The Shepherd King

Jesus is the promised king from the second Psalm who now “shepherds” the nations from his messianic throne

Shepherding Sheep - Photo by Mohamad Babayan on Unsplash
The book of
Revelation declares that Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” His past installation on the messianic throne was based on his death and resurrection, it is an accomplished fact. He is the king promised by Yahweh, the one who was to reign over the earth from “Zion.” But now, he rules in paradoxical and unexpected ways - [Shepherding Sheep - Photo by Mohamad Babayan on Unsplash].

In the book, the second Psalm is the key passage applied multiple times to Jesus to portray his present reign, and the literary source for his title, the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” He is the messianic king who “shepherds the nations.” Indeed, the “nations” are his “inheritance,” and not enemies to be exterminated like vermin:
  • (Psalm 2:1-11) – “Wherefore have nations assembled in tumult? Or should people mutter an empty thing? The kings of the earth take their station, and grave men have gathered 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 to the political forces that were hostile to the Messiah.

However, in the Greek Septuagint version of the Psalm, the verb for “smash” was translated by the Greek verb meaning “shepherd.” Rather than “crush” the nations, the Messiah “shepherds” the nations, and this understanding is reflected each time the Psalm is used in Revelation:
  • (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.”
And the same verb is applied to hostile nations and those redeemed by the “Lamb” from the “Great Tribulation.” He will “shepherd the nations with a rod of iron,” but he also “shepherds” men redeemed from every nation “to fountains of living water” – (Revelation 7:9-17).

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

In the interpretation of the book’s 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.

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 in death, and his blood now redeems men and women “from every nation.” It is that sacrificial offering that defines his present reign.

In his vision of the “throne,” no one was found worthy to open the “sealed scroll,” and therefore, 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!”

When John looked, what he saw was the freshly slain Lamb, not the figure of a predatory lion. 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” to receive the “sealed scroll.” His reign began immediately upon his arrival.

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).

But his victory did not immediately negate the hostility of the “kings of the earth.” When the “sixth seal was opened,” 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 is the “iron scepter” employed by him to rule the nations - (Revelation 19:11-21).

The fact that the “Lamb” does battle and “shepherds” the nations with the “sharp sword” or 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.”

World Globe - Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

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 is 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 divine throne, and he does so in 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.”

Thus, the saints now 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).

As the saints bear faithful witness, 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,” and by the end, this small trickle of converts 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” 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 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 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 and to “shepherd” them into the holy city, “New Jerusalem.”



Destruction of Babylon

Kings of the East