In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul teaches clearly that Jesus shall subdue all rule, authority and power prior to the defeat of death in the resurrection of believers. This means plainly that Jesus shall subdue the Powers prior to the Second Coming. That is the simple message that Paul teaches. But what does it mean to subdue the Powers? Who are the Powers? And what does this dominion look like in the world?
First of all, the Powers are fallen angels (as I understand it) that rule the world through the agency of men. The Powers are the governments and institutions that wield power over the lives of men. The IRS, for example. The Powers are both spiritual and physical. The Powers are not “flesh and blood,” as Paul says, but they control flesh and blood. The Powers are the power behind the thrones of men.
The Powers were given control over the nations at Babel when God scattered the Gentile nations and called out Abram to father a holy nation. But Jesus took the authority of the Powers back when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. “All power in heaven and earth is given to me,” Jesus said. However, the defeated Powers are entrenched in the institutions of man and refuse to yield without a fight. They are hostile to Christ and resist His rule. Thus, Christ sent His church into the world to confront the Powers through the proclamation of Christ’s rule. The church is sent to enact His authority and rule. The church is at war with the Powers. The church is the means by which Jesus is subduing the Powers.
So, when the Powers are subdued by the church, what does that look like? The Postmills say that this looks like Christians taking over the governments and institutions of man until Christ’s rule over the nations is actual and evident in every realm of life. This means for them that Jesus shall be in charge of every government in the earth and every cultural and societal institution prior to the Second Coming. They see this as the realization of the OT prophets’ vision of the new heaven and new earth prior to the final new creation at the Second Coming. For them, the Second Coming is the culmination–the flowering and fullness–of Christ’s rule that has already been enacted and fully realized in the world.
But I think that goes too far. It seems to me that the dominion of Jesus is directly related to the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-20) Dominion is directly related to teaching the gospel, baptizing those who believe and discipling them as followers of Christ. Dominion is all about evangelism. Dominion is all about discipleship. Jesus shall subdue the Powers so that He may build His church and call out His elect from every nation.
In other words, the dominion of Jesus in this present age is simply Christ sending the church into every nation and restraining the Powers through preaching, praise and prayer until the Powers cannot prevent the salvation of God’s elect, the building of the church and the leavening of the earth through the positive influence of the church upon society (Matthew 13). Because exile continues until the resurrection (1 Peter), the church remains in a position of serving the nations like Daniel and Joseph did. Of course, in the days of Daniel, Jesus, the Son of God, was not in charge of the kingdoms of the earth, so it is true that the church has greater influence and dominion than Daniel. But I still see that exile continues until the Second Coming.
(Exile is the period of waiting for the final fulfillment of the prophecies made to Israel. Exile is not over until the resurrection, though it has already ended in a proleptic sense in the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost.)
This means that the church will influence the world, but not necessarily rule it politically and culturally until Jesus returns.
Another passage that leads me to believe that full realization of Christ’s rule upon the earth cannot come until the resurrection of believers is Romans 8. Paul’s teaching there on the groaning of creation until the resurrection together with Peter’s teaching in 1 Peter on exile leads me to believe that the church exercises dominion in a targeted manner until Jesus returns. Our goal is to go into all the world (cosmos) and make disciples of every nation. As we do so, the Powers will resist our advance because we represent the King who took their power away. But as we go forward, the King empowers us with the Holy Spirit to take dominion over the Powers so that they cannot prevent the salvation of God’s elect, those whom God has chosen to save.
As we exercise this dominion–which means, as we enact the dominion that Jesus has already taken at the cross–the Powers are subdued under the authority of the church, and the elect of God is saved. As the elect are saved, the church is established in every nation. As the church is established in every nation, society and culture, politics and government, education and economy, the arts and entertainment are influenced by the presence of the church within the culture. The church acts as salt and light in the world, and the world is changed as a result. This is the “shalom of the city” that God speaks about in Jeremiah 29. This may not mean, as the Postmills say, that the world becomes fully Christian, but it does mean that the Christian church changes the world for the better. It is impossible for the church to be anywhere in the world without changing the world for the better. Just like light cannot enter a dark room without dispelling the darkness, so the church cannot enter a nation without driving back evil powers and advancing the rule of Jesus Christ.
