Jesus, Sovereign Lord of History

Enthroned in majesty and glory, the risen Lord Jesus Christ continues to exercise His ministry as our High Priest, Head of the church, Shepherd of the end times and Shepherd of the faithful. He is also the sovereign Lord of history, moving all things toward the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. Jesus expresses His sovereignty over history as He exercises Lordship over the nations, as He exercises judgment over the nations and as all of time and history find fulfillment in Him.

A. Sovereign Lord Over the Nations

Jesus expresses His Lordship over the nations as the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5). This refers to Christ’s position of sovereignty as King of kings and Lord of lords, supreme over every nation, every empire, every government, every corporate entity and every ruler. He sets the geographical boundaries of nations and empires and determines the time that they will exist, And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26). 

He ordains governments for His purposes, Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God (Rom. 13:1). But He nullifies their plans when they violate His purpose, The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation (Psalm 33:10,11).  

The Lord allows rulers to exercise free will, yet providentially removes those who consistently work against His will and exalts those who will be moved to accomplish His purpose, But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another (Ps. 75:7). 

The Lord allows rulers to exercise free will, yet providentially uses their decisions to establish His decrees. Indeed, The kings heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (Prov. 21:1). 

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4), though Cyrus did not know the Lord at that time, as we see from Isaiah 45:1-4: Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me.

Many years later the Lord turned the heart of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, to send Nehemiah back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, though there is no record that Artaxerxes knew the Lord (Neh. 2:1-8). 

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea and Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, exercised their governmental authority in condemning Jesus to death, yet they delivered Him to death by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). The sinful exercise of their free will served only to establish God salvation purpose. They were still morally accountable for their sin but their sin in no way nullified the purpose of God.

Satan offered Jesus rulership over the kingdoms of the world in exchange for the Lord’s worship of Satan (Matt. 4:8-11). Jesus chose obedience to the Father which led to His rejection and death at the hands of the people. But God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him as Head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:20-22). All things includes all human and angelic governments. Under His feet means under the dominion and Lordship of Jesus.

Jesus exercises sovereignty over the nations because, as He said, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). Jesus’ authority is absolute and universal. There is no power or authority in the heavenlies or on earth that restricts or limits Christs exercise of authority. His dominion transcends all boundaries of time. His kingdom is everlasting.   

Though His authority is not yet visible over all things, it is still true authority. Though some of the powers of this world do not recognize the sovereign Lordship of Jesus and are in violent rebellion against their true King, still, Jesus is enthroned as sovereign over the nations. 

Almighty God said to His Son, Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware. Now therefore O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges (leaders) of the earth (Psalm 2:8-10).

Someday, every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord and an angel will shout, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15). Though that day is not today, John, writing in the first century, introduces Jesus as the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5). 

B. Anointed Judge of the Nations

As Lord over the nations, Jesus is also the Anointed Judge. The rulers of the earth devise strategies against the Lord and His Anointed (Messiah) to cast off the rule of God (Ps. 2:1-3). But humanistic liberation movements only create greater slavery, greater suffering and God judges counterfeit liberty and counterfeit kings (Ps. 2:4,5). He will someday install the true King in Jerusalem but the prophetic announcement of that event is in present tense — I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain (Ps. 2:6). In the mind and purpose of God, it is done.

Though Jesus, in His first advent, was rejected by His own, nevertheless, God has decreed that the nations are His inheritance (Ps. 2:8) and they will be broken with a rod of iron, shattered like pottery (Ps. 2:9). Jesus, speaking of His return and the coming judgment, said, But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him (Matt. 25:31,32).

God has offered grace to this rebellious world but also warns of judgment to those who refuse to humble themselves before Him. In the Revelation we see the final outpouring of grace, the final outworking of human rebellion in the midst of grace and the final release of divine judgment as Jesus shares with His Father in judging the nations. In Revelation 11:17,18, the elders sing this song of praise, We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth

Jesus is the Anointed Judge who will someday destroy those who destroy, conclude history and exercise final judgment in His timing and for His glory. But even now the Just One exercises His sovereign decrees within history. Against the proud kings of this age the Psalmist warns, But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another (Ps. 75:7). Even now, Jesus, Lord of History and Anointed Judge, is moving history to His conclusion.

