Here shalt thou sit incarnate, here shalt reign
Both God and Man, Son both of God and Man,
Anointed universal King; all power
I give thee, reign forever, and assume
Thy merits; under thee as Head Supreme
Thrones, Princedoms, Powers, Dominions I reduce:
All knees to thee shall bow, of them that bide
In Heaven, or Earth, or under Earth in Hell.
–John Milton, Paradise Lost [3.315-22]
When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.
–St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 
This is a book about hope. For too long, Christians have been characterized by despair, defeat, and retreat. For too long, Christians have heeded the false doctrine which teaches that we are doomed to failure, that Christians cannot win – the notion that, until Jesus returns, Christians will steadily lose ground to the enemy. The future of the Church, we were told, is to be a steady slide into apostasy. Some of our leaders sadly informed us that we are living in a “Laodicean age” of the Church (a reference to the “lukewarm” church of Laodicea, spoken of in Rev. 3:14-22). Any new outbreak of war, any rise in crime statistics, any new evidence of the breakdown of the family, was often oddly viewed as progress, a step forward toward the expected goal of the total collapse of civilization, a sign that Jesus might come to rescue us at any moment. Social action projects were looked on with skepticism: it was often assumed that anyone who actually tried to improve the world must not really believe the Bible, because the Bible taught that such efforts were bound to be futile; as one famous preacher put it, “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” That slogan was based on two assumptions: first, that the world is nothing more than a “sinking ship”; second, that any organized program of Christian reconstruction would be nothing more than “polishing brass.” Evangelism was an invitation to join the losing side.
This was rooted in two problems. One was a false view of Spirituality. The unbiblical idea of “spirituality” is that the truly “spiritual” man is the person who is sort of “non-physical,” who doesn’t get involved in “earthly” things, who doesn’t work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he’d rather be in heaven. As long as he’s on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus. The “spiritual” man, in this view, is a wimp. A Loser. But at least he’s a Good Loser.
The teaching of the Bible is very different. When the Bible uses the term Spiritual, it is generally speaking of the Holy Spirit (which is why I use a capital S). To be Spiritual is to be guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit. It means obeying His commands as recorded in the Scriptures. The Spiritual man is not someone who floats in midair and hears eerie voices. The Spiritual man is the man who does what the Bible says (Rom. 8:4-8). This means, therefore, that we are supposed to get involved in life. God wants us to apply Christian standards everywhere, in every area. Spirituality does not mean retreat and withdrawal from life; it means dominion. The basic Christian confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10) – Lord of all things, in heaven and on earth. As Lord, He is to be glorified in every area (Rom. 11:36). In terms of Christian Spirituality, in terms of God’s requirements for Christian action in every area of life, there is no reason for retreat.
The second obstacle to Christian action has been an eschatology of defeat. Our eschatology is our “doctrine of last things,” our expectation of the future. And there is no question about the recent expectations of many Christians: we have looked forward to failure. The world, as we noted earlier, was regarded as a sinking ship.
Of course, no Christian believes in ultimate defeat. All Christians know that God will be victorious over the devil at the end of history. As a young Christian, I remember my Bible teachers informing me that they had “peeked at the last chapter (of the Bible), and the Christians win!” But that is just my point: according to certain popular brands of eschatology, victory takes place only in “the last chapter.” In time, in history, on earth, the Christians lose. The world is getting worse and worse. Antichrist is coming. The devil is running the world, and getting more and more powerful all the time. Your work for God in this world will have no lasting effect, except to save a few individuals from hell. But you’d better do it quickly, before the Tribulation hits, so that you can escape in time. Ironically, the unintentional message of this gospel is: Antichrist is coming! There is something terribly lopsided about that.
What I am saying is this. The eschatology of defeat is wrong. It is no more Biblical than its twin sister, the false view of Spirituality. Instead of a message of defeat, the Bible gives us Hope, both in this world and the next. The Bible gives us an eschatology of dominion, an eschatology of victory. This is not some blind, “everything-will-work-out-somehow” kind of optimism. It is a solid, confident, Bible-based assurance that, before the Second Coming of Christ, the gospel will be victorious throughout the entire world.
For many, that will seem incredible. It goes against the whole spirit of the modern age; for years, Christians have been taught to expect defeat. Certainly, it’s a good idea to be careful about “new” doctrines. Everything must be checked by the Scriptures. One thing to consider, however, is that the idea of dominion is not new. In fact, until fairly recently, most Christians held an eschatology of dominion. Most Christians throughout the history of the Church regarded the eschatology of defeat as a doctrine of crackpots.
The Hope of worldwide conquest for Christianity has been the traditional faith of the Church through the ages. This fact can easily be demonstrated again and again. We can see it in the words of St. Athanasius, the great Church Father of the fourth century whose classic book On the Incarnation of the Word of God reveals his strong eschatology of dominion. He summarized its thesis:
Since the Saviour came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And daemons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Saviour’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Saviour “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.
