Revelation: Kings of the Earth, The Nations, and the City of God

Recently, I have been involved in a great discussion on the subject of hell.

Is it a possibility that at some point it ends? One of the areas that we have to turn to is the prophetic future, described in the Book of Revelation. I am trying to keep the generally prophecy discussions out of the conversation, as they tend to bog down the discussion. By that, I mean that let’s stay away from the rapture and other ideas. I am drawing from Revelation 21 and 22:

22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.

24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory.

25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.

26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city.

27 Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty– but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

2 It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.

4 And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads.

22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed;

26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it;

27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,

2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him;

4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

There are a few things in this short passage which I believe should gain more attention. We see that after all the judgments have taken place in the previous chapter in which Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet are cast into the lake of fire, and the sea and the grave have deliver up their dead to be judged on works, and everything not finding merit is thrown into the lake of fire, we suddenly have the ‘nations’ and the ‘kings of the earth’ making a rather grand appearance into the City of God.

I want to first examine the phrase ‘kings of the earth’ (Heb: מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ); Gr:βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς). Revelation is the final literary witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is the primary figure in this book which does not give theology, ethics or doctrine so much as the words of Christ to a weary and troubled Church. It speaks of His sufferings through that which much be suffered by the Church. In Psalm 2 which figures predominantly into New Testament thought (cf the Baptism of Christ) we find several things which we meet once more in John’s Vision.

Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans?

2 The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one.

3 “Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

4 But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them.

5 Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury.

6 For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

7 The king proclaims the LORD’s decree: “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father.

8 Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession.

9 You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.’ ”

10 Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth!

11 Serve the LORD with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities– for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him! (Psa 2:1-12 NLT)

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing?

2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,

3 “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!”

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them.

5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying,

6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.

8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.

9 ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.'”

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth.

11 Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling.

12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled

(Psa 2:1-12 NAU)

The nations, kings of the earth, and the rod of iron which make an appearance in this Psalm are mentioned as well in Revelation. Briefly, let’s explore the connection of the Son to the Nations and the Rod of Iron. First, the Psalm is quoted in Revelation 2.26-27. The next time we see it is in chapter 12.5:

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.

In Revelation 19.14-15 while Christ returns with the saints who have been called away, we find the nations and the rod of iron mentioned again:

The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress.

The nations in Revelation generally are not afforded a good and lasting status in the sight of John:

But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months. (11.2)

The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward your servants the prophets, as well as your holy people, and all who fear your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.” (11.18)

Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen– that great city is fallen– because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.” (14.8)

For all the nations have fallen because of the wine of her passionate immorality. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her. Because of her desires for extravagant luxury, the merchants of the world have grown rich.” (Rev 18.3)

The nations, we know, trample the holy city for 42 months. Further, they are wrathful against God and are drunk with the immorality of Babylon. They muster against Christ, led by the unholy trinity. Let’s leave them there for a moment. Turning to the kings of the earth, we find in Revelation something similar to that of the nations.

In Revelation 1.5, Christ is called the ruler of the kings of the earth. In the 6.15, they hide themselves from the wrath of the lamb. In chapter 17, they are connected to Babylon and is governed by her with whom they have committed (spiritual) adultery (chapter 18). Finally,

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. (Rev 19.19)

Chapter 19 begins in heaven in which the armies of Christ are readied. These armies are the redeemed, the people of God. Then middle way through, the scene switches to earth, in which Christ bursts into the temporal.

Here then is the First End in which Christ destroys both the nations and the kings of the earth:

Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies.

Then, there is a second battle, at the end of the thousand years, which Satan is freed and deceives the nations once again and at Gog and MaGog, Christ once again steps in and

And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. (Rev 20.9)

The attacking armies are the nations with their kings which are consumed in a fire wthat is the second death.

John then sees the final judgment:

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20.11-15)

It was only after all of this – when the great battles had passed and the judgments were over, that John finally saw the new heaven and the new earth:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. (Rev 21.1)

Then the New Jerusalem descends with a shout that God is making everything ‘new’ (v5). It is said in verses 7 and 8 that the wicked will not receive all of the blessings of the New Jerusalem. After John describes the holy city, and the city is settled, he pens:

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21.21-27)

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. (Rev 22.1-4)

We then see that at the end, there is the City and there are those without.

I note that in the jubilant chapter 15, the nations are seen rather differently than the rest of the book:

And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your works, O Lord God, the Almighty. Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed.” (15.3-4)

Several times in Scripture, we find the promise that all of humanity will bow to God; here we find that all will come to worship their King.

