s wrath; his robe is stained with blood and gore from his slaughtered enemies. Perhaps we ought to remember the words of Jesus: “I will have mercy, not sacrifice.”
          But the blood is “sprinkled on his robe” before he engages the forces of the Beast in verses 17-21. Whose blood is it? How did it get there? The only weapon described is the sword proceeding out of his mouth. He is called the Word of God sent to judge and make war in righteousness (compare Isaiah 11:1-10). His troops are “clothed with fine linen, white, pure,” and no weapon is in view. His sword is used not to smash “the nations” but “to shepherd them.”
          When the final battle is engaged, there is no mention of the “nations,” only of the Beast, the False Prophet, and the “kings of the earth and their armies.” There is no description of an actual battle; no horrific slaughter or blood flowing like rivers. It states simply that the Beast and False Prophet were cast into the Lake of Fire, while “the rest were slain with the sword of him that was sitting upon the horse, which went forth out of his mouth.”
          This seems to be the end of the nations and the kings of the earth. Yet both groups appear again in New Jerusalem where the nations walk in the Lamb’s light and the “kings of the earth bring their glory into it” (21:24-26). A river flows out from the divine throne bordered by the tree of life and “its leaves were for the healing of the nations” (22:1-2).
          In the book’s prologue, Jesus is called “the Ruler of the Kings of the earth,” the one who redeemed us from our sins by his blood and thereby made us into a “kingdom of priests.” The sentence uses past tense verbs to described things already achieved through the death and resurrection of Christ. Saints already reign with him but do so as “priests” that mediate his light and knowledge in a darkened world. They “overcome” to reign in precisely the same manner as Jesus did – by self-sacrificial service, perseverance and, if necessary, martyrdom (Revelation 3:21, 12:11).
          If Jesus the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” what kind of king would he be if he allowed Satan to conquer the earth’s kings and the nations? He is the Messiah destined to “shepherd the nations” (Revelation 12:5, 19:15). What kind of shepherd allows a beast to slaughter the sheep?
          In the book of Revelation, “nation” is a fluid term; it is used negatively and positively. For example, the “Beast” is granted authority over men from every “nation,” people, tongue, and tribe (Revelation 13:7). Far more often, the Lamb is described as the one who had purchased by his blood “men from every nation, people, tribe and tongue” (5:9).
          The “nations” are, at times, victims of the Dragon and his agents. “Babylon” is condemned because “she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (14:8, 18:3). She “by her sorceries deceived all nations” (18:23). deceived. Ultimately, it is Satan who “deceives all the nations” (20:3-8).
          In the end, both “nations” and their “kings” are found in the New Jerusalem giving honor and glory to the Lamb. This is predicted earlier in the book” “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” (15:4, 18:3). This finds fulfillment when “the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it…And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it” (21:24-26). In the New Creation, there will be “the tree of life, which bare twelve fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2-4).
          This is not to say the Lamb has no real enemies in Revelation whose “names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life,” or that unrepentant sinners do not find themselves in “the Lake of Fire.”
          The Lamb has four “cosmic” enemies that oppose him at every turn; the Dragon, the Beast from the Sea, the Beast from the Earth, and the Great Whore, Babylon. Human beings that ally with the Dragon by rendering homage to the Beast from the Sea find themselves in the Lake of Fire.
          The term applied most to humanity in firm opposition to the Lamb is not “nations” but the “inhabitants of the earth” (e.g., Revelation 3:10). This is the group that is to face “the hour of trial, which is going to come upon all the habitable earth, to try the inhabitants of the earth.” The martyrs under the altar call upon God to avenge their blood on “the inhabitants of the earth” (6:10).
          The Seven Trumpets inflict plagues upon “the inhabitants of the earth” (8:13). The “inhabitants of the earth” rejoice over the deaths of the two witnesses (11:10). The “inhabitants of the earth” subjugate themselves to the Beast and embrace its “mark” (13:8-14). The “inhabitants of the earth” are made drunk with the “wine of Babylon’s fornication” (17:2). The “inhabitants of the earth” are defined as the one “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (17:8).
          At no point is this term presented in a positive light and none of the “inhabitants of the earth” are found in the New Jerusalem, though many of the “kings of the earth” and the “nations” are.
          The “inhabitants of the earth” encompasses not all of humanity without remainder, but those men and women who take the mark of the Beast, render homage to its image, and thereby give their allegiance to the Dragon.
          And the Lamb does not redeem the “nations” through military conquest or by slaughtering them, but through the perseverance and the testimony of the churches, the ones who overcome “by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11).

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