What does the book of Revelation mean when it describes the saints helping Christ rule the nations with “a rod of iron”? What training is necessary to use this tool?
Many of Christ’s followers are familiar with the scriptures that reveal their destiny to have rulership over this world. In Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
American King James Version×Christians are described as being made “kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
The prophecies of Daniel describe the time when “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:27 Daniel 7:27And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
American King James Version×). Jesus indicated to His disciples in the parable of the pounds that some are to have rule over 10 cities, some five, etc. (Luke 19:17 Luke 19:17And he said to him, Well, you good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have you authority over ten cities.
American King James Version×, 19).
One of the most dramatic scriptures, however, is that found in the message to the Thyatiran church. “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father” (Revelation 2:26-27 Revelation 2:26-27 26 And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
American King James Version×, emphasis added).
Is the Kingdom of God to be a time when those still living out physical lives on the earth will be kept in subjection by a divine dictatorship? First notice an interesting point from the Greek text. The verb translated “rule” in Revelation 2:27 Revelation 2:27And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
American King James Version×is poimanei, derived from the word for a shepherd ( poimen ). It is the same word used by the apostle Paul in Acts 20:28 Acts 20:28Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.
American King James Version×to describe the care that overseers are to show toward the Church of God.
The Concordant Literal Translation renders Revelation 2:27 Revelation 2:27And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
American King James Version×as: “He shall shepherd them with an iron club.” The rod or club carried by a shepherd was, of course, primarily for the protection of his sheep, not to frighten or punish them.
In Zechariah 14:16 Zechariah 14:16And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×we read that God will issue an edict commanding all nations to send representatives to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. What if a nation refuses to heed the command? Is such disobedience conceivable or even possible in a world of immortal saints each armed with an iron rod? The answer may be surprising.
“And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the L ord of hosts, on them there will be no rain” (Zechariah 14:17 Zechariah 14:17And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even on them shall be no rain.
American King James Version×). There will be a response from Jesus Christ and His saints to this stubbornness, but it will be a measured and merciful response that will allow time for carnal attitudes to change.
Jesus Christ is a kind, loving, patient God who reveals Himself in these terms: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20 Revelation 3:20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
American King James Version×, Revised Standard Version).
He has no desire to smash the door down and force His will on us, even though He has that power. He prefers us to willingly open the door and welcome Him into our lives. He wants the obedience that comes from our love and gratitude for what He has done for us, and from our unshakable conviction that He knows what is best for us, not from the fear of punishment if we do not obey. And He wants just the same from all the billions on the face of this earth.
Although the Kingdom of God will certainly have to be ushered in with a terrifying show of divine power, this is not how God intends to rule the earth for the next thousand years. In the Millennium, the new world leader, Jesus Christ, “will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40:11 Isaiah 40:11He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
American King James Version×).
He says of the people living at that time: “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods… They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25 Ezekiel 34:25And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.
American King James Version×, 28, RSV).
If God just needed people to wield iron rods, He would have no need of His saints. There is no shortage of thugs and bullies—people accustomed to dominating and terrorizing others—who would qualify for that job.
What He needs are those who have spent their lives developing the character of Jesus Christ—those who can be trusted to exercise great power with love and mercy as well as firmness and justice.
The “rod of iron” will come with a warning label: “Use only as directed by the Holy Spirit.” WNP