by Michael J. Vlach
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God;
and they will reign upon the earth (Rev. 5:10).
Revelation 5:10 is an important yet often-overlooked kingdom passage. Here we find an explicit reference to the kingdom, the saints’ role in the kingdom, and the sphere of the kingdom: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Here I want to address the significance of Revelation 5:10. The background for this verse is the heavenly throne room scene of Revelation 4-5. The Father, who is on His throne in heaven, has a scroll in His hand. This scroll probably represents the title deed to the earth and the judgments needed ‘to take this planet back. The time has come for God’s Messiah to judge the world for its rebellion and to establish the kingdom of God on earth. The only One found worthy to take the scroll and open the wrath judgments within it is Jesus the Lamb. Jesus takes the scroll from the Father (Rev. 5:7-8). Revelation 5:8-10 then reveals a song of praise:
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “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.” (emphasis mine).
This section reveals five key truths about the kingdom program:
First, there is distinction and relationship between God’s kingdom in heaven and the coming kingdom of the Messiah upon the earth. There is a heavenly throne room scene that anticipates a coming kingdom upon the earth. Jesus takes the scroll from the Father on His heavenly throne [Universal Kingdom] so that a “reign upon the earth” [Davidic/Millennial Kingdom] can occur.
That there is a kingdom of the Father in heaven is clear. Revelation 4:2 tells of “One sitting on the throne.” Also, the word “throne” is found at least seventeen times in Revelation 4-5. So there is a kingdom that exists in heaven (see also Psalms 2 and 110). This is the universal kingdom of the Father as He rules over all. But this heavenly kingdom is not all there is to the kingdom program. It anticipates a kingdom that must be established “upon the earth.” This is the kingdom of the Messiah, the Davidic kingdom predicted by Gabriel (see Luke 1:31-33) and Jesus (see Matt 19:28; 25:31). Jesus distinguishes the Father’s throne and Jesus’ throne in Revelation 3:21: “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Second, the people Jesus purchased with His blood are said to be “a kingdom.” Believers in Jesus are positionally related to the kingdom and form the nucleus of it (see Rev. 1:6). This shows a present relationship of the kingdom to the present, not in the form of a present reign, but a growing group of followers who have believed in King Jesus and are qualified to enter His kingdom.
Third, the saints of God are destined to reign with Christ. When Jesus reigns, the saints will also reign. This shows that Jesus will share His kingdom authority with His followers. In Revelation 2:26-27, Jesus promised His followers that they would share in His reign over the nations. This was motivation for those currently facing difficult times. Because Jesus has authority as “ruler of the kings of the earth,” (Rev 1:5) the saints can know they will reign with Him. This concept of the saints reigning with the Messiah was also taught in Daniel 7:13–27.
Fourth, this kingdom reign is future. Revelation 5:10 shows that the kingdom of Jesus is future. This is found in the words—“they will reign.” Those who have been purchased by Jesus’ blood are positionally a kingdom, but their reign with Jesus is still future. At the time of the heavenly throne room scene in Revelation 4-5 the earthly kingdom reign of Revelation 5:10 had not started yet. We see later that this reign will occur after the second coming of Jesus (see Rev 19:11ff.) and is described in Revelation 20:4:
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
So then, Revelation 5:10 and Revelation 20:4 are connected:
Rev. 5:10: “they will reign upon the earth.” (promise of reward)
Rev. 20:4: “they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (promise actualized)
Revelation 5:10 is the promise of a coming reign of the saints, while Rev 20:4 is the actualization of the kingdom reign. On the flip side, the condition of the saints before the return of Jesus is not that of reigning. It is persecution and trial (see Revelation 2-3; 6-19). Yet these conditions will give way to a kingdom reign in the future.
Fifth, this coming reign of the saints is “upon the earth.” The “earth” (not heaven) is the realm of the saints’ reign. This shows that the kingdom is based on earth and refutes the idea that Messiah’s millennial kingdom reign is currently from heaven. The idea of an earthly kingdom is an explicit doctrine in Scripture. The reign of the saints and Jesus must be in the realm of the original creation given to man in Genesis 1-2. It is not the case that Adam was tasked with ruling the earth while the Messianic/Davidic rule of Jesus and the saints is in heaven. Jesus will succeed in the realm where Adam failed.