C. Jesus Christ is the Goal of Time and History

The Apostle Paul reveals in Eph. 1:10 that someday, in the fulness of God’s timing, all things in the universe will be gathered together or brought into unity in Jesus. All of time and history flow from Christ and unto Him. All things find their fulfillment, their unity, in Him. In Christ the eternal purpose of God is fulfilled — He is the genesis and the end point of cosmic fulfillment. History is not an endless cycle of violence and depravity, chaos and random events spiraling endlessly into darkness. God is moving all of history toward the fulfilling of His purpose in Jesus Christ. He is the beginning and the goal of history.

We are living in perilous times but so has every generation of Christians. We should not be intimidated by the challenge of our day nor by any uncertainty regarding tomorrow for our Lord and Savior has made solemn promises to us regarding the times.

1. Jesus will return to set up His kingdom on earth:

As Jesus was lifted up from His disciples, two angelic messengers promised His return (Acts 1:9-11). Jesus described that return in Matthew 24, following a time of tribulation on earth and the shaking of the heavens, And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (24:30). As Jesus was being tried by the Jewish Sanhedrin, He testified, You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26:64). 

Be assured that the day is coming when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth and He will reign for a thousand years. This is called the millennial reign of Christ. The term millennium is derived from the Latin mille — thousand, and annus — year. In Revelation chapter twenty there are five references to this thousand year reign (verses 3,4,5,6 and 7).

The millennial reign of Christ will be visible proof of the victory of God over evil. The false kings and counterfeit messiahs will have been judged, their rebellions put down, their kingdoms destroyed. Earth will be restored, peace and justice established and blessing poured out again across a restored earth. In that day, the true King will claim that which was always His and the glory of God will cover the earth.

2. Creation will be redeemed: 

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now (Rom. 8:22). We are not the only ones suffering. All of creation suffers because of sin. Cursed is the ground because of you God said to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:17). It was humanity’s sin that plunged creation into futility and chaos; our fall brought disaster to the entire planet. 

In addition to the Adamic curse, there were catastrophic changes on earth unleashed in the judgment of Noah’s generation: the tectonic plates of the earth were shattered, the hydrological cycle was altered, the topography of the earth was radically changed resulting in climate variations of extreme cold and heat and drought and flood. 

Humanity was given stewardship of the earth but since our fall from grace we have plundered the earth, left the earth in many places desolate, stripped, exploited. The earth groans, as if crying out to God, How long will you let them trample upon me, defile me, pollute me with this curse? It is not surprising that creation will rejoice at the coming of the Lord: 

Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; 

let the sea roar and all it contains ... 

then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

before the Lord for He is coming (Psalm 96:11-13).  

  Let the rivers clap their hands, 

let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord 

for He is coming to judge the earth (Psalm 98:7-9).

The first Adam was responsible for creation’s fall and for the resulting curse represented in thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17,18).  Jesus, the second Adam, bore the curse, provided redemption. What did Jesus wear as He fulfilled His ministry of redemption? A crown of thorns and robe of purple — the color of thistles, symbolic testimony that Jesus will someday restore creation.  

When Christ returns, the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, visible proof of the redemption of creation (Isa. 11:6-9). There will be a restoring of the fertility of the earth, The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water (Joel 3:18); Waters will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert (Isa. 35:6).

The earth will be so fruitful that the reaper will not be finished gathering the last harvest before the plowman overtakes him sowing the next harvest, ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved’ (Amos 9:13). 

The dissolving of the hills speaks of a reconfiguring of the earth’s surface allowing a moderation of climate, at least somewhat similar to the original conditions on earth. As we await that day, the Holy Spirit groans through us (Rom. 8:26,27), creating in us intercession for creation, for lost humanity and for the completion of God’s purpose in us, the redemption of our bodies in resurrection. Final redemption will include our bodies and all of creation (Rom. 8:19-23).

