Revelation 19:15 and the Coming Reign of Jesus over the Nations

I often have been drawn to Revelation 19:15. This verse comes in the middle of Revelation 19:11–21, a dramatic section describing Jesus’ second coming from heaven to earth. Concerning Jesus the verse reads:

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

4 Messianic Passages and Revelation 19:15

Note that the wording of Revelation 19:15 is closely connected to four Old Testament [OT] messianic passages:

  • Isaiah 49:2a: “And He [God] has made My [Servant’s] mouth like a sharp sword.”
  • Isaiah 11:4b: “And He [Messiah] will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”
  • Psalm 2:9a: “You [Messiah] shall break them with a rod of iron,”
  • Isaiah 63:2-3: “Why is Your [the Lord’s] apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? ‘I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger, And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment.’”

Putting it together, the connection of these OT verses to Revelation 19:15 can be seen with the following:

From His mouth comes a sharp sword (Isa. 49:2), so that with it He may strike down the nations (Isa. 11:4b); and He will rule them with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9); and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Isa. 63:2-3).

Yet even with this strong connection to four OT messianic passages, I do not think John is “quoting” the OT in Revelation 19:15. John is seeing a vision. He is writing down what he saw (see Rev. 1:11). As John writes what he saw this coincides with what the OT prophets earlier predicted since God inspired both the OT passages and John’s vision. It is no surprise that what Johns sees for the future is consistent with what the OT prophets wrote centuries earlier. John’s knowledge of the OT probably combined with what He saw, resulting in the inspired words of Revelation 19:15. Addressing how John could see real visions that coincided with OT wording, Beale and McDonough state, “Perhaps one of the reasons for the high degree of OT influence in Revelation is that John could think of no better way to describe some of his visions, which were difficult to explain, than with the language already used by the OT prophets to describe similar visions.” (“Revelation,” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1087)

The Main Point

Revelation 19:15 describes a devastating show of force as Jesus comes from heaven to earth to defeat His enemies and rule the nations. This is a violent and dramatic event evidenced by the verbs “strike,” “rule,” and “tread,” and the words “the fierce wrath of God.” His first coming primarily involved Jesus’ role as Lamb and Suffering Servant (see Acts 3:18). But the second coming emphasizes Jesus’ role as the conquering Warrior-King and Judge. The Lamb is also the Lion from the Tribe of Judah (see Rev. 5:5-6).

A Future Rule

Revelation 19:15a indicates that Jesus will “strike down the nations.” The term patasso means to “strike” or “beat” and reveals a decisive defeat of God’s enemies. Since the nations of the earth are still in rebellion against God this statement awaits future fulfillment.

Then the words “He will rule them” reveal a coming rule of Jesus over the nations. The word poimaino means to “rule” or “shepherd.” Including its use in 19:15, the term is found eleven times in the New Testament. It is used most often in an authoritative sense such as in Revelation 2:27 and 12:5. A softer shepherding sense is found in Revelation 7:17 and 1 Peter 5:2. Psalm 2:9, which is alluded to in Revelation 19:15, predicted a strong coercive defeat and reign of the Messiah over the nations. The use of Psalm 2:9 in Revelation 2:26–27 and Revelation 12:5 with their wording of ruling with “a rod of iron” also points to an authoritative rule in Revelation 19:15.

The verb poimanei (“will rule”) in 19:15 is future active indicative and reveals that Jesus’ rule over the nations is future at the time of His second coming from heaven. Jesus is not coming to consummate an already kingdom reign. His second coming brings His rule over the nations. This truth is consistent with Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:28 and 25:31-32 where He stated that His Davidic throne reign awaits His second coming to earth.

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-32).

The Matthew 25:31 reference is particularly significant since again we see that the second coming of Jesus arrives before the judgment of the nations. Some millennial positions have Jesus’ Davidic/mediatorial/millennial reign coming to a culmination with His second coming, but this is not accurate. The second coming brings Jesus’ rule over the nations.

Currently Jesus is rightly “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), and with the events of Revelation 19 we see this truth actualized. The Second Coming ushers in the Davidic/mediatorial/millennial reign of Jesus; it does not end it. This reign is described in the ensuing passage of Revelation 20:1-6.

Revelation 19:15 shows that Jesus smites the nations and then rules over the nations. This scenario is described in Zechariah 14 where the returning Lord (Jesus) defeats the nations trying to destroy Jerusalem but then reigns over the nations on earth, including Egypt (see Zech. 14:2-3, 9, 16-19). To limit what Jesus is doing in Revelation 19:15 to merely destroying the nations with no subsequent reign does not do justice to Zechariah 14, Revelation 19:15, or the Bible’s storyline as a whole. Jesus defeats His enemies at His second coming and rules over the nations from this point onward. This scenario strongly supports the premillennial position which posits that Jesus’s second coming brings an earthly kingdom reign.