You must not suppose that Athanasius was just a positive-thinking optimist, relaxing in quiet, peaceful surroundings. On the contrary: he lived through one of the most severe persecutions the world had ever seen, the Emperor Diocletian’s all-out attempt to stamp out the Christian faith. Later, Athanasius had to stand practically alone for 40 years in his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity against rampant heresy, being exiled by the government on five occasions and sometimes in peril for his life. In fact, his story gave birth to a proverb: Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world). Yet he never lost sight of the basic fact of world history, that the Word had become flesh, conquering the devil, redeeming mankind, flooding the world with Light which the darkness could not overcome.
The Church’s eschatology of dominion radically shaped the history of Western civilization. For example, think about the great cathedrals of Europe, and compare them to the church buildings of today. Those old cathedrals, magnificent works of art constructed over decades and sometimes generations, were built to last for centuries – and they have. But modern evangelical churches are usually built to last a generation at most. We don’t expect to be around long enough to get much use out of them, and we certainly don’t expect our great-grandchildren to worship in them. We don’t even expect to have great-grandchildren. It is safe to say that the thought of descendants living five hundred years from now has never even entered the minds of most evangelicals today. Yet, for many Christians of previous generations, the idea of future generations benefiting from their labors was not strange in the slightest degree. They built for the ages.
Let’s look at a very different field: exploration. Not one historian in a hundred knows what motivated Christopher Columbus to seek a western route to the Indies. Trade? Yes, that was part of the reason. More than this, however, it was unfulfilled prophecy. Before he began his expeditions, Columbus crammed his journals with quotations from Isaiah and other Biblical writers, in which he detailed the numerous prophecies that the Great Commission to disciple all nations of the world would be successful (see, for example, Isa. 2:2-5; 9:2-7; 11:1-10; 32:15-17; 40:4-11; 42:1-12; 49:1-26; 56:3-8; 60:1-22; 61:1-11; 62:1-12; 65:1-25; 66:1-24). He figured that if the Indies were to be converted, a sea route would be a much more efficient way to bring them the gospel; and he credited his discoveries not to the use of mathematics or maps, but rather to the Holy Spirit, who was bringing to pass what Isaiah had foretold. We must remember that America had been discovered numerous times, by other cultures; yet successful colonization and development took place only in the age of exploration begun by Columbus. Why? Because these explorers were bearers of the gospel, and their goal was to conquer the world for the kingdom of God. They came expecting that the New World would be Christianized. They were certain of victory, and assumed that any obstacles they met had been placed there for the express purpose of being overcome. They knew that Christians are destined for dominion.
Examples could be multiplied, in every field. The whole rise of Western Civilization – science and technology, medicine, the arts, constitutionalism, the jury system, free enterprise, literacy, increasing productivity, a rising standard of living, the high status of women-is attributable to one major fact: the West has been transformed by Christianity. True, the transformation is not yet complete. There are many battles ahead. But the point is that, even in what is still largely an early Christian civilization, God has showered us with blessings.
Many Christians do not realize it, but the Hope is the basis for many of the great old hymns of the faith, written before the modern era of evangelical despair and pessimism. Think about that the next time you sing Martin Luther’s “A mighty Fortress is our God,” Isaac Watts’s “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run,” or George Duffield’s “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.” Do you really believe that Jesus is now leading us “from victory unto victory… till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed”? That is what the Church has historically believed. That is what they sang in their hymns. This can be seen most clearly in the traditional Christmas carols, which, like Athanasius’s reflections on the Incarnation, are unabashed expectations of Christ’s triumph over the world through the gospel. Carols such as “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” “Hark! the herald angels sing,” “God rest you merry, gentlemen,” and many others are written from the same basic perspective as the present book. The conviction that – as a result of His first advent – Christ is now reigning from heaven and conquering the earth underlies the message of “Joy to the world!”:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love.
The same is true of that great victory-oriented carol, “It came upon the midnight clear”:
For lo, the days are hast’ning on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
The Psalms: Our Hymnbook of Dominion
There is a very important connection between the Church’s worldview and the Church’s hymns. If your heart and mouth are filled with songs of victory, you will tend to have an eschatology of dominion; if, instead, your songs are fearful, expressing a longing for escape – or if they are weak, childish ditties – your worldview and expectations will be escapist and childish.
Historically, the basic hymnbook for the Church has been the Book of Psalms. The largest book of the Bible is the Book of Psalms, and God providentially placed it right in the middle of the Bible, so that we couldn’t miss it! Yet how many churches use the Psalms in musical worship? It is noteworthy that the Church’s abandonment of dominion eschatology coincided with the Church’s abandonment of the Psalms.
The Psalms are inescapably Kingdom-oriented. They are full of conquest, victory, and the dominion of the saints. They remind us constantly of the warfare between God and Satan, they incessantly call us to do battle against the forces of evil, and they promise us that we shall inherit the earth. When the Church sang the Psalms – not just little snatches of them, but comprehensively, through the whole Psalter – she was strong, healthy, aggressive, and could not be stopped. That is why the devil has sought to keep us from singing the Psalms, to rob us of our inheritance. If we are to recapture the eschatology of dominion, we must reform the Church; and a crucial aspect of that reformation should be a return to the singing of Psalms. Listen to the historic hymns of the victorious Church:
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations will worship before Thee.
