Nov 12, 2013

The Significance of Revelation 5:10 for the Timing and Nature of the Kingdom of God

Michael VlachBy Dr. Michael J. Vlach
Theological Studies

Twitter Facebook RSS Contact Amazon

One often-overlooked kingdom passage is Rev 5:10. Here we find an explicit reference to the kingdom and the saints' role in it:

"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

This verse has important implications for the kingdom's timing and nature. In sum, it shows that the kingdom of Jesus is future and earthly.

So in this blog entry, I want to address the significance of Rev 5:10 and then make some comments concerning implications regarding millennial views.

The background for Rev 5:10 is the heavenly throne room scene of Revelation 4-5. The Father has a scroll in His hand which represents the title deed to the earth. The time has come for God to judge the world for its rebellion and establish His kingdom. The only One found worthy to take the scroll and open the wrath judgments within it is Jesus the Lamb. Jesus takes the scroll from the Father. Revelation 5:8-10 then reveals a song of praise:

"When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.'" (emphasis mine).

5 Truths about Revelation 5:10

This section reveals five key truths about the kingdom program, including its timing and nature.

First, there is relationship and a distinction between God's kingdom in heaven and the coming kingdom upon the earth. There is a heavenly throne room scene that anticipates a coming kingdom upon the earth. Jesus takes the scroll from the Father on His heavenly throne [Universal Kingdom] so that a "reign upon the earth" [Davidic/Millennial Kingdom] can occur.

That there is a kingdom of the Father in heaven is clear. Revelation 4:2 tells of "One sitting on the throne." Also, the word "throne" is found at least seventeen times in Revelation 4-5. So there is a kingdom that exists in heaven. This is the universal kingdom of the Father as He rules over all. But this heavenly kingdom is not all there is to the kingdom program. It anticipates a kingdom that must be established "upon the earth." This is the kingdom of the Messiah, the Davidic kingdom predicted by Gabriel (see Luke 1:31-33) and Jesus (see Matt 19:28; 25:31).

Second, the people Jesus purchased with His blood are said to be "a kingdom." Believers in Jesus are positionally related to the kingdom and form the nucleus of it (see Rev 1:6). This shows a present relationship of the kingdom to the present, not in the form of a reign yet, but a growing group of followers who have believed in King Jesus and are qualified to enter His kingdom.

Third, the saints of God are destined to reign with Christ. When Jesus reigns, the saints will also reign. This shows that Jesus will share His kingdom authority with His followers. In Rev 2:26-27, Jesus promised His followers that they would share in His reign over the nations. This was motivation for those currently facing difficult times. Because Jesus has authority as "ruler of the kings of the earth," (Rev 1:5) the saints can know that they will reign with Him.

Fourth, this kingdom reign is future—"they will reign." Revelation 5:10 shows that the kingdom of Jesus is future. At the time of the heavenly throne room scene the kingdom reign of Rev 5:10 had not started yet. But this reign will occur after the second coming of Jesus (see Rev 19) as described in Rev 20:4:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

So then, Rev 5:10 and Rev 20:4 are connected.

  • Rev 5:10: "they will reign upon the earth." (promise of reward)
  • Rev 20:4: "they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years." (promise actualized)

Revelation 5:10 is the promise of a coming reign of the saints while Rev 20:4 is the actualization of the kingdom reign. On the flip side, the condition of the saints before the return of Jesus is not that of reigning. It is persecution and trial (see Revelation 2-3; 6-19). Yet these conditions will give way to a kingdom reign in the future.

Fifth, this coming reign of the saints is "upon the earth." The "earth" (not heaven) is the realm of the saints' reign. This shows that the kingdom is based on earth and refutes the idea that Messiah's kingdom reign is from heaven. The idea of an earthly kingdom is an explicit doctrine in Scripture. The reign of the saints and Jesus must be in the realm of the original creation given to man in Genesis 1-2. It is not the case that Adam was tasked with ruling the earth while the Messianic/Davidic rule of Jesus and the saints is in heaven. Jesus will succeed in the domain that Adam failed.

Theological Implications and Millennial Views

Revelation 5:10 is powerful evidence for the view that Jesus' millennial kingdom is future and earthly. It is a supporting text for premillennialism and is a difficult passage for amillennialism which views the millennium as now and spiritual.

In my study of this topic, I surveyed five scholarly defenses of amillennialism by four fine scholars. Two authors did not address Rev 5:10 (Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative, and Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times). I am not sure why these authors did not address this verse, but it seems odd to leave out a passage that explicitly discusses the timing and nature of the kingdom reign.

Another, by Anthony Hoekema (The Bible and the Future), addresses Rev 5:9-10 but denies its connection to the millennium and Rev 20:4, which is difficult to sustain in my opinion. Hoekema places Rev 5:10 in the Eternal State. Yet, while correctly putting Rev 5:10 in the future, Hoekema wrongly separates the kingdom of Rev 5:10 from Jesus' kingdom reign of Revelation 20.

Greg Beale opts for a minority textual reading that puts the reign of Rev 5:10 in the present as opposed to the future (see The Book of Revelation, pp. 361-64). Beale restates this view in his A New Testament Biblical Theology (348). I am not a New Testament textual scholar, but Beale's conclusion goes against the vast majority of translations that translate Rev 5:10 as "will reign" or "shall reign" including NASB, NIV, NLT, HCSB, ESV, KJV, ISV, and NET Bible. Two translations that support Beal's understanding are ASV, and ERV. I found it interesting that Hoekema argued for the future tense: "the best texts have the future tense" (The Bible and the Future, 283). I am not seeing enough evidence to go against the overwhelming consensus that the best translation is "will reign."

In addition, Beale argues that context makes him lean toward the present view of Rev 5:10 but this is difficult to go with since this verse speaks of the saints reigning on the "earth." In what sense are saints reigning on the earth when the conditions of Revelation 2-3 and 6-19 describe intense persecution from Satan and the world?

The best understanding is that Rev 5:10 shows that Jesus' kingdom is both future and earthly. Premillennialism affirms this truth.