The Kings of the Earth
In the book of Revelation, we find characters called “the kings of the earth.” Regardless of your approach to reading Revelation, a study of the kings of the earth is quite enlightening. Let’s begin by carefully looking at nearly every reference to these kings in Revelation:
The Kings of the Earth in Revelation (NKJV)
John, to the seven churches which are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.
Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!
For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.
For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.
The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning.
And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse [Christ] and against His army.
Barring Revelation 1:5 (which simply tells us that Jesus Christ is the Ruler over the kings of the earth), what do the rest of these verses tell us about these kings? What is their character? What are they like? How do they relate to God?
It is quite clear that they are God’s enemies.
They are the ones who commit fornication with the harlot (who symbolizes the evil city of Babylon) and lead their peoples to become drunk with her wine. They are the ones who mourn the destruction of this same vile city, with whom they lived in corrupt luxury. They are the ones who make war against God, gathered by the “spirits of demons” to the battle of Armageddon.
In short, they are the bad guys—the really, really bad guys. And this characterization of the kings of the earth is not unique to Revelation, but rather something that we find elsewhere, in both the Old and New Testaments.
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
Acts 4:26 (NKJV)
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.
So, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn of their fate in their great battle against God in Revelation 19:21: they “were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse." The notorious villains get killed in the battle—a fitting end to the epic story.
Or is it?
Well, as it turns out, that is not the end of the story. There is one more reference in Revelation (the final reference to the kings of the earth) that we have not looked at yet:
Revelation 21:24-26 (ESV)
By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
This final passage is discussing the New Jerusalem that has descended from Heaven to earth, a city with gates that never shut as the kings of the earth (and the nations they led to destruction) bring glory and honor into it. This happens after the deaths of the kings and their armies, after the resurrection and judgment of the dead in Revelation 20, after the wicked were cast into the lake of fire for purification. After death and judgment, we find the promise that “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” and “no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:5). And we hear the glorious proclamation: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Does this “all things” include even the kings of the earth—the vile, corrupt leaders who consorted with Babylon and battled against Christ?
The answer is yes. Undeniably yes.
It is these kings of the earth that are bringing the glory and honor of the nations into the new Jerusalem, a city into which no unclean or corrupt thing is permitted to enter. Therefore, they must be no longer unclean or corrupt. They have experienced judgment and restoration and are no longer under the deception of the proverbial harlot of Babylon that once ruled over them. There does not seem to be any other good way to read the text.
Now, in an effort to deny this understanding, some may attempt to claim that the kings of the earth in Revelation 21 are different kings of the earth than those seen in the rest of Revelation. But this is a rather silly claim. There are no textual clues that indicate that we are talking about different kings. The kings of the earth have been a repeated motif throughout the book. To say that they suddenly represent different characters, without any warning, is unjustified. To illustrate why, consider the following, very poorly written short story.
The popular girls bullied Sara. The popular girls were mean and nasty to her. The popular girls stole her pencils out of her desk. The popular girls did not let Sara play with them. The popular girls pushed her around during recess. The popular girls hurt her deeply. The popular girls were sent to the principal’s office and punished appropriately. The popular girls went back to class and apologized to Sara. The popular girls and Sara are now friends.
The popular girls, like the kings of the earth, clearly represent particular characters in the story. So, if I ask you whether the popular girls and Sara were reconciled by the end of the story, what would you say? I imagine that you would answer yes.
But what if I insisted that they were not reconciled and that the popular girls that apologized to Sara and became her friends are different popular girls, not the ones that were bullying her in the rest of the story? I imagine that you would not be impressed with my reading comprehension and would deny my assertion. Of course, they are the same characters. We have no reason to assume otherwise and every contextual reason to recognize that they must be the same characters. Otherwise, the story simply makes no sense at all.
Just like the popular girls in the short story, the kings of the earth are consistent characters throughout Revelation. Both character sets experienced consequences for their wrong actions and reconciliation. The objection that the kings of the earth died in Revelation is irrelevant because they were also resurrected. We know from the story that they came back to life, experienced judgment, and then commenced to bring their treasures into the New Jerusalem, for the former things have passed away and all things are being made new by Christ. To insist that the author is abruptly referring to different, previously unmentioned kings of the earth (after repeatedly referring to these characters throughout the text) is to insist that he is a totally incompetent writer. I reject the idea that this is a good way to interpret Revelation or, in fact, any text.
Furthermore, if someone insists on such a reading, they have to do so by denying other scriptures as well. The understanding that the corrupt kings of the earth will eventually come to a right relationship with God is not unique to Revelation. Elsewhere, the Bible insists that every single king will come to praise and worship God:
Psalm 72:11 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
All the Kings of the Earth will worship him and all the nations shall serve him.
Psalm 138:4 (NKJV)
All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O LORD, when they hear the words of Your mouth.
Notice that it is all the kings of the earth and all the nations that they ruled over worshipping, praising, and serving God. It is not just some of the kings of the earth; it is all the kings of the earth. All of them means all of them, by definition. These psalms, therefore, confirm that Revelation’s reference to the kings of the earth who bring their treasures into the new Jerusalem must include even the wicked, idolatrous, corrupt kings who battle against God in the rest of the book. Even Nebuchadnezzar, the narcissistic megalomaniac who insisted on being worshipped on pains of death, is humbled and praises God (Daniel 4:27-37). Even Manasseh, a king so wicked that he burned his own sons alive in idol worship and “shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end” humbled himself and was restored to his kingdom by God (2 Chronicles 33 and 2 Kings 21). If God can transform these men, He can transform everyone.
And He does—for the Bible tells me so.
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