A Biblical Theology of Dominion
© 1st 1985 & 6th 1999
THE ESCHATOLOGY OF DOMINION: A SUMMARY
For those who like their eschatology wrapped up in a neat package, I have listed 45 of the major arguments of this book, in the general order in which they were presented (chapter numbers are in parentheses). The reader should consider each one in the light of the Biblical arguments in the text of the book. Following these "Theses on Hope" is a brief section answering some of the common misunderstandings of the eschatology of dominion.
Theses on Hope
1. The Bible teaches us to have hope, not despair; to expect victory and dominion for the gospel, not flight and defeat. (1)
2. Biblical prophecy is written in both literal and symbolic language. The choice is not between "literalism" and "symbolism," but between a Biblical and a speculative method of interpreting the Bible. (2)
3. Salvation is re-creation. In redemption, Jesus Christ restores man to the image of God. (3)
4. Salvation and its blessings are presented in the Bible as definitive, progressive, and final. (3)
5. We are not saved out of our environment; rather, salvation works to restore the earth as a whole. God's Holy Mountain (the Garden) will grow until it fills the entire world. (3-7) 6. God blesses obedience and curses disobedience; this pattern will become dominant as history progresses. (3-7) 7. Through generations of obedience, the godly will increasingly become competent and powerful, while the ungodly will grow weak and impotent. (3-7)
8. The wicked are "raptured" first (i.e., driven out of the earth and disinherited), as the righteous increasingly come into possession of all things. (6)
9. Jesus Christ came as the Son of Man (the Second Adam), to set up God's Kingdom on the earth. (8)
10. The Biblical prophecies that Christ would reign as King were fulfilled in Christ's enthronement at His Ascension. (8)
11. Daniel's prophecy of the Son of Man "coming in the clouds" was fulfilled in the Ascension of Christ. (8)
12. Jesus Christ definitively defeated and bound Satan and the demons in His Atonement, Resurrection, and Ascension. (8)
13. The Kingdom was established during the First Advent of Christ (including the Judgment Of A.D. 70); it is now in progress and will increase until the end of the world. (8-16)
14. Ethnic Israel was excommunicated for its apostasy and will never again be God's Kingdom. (9, 14)
15. The Kingdom is now made up of all those (Jew and Gentile) who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. (9)
16. The Church is now the Temple of God, having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and fully established at the destruction of the old Temple in A.D. 70. (10-13)
17. The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (10-11)
18. The Great Tribulation took place in the Fall of Israel. It will not be repeated and thus is not a future event (although Christians in every age have had to endure suffering for the faith). (10-11)
19. The Bible does not prophesy any future literal Temple or sacrificial system to be set up in Jerusalem. The Biblical prophecies of the Temple refer to Christ and His Church, definitively, progressively, and finally. (10-13)
20. Although Israel will someday be restored to the true faith, the Bible does not tell of any future plan for Israel as a special nation. (14)
21. The Biblical language of de-creation (the "collapsing universe") is symbolic of God's judgment, especially reminiscent of the Flood and the plagues on Egypt at the Exodus. (15)
22. Antichrist is a term used by John to describe the widespread apostasy of the Christian Church prior to the Fall of Jerusalem. In general, any apostate teacher or system can be called "antichrist"; but the word does not refer to some "future Fuhrer." (12-13)
23. The "Great Apostasy" happened in the first century. We therefore have no Biblical warrant to expect increasing apostasy as history progresses; instead, we should expect the increasing Christianization of the world. (12-13)
24. The Last Days is a Biblical expression for the period between Christ's Advent and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: the "last days" of