“THE KINGS OF THE EARTH” IN THE NT (3)

PMW 2019-102 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

As I continue explaining who I believe the “kings of the earth” in Revelation are, I will now focus on some general background information. I will begin with the general NT atmosphere.

I will gradually build the case for identifying the “kings of the earth” with Israel’s religious authorities. The earlier components of the argument will not be conclusive, but they lay the groundwork for the conclusion. Only after we get these general observations in place may we develop more compelling insights.

As I will point out in my Revelation commentary’s Introduction, the Jewish temple’s destruction in AD 70 is a redemptive-historical event of enormous and lasting consequences. With the collapse of the temple comes the cessation of the sacrificial system, the closing of the old covenant order, and the securing of the new covenant. Such an event must naturally cast its shadow over all of the NT. And it does. Though I cannot develop it extensively ifn this Exc I can briefly highlight its impact on the NT record. I will illustrate this by focusing on the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. This material will help us see the function of the kings of the earth in the redemptive-historical upheaval dramatically symbolized in Rev.

We are forewarned of Israel’s coming judgment by the first preacher in the NT record, John the Baptist. His very first words to Israel are foreboding: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:1). In his call for repentance he denounces two important components of Israel’s religious leadership (the Pharisees and the Scribes) as a “brood of vipers” and speaks of them as attempting “to flee from the wrath to come” (Mt 3:7). He warns them that “the axe is already laid at the root of the trees” (Mt 3:10), an image of divine judgment (Isa 10:15–19, 33–34; Eze 31; Dan 4:14). Then he expressly threatens them regarding Christ’s coming whom he is heralding: “He who is coming” has a “winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12).

Significantly, even Jesus’ first recorded words (per Matthew) echo John’s prior warning: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17). John and Jesus are confronting Israel with her sin and calling her to repent. The Lord later extols John (Mt 11:11–13), defends him while condemning Israel’s maltreatment of him (Mt 17:11–13), uses John’s God-given calling to confound his own detractors (Mt 21:25–27), and rebukes Israel’s leaders for not believing John’s message (Mt 21:32). In Mt 8:10–12 Jesus continues Baptist-like, fiery warning against Israel, noting that the Jews will be cast out of the kingdom into outer darkness and suffering.


Survey of the Book of Revelation

(DVDs by Ken Gentry)
Twenty-four careful, down-to-earth lectures provide a basic introduction to and survey of the entire Book of Revelation. Professionally produced lectures of 30-35 minutes length.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


In Mt 10:16–17 Jesus warns his disciples that the Jewish synagogues will punish them: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues.” As a result of Israel’s persecuting his followers, he promises his disciples in Mt 10:23 that he will judge Israel in their lifetimes: “Whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.” This “coming” is a metaphor that “refers to the coming of the Son of Man in judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70” (Hagner 1990: 280). In fact, just a few verses later (Mt 10:34–36) he warns that he has not come to bring peace on the earth (i.e., “the Land” of Israel), but a sword which will divide homes among the Jews.

In Mt 11:20–24 he continues his warnings to Israel regarding her ultimate judgment:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”

In Mt 21 the Lord enters Jerusalem and begins teaching by symbolic action, illustrative parable, and direct discourse that Israel’s judgment is looming. In 21:12–13 he overthrows the moneychangers in the temple, providing prophetic theater regarding the temple’s coming collapse, which angers the temple authorities (the chief priests and elders, 21:23) (France 2007: 786; Nolland 2005: 844). He then curses the fig tree as a sign of Israel’s looming judgment (21:19–20) and urges his followers to have faith that the “mountain” (i.e., the temple mount) will be cast into the sea (21:21) (Gray 2010, 52. Hooker 1991: 269; Wright in Walker 1994: 6).

After this Matthew records a series of parables and vigorous exchanges between Jesus and Israel’s religious authorities: the chief priests (Mt 21:15, 23, 45), scribes (21:15; 23:2, 13ff), elders (21:23), Pharisees (21:45; 22:41; 23:13ff), Herodians (22:15–16), and the Sadducees (22:23–24). His three warning parables in 21:28–22:14 clearly show his denouncing Israel’s leaders and warning of their coming judgment, even declaring the kingdom of God will be taken from them as they are crushed to powder (21:43–44). The next parable warns that their holy city will be burned (22:7). In Mt 23 he presents a lengthy denouncement against the scribes and Pharisees (23:1–36), then weeps over Jerusalem and declares her temple “desolate” (23:37–38).

