PART 5: TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH – Chapter 24: Fulfilling the Great Commission
Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion
Topics: Doctrinal Studies, Eschatology, Theology
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Henceforth I learn, that to obey is best,
And love with fear the only God, to walk
As in his presence, ever to observe
His providence, and on him sole depend,
Merciful over all his works, with good
Still overcoming evil, and by small
Accomplishing great things, by things deemed weak
Subverting worldly strong, and worldly wise
By simply meek; that suffering for Truth’s sake
Is fortitude to highest victory,
And to the faithful death the gate of life;
Taught this by his example whom I now
Acknowledge my Redeemer ever blest.
–John Milton, Paradise Lost [12.561-73]
What mere man or magician or tyrant or king was ever able by himself to do so much? Did anyone ever fight against the whole system of idol-worship and the whole host of daemons and all magic and all the wisdom of the Greeks, at a time when all of these were strong and flourishing and taking everybody in, as did our Lord, the very Word of God? Yet He is even now invisibly exposing every man’s error, and single-handedly is carrying off all men from them all, so that those who used to worship idols now tread them under foot, reputed magicians burn their books and the wise prefer to all studies the interpretation of the gospels. They are deserting those whom formerly they worshipped, they worship and confess as Christ and God Him Whom they used to ridicule as crucified. Their so-called gods are routed by the sign of the cross, and the crucified Saviour is proclaimed in all the world as God and Son of God.
–St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 
FULFILLING THE GREAT COMMISSION
“Go therefore and disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The Great Commission to the Church does not end with simply witnessing to the nations. Christ’s command is that we disciple the nations – all the nations. The kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of Christ. They are to be discipled, made obedient to the faith. This means that every aspect of life throughout the world is to be brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ: families, individuals, business, science, agriculture, the arts, law, education, economics, psychology, philosophy, and every other sphere of human activity. Nothing may be left out. Christ “must reign, until He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25). We have been given the responsibility of converting the entire world.
In his second letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul outlined a strategy for worldwide dominion:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty in God for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ; and we are ready to punish all disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
–2 Cor. 10:3-6
As Paul observes, the army of Christ is invincible: we are not fighting in mere human power, but with weapons that are “mighty in God” (cf. Eph. 6:10-18), divinely powerful, more than adequate to accomplish the job. With these weapons at our disposal, we are able to destroy everything the enemy raises up in opposition to the lordship of Jesus Christ. “We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”: Christ is to be acknowledged as Lord everywhere, in every sphere of human activity. We are to “think God’s thoughts after Him” at every point, following His authoritative Word, the law-book of the Kingdom. This is at the root of any genuine program of Christian reconstruction.
Paul tells us that the goal of our warfare is total victory, complete dominion for the Kingdom of Christ. We will not settle for anything less than the entire world. “We are ready to punish all disobedience, once your obedience is complete,” Paul says. The Moffatt translation renders it this way: I am prepared to court-martial anyone who remains insubordinate, once your submission is complete. Paul’s goal is universal obedience to our Lord.
But it is important to note the order here. Paul does not begin his work of reconstruction by fomenting a social revolution. Nor does he begin by seeking political office. He begins with the Church, and will move out to bring the rest of the world under Christ’s dominion “once the Church’s obedience is complete.” The center of Christian reconstruction is the Church. The River of Life does not flow out from the doors of the chambers of Congresses and Parliaments. It flows from the restored Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Church of Jesus Christ. Our goal is world dominion under Christ’s lordship, a “world takeover” if you will; but our strategy begins with the reformation and reconstruction of the Church. From that will flow social and political reconstruction, indeed a flowering of Christian civilization (Hag. 1:1-15; 2:6-9, 18-23).
This has always been the case. When Moses sued Pharaoh for the freedom of the Israelites, he did not say: “Let us go start a Christian Republic.” He said:
Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.”
–Ex. 5:1; cf. 7:16
Certainly, God was planning to create His people a new nation. The law He was to give them would provide the foundation for a social order and judicial system. Important as all that is, however, what is infinitely more important is God. And what is basic to our ongoing relationship to Him and service for Him is our worship of Him. The fundamental issue between Egypt and Israel was the question of worship. Everything else flowed from that.
