(Revelation 12:5; 19:11-16) What Does it Mean That Jesus Will Rule With a Rod of Iron?
“And she brought forth a man Child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her Child was caught up unto God, and to His throne.” (Revelation 12:5)
To further show that this “man Child” is in fact Christ, we turn to Revelation chapter 19:
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
The question arises whether or not this “rod of iron” means Christ will be some sort of violent tyrant who rules the nations. After all, we see that “in righteousness He doth judge and make war”, “And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations”, “and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” Let’s take a brief deeper look at these:
In Righteousness He Doth Judge
We are drawn to look deeper into this statement since Jesus Himself said, “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man” (John 8:15). Here it is again in the Christian Standard Bible: “You judge by human standards. I judge no one.”
So how can it be that Scripture says Jesus will judge, but He Himself says He judges no one? Right after this Jesus says, “And yet if I judge, My judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent Me” (John 8:16). Jesus’ judgment would be true because He judges “in righteousness.” So what exactly would a “true” judgment be?
“Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother: And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.” (Zechariah 7:9, 10)
Clearly we see that to execute true judgment is to:
- Show mercy and compassions every man to his brother.
- Oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor.
- Let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.
Why is this true judgment?
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1, 2)
However you judge is the way you will be judged. We all will eventually judge ourselves.
“Therefore, you have no excuse—every one of you who judges. For when you pass judgment on another person, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 2:1, International Standard Version)
Judging in righteousness then is to show mercy and compassion to everyone. Christ never makes a judgment unto death; for “In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death” (Proverbs 12:28). Peter tells us:
"When they heaped abuse on Him (Christ), He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats, but entrusted Himself to Him (His Father) who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23, Berean Study Bible)
If Jesus would have retaliated with violence and threats He would not have judged justly. Instead, as our example, He submitted Himself to His Father, revealing to us how God judges justly. So we see yet again that judging in righteousness (justly) is not about retaliation or making threats to cause anyone any harm.
God’s justice and judgment is always mercy and truth:
“Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” (Psalm 89:14)
Please notice that Justice = mercy and judgment = truth. This writing style is called Hebraic Parallelism. We see it again in the book of Isaiah:
“And therefore will the LORD wait, that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18)
Can you see that God is “gracious” and will “have mercy on you” because He “is a God of judgment”? Here's another way we are to practice God's way of judging:
"If a stranger lives as a foreigner with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or of quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah (dry volumes), and a just hin (liquid volumes). I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall observe all My statutes, and all My ordinances, and do them. I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:33–36, New Heart English Bible)
In Righteousness He Doth ... Make War
It is by proclaiming and living the truth that Christ “makes war.” The Greek word translated as “war” here is πολεμέω (polemeó) which comes from the word πόλεμος (polemos) which is where the word for “polemical” or “politics” comes from.
“Polemical is the adjective form of the noun polemic, which itself comes from the Greek word, polemos, meaning ‘war.’ Use polemical to describe a controversy or argument that could end up as a huge conflict, because polemical refers to a major disagreement. The word is often used to describe speech and writing — a polemical discussion or a polemical essay — that usually starts a war of words.” (Vocabulary.com Dictionary)
“When polemic was borrowed into English from French polemique in the mid-17th century, it referred (as it still can) to a type of hostile attack on someone's ideas. The word traces back to Greek polemikos, which means ‘warlike’ or ‘hostile’ and in turn comes from the Greek noun polemos, meaning ‘war.’” (Merriam Webster.com)
Jesus told us that Satan has been the liar from the beginning (John 8:44). He has been lying about God's true character and projecting his own fallen character upon God, deceiving us to believe that God is the one against us and demands our death. However, Satan was exposed at the cross when he murdered the Son of God which resulted in the great "war in heaven":
“And she brought forth a man Child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her Child was caught up unto God, and to His throne … And there was war (a controversy between ideas) in heaven: Michael and His angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven." (Revelation 12:5, 7, 8)
The Accuser of the Brethren
God’s judgment is never handing down a judicial sentence against us. Scripture states that it is Satan who has been accusing us of sin and demanding that we die. Being exposed at the cross, this “accuser of the brethren” revealed his seared conscience, thus the heavenly realm was unable to penatrate his hardened heart.
"And the great dragon was cast out [but not by force], that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Revelation 12:9-12)
Whenever justice is poured out without mercy, it is an expression of Satan’s merciless justice system that he invented to smear the character of God and prevent anyone from returning to Him. This false system was abhorrent to God.
“Next I saw Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, with Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, 'May the Lord rebuke you, Satan! May the Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Isn’t this man like a burning stick snatched from the fire?' Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood there before the angel. The Angel spoke up to those standing all around, 'Remove his filthy clothes.' Then He said to Joshua, 'I have freely forgiven your iniquity and will dress you in fine clothing.'” (Zechariah 3:1-4, New English Translation)
Anyone who is judged without mercy is being given the justice system they themselves practice. If you believe and practice a justice system that demands death, then that's the judgment you will receive; "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13, New King James Version). It is not God withholding His mercy from the sinner, but the persistent sinner not believing in God's mercy because of their warped idea of God's justice. God cannot force His way in, therefore He tearfully gives the unbelieving sinner over to their own thinking.
"And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them (give them over to) strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11)
The Execution of Death Comes From Sin, Not God
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:14, 15)
God never needs to interfere and kill a sinner because the path of sin naturally leads to death:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13, 14)
On the other hand, we can say that God's justice involves destroying the sinner, but only in the sense of destroying the sinful life (the "old man" of sin) and restoring (adjusting) and healing the sinner back into harmony with God and His Law. Not simply in the legal sense but in the experiential sense to the point when we stop sinning by the power of Christ's Holy Spirit living in and through us (Deuteronomy 32:39; Romans 6:6-11; Romans 8:1-11).