After all of this he prophesies the temple’s absolute, stone-by-stone destruction (24:2) in the first portion of his Olivet Discourse (24:4–34). This Discourse appears to lie behind John’s whole Rev. It highlight’s the temple’s destruction (24:2), as does Rev 11:1–2; focuses on the judgment in Judea (24:16–19), as does Rev 11:8 (note discussion below on “the Land” in Rev); and applies to “this generation” (24:34), Jesus’ first-century generation, as does Rev (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10).

In Mt 26:47 the “chief priests and elders of the people” come to arrest Jesus. Then they try him before the high priest against whom he warns that he will sit in judgment over them: “I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (26:64). At this announcement the high priest declares him guilty of a capital crime (26:65–6), then the sanhedrin beat him and spit on him while taunting him (26:67–68). When they bring him before Pilate, the Roman procurator declares him innocent, then “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the multitudes to ask for Barabbas, and to put Jesus to death” (27:20). In the furor “all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” (27:25). As Swete (1913: 359) observes: “the Jewish leaders by their rejection of His Messiahship secured His exaltation (Phil. ii. 9) and their own ultimate confusion.”


The Climax of the Book of Revelation (Rev 19-22)

Six lectures on six DVDs that introduce Revelation as a whole, then focuses on its glorious conclusion. Provides an important, lengthy Introduction to Revelation also.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


The life and ministry of Christ are the foundations to the NT. Large sections of the remainder of the NT reflect the approaching judgment of Israel as taught by Jesus. For example, Peter’s Pentecostal message (Ac 2:17–36) results in his warning those Jews who gather in Jerusalem to “be saved from this perverse generation.” Paul’s scathing denunciation of the Jews declares that “they always fill up the measure of their sins, but the wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1Th 2:16). The entire Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly warns Jewish converts not to return to Judaism where they will fall into the hands on an angry God. (For more such information see Walker 1996 and Russell 1887.)

Many scholars see Jesus’ Olivet Discourse lying behind the seven seals. As Barker (153) notes: “It has often been observed that this sequence of woes is exactly like that predicted by Jesus as he sat on the Mount of Olives. . . . What we read in the Synoptic Gospels, the so-called Synoptic Apocalypse, is a summary of what was said. John, who does not record this teaching in his Gospel, gives the vision in full in Revelation 6” (cp. Düsterdieck 27; Charles 1:158; Beckwith 143; L. Vos 1965:181–92; Beasley-Murray 129; Harrington 90; Smalley 146; Osborne 357). Stuart (2:146) goes further: “Rev. vi — xi. seems to be, as it were, a kind of commentary on the words of our Saviour in Matt. xxiv. John heard those words. The impression could never have been erased. He has indeed given the subject a new form; yet his allusions to the words of his Master cannot well be mistaken, by any careful and intelligent reader.”

Terry (269) goes farther still: “”John’s Apocalypse is but an enlargement of our Lord’s eschatological sermon on the Mount of Olives.” In this he apparently is following Russell (374; cp. 485, 535) who states that Rev is “a transfigured form of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives.” Warfield (1973: 2:652ff) seems to agree: “He who can understand our Lord’s great discourse concerning the last things (Matt. xxiv), cannot fail to understand the Apocalypse, which is founded on that discourse and scarcely advances beyond it.”

Thus, we see the looming AD 70 judgment casting its shadow over the NT record. What is more, we have in the Gospel record a strong condemnation not only of Israel herself, but particularly of her religious rulers who exercise such a prominent role in leading the people to reject Christ (e.g., Matt 16:21; 20:18; 26:3–4, 59, 65–66; 27:20). It is thus at least theoretically possible that John’s drama may be casting those authorities as “the kings of the earth.”

To be continued (after Christmas!).

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3 thoughts on ““THE KINGS OF THE EARTH” IN THE NT (3)

  1. Fred V. Squillante December 17, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Hello Dr. Gentry,
    While I am in no way comparing President Trump to Jesus Christ, I am comparing the behavior of those in the impeachment proceedings to His trial before the Sanhedrin. “Now the chief priests…kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus…and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on, two came forward and said… (Matthew 26:59-61). Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, ‘What further need do we have of witnesses…'” (26:65). The ninth commandment is sorely being besmirched. I look to your reference to Matthew 10:16-17 and think that we as Christians are commanded to be wise as serpents but gentle as doves as we are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves, not silent, led to the slaughter. The church has grown cold. We need to speak out. I appreciate your writings and I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy, and prosperous New year.

  2. Joshua K. Stevens December 17, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    You know what I want for Christmas? This commentary 🙂

  3. Kenneth Gentry December 23, 2019 at 7:12 am

    I wanted it TWO Christmases ago. I am hoping it is published in 2020. But it will be no earlier than June 2020.

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