Liturgy and History
We know the story of Israel. God forced Pharaoh to release them, and they went on to inherit the Promised Land. But the really crucial aspect of the whole Exodus event, as far as the people’s activity was concerned, was worship. The orthodox Christian faith cannot be reduced to personal experiences, academic discussions, or culture-building activity – as important as all these are in varying degrees. The essence of biblical religion is the worship of God. And by worship I do not only mean listening to sermons, even though preaching is certainly necessary and important. I mean organized, congregational prayers, praise, and sacramental celebration. This means, further, that the reformation of Church government is crucial to biblical dominion. True Christian reconstruction of culture is far from being simply a matter of passing Law X and electing Congressman Y. Christianity is not a political cult. It is the divinely ordained worship of the Most High God.
That is why the Book of Revelation begins with a vision of Christ and goes on to deal with the government (the “angels,” or officers) of the Church. The entire prophecy, in fact, is structured as a worship service on the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). Throughout the book we see a repeated pattern: first, the “angels” lead the saints in organized worship; second, God responds to His people’s worship by bringing judgment unto salvation. For example, John shows us the martyrs gathered at the incense altar, beseeching God to avenge them on their persecutors (Rev. 6:9-11). Shortly thereafter, an “angel” formally offers up their prayers to God, then takes coals from the altar and throws them to the earth: the result is devastation and destruction upon Israel; the land catches fire; a burning mountain is thrown into the sea (Rev. 8:1-8). This is but one illustration among many of a central truth of Revelation: the inseparable connection between liturgy and history. The Book of Revelation shows that God’s judgments in history are direct responses to the Church’s official worship. When the Church, in her official capacity, pronounces lawful judgments, those declarations are honored at the Supreme Court of heaven (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23), and God Himself executes the Church’s verdict.
Jesus, in fact, had specifically commanded His people to pray for the Mountain of Israel to be cast into the sea (Matt. 21:21-22), and that is exactly (figuratively) what happened. This is an important lesson for the Church today. Our primary response to persecution and oppression must not be political. That is to put our trust in the State. The Church’s primary response to persecution must be liturgical. We must pray about it, personally, in families, and in the organized, corporate worship of the Church, whose officers are divinely empowered to bring judgments. Of course, this means that the Church must return to the orthodox practice of singing and praying Imprecatory Psalms against God’s enemies. (The “Imprecatory Psalms” are the Psalms which consist mainly of imprecations, or curses, against the wicked; a few of these are Psalms 35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 83, 94, 109, and 140). Church officers must pronounce sentence against oppressors, and Christians must follow this up by faithful prayers that the oppressors will either repent or be destroyed.
To take another example: What should the Church do about the modern form of human sacrifice, the daily abomination known as abortion? If our central response is social or political action, we are, in principle, atheists; we are confessing our faith in human action as the ultimate determiner of history. True, we should work for the criminalization of abortion: the murderers should receive capital punishment (Ex. 21:22-25). We must also work to save the lives of the innocent and defenseless. But our fundamental actions should be governmental and liturgical. Church officers should pronounce judgments upon abortionists – naming outstanding Pro-Death advocates, judges, doctors, and publishers.
If the Church faithfully calls upon God to judge murderers and persecutors, what will happen? The answer is given in the whole Book of Revelation: God’s angels will cast fire upon the earth, and the wicked will be consumed. But we must remember that the coals of God’s vengeance must come from the altar. God’s fiery wrath issues from His throne, where we meet Him in public worship. A “resistance movement” that is not centered in worship will come under the judgment of God. In principle, it is like Nadab and Abihu’s offering of “strange fire” (Lev. 10:1-2).