– Ps. 22:27
For evildoers will be cut off,
But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the earth.
Yet a little while, and the wicked man will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be.
But the meek will inherit the earth,
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.
O clap your hands, all peoples;
Shout to God with the voice of joy.
For the LORD Most High is to be feared,
A great King over all the earth.
He subdues peoples under us,
And nations under our feet.
All the earth will worship Thee,
And will sing praises to Thee;
They will sing praises to Thy name.
He will rule from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
The nomads of the desert will bow before Him;
And His enemies will lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the islands will bring presents;
The kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts.
All kings will bow down before Him;
All nations will serve Him.
All nations whom Thou hast made shall come
and worship before Thee, O LORD;
And they shall glorify Thy name.
All the kings of the earth will give thanks to Thee, O LORD,
When they have heard the words of Thy mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the LORD;
For great is the glory of the LORD.
Let the godly ones exult in glory;
Let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
To execute vengeance on the nations,
And punishment on the peoples;
To bind their kings with chains,
And their nobles with fetters of iron;
To execute on them the judgment written;
This is an honor for all His godly ones.
Praise the LORD!
What Difference Does It Make?
The eschatological issue centers on one fundamental point: Will the gospel succeed in its mission, or not? Regardless of their numerous individual differences, the various defeatist schools of thought are solidly lined up together on one major point: The gospel of Jesus Christ will fail. Christianity will not be successful in its worldwide task. Christ’s Great Commission to disciple the nations will not be carried out. Satan and the forces of Antichrist will prevail in history, overcoming the Church and virtually wiping it out – until Christ returns at the last moment, like the cavalry in B-grade westerns, to rescue the ragged little band of survivors.
Does it make a difference? Does your view of prophecy really affect your life? I think we have already seen much of the answer to that question. The basic issue has to do with your attitude toward the future. I recall a “Jesus People” newspaper of the early 1970s which carried an interview with the most popular “prophecy expert” of those days. On the basis of the “fact” that Jesus was going to rapture His Church “at any moment,” this man actually counseled his young followers not to marry and raise families. After all, there was no time for that sort of thing. The Rapture was coming, so any work for dominion would be useless. (If you were the devil, could you devise a better, more “spiritual-sounding” excuse for Christians to abandon God’s plan for victory?) The “Rapture Ethic” of those years led many to leave school, jobs, families, and responsibility in general; flocks of Jesus People wandered aimlessly around the country, with no clear goal beyond the next Christian rock concert. It was years before many of them woke up, and it sometimes took years more to put their lives together again.
The fact is that you will not work for the transformation of society if you don’t believe society can be transformed. You will not try to build a Christian civilization if you do not believe that a Christian civilization is possible. It was the utter confidence in the victory of the Christian faith that gave courage to the early missionaries, who fearlessly strode into the farthest reaches of pagan Europe as if they were at the head of an army, preaching the gospel, driving out demons, smashing idols, converting whole kingdoms, bringing vast multitudes to their knees at the feet of Christ. They knew they would win. They could give up their lives in the struggle, certain that history was on their side, that Satan’s domains were being shattered daily, his illegitimate hold weakening and slipping with every advance of the Christian forces. They were not in the least bit pessimistic about the power of the gospel. God honored their faith in His promises, and enabled them to lay the groundwork for a Christendom which will someday embrace the entire world.
When God’s people disobey and slip back into unbelief, the Church begins losing battles to Satan. Does this suggest that the Hope is mistaken? Not at all; for the Bible teaches that the Spiritual growth of society is no more “automatic” than the Spiritual growth of the individual Christian. “This is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith” (1 John 5:4). The Christian does not accept growth as “automatic” in any sphere of life. All growth and development are the sovereign gifts of God’s Spirit. Yet the Christian does not say that he can “let go and let God,” stop eating and exercising, and expect to grow. We do not assume that we can stop trusting God, stop praying and obeying, and still grow in grace. Nor should we say that some act of disobedience represents a “trend” in our personal eschatology, showing that we are necessarily “destined” to fail in the Christian life. And the same is true for cultural sanctification. We do not believe in some kind of “natural” progress in civilization. Our civilization will rise or fall in terms of God’s blessing; and God’s blessing is His personal and covenantal (not “automatic”) response to our covenantal obedience (Deut. 28).
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:13-16).
This is nothing less than a mandate for the complete social transformation of the entire world. And what Jesus condemns is ineffectiveness, failing to change the society around us. We are commanded to live in such a way that someday all men will glorify God – that they will become converted to the Christian faith. The point is that if the Church is obedient, the people and nations of the world will be discipled to Christianity. We all know that everyone should be a Christian, that the laws and institutions of all nations should follow the Bible’s blueprints. But the Bible tells us more than that. The Bible tells us that these commands are the shape of the future. We must change the world; and what is more, we shall change the world.