So, what sort of dominion should we expect to exercise? At least this: we should expect to enter a city in any nation under heaven and begin the work of preaching the gospel, praising the one true God in worship, and praying the purpose of God into existence through powerful intercession. Preaching, praise and prayer. These are the weapons of our dominion. As we encounter spiritual resistance, for the Powers will not remain idle as we storm the bastions of their control, we must proclaim the authority of Jesus. We are simply messengers enacting the rule of Jesus in every realm of life. We proclaim the gospel, the good news that Jesus lives and rules from heaven and shall return soon to rule upon the earth. We proclaim the gospel in our preaching, praise and prayer.
As we gain dominion in the Spirit, the Lord will begin to open doors for the salvation of His elect. He will save those whom He has chosen to save, and the Powers cannot stop it. As the elect of God are saved, they are steered by the Holy Spirit into positions of influence and power like Joseph and Daniel. The church is established in the city and the strongholds of evil are broken. The church begins to change the world one soul at a time. Legislation is influenced. The economy is influenced. Education is influenced. Entertainment is influenced. Bars start closing. Adult bookstores and strip clubs shut down (a reality that we have seen happen in Fort Worth!). The church has an effect on the city as the church grows within the city. The government of the city may remain pagan, but it will be influenced by the Joseph’s and Daniel’s that stand by the side of those wielding power. And, in some instances, Christians may become the mayors, governors and presidents. But the focus of the church remains evangelism and discipleship. This is how dominion comes.
Since dominion comes through evangelism and discipleship, we cannot get bogged down in the delusion that it comes through seeking political, cultural or military power. That is exactly the sort of quest for dominion that Jesus condemned when He preached against those who sought to advance Messiah’s kingdom through violence. The kingdom cannot come by the violent who seek to take it by force. The cross showed clearly that the kingdom can only come through love that yields to violence and thereby breaks its power. “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” Or, to say it another way: “Those who live by political action shall die by political action.”
The kingdom simply does not come that way. The kingdom comes through the preaching of the gospel and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The kingdom comes from within. The kingdom comes as the Spirit enacts the rule of Jesus in the hearts of believers. This is why we cannot get distracted with attempting to advance the kingdom through political and social action. We may exercise political and social action as citizens of the kingdom–that sort of influence is exactly what the church shall eventually wield. But we must not confuse influence with dominion. The dominion of the church is directly related to evangelism and discipleship. The collateral effects of Christian life and and faith in the world are powerful. The world does change when Jesus comes to town. But our focus must remain on breaking spiritual strongholds that prevent the saving and discipling of God’s elect. Save the lost and build the church, and the world will be changed.
I can continue like this for hours. I really can. But all I want to emphasize is that we must not swing to either of two extremes: (1) the extreme of thinking that Christian dominion means that we shall Christianize the world and actually rule the nations prior to the Second Coming; and (2) the other, more common extreme of thinking that the church will have no discernible and actual effect upon the world at large until Jesus returns and personally defeats the Powers and sets up His kingdom. In my opinion, based on what I think has been a careful study of the material, both of these extremes are wrong. Jesus will subdue the Powers prior to His return. Paul makes that clear. But this subjugation of the Powers is directly related to the Great Commission and must be seen as the evangelistic and discipling work of the church. Yet, the church will affect the world. It could not keep from it if it tried–and it has definitely tried!
For those like me who are deeply interested in the effect of the Christian faith upon culture and society–and if you have read this far, that would be you!–this discussion is unbelievably important. For too long the church has been held captive by an escapist mentality that despairs of making any sort of difference in the world and sees our mission as nothing more than saving the few we can and holding out until Jesus comes back to rescue us from this present, evil age. But there is something in the heart of believers that cries out for more than defensive, defeatist Christianity. There is something in our heart that cries out to make a difference in the world. But we have to be careful here, for this was the zeal that pushed the first-century Pharisees into delusional visions of the kingdom. We must stay focused here. We cannot succumb to despair, but neither can we forget what we are called to do: teach, baptize and make disciples. If we will do this, the difference we seek to make in the world will flow out of it. And our influence upon the world will like a city on a hill that cannot be hid.
Today, this is our prayer: “Our Father who is on heaven. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.”