And Out of His Mouth Goeth a Sharp
Sword, That With It He should Smite the Nations
Isn’t that a strange place for a sword to be? Why is it not in Christ’s hand? Because He is not swinging it like a warrior to kill people. The sword is in His mouth because it represents the truth of God’s word:
“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
The sword in Jesus’ mouth brings conviction of sin. Not in a condemning way, but in a loving discipline way. This is what it means when it says He would “smite” the nations. God convicts us of sin (smites us) to show us our sin in order that we may turn to Him, accept His forgiveness, and then be cleansed from sinning. Thus the sword of His mouth also comforts and uplifts us. It is never used for violence; “Because”, says the prophet, “He (the Messiah/Christ) had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). Take careful note as to how God smites:
“And it came to pass afterward, that David's heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul's skirt.” (1 Samuel 24:5)
Here it is again as translated in the International Standard Version:
“Afterwards, David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul's robe.”
As you can see, to smote us means that God is agitating our conscience.
Jesus was clearly against using a literal sword to violently smite His enemies. At the time of His arrest we read:
“And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matthew 26:51, 52)
This person who wielded his sword was Peter (John 18:10, 11). The “place” where Jesus says Peter’s sword should be is back into its sheath, or, spiritually speaking, in Peter’s mouth! In Luke’s account we read:
“When those who were around Jesus saw what was about to take place, they asked, ‘Lord, should we attack with our swords?’ Then one of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ So He touched the wounded man’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:49-51, International Standard Version)
God’s righteous judgment isn’t about war as we know it, but about peace:
“And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke (lovingly convict and correct) many people (with His sword/truth): and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
And He Treadeth the Winepress
of the Fierceness and Wrath of Almighty God
As grapes are trodden to express the juice, so the lost will be fully exposed at the time their guilt and rejection of God’s everlasting mercy comes to light by the sword (truth) which will smite (convict) the nations. Their guilt and selfishness will be squeezed out and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” caused by their overwhelming self-condemnation (Luke 13:28). The love of God will torment their soul, not in everlasting physical torture, but in intense mental anguish as they realize what they themselves have thrown away.1 Notice what Christian author E.J. Waggoner (1855-1916) writes concerning the judgment:
“The will of God is our sanctification. 1 Thess. 4:3. He wills that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. 1 Tim. 2:4. And He ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will.’ Eph. 1:11 … ‘the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.’ Titus 2:11, R.V. God has wrought out salvation for every man, and has given it to him; but the majority spurn it and throw it away. The Judgment will reveal the fact that full salvation was GIVEN to every man and that the lost have deliberately thrown away their birthright possession ... Thank God for the blessed hope! The blessing has come upon all men … God, who is no respecter of persons, ‘has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.’ Eph. 1:3. The gift is ours to keep. If anyone has not this blessing, it is because he has not recognized the GIFT, or has deliberately thrown it away.” (E.J. Waggoner, Glad Tidings, pp. 13, 14, 66)
Permitting the unbeliever to judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life is God’s wrath (Acts 13:46; Romans 1:18, 24, 26, 28). In His justice He will accept their verdict against themselves.
"When considering the judgment, it will be helpful first to determine who is being judged and who is doing the judging. Going back to the conversation between Eve and the serpent in the garden of Eden, recall that the serpent implanted in Eve’s mind a question about God’s fairness, goodwill, and trustworthiness. With some honest consideration, it will become apparent that it was not humanity that was put on trial there—it was God. It can be difficult for us to grasp the idea of God allowing himself to be put on trial. Nevertheless, this perspective is the only viable one that can be arrived at based on an in-depth study of the Bible. We have been ignorantly judging God since that first dialogue with the devil. Have we given him a fair trial? While we are misguided in our inclination to place ourselves at the center of the judgment, we are not quite exempt when it comes to being subjected to judgment. God has not placed us on trial; however, we are especially adept at judging and condemning ourselves. Jesus said that the words he spoke are life. We have the choice to either accept or reject his words. If his words really are life, and we reject them, haven’t we then made a judgment with negative consequences to ourselves? God does not pass judgment as takes place in a court of law. When we are determined to continue on the road to selfcondemnation and death, God can do nothing more for us except to reluctantly ratify our decision." (Jay A. Schulberg, Acts of Our Gentle God, p. 94)
He Shall Rule Them With a Rod of Iron
Jesus ruling the nations with a rod of iron has nothing to do with tyranny. The rod of His authority is about His righteous justice, truth and mercy. But what about this passage:
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13, 14)
The word translated as “beat” here in the King James Version is the Hebrew word נָכָה (nakah) which is the exact same word we saw for “smote” in 1 Samuel 24:5 where “David's heart smote him”, meaning “David's conscience bothered him.”
The “beating” or “smiting” with the rod is again all about loving discipline.
“Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24, New Living Translation)
“As many as I cherish, I convict and discipline; be zealous, then, and convert.” (Revelation 3:19, Literal Standard Version)
God’s way of discipline is never with violence or harsh words; for He speaks in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11, 12), but at times will speak in "a loud voice" in order to get our attention as any loving parent would do when they see their child running out into a busy street (Revelation 14:6, 7).
“A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1, New King James Version)
“Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with lovingkindness], so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated [with their spirits broken].” (Colossians 3:21, Amplified Bible, words in brackets in original)
“The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3, New King James Version)
The rod of Christ is never used for violence or threats or abuse. “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him” (Psalm 34:8).
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want (lack nothing). He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; THY ROD AND THY STAFF THEY COMFORT ME. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23)
1 For the biblical understanding of the word “torment” see the book The Lake of Fire and the Second Death.