The “nations” and the “kings of the earth” are found in “New Jerusalem” because of the work of the sacrificial Lamb and his saints.
The Book of Revelation presents images that are jarring and paradoxical, visions that do not conform to our expectations about how God works. His plans to subjugate His enemies and “judge” the nations differ radically from popular ideas. Just as his contemporaries did not understand him, so, too often, we fail to comprehend the “slain Lamb” who reigns from God’s throne.
For example, in the vision of the “rider on a white horse,” the figure’s robe was “sprinkled with blood” BEFORE he engaged in “combat” with the “beast” and its allies. Whose blood was it, and how did it get there?
His only weapon was the great “sword” that “proceeded out of his mouth.” Rather than a bloodstained blade hanging from his belt, on his thigh, it is written – “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He is the “Word of God” sent to “judge and make war in righteousness,” and NOT in rage. The men of his “army” were “clothed with fine linen, white, pure,” with no weapon in sight. And his “sword” was used “to shepherd the nations,” not to crush them or lop off heads.
At first glance, this “war” appeared to result in the end of the “nations” and the “kings of the earth.” However, both groups reappear in the vision of New Jerusalem, where the “nations” walk in the Lamb’s light, and the “kings of the earth brought their glory into” the city. Rather than the aftermath of great slaughter, the life-giving river flowed from the throne, bordered on either side by the tree of life, and “its leaves were for the healing of the nations” – (Revelation 21:24-26, 22:1-4).
In the book’s prologue, Jesus is called the “Ruler of the Kings of the earth,” the one who redeemed us and made us a “kingdom of priests.” The statement uses past tense verbs to describe things already achieved through his Death and Resurrection. Thus, already, the “saints” reign with him, and they do so as “priests.” They mediate his light to a darkened world. And they “overcome” and reign in the same manner that he did, by self-sacrificial service, perseverance, and yes, by martyrdom – (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:21, 12:11).
If Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” what kind of king would he be if he allowed Satan to conquer the “nations” for all time? After all, is he not the Messiah who overcame to “shepherd the nations”? What kind of shepherd allows a predatory beast to slaughter his sheep? – (Revelation 12:5, 19:15).
In the book, the term “nation” is fluid in its application. It is used both negatively and positively. For example, the “beast” was granted authority over men from every “nation, people, tongue, and tribe.” But far more often, it is the “Lamb” who is designated as the one who purchased “men from every nation, people, tribe and tongue.” He is the king over his redeemed people, and they belong to him – (Revelation 5:6-10, 7:9-17, 13:7-10).
At times, the “nations” are victimized by the “Dragon” and his vassals. “Babylon” is condemned because “she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” She, “by her sorceries, deceived all the nations.” Ultimately, it is Satan who “deceives all the nations.” How can Jesus “overcome” to “shepherd the nations” if he allows the Devil to keep his ill-gotten gains? – (Revelation 14:8, 18:3, 18:23, 20:3-8).
In the end, both the “nations” and their “kings” are found in the city of “New Jerusalem,” where they give honor and glory to the “Lamb” and the One who “sits on the Throne.” This happy result was predicted in the book:
- (Revelation 15:4) – “Who shall in any way not be put in fear, O Lord, and glorify your name, alone, full of lovingkindness; because all the nations will come and do homage before you, because your righteous deeds were made manifest?”
This last prediction finds its fulfillment in the “New Jerusalem”:
- “The nations of them which are saved will walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it…And they will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it” – (Revelation 21:24-22:4).
This is not to say that the “Lamb” has no human enemies. There are men and women whose “names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Unrepentant sinners find themselves cast into the “Lake of Fire.” And the “Lamb” has four “cosmic” enemies that oppose him at every turn – the “Dragon,” the “Beast,” the “False Prophet,” and “the Great Whore, Babylon.” Human beings that ally with the “Dragon” and give their allegiance to his “beast” have their names excluded from the “book of the life.”
The term applied most often to human opponents of the “Lamb” is the “inhabitants of the earth.” This group will face the final “hour of trial, which is going to come…to try the inhabitants of the earth.” The martyrs that John saw “underneath the altar” pleaded with God to avenge their blood on the “inhabitants of the earth,” the same group that rejoiced over the deaths of the “two witnesses” – (Revelation 3:10, 6:9-11, 8:7-13).
The “inhabitants of the earth” is composed of unrepentant men and women that submit themselves to the “beast” and embrace its “mark.” They are identified explicitly as the ones “whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” They do not represent all humanity, but only those men and women who consciously oppose the “Lamb” and refuse to repent – (Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10).
The “inhabitants of the earth” are never presented in a positive light, and no member of the group is found in “New Jerusalem,” although the “kings of the earth” and the “nations” do inhabit the city.
“New Jerusalem” will descend to the earth, not to become the home of a tiny “remnant” that make it to the city by the “skin of their teeth.” Instead, it will be inhabited by a multitude of men and women from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue” – All standing in worship before the “throne and before the Lamb” – A multitude of redeemed men and women so vast, “no man can number them” – (Revelation 7:9-17).
Finally, the “Lamb” does not redeem the “nations” through military conquest or governmental force, but through the perseverance, priestly service, and the testimony of his “saints,” the very ones who overcome the Devil by “the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives even unto death.”