The Sharp Sword from Jesus’ Mouth

Some have questioned adopting a more literal understanding of the book of Revelation. One alleged absurdity of such a literal approach is the mention of a sharp sword coming from Jesus’ mouth—“From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:15a). Some think that if you take Revelation literally you must believe that a literal sword comes out of Jesus’ mouth.

This type of argument, though, is silly. As mentioned earlier, this language was found in the messianic passages of Isaiah 49:2 and Isaiah 11:4 where the Messiah speaks with such authority and power that his mouth can be likened to a sword. Since a literal and grammatical-historical hermeneutic allows for metaphors, similes, and figures of speech there is no problem with understanding Revelation 19:15a (and 19:21) in a way similar to Isaiah 49:2 and Isaiah 11:4. The dramatic metaphor of a sword coming from Jesus’ mouth indicates the awesome authority and power of Jesus’ words and commands to defeat His enemies. A similar idea is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 which says Jesus will slay the man of lawlessness (i.e. Antichrist) with His words: “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.” The mention of a sword coming from Jesus’ mouth in no way defeats a literal understanding of the book of Revelation.

Conclusion

Revelation 19:15 reveals that the second coming of Jesus brings a devastating defeat and rule over the nations. This event is future from our current standpoint in history and ushers in Jesus’ Davidic/millennial kingdom. The premillennial position that the second coming brings Jesus’ earthly kingdom rule over the nations is supported by Revelation 19:15.

Michael Vlach bio


Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D. (Twitter: @mikevlach) is Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary where he has been teaching full time since 2006. Michael specializes in the areas of Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions. Dr. Vlach was awarded the “Franz-Delitzsch Prize 2008” for his dissertation, “The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism.” He blogs here.

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There are 6 Comments

TylerR's picture

Editor

Great article. I have been thinking of preaching a sermon later this month about Christians, voting, and the coming kingdom. I haven't been sure how to frame it. I've been thinking of doing something like "Christians should vote to implement policies which best image the coming kingdom," but I haven't really thought deeply enough about this issue to do that. I may just preach on Rev 19, and the coming kingdom that's better than this one. Either way, this article was helpful.

I don't intent to start yet another thread on politics. I was just saying this discussion of Rev 19 turned my mind towards the better hope Christians have, when they look in dismay at the world today.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dgszweda's picture

I am sympathetic to both of these eschatologies, and find problems in both of them, but I lean toward dispensational.  I agree with the author above and the one struggle that I have with covenant that is never articulated, but the author touches upon above, is that John is seeing a vision and the angel is very clear in Chapter 4, verse 1, "I will show you what must take place after this".  Scripture is clear these are future state events.  So I struggle with covenant theology that states that most of this is taking place.  What I struggle with in dispensational is that ruling with a rod of iron can mean a lot of things.  Dispensationalism focuses on everything being focused on earthly constructs, while all of the rest of Scripture is focused on the Kingdom of Heaven.  You could perceive that Christ coming to deploy a final judgement and an elimination of the concept of a "nation" could be the a rod of iron, as his punishment would be complete and the final rule would be final.  I don't know, but my main point was that this is about future state.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Even if these events have been already fulfilled (not saying they have), or are presently being fulfilled (not saying they are), they were future to the Apostle John when he was given this revelation.  I don't see how Revelation 4:1 can be said to clearly assign these events to our future.  They were clearly future to John in the first century A.D.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

I don't see how Revelation 4:1 can be said to clearly assign these events to our future.

Isn't the question what "this" refers to? 

dgszweda's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Even if these events have been already fulfilled (not saying they have), or are presently being fulfilled (not saying they are), they were future to the Apostle John when he was given this revelation.  I don't see how Revelation 4:1 can be said to clearly assign these events to our future.  They were clearly future to John in the first century A.D.

For example, those that believe in amillenialism state that the 1,000 years is a symbolic number and that the millenium is a spiritual reign that started at Pentacost, or Christ's death...., but is essentially the Church Age.  This then causes them to pull a bunch of stuff forward as having started at that time, and I struggle as John is clearly documenting something that is to the future of himself, which would create problems for something starting at the start of the church, as that would not have been future to John.

T Howard's picture

Vlach wrote:
The term patasso means to “strike” or “beat” and reveals a decisive defeat of God’s enemies.

...

Vlach wrote:
The verb poimanei (“will rule”) in 19:15 is future active indicative and reveals that Jesus’ rule over the nations is future at the time of His second coming from heaven. Jesus is not coming to consummate an already kingdom reign. 

Just to be clear, there is a semantic range for each of these Greek words. John's use of them doesn't indicate what Vlach says it means unless the surrounding context calls for that meaning. For example, patasso could also mean "a light blow or push" (Acts 12:7). Given the importance of context to determine meaning, it's almost silly for Vlach to point out the Greek word John used as if that is determinative to the point he is making.

Same thing for his verb tense-form comment. The future active indicative can refer to future events that haven't already occurred, but it doesn't necessarily have to. Calling out the verb tense-form doesn't necessarily prove the theological point Vlach is trying to make.

This article is an example of exegetical maximalism and not a good use of the original languages.

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