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In the book of Revelation, it sometimes seems like the term "kings of the earth” is used to refer to the chosen ones, but in other verses it looks like they are the damned ones.

The chosen ones:

Revelation 1:5

... Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.

Revelation 21:24

And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.

Bonus: Psalm 89:27

Also I will make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.


The damned ones

Revelation 6:15

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, 16 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! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

Revelation 16:14

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.

Revelation 19:19

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 and against His army.

Bonus: Isaiah 24:21

It shall come to pass in that day That the Lord will punish on high the host of exalted ones, And on the earth the kings of the earth.

All quotes are NJKV.

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Recap

John uses the Greek phrase οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς (and declensions) eight times (or nine, depending on one textual variant in Revelation 16).

The first time, it appears within a description of Jesus in chapter 1: Jesus is 'the ruler of the kings of the earth'. The final time, the phrase is used in chapter 21, combined with an allusion to Isaiah 60: the 'the kings of the earth' bring their glory into the new Jerusalem of the new creation.

All of the other uses appear between chapters 6 and 19, always in an explicitly negative context: these 'kings of the earth' suffer the judgment symbolized in the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, finally concluding with their defeat by the rider of the white horse in chapter 19.


Influences

The Revelation 1 instance appears to be drawing on LXX Psalm 88, where we find an overlap of several key words: 'firstborn', 'the kings of the earth', and 'faithful witness':

Revelation 1.5

καὶ ἀπὸ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ μάρτυς, ὁ πίστος, ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν καὶ ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς


LXX Psalm 88.28,38

κἀγὼ πρωτότοκον θήσομαι αὐτόν ὑψηλὸν παρὰ τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν τῆς γῆς . . . κατηρτισμένη εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ὁ μάρτυς ἐν οὐρανῷ πιστός διάψαλμα

John here draws on this psalm to highlight Jesus' identity as a Davidic messiah; Jesus is the one whom God has exalted over all worldly powers ('the kings of the earth') in fulfillment of God's covenant with David (cf. LXX Psalm 88.28-29).


The next use of the phrase 'the kings of the earth' in Revelation does not appear until chapter 6, but even before we arrive at that chapter, something else catches our eye in chapter 2:

Revelation 2.18,26-27 (NRSV)

'And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
...
To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered
even as I also received authority from my Father.

Note the points I've placed in bold text; they all come directly from Psalm 2. In this psalm, God speaks to the king of Israel (i.e. David or his descendants):

Psalm 2.6-9 (NRSV)

'I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.'
I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, 'You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'

Because of the high degree of overlap here, it is very important that the Septuagint version of Psalm 2 uses the phrase in question, 'the kings of the earth', to describe the people who rebel 'against the Lord and his Christ':

LXX Psalm 2.2

παρέστησαν οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες συνήχθησαν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ κατὰ τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ διάψαλμα

Psalm 2 comes back in the Revelation at least three more times:

  • Revelation 12.5 describes a 'male child' (presumably a symbol for Jesus) as ascending to God's throne in order 'to rule all the nations with a rod of iron',
  • Revelation 14.1 has 'the Lamb' (Jesus) 'standing on Mount Zion',
  • Revelation 19.11-16 has a highly symbolic depiction of Jesus, describing how 'From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron'.

I would suggest that the Revelation has been shaped, in broad strokes, by a particular reading of Psalm 2. John has employed key phrases from the psalm and invested them with a specific symbolic significance throughout the Revelation.

In this case, John has borrowed the psalm's phrase 'the kings of the earth' and utilized it throughout his book to represent all those world rulers who stand opposed to The One Sitting On The Throne and The Lamb (i.e. LXX Psalm 2.2, 'the Lord and his Christ').

John brings his various references to Psalm 2 back together in Revelation 19: Jesus wields 'the iron rod' to rule 'the nations' and strike down those who oppose him; at the beckoning of the beast and his false prophet, 'the kings of the earth' rally against Jesus, only to be swiftly defeated, per the psalm.

Amid all this, LXX Psalm 88 may still stand behind John's use of the phrase, but LXX Psalm 2.2 has dominated the phrase's usage for John.


A twist ending?

After the severely negative depiction of 'the kings of the earth' throughout the Revelation, their reappearance in 21.24 is rather unexpected. In this passage, John has drawn extensively from Isaiah 60:

Revelation 21.22-27 (NRSV)

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, 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. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.


Isaiah 60.11,19 (NRSV)

Your gates shall always be open;
day and night they shall not be shut,
so that nations shall bring you their wealth,
with their kings led in procession.
. . .
The sun shall no longer be
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give light to you by night;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.

The Septuagint of Isaiah 60 doesn't use the phrase οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς, and the Masoretic Hebrew makes no reference to 'the kings of the earth' either.

John appears to have deliberately imported the phrase 'the kings of the earth' from LXX Psalm 2 and/or 88 into his allusion to Isaiah 60.11. Given John's systematically negative portrayal of 'the kings of the earth' throughout the Revelation, I find his use of the phrase in a positive sense in chapter 21 to be surprising and optimistic.

