Kings and Beasts (Part 3) – The Reign of the Son of Man

Over the first two parts (here and here), we have discussed the theme of dominion. While the theme is first introduced in natural terms of ruling over the animals and cultivating the earth, Satan’s appearance as a “beast of the field” introduces the theme in broader, spiritual terms. When we give into sins, we become more like beasts ourselves, living out the passions and desires of our flesh without concern for truth or righteousness. Men who are shaped by sin create sinful cultures and nations that reject God, which are often described in animalistic terms. But God intends the world to flourish, for humanity to thrive, and for all the beasts to be subdued.

Many assume that Jesus did not come to conquer the world, but only proclaimed a “spiritual” kingdom. Wrong. Daniel envisioned the time before Christ’s coming as the reign of four wicked empires that ruled God’s people, which were vicious like beasts” (Dan. 7:4-8). And Daniel foresaw that God was going to subdue those empires: “[I]n the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom… It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 3:44).

If we are to understand the coming of Christ into the world in full, we must understand it in light of these various story lines. Christ has come to save individuals from their sin, but the redemption of individuals is only one aspect of a much larger project: reuniting the divided nations that are ruled over by demonic powers. Christ came to reclaim everything that had been relinquished by Adam.

When Adam obeyed Satan, humanity was given over to the dominion of sin. It is for this reason that Jesus calls Satan “the ruler of this world” and Satan was able to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of this world” (Matt. 4:8-9). In Revelation, John describes Jesus’ earthly ministry as a battle between “the dragon” and Jesus, depicted as a child being born. Satan seeks to “devour” Jesus because he was born “to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:4-5).

The spiritual war going on is a war for dominion over the whole world.

God’s people weren’t wrong to think that the messiah was going to conquer the world. Jesus’ first public words were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Christ’s coming into the world was D-Day. Jesus is clear: the time spoken of by Daniel had come and all the kingdoms of the world would be dashed in pieces. What the people failed to understand is that the only way to conquer earthly powers is to defeat the true enemies first: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The empires of the world have become like beasts enslaved to sin because they are dominated by demonic powers. For the world to be made new, the great dragon has to fall.

The gospels show us how Satan attempted to destroy Jesus. He used the leaders of Israel—the “brood of vipers” who sought only to do they will of “[their] father the devil” (John 8:44, Matt. 23:33). Following the serpent, they became serpents. By following sin, they do as Adam once did—seeking the power to rule in disobedience to God. Herod hears that the messiah was born and, like Pharaoh before him, has all the young boys killed (Matt. 2:16-18). After Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the priests and Pharisees gather together to conspire to kill him, fearing, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). Pilate has Jesus killed, despite being convinced he was innocent, to save himself from the wrath of Caesar (John 19:12).

But in all these efforts, Satan fails. Jesus describes his crucifixion, saying, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31-32). John envisions Jesus’ victory when he ascended into heaven after escaping Satan’s assaults, and the result of Jesus ascension was that Satan and his angels were cast out of the heavens forever:

[T]he dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
(Rev. 12:4-5, 7-11).

Throughout the old covenant, Satan was shown coming before God’s presence to challenge God’s people (Job 1, Zech. 3). Satan’s influence is dependent upon our sin—he is the accuser. But with the atoning work on the Cross completed, Jesus has achieved an “eternal redemption” and has sprinkled “his own blood” in the heavenly temple, in Zion above (Heb. 9, Heb. 12:22-24, Gal. 4:24-26). As a result, the accuser’s mouth is shut forever, and he no longer has any standing to come before God’s throne. It is exactly as Jesus described. Speaking of his crucifixion, Jesus said the result would be Satan being thrown down: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:31-32).

At the heart of the gospel narratives is a great irony. Paul says that the spiritual powers did not know what they were doing: “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). All of them—the rulers of Israel, Pilate, and Satan—believed that killing Jesus was the path to victory. They were wrong. On the cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2:15). Christ came to taste death in order “to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The redemption of the world is a practical joke—a bait and switch. Jesus took back dominion from the serpent by deceiving the serpent himself. Christ outwitted all the powers of the world, redeeming the world out from under them through his death and resurrection. Christ defeated the great dragon and now will subdue all the beasts of the earth—individuals and nations.

