Rule the nations with a rod of iron

Jesus is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (Revelation 12:5). I noticed that I had been selectively tuning out this phrase because I didn’t understand it. So what does it mean? When is this going to happen?

A “rod of iron” indicates firm, disciplinary control. The Living Bible explains this phrase in Revelation 12:5 as “with a heavy hand”.

Revelation 19:15 also mentions that Christ will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

So how does this fit in with the idea that the believers shall be resurrected when Christ returns (1 Thes 4) and that we shall all be changed (1 Cor 15:51ff)? When will this “ruling” happen? And who will be around to be ruled?

The Thousand Years in Revelation 20

Have a read of the whole chapter of Revelation 20.

In verse 4 a group of believers, who remained true to Christ during the tribulation and paid for it with their lives, come back to life and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. This concept of reigning with Christ for a thousand years is repeated in verse 6.

In verses 7 – 9 it is clear that there are unbelievers around, “the nations”. Satan, after his release from his prison in the abyss, rallies the nations against the saints (believers) and the beloved city (Jerusalem). Then fire comes down from heaven and devours those who tried to attack the believers.

So this raises another thing that I need to pay close attention to when studying the end times in the Bible. When I read about an event, like the nations assembled to make war, I can’t assume that this type of event has only one occurrence. For example, Revelation 19:19-21 records a similar event to Revelation 20:7-10 – are they the same event or different events which may be separated by a 1,000 years? This makes me wonder what else I have got muddled up? For example, does the great earthquake in Ezekiel 38 occur chronologically after Ezekiel 36 and 37 and so perhaps might be describing things from a Revelation 20:7-9 perspective?

How does Christ reigning the nations for a thousand years fit in with other passages of Scripture?

Christ reigning in 1 Corinthians 15

1 Corinthians 15:20-28 not only talks about how by man came death (evolution says the exact opposite) and the order that people shall be made alive but what Christ is doing during “the end”:

then comes the end,
when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father,
when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

“Death” is spoken of like a person similar to Satan, both here in 1 Corinthians 15 and in Revelation 20 (verses 13 and 14).

The nations are around while Israel lives in peace in Ezekiel 36, 37

The last three verses of Ezekiel 36 are:

“Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken and will do it.”
Thus says the Lord God, “This also I will let the house of Israel ask Me to do for them: I will increase their men like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so will the waste cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

Did you notice that the nations are still present? This is also very much in evidence in the last paragraph of Ezekiel 37. And that phrase “then the nations will know that I am the Lord” is repeated many times throughout Ezekiel, especially in this section of the book.

Reading that last paragraph in Ezekiel (verses 24-28) reinforces the concept that Christ reigning and Israel living in peace in the land is a fulfilment of many passages and promises in the Old Testament. God has not forgotten about them (Romans 9 – 11). Unfortunately, as a generalisation, these concepts seem so strange and unknown to the modern day church in Western countries, even though we are fortunate to have the whole Bible translated into our own language.

Christ ruling the nations with a rod of iron in Psalm 2

Psalm 2 is another one of those familiar passages about Christ where I have not taken in or appreciated what it might mean in terms of Christ ruling the nations.

When I read this psalm I get both upset and saddened by the moral decisions that the leadership of my country are making. It is a reminder to pray for our leaders. Take a moment right now and do that.

I would like to quote verses 8 and 9 (NIV), where God the Father is speaking to His Son, Jesus:

‘Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’

The warnings in verses 10-12 make much more sense in the context of Christ ruling the nations compared to the idea that Christ will come charging in and almost immediately send people to either heaven or hell.

Rule in the midst of your enemies in Psalm 110

Psalm 110 is another famous psalm about Christ and, like Psalm 2, there is a conversation going on between God the Father and God the Son.

The LORD says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

This passage makes clear that the “nations” that Christ will be ruling over will not be made up of obedient, resurrected believers, but rather Christ’s enemies. This is the same picture that we get from Psalm 2.

Judging with righteousness in Isaiah 11

This chapter has a well known passage about the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, a young child putting his hand into a snake’s den and not getting hurt, etc. This passage always reminds me of Graham Braddock, a great Christian painter, who was quite taken by this vivid picture.

The first paragraph (verses 1-5) talks about how Christ will judge with fairness and righteousness and will come down hard on those who are wicked (especially verse 4). this time of peace will even extend to animals with each other and animals with people (verses 6-9). This is because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD” (v9).


So what can we take away from all of this?

  • Pray for our leaders (Psalm 2)
  • Pray that our communities might experience and be aware of the knowledge of the Lord in some small measure so that people might come to faith in Him and follow Him wholeheartedly. (Isaiah 11)
  • It might be a process before the final judgement for unbelievers but it will happen. Pray for them (and yourself) and preach the gospel (Acts 4:12; Romans 1:16 ff). Time is short; use it wisely.