3. The unrighteous will be raised from the dead and judged:

Scripture clearly reveals that Jesus will return, not only to establish His kingdom but to judge those who have rejected His rule on earth (Jude 1:14,15). The unredeemed dead will be raised and will stand before the great white throne. They will be judged and if their names are not found in the book of life, they will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10-15). Though this is referred to as the second death, this does not refer to annihilation of the soul. Second death refers to eternal separation from God. They will not die because their souls are eternal and they are raised with everlasting bodies.

This is made clear in Revelation 14:9-11, referring to those who receive the mark of the beast, And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night.

Paul refers to this as eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:6-9). Judgment can only be eternal if one’s soul and body are eternal.

4. The righteous will be raised and rewarded.

In the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus revealed that He is the resurrection for all who believe in Him (John 11:21-26). In Christ all shall be made alive (1 Cor. 15:20-26, 42-58).  Those who live by faith in Christ will share in His resurrection.

Jesus promises to prepare a place for us and to receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also (John 14:1-4). He wants us to be with Him so that we may behold His glory (John 17:24) and share His glory (John 17:22, I Peter 1:3-5).

We will also be rewarded according to our works (I Cor. 3:6-8, 12-15, 4:5). There is reward for even the smallest good deed — a cup of cold water shared in His name has not gone unnoticed (Matt. 10:41,42). Jesus told parables about reward. In the parable of the laborers, each received the same reward, which refers to the gift of resurrection and eternal life in the presence of God, lavished equally upon all followers of Christ (Matt. 20:1-16). But in the parables of the talents and the minas, reward was based on faithfulness in service (Matt. 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27). The greatest reward will be living forever in the presence of the Lord, And thus we shall always be with the Lord (I Thess. 4:17   Rev. 21:1-4). 

Another wonderful aspect of reward will be the opportunity for increased service, as Jesus taught in the parable of the talents. To the faithful servants, the master said, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master (Matt. 25:33).

As we await that day of resurrection and reward, we know that God is providentially moving all of time and history toward the fulfilling of His kingdom purpose, toward the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on earth (Eph. 1:10). Though we are sometimes tempted to see only chaos and hopelessness in world events, we know by revelation that God is at work in time and history to bring about the fulfillment of His eternal plan.

We also know that each of us has an appointment to meet Him, either through death or at His return. Behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me to render to every man according to what he has done (Rev. 22:12). Let us then be found faithful, whether in great works or small, that we may someday hear those words which will mean more to us than any others, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master (Matt. 25:21).

5. The righteous will reign with Christ.

All the saints — Old Testament saints, New Testament saints, those who come to faith in the Lord during the tribulation, all the blood-purchased followers of Christ will reign with Him in His kingdom on the earth. This is not a symbolic reign. It is real, shared authority with Him.

This will be a time of special reward for those who remained faithful to Christ, not only during the terrible persecution of the Antichrist, but throughout all of church history. Faithfulness is always the visible proof of salvation and God’s reward to the faithful is to share in His kingdom rule.

The Apostle Peter reveals that all who have placed their faith in Christ have been made royal priests (I Peter 2:9).  Priests serve, royalty reigns. To the church in Thyatira Jesus said, He who overcomes and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations (Rev. 2:26, 27). To the church at Laodicea Jesus said, He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne (Rev. 3:21).  

To the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul said, Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? (I Cor. 6:2).  Paul also said, If we endure, we will also reign with Him (2 Tim. 6:12).  In Rev. 5:10, the heavenly choir sings in praise to the Lamb, Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth. As royal priests, our reign with Christ will include sharing in creative labor with Him, our responsibilities related to our faithfulness in this life.

We do not know when the Lord will return. But we do know that as we await that day, He continues to exercise His High Priesthood in our lives, interceding, guiding and guarding His saints and His church. We cannot always see tomorrow clearly and surely cannot see through to the end of time but we may live with confidence because Jesus is Sovereign Lord over the nations, the anointed Judge of nations and the goal of history, in whom all things in heaven and earth will find unity and fulfillment.

Be of good cheer. As the Psalmist confessed, so may we, My times are in Your hand (Ps. 31:15).

Study Questions

1. Considering all the violence and chaos in the world today, what does it mean to you that Jesus is the sovereign Lord over the nations?

2. What are some of the promises Jesus has made to us regarding the end times?