Jesus took back dominion from the serpent by deceiving the serpent himself. Christ outwitted all the powers of the world, redeeming the world out from under them through his death and resurrection. Christ defeated the great dragon and now will subdue all the beasts of the earth—individuals and nations.

What is often misunderstood by Christians today is the nature and timing of Christ’s reign. The Son of Man secures dominion and a kingdom when he ascends into heaven:

Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:13-14).

Due to the unfortunate popularity of dispensationalism, most Christians today have come to believe that all of the references to the “Son of Man coming with the clouds” refer to Christ’s bodily return, but this is getting it backwards. Daniel sees Jesus come with the clouds into God’s presence, where he is given complete dominion and a kingdom that will never end.

And Jesus confirms this interpretation. Jesus said the Son of Man would come with the clouds and inaugurate his kingdom before all the apostles had died (Matt. 16:28). Jesus told the apostles that, although they would be persecuted and have to flee from town to town, “[Y]ou will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matt. 10:23). Jesus was condemned to death by the Jewish leaders for proclaiming, “[F]rom now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64).

The “coming” of the Son of Man with the clouds referred to Jesus’ ascension on high. As Paul says, because Jesus was obedient to the point of death, God has now “highly exalted him” so that “every knee should bow [and] every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11). As Peter proclaimed on Pentecost, God fulfilled his covenant with King David, to set his descendant on the eternal throne, when the Father said to Jesus, “Sit at my right hand until your enemies are your footstool” (Acts 2:24-36). This is the basis for the great commission. We are to go baptize nations and teach nations to obey Jesus’ commands because, as he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18-20).

Many of us have been trained to believe that the world is destined to go to hell in a handbasket or, as John MacArthur has said, we lose down here. Many of us have been trained to imagine that most people who have ever lived and who ever will live are going to hell. Many of us have been trained to think God’s only interest is in transforming individuals, not peoples or nations. God’s aims are much greater than this. 

Jesus is the new and better Adam who has reversed the course of history. The beastly empires are all going to fall because God has set the Son of David on the eternal throne in heavenly Zion and has promised all the nations of the world as the Son’s inheritance. The plots of the demonic powers in destroying Jesus has failed and God laughs in mockery from heaven:

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Psa. 2)

Jesus said the kingdom would grow like a little bit of leaven working through dough (Matt. 13:33). On Pentecost, Christ sent out the Church, scattered like yeast, into all the nations of the world. Now, because Jesus has all authority, he is completing the task of bringing all the nations into his service. God has made it clear, just as we read each Christmas:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be uponhis shoulder… Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isa. 9:7).

Jesus is God’s anointed One and “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isa. 42:4). This is not a picture of an immediate, cataclysmic conquering of the world, but a progressive process over time. But we have been promised, He will not leave the Father’s right hand until that task is complete (Psa. 110:1, 1 Cor. 15:22-25, Acts 2:34-36, Heb. 1:8-9, 13).

It doesn’t appear that Jesus is anywhere near finished with this task. Although the Church now numbers in the billions, most of the nations yet rage against God and his Anointed. Might it be—dare I say—that we are still the early church? I believe so. But this shouldn’t surprise us. God is not in a hurry. He is slow to anger, even toward his enemies, and often calls his people to tasks they will never complete in their lifetime (Gen. 15:13-16; Deut. 32:48, 52; 2 Sam. 7:12).

But we have been raised to new life in Christ and are, therefore, empowered to bring new life everywhere we go. Although we are alive for only such a time as this, like a vapor quickly blown away, Christ lives forever and lives in each of us. The Church is the living body of Christ and he will complete this task that the Father has given him, living his life through each one of us, from one generation to the next.

The future of the world is a bright one. God has not abandoned this world to the demons or beasts, but is bringing them all to heel as the Church fulfills the great commission. Let us go baptize the nations and teach them to obey all that Christ commanded us. He will subdue them all. One day, every knee shall bow.


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