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  • Isaiah 60:11 refers to "the dogs outside" who are denied entrance to the city coming to the gates and paying tribute. – user10231 Oct 17 '15 at 16:46
  • Great answer, Mark! In the Hebrew of Isaiah 60.18 is embedded the idea that Jesus himself is the structure of the walls around the city: "you shall call your walls Salvation [Yeshuah] and your gates Praise [Tehillah]." By the English translation's implication, then, to approach the city walls is per se "to become saved," which I would interpret as your twist optimistic ending for John's "Kings of the Earth." – Adinkra Nov 11 '16 at 22:03
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The "Kings of the Earth" mostly means exactly what it says it does - i.e. earthly rulers. Revelation, however, is a highly symbolic book, and the people in it are not necessary identifiable individuals but types or groups. Meanings of the passages are:

  • Revelation 1:5 "Jesus will be the highest ruler over all the earth"
  • Revelation 21: "Everyone on Earth, no matter how powerful, will worship Jesus"
  • Psalm 89: "Jesus will be over all rulers"
  • Revelation 6: "Rulers will be afraid"
  • Revelation 16,19: "Rulers will fight against The Lord"
  • Isaiah 24: "God will punish even the highest rulers"

Since all these events can take place at different times, or may be symbolic, it isn't necessary that they refer to the same actual people. It also doesn't have to mean every single ruler on earth, just rulers in general. In the same way that when we say "Americans voted for Barack Obama" we don't mean every single one did.

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  • 2
    Your answer pretty much sums it up; "Kings of the earth" in each of those contexts means temporal authority over nations. "King" can have a different meaning, however. The "King of Tyre" in Ezekiel 28 represents Satan-no one else can lay claim to be "the anointed cherub that covereth". – Tau Apr 16 '15 at 8:28
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The Kings of the earth can be put into two groups.

  1. There are the Kings of the earth who worship the beast

  2. There are the Kings of the earth who follow Christ.

Revelation 13:8 NIV,it is written,

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

It is clear from the above scripture that the ones who do not worship the beast are the followers of Christ and all the rest,are worshipers of the beast.They are referred to as "the inhabitants of the earth," and they along with the Kings of the earth,choose to worship the beast instead of worshiping Christ.

What one must understand with reference to Rev 13:8,is that not all the Kings of the earth will worship the beast, but some will follow Christ.Read into the scripture for understanding.It explains it well,

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.

Taking into account the above scripture,one can say that some Kings of the earth,along with some inhabitants of the earth will follow Christ.This is further reinforced in Revelation 21:22-27,when the Kings of the earth, who are followers of Christ,will bring their glory into the "New Jerusalem."

Revelation 21:22-27

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, 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. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Conclusion.

The Kings of the earth who are referenced in Revelation 21:24,are followers of Christ,this is why they are allowed to bring their "Glory" into the New Jerusalem.In short,their names have been written into the book of life which belongs to the lamb that was slain.All the other Kings of the earth do not have their name recorded in the lambs book of life,because they are followers of the beast.These kings of the earth belong to the group called "inhabitants of the earth," as recorded in the above scriptures,and all inhabitants of the earth whose names are not written into the book of life,are considered shameful and deceitful, and are not allowed to enter the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21:27 (NIV)

Nothing impure will enter it,nor will anyone who does what is shameful

or deceitful,but only those whose names are written,

in the Lambs book of life.

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  • I think this is the truth, so gained my approvation... Matthew 16:26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? – Juan Jun 30 '15 at 15:00
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The 3 instances the OP has identified as being about "the chosen ones" are not, to my thinking "saints" but rather plain old kings. I'll explain my thinking in regard to the 2 verses cited as well as the Bonus, Ps 89:27:

1) Revelation 1:5 ... Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.

The word translated "ruler", contextually means "the highest ruler among the kings of the earth". That is, out of all the kings of the earth he is the top banana. We'll see this again when he is referred to as "the firstborn" in just a sec.

2) Revelation 21:24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.

The "story" of the Revelation is that God will use broad-brush terrorism from the sky to so torment and humiliate the nations of the earth that they become demoralized and submit to God and his Christ. The Revelation is the account of God putting all things beneath Christ's feet. The kings of the earth, rather than receiving tribute from others bring tribute to God and to his Christ (anointed Davidic king).

3) (Bonus): Psalm 89:27 And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

In a middle eastern tribal society like the Israelites' (and here all of the tribes of the earth are viewed in the analogy of a single tribe) each tribe is represented by an alpha male. This would often be the oldest male of the tribe but it needn't be. It may be someone else who is made the "sheik" for other practical reasons. God promised David that [his descendant] would become "sheik" or "firstborn" even though he wasn't born first. Of course it can also be viewed that he indeed was born before any of the other kings.

I see the usage of the phrase "kings of the earth" to consistenly refer to normal earthly rulers.

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I am coming to believe that the "kings of the Earth" refers to something broader and deeper than we think it means. We humans "serve" the Kings of the Earth in money-need and consigned to dying. We accept Christ, who is .their enemy.. and we are slowly drawn away from them to escape the bondage of money-need and death. You can see how "death is the last enemy to be defeated". more to follow if anyone wants to talk about it.. ^

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In the Book of Revelation there is one verse stating that the kings of the earth will honor the new Jerusalem and will choose christ. In other verses in the Book of Revelation it mentions other kings of the earth waging war against Jesus Christ.

Therefore some kings of the earth will turn to Christ as believers, and other kings of the earth will wage war against Jesus Christ. Remember King David, for example. King David committed sins but afterward he turned to God and repented of his sins. King David, King Solomon, and King Saul all were kings of the earth. Nebuchadnezzar was also a king of the earth. Although he most likely worshiped God the Father, we don't have much evidence. But I do believe he worshipped other Gods while worshiping God the Father, the true God, as the greatest God.

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