Here are some problems with focusing in on the names in the book of life to the exclusion of the fact that throughout Scripture the nations and the kings of the earth are opposed to God. If we interject so as to reconcile what is presented here – if we interject the notion that the nations and the kings of the earth who are entering into the city must be saved, we forget a few things.

First, these groups would had to have been saved at some point. When? They were all killed. Twice. Were they saved when then stood against Christ, killed the saints, worshiped idols, lied, and generally fornicated with Babylon without any account of repentance? Were they given a second chance? The Scripture says that Christ destroyed them with no mention of repentance.

Is it possible that when the Lord shouts that He is making everything new, John writes that the city will heal the nations, and that there is no longer a curse, it points to a time far, far distant in which we may take these things as literal?

My thought is this:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have– Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials– gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (1Co 3:11-15 NLT)

As Christians, we will get a reward, but we are told that those things which we build in our lives will be measured at the Judgment. All will be spared, but some will be burned. All will escape, but some barely. What if the same is applied to the rebellious who, as Daniel said, will wake to eternal sorrow for the things that they have done but will find medicine in the city as John said?

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21 Replies to “Revelation: Kings of the Earth, The Nations, and the City of God”

  1. Note: The following is copied from a related thread from 2/26/10, “Question of the Day: Is Hell a Necessary Christian Doctrine” and is not intended as a response to Joel’s more extensive comments above.

    ———

    You (Joel) said previously:

    “I note that the kings of the nations – which represent their people – bring their glory into the city of God. Further, this happens after everyone who is not found in the book of life is cast into the Lake of Fire (the only tangible notion of hell). So, after all that the judgment and the casting out and placing in, we still have sinners roaming around surrendering to God and the unredeemed ‘without.’”

    Could you clarify your perspective on a few things based on your response about these Rev. 21:24-27 people (kings et. al.) who you believe stood against Christ but came to the city and were healed.

    Were they written in the Book of Life or not?
    Did they go in the ‘lake of fire’ or not?
    What do you mean by ‘healed’? Do you mean ’saved’?
    When were they ’saved’? Before or after the ‘lake of fire’ event?
    – If before, why do you say they are sinners when outside the city?
    – If after, how did they escape the ‘lake of fire’ judgment?
    Do they enter the city or not?

    thanks, rory

    1. Rory,

      Since I am only exploring an alternative, one which I see has having some merit, I will answer your questions the best I can, given that I might at some future point, change my answers a bit.

      I think that the wicked – the unholy trinity, the kings of the earth, and the nations – went into the lake of fire. By healed, I mean what John said in Revelation 22.2 wherein he said that in this city was the tree which would heal the nations. θεραπείαν means cure, healing. So, is it here that the nations are cured?

      I personally would use the term ‘saved’ for these people, but θεραπείαν. Maybe that is the better term, as it implies a process and if reading Revelation straightforward at this point, it would take place (long?) after being cast into the lake of fire.

      The bible does say that both the nations and the kings of the earth, which everywhere else in Scripture, except for Kings and Chronicles, are pictured as those who actively appose God and His Christ. Here too, are the nations pictured in like manner, so it would not be the best hermeneutic to assume that John, in the last time they are mentioned in Scripture, suddenly without explanation, redefines the term.

  2. Thanks Joel.

    In immediate context, it seems to me the nations (Gr. ethnos) that are ‘healed’ in Rev. 22:2 are the same nations that were mentioned just a few verses before as the saved nations, who walk in the light of the city, and the kings are from those saved peoples. Compare:

    “And 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 honour into it” (Rev. 21:24).

    “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, [was there] the tree of life, which bare twelve [manner of] fruits, [and] yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree [were] for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).

    1. Rory, it would seem that this is a textual problem. The NA-27/UBS reads:

      The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it (Rev 21:24 NASB)

      The TR in use by the KJV and the NKJV – although the NKJV has a marginal note – reads ‘them which are saved.

      1. The Greek in this verse translated ‘saved’ in the KJV, NKJV, YNG, and WEB is sozo, meaning saved. However, I see that textual note in the NKJV which reads:

        * NU-Text and M-Text omit of those who are saved.
        * M-Text reads the glory and honor of the nations to Him.

        … which is apparently why this phrase does not appear in the NLT, NIV, ESB, NASB, RSV, ASV, DBY, and HNV.

