A brief look at Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15 and the “nations” in the Revelation in light of Israel’s centrality in the book.
It is my contention the whole of the Revelation is given to Israel through John, an Apostle to the Circumcision (the Jewish people); commissioned to the Circumcision (Gal 2:7-9). To that end, I want to take a very quick look at the “nations, kindreds, people, and tongues” in the Revelation, in context.
This is an important question, because as we seek to rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15), we must know the to whom the Word is speaking and the conditions under which the words are spoken. If not, we could end up building arks for a flood that isn’t coming or refusing to minister outside of Israel, etc.
Traditional, Classic dispensationalism has the first three chapters of the Revelation (as well as the end of the book) as given to the current age Church (and to gentiles in general); the Jewish section starting in chapter 4. I believe, however, that the very book is framed for Israel. Revelation 1 and Revelation 22 frame a Jewish context for a coming Jewish age. And, although distinct for Israel, as with all scripture, it is profitable for all men.
REV 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth [land] shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
I believe "land," meaning primarily scriptural Israel, is a better translation than "earth" (e.g. Rev 1:7). Young's Literal Translation and Darby's Translation (among others) translate it that way. It makes sense. The "kindreds" in Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15 are not differentiated with "of the land" as they are in Rev 1:7.
Obviously, those who pierced him are Israel (Acts 2:36; Zech 12:10; John 19:37; etc.)
Let’s look at the kindreds, tongues, nations, etc.
REV 5:9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation
REV 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands…
REV 10:11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
REV 13:7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
REV 14:6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people…
REV 17:15 And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
While the book is given by an Apostle to the Circumcision (John, Gal 2:9) to believing Israel, it does not exclude noting gentile nations and their fates in the coming age. The scripture is filled with prophesies about gentile nations. Jonah is a great example of gentile salvation having nothing to do with the law (as the law doesn't lead to salvation anyway).
Jonah is from Galilee unlike any other prophet (save the Lord). In John 7:52, the Apostle records for us the objection of the Pharisees to Jesus’ claim to be a prophet, “Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” Since Jonah prophesied to Gentiles, he was excluded from the prophets of Israel. The point being, the dispensation of the Law, along with the age of the prophets, clearly centers on God’s work through his people, Israel, yet we still see God working among the Gentiles.
The Lord Jesus taught during that age, “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), but it was not limited to Jews. Salvation has always been by grace through faith. When the Lord states, “Not even in Israel have I found so great faith,” he speaks of a Gentile (the Roman Centurion). The Lord can work through Israel, have Israel at the center, and still minister to Gentiles.
Let’s take a closer look at the context of Rev 5:9, “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
Who are “THEY?” And what does it mean they are redeemed “OUT OF” every kindred, etc.?
Rev 5, And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
First, we see the Tribe of Judah and the genealogical connection to David. These are very Jewish references. Remember, the Lord in his earthly ministry responded quickly to Jews who called on him as “Son of David” (Matt 9), yet he ignored a gentile woman who called out the same way (Matt 15), telling her that he was “sent to none but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” It was only when she acknowledged him as “Lord” (which he is to all men) that he responded.
Then we have the “four and twenty elders,” this also speaks of Israel. But the clear reference is in the last verse. Those here were redeemed “out of” (Greek: ek) the nations (Gentiles). These are of the Jewish diaspora. This is solidified in the promise “made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Israel is promised in Exodus in the past and prophesied in Zechariah in the future as serving as a priesthood for the nations.
Exodus 19: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
Zechariah 8: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages [tongues] of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
This is also the promise of the New Covenant give to Israel alone. Jeremiah 31-33 (among other scriptures) speaks of a future day for Israel. David and his descendants shall sit on the throne and the priesthood restored in the land. But what of the oft-quoted promise in 1 Peter concerning a “holy nation” and a “royal priesthood?”
1 Pet 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We must ask, who are the “ye” in this verse?
Peter tells us: 1 Pet 1:1 “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the choice sojourners of the dispersion…”
The “dispersion” (the diaspora) referenced are scattered Jewish believers. Peter, like John, was “an Apostle to the Circumcision.” James, also, was in this company and he addresses his epistle “to the Twelve Tribes who are in the dispersion” (James 1). These are believing Jews during the Acts age and not members of the One Body of this age.
So we can see in Revelation 5, that John is speaking of believing Jews of the diaspora, called out of the gentile nations, in a future age. When he speaks of the other nations throughout the rest of the prophecy, they are placed in contrast to “true Israel.”
- Israel’s reward is earthly. Our reward is in the far above the heavens.
- Israel’s hope is the hope of the earthly covenants. Our hope is to be with him in the above heavens.
- Israel is to one day be a royal priesthood. We have no priesthood.
When we rightly divide the Word of Truth, it becomes clear and we do not trespass on the hope or calling of another.
The Revelation begins and ends with John, it begins and ends with Israel.
At the end of the Revelation, Rev 22, we see the reconciliation of the creation started in chapter 21. That is, we see access to the tree of life (Paradise) restored, the healing of "the nations" (éthnos, non-Jews), and the beginning of the "ages of the ages" (v.5). But the chapter is the final frame of the whole book (John, reference back to Rev 1) and is thus still given to Israel.
We see again David, “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8; 22:13), the bride, the plagues, the prophesies of the book, etc. It is a book for and about Israel from an Apostle to the Circumcision.
Note: since the Lord told the malefactor on the cross that he would be with Him in Paradise, and Paradise is not accessible until Rev 22, I'd say this is where and when he sees the promise fulfilled. As a gentile (the believing malefactor), this makes sense to me.
One day, all the families of God will come together, in the age beyond the Revelation:
Eph 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
UPDATE: I received a reasonable objection to my last point in regard to the age beyond the Revelation and the interpretation of Eph 1:10 based on the Greek (anakephalaiomai). Here is my response for your consideration:
Charles Welch comments on his headship, "In Eph. 1: 10 the word translated in the A.V. 'gather together in one,' and in the R.V. 'sum up,' is anakephalaiomai, which contains in verbal form of the word kephale, which is translated 'Head.' This passage therefore must be considered together with the others which give the title of Head to the Lord. The word can be translated, 'to head up,' or 'to gather together under one Head,' and although this rendering may not be elegant, it will preserve the truth for us, which is of more importance."
Also, "Chapter 1:10 speaks of the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth, being gathered together under one Head. In verses 21, 22 we read that the Lord has been raised "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the coming one..."