W.S. Plumer wrote of the power of the Church’s imprecatory prayers: “Of thirty Roman Emperors, governors of provinces and others high in office, who distinguished themselves by their zeal and bitterness in persecuting the early Christians, one became speedily deranged after some atrocious cruelty, one was slain by his own son, one became blind, the eyes of one started out of his head, one was drowned, one was strangled, one died in a miserable captivity, one fell dead in a manner that will not bear recital, one died of so loathsome a disease that several of his physicians were put to death because they could not abide the stench that filled his room, two committed suicide, a third attempted it, but had to call for help to finish the work, five were assassinated by their own people or servants, five others died the most miserable and excruciating deaths, several of them having an untold complication of diseases, and eight were killed in battle or after being taken prisoners. Among these was Julian the apostate. In the days of his prosperity he is said to have pointed his dagger to heaven defying the Son of God, whom he commonly called the Galilean. But when he was wounded in battle, he saw that all was over with him, and he gathered up his clotted blood, and threw it into the air, exclaiming, ‘Thou hast conquered, O thou Galilean.’ ”
Of course, the Church’s worship is not primarily negative but positive: we are to offer up petitions for the conversion of the world. We must ask God to cause all nations to flow into His Temple, praying that His Mountain will grow and fill the earth more and more, and that our age will see increasing triumphs for the gospel in every area of life. There is no reason not to expect victory; if we are faithful to God’s Word, there is every reason to assume that the powers of darkness will be shattered by our advance. The gates of hell must and shall fall before the aggressive, militant Church (Matt. 16:18).
It is a mark of our unbelief that we put our trust in men and princes rather than in the Spirit of God. Which is more powerful – human depravity or God’s sovereignty? Can God convert the world? Of course! More than that, He has promised that He will convert the world! He has told us that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). How much do the waters cover the sea? Is there any part of the sea that is not covered by water? That is just the point: someday, people everywhere will know the Lord. All nations will serve Him.
The salvation of the world was the reason why Jesus came, as He Himself told Nicodemus:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.
That the world should be saved! Here is one of the most oft-quoted passages of all the Bible, and so often we miss the point. Jesus Christ came to save the world-not just a sinner here, a sinner there. He wants us to disciple the nations – not just a few individuals. The Lord Jesus will not be satisfied in the success of His mission until the whole earth is singing His praises. On the basis of God’s infallible promises, the Church must pray and work for the expansion of the Kingdom, with the expectation that God will fill His Church with “a great multitude, which no one can count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9).
We must stop acting as if we are forever destined to be a subculture. We are destined for dominion; we should straighten up and start acting like it. Our life and worship should reflect our expectation of dominion and our increasing capacity for responsibility. We should not see ourselves as lonely outposts surrounded by an increasingly hostile world; that is to bear false witness against God. The truth is just the opposite of that. It is the devil who is on the run, it is paganism which is doomed to extinction. Christianity is ultimately the dominant culture, predestined to be the final and universal religion. The Church will fill the earth.
The great St. Augustine understood this. Referring to those who saw themselves as the last remnant of a Church which was headed for inevitable decline, he laughed: “The clouds roll with thunder, that the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth: and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak – We are the only Christians!”
We are the shapers of world history. God has remade us in His image for world dominion; He has poured out upon us His Spirit, with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49); He has committed to us the gospel of the Kingdom, and commissioned us to take over the world. If we trust and obey Him, there is no possibility of failure.
The Theocratic Mandate
Our goal is a Christian world, made up of explicitly Christian nations. How could a Christian desire anything else? Our Lord Himself taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). We pray that God’s orders will be obeyed on earth, just as they are immediately obeyed by the angels and saints in heaven. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the worldwide dominion of God’s Kingdom – not a centralized world government, but a world of decentralized theocratic republics.
Now by theocracy I do not mean a government ruled by priests and pastors. That is not what the word means at all. A theocracy is a government ruled by God, a government whose law code is solidly founded on the laws of the Bible. Civil rulers are required to be God’s ministers, just as much as pastors are (Rom. 13:1-4). According to God’s holy, infallible Word, the laws of the Bible are the best laws (Deut. 4:5-8). They cannot be improved upon.
The fact is that all law is “religious.” All law is based on some ultimate standard of morality and ethics. Every law-system is founded on the ultimate value of that system, and that ultimate value is the god of that system. The source of law for a society is the god of that society. This means that a theocracy is inescapable. All societies are theocracies. The difference is that a society that is not explicitly Christian is a theocracy of a false god. Thus, when God instructed the Israelites about going into the land of Canaan, He warned them not to adopt the law system of the pagans:
I am the LORD your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if He does them; I am the LORD.
