The Future of the Nations

What will the future of the nations be? If you haven’t read my previous post, you ought to read that one before this one. The flip side of the question regarding the Church before Christ’s return, is essentially a question regarding the nations. What will happen to them? The premillennialists, and most amillennialists, assert that the nations will continue to grow and advance in godlessness until Christ returns in smashing judgement. Will Christ judge the nations in this way? He most certainly has done so before, i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah to Jerusalem. What does the Bible say about the future of the nations, however?

A Sword

The passage gone to by many is in Revelation the nineteenth chapter, which reads, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”[1] The “he” in this passage is Christ, riding a white horse through the rend heavens. There are several references in this text, one significant one being Psalm 2. The question in my mind, however, was not whether or not Christ will rule the nations, but rather how and when.

The premillennial interpretation is that this passage teaches Christ returning, with a literal sword, to literally crush the nations with it. The saints being his army of white, swords in hand, bludgeoning their enemies until blood fills the streets. The literal interpretation of this raises a fairly obvious question, though. Why in the world would Jesus be holding His sword in His mouth? That seems ludicrous. So what is actually going on here? Here is my stab at an answer.

Gospel Proclamation

In Isaiah the eleventh chapter, we are given a prophetic word regarding the Messiah to come. The entire eleventh chapter is started with, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”[2] Who is this passage talking about, and when was it fulfilled? The New Testament witness is clearly that the shoot from the stump of Jesse was Jesus, who came two thousand years ago.[3] But then, Isaiah eleven goes on to say that this Messiah “shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”[4] See the parallel to Revelation nineteen?

It is my contention that the sword referred to in Revelation is the Word of God going forth.[5] The nations will indeed be conquered, but they will not be conquered by a bloody sword; they will be conquered by the preached Word. They will be conquered by being discipled. [6] This is completely contrary to the often heralded accusation that postmillennialists are triumphalists, and that they think the Gospel should be spread by force. It is actually a bit of high irony, for it is the premillennialists that make that claim explicitly. Ryrie, while admitting that there might be some hyperbole, says that when Christ returns the “carnage will be unbelievable.”[7] On the other hand, the postmillennialist believes that the nations will be converted by the regenerating work of the Spirit, and not the sword. This is precisely why the sword in Revelation 19 is described as coming out of Christ’s mouth.[8]

Bringing it Home

What is the application for all of this? One particular application is that we, being in the Kingdom, are in the process of conquering the nations by the preached Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. I have heard many Christians say things like, “I can’t wait to ride a horse back with Christ to defeat the nations!” Well, this isn’t something we have to wait for. Christ has given us His word, and told us to disciple the nations; to bring the nations under His authority. We are in this battle now. The Gospel is spreading, the nations are being converted.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Rev. 19:15, quoted from the ESV.
  2. Isa. 11:1, quoted from the ESV.
  3. Cf. Isa. 53:2, Acts 13:23, Mat. 1:1, Rom. 1:3.
  4. Isa. 11:4, quoted from the ESV.
  5. Cf. Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12. The Scripture itself uses the imagery of a sword to speak of the Word of God.
  6. Cf. Matt. 28:19-20.
  7. The Final Countdown by Charles Ryrie, page 110. (Victor Books, 1982)
  8. It is worth noting as an aside that some postmillennialists do believe that Christ will put out a rebellion of apostates when He returns. This is not His judgement upon the nations, however, but rather His judgement upon many hypocrites within the Church. Greg Bahnsen in his book Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillenialism takes this view.
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