        There are some very strong opinions on this matter. Here are a couple, which I have looked at in some depth (I have the ‘New Age Bible Versions’ book which is interesting) but am not fully qualified to render judgment on this:

        http://www.avpublications.com/3_catalogue/nabv/nabv_html_tract.htm#anchor1086736
        http://www.scionofzion.com/revelation_21_24.htm

        Here’s the deal:

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Tischendorf 8th Ed. with Diacritics
        καί περιπατέω ὁ ἔθνος διά ὁ φῶς αὐτός καί ὁ βασιλεύς ὁ γῆ φέρω ὁ δόξα αὐτός εἰς αὐτός

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Greek Orthodox Church
        καὶ περιπατήσουσι τὰ ἔθνη διὰ τοῦ φωτὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς φέρουσι τὴν δόξαν καὶ τὴν τιμὴν αὐτῶν εἰς αὐτήν,

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Stephanus Textus Receptus (1550, with accents)
        καὶ τὰ ἔθνη τῶν σωζομένων ἐν τῷ φωτί αὐτῆς περιπατήσουσιν καὶ οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς φέρουσιν τὴν δόξαν καὶ τὴν τιμὴν αὐτῶν εἰς αὐτήν

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Westcott/Hort with Diacritics
        καὶ περιπατήσουσιν τὰ ἔθνη διὰ τοῦ φωτὸς αὐτῆς, καὶ οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς φέρουσιν τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν εἰς αὐτήν,

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Tischendorf 8th Ed.
        και περιπατησουσιν τα εθνη δια του φωτος αυτης και οι βασιλεις της γης φερουσιν την δοξαν αυτων εις αυτην

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Byzantine/Majority Text (2000)
        και περιπατησουσιν τα εθνη δια του φωτος αυτης και οι βασιλεις της γης φερουσιν αυτω δοξαν και τιμην των εθνων εις αυτην

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Textus Receptus (1550)
        και τα εθνη των σωζομενων εν τω φωτι αυτης περιπατησουσιν και οι βασιλεις της γης φερουσιν την δοξαν και την τιμην αυτων εις αυτην

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Textus Receptus (1894)
        και τα εθνη των σωζομενων εν τω φωτι αυτης περιπατησουσιν και οι βασιλεις της γης φερουσιν την δοξαν και την τιμην αυτων εις αυτην

        ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΨΙΣ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ 21:24 Greek NT: Westcott/Hort
        και περιπατησουσιν τα εθνη δια του φωτος αυτης και οι βασιλεις της γης φερουσιν την δοξαν αυτων εις αυτην

        My guess from what I’ve seen is that ‘saved’ should be in there, but it’s admittedly a guess.

        So … k

        1. Rory, I wouldn’t build any support on what AVpublications say. Further, Riplinger’s book is one filled with, well, lies.

          I consulted Comfort’s book which stated that only in 1 Codex, 12c, which Erasmus’ primary one in building what became the TR (and when translated, the KJV), is that variant in there. In the earliest MSS, the variant is missing. I note that the 1598 Latin Vulgate does not have the variant.

          I believe that this is a significant variant.

          1. Yeah, someone gave me “New Age Bible Versions” and I read it with both eyes open. Some of it makes sense to me and some not, I don’t buy a lot of it either, but did find it interesting and informational as long as one is willing to separate the wheat from the chaff (not that anyone likes having to do that).

            As if we didn’t already know though, it does bring to mind again how translations are often based on bias and motives of translators, and without being overly paranoid, motives of some may be reverent and godly, but some seem to be insidiously watering down or ‘leavening the bread’. For general use, selecting a reliable version is increasingly important.

            Thanks for the additional info.

          2. Even the KJV had biases as well.

            Indeed, it pays to study all of these issues, or at least trust someone who has! 🙂

            As a follow-up to Riplinger, you might want to check out James White’s book on the subject.

  3. Hi Joel,

    I’ve been looking at this more, and my guess is that the language and idea here in Revelation is largely based on Isaiah 60, which represents the millennial kings of the earth as saved and national Israel redeemed and glorified into eternity. I think this is worth reading as a whole to get the overall idea and see the many corresponding references:

    Isaiah 60

    “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee: they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory. Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows? Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee. And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee. Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious. The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee; The city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas thou has been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations. Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breast of kings: and thou shalt know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob. For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise. The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time.”

    Lots of references yes?

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