That is the only choice: pagan law or Christian law. God specifically forbids “pluralism.” God is not the least bit interested in sharing world dominion with Satan. God wants us to honor Him individually, in our families, in our churches, in our businesses, in our cultural pursuits of every kind, and in our statutes and judgments. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34). According to humanists, civilizations just “rise” and “fall,” by some naturalistic, evolutionary mechanism. But the Bible says that the key to the history of civilizations is judgment. God evaluates our response to His commands, and He answers back with curse and blessing. If a nation obeys Him, He blesses and prospers it (Deut. 28:1-14); if a nation disobeys Him, He curses and destroys it (Deut. 28:15-68). The history of Israel stands as a warning to all nations: for if God did it to them, He will surely do the same to the rest of us (Jer. 25:29).
The eschatology of dominion is not some comfortable doctrine that the world is getting “better and better” in an abstract, automatic sense. Nor is it a doctrine of protection against national judgment and desolation. To the contrary, the eschatology of dominion is a guarantee of judgment. It teaches that world history is judgment, a series of judgments leading up to the Final Judgment. At every moment, God is watching over His world, assessing and evaluating our response to His Word. He shakes the nations back and forth in the sieve of history, sifting out the worthless chaff and blowing it away, until nothing is left but His pure wheat. The choice before any nation is not pluralism. The choice is obedience or destruction.
A Thousand Generations
To the Satanist, time is the great curse. As history progresses, the forces of evil sense that their time is running out (cf. Rev. 12:12). That is why Satan so often works by revolution: he must get his work done now, while he has opportunity. He cannot afford to wait, because time is working against him. He is doomed to defeat, and he knows it.
But the Christian does not have to be afraid of the passage of time, because time is on our side. History is working toward our objectives. Every day brings us closer to the realization of the knowledge of God covering the entire world. The nations will worship and obey the one true God, and will cease to make war; the earth will be changed, restored to Edenic conditions; and people will be blessed with long and happy lives – so long, in fact, that it will be unusual for someone to die at the young age of 100 (Isa. 65:20)!
Consider this promise in the law: “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut. 7:9). The God of the Covenant told His people that He would bless them to the thousandth generation of their descendants. That promise was made (in round figures) about 3,400 years ago. If we figure the Biblical generation at about 40 years, a thousand generations is forty thousand years. We’ve got 36,600 years to go before this promise is fulfilled!
Some might accuse me of falling into an inconsistent “literalism” at this point, taking thousand literally in Deuteronomy but not in Revelation. Not so. I will grant that when God uses the term thousand, he is speaking of vastness rather than a specific number. Having admitted that, however, let’s look closer at the way this term is used in symbolism. When God said that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He means a vast number of cattle on a vast number of hills – but there are more than 1,000 hills. The Bible promises that God’s people will be kings and priests for a thousand years, meaning a vast number of years – but Christians have been kings and priests for more than 1,000 years (almost 2,000 years now). My point is this: the term thousand is often used symbolically in Scripture, to express vastness; but that vastness is, in reality, much more than the literal thousand.
God promises that He will bless His people for one thousand generations. By the analogy of Scripture, then, this means that a figure of forty thousand years is a bare minimum. This world has tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years of increasing godliness ahead of it, before the Second Coming of Christ.
I am not interested in setting dates. I am not going to try to figure out the date of the Second Coming. The Bible does not reveal it, and it is none of our business. What the Bible does reveal is our responsibility to work for God’s Kingdom, our duty to bring ourselves, our families, and all our spheres of influence under the dominion of Jesus Christ. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). God has not told us when the Second Coming will occur. But He has told us that there is a lot of work to be done, and He expects us to get to it.
What would you say if you hired a worker, gave him detailed instructions, and all he did was to sit around wondering when the quitting bell will ring? Would you regard him as a faithful worker? Does God regard you as a faithful worker for His Kingdom? I repeat: the purpose of prophecy is ethical. It is God’s assurance that history is under His control, that He is working out His eternal purposes in every event, and that His original plan for His creation will be fulfilled. He has placed us into the great war for world history, with the absolute guarantee that we will win. Even if He has to make the whole universe stand still for us (Josh. 10:12-13), the day will last long enough for us to achieve victory. Time is on our side. The Kingdom has come, and the world has begun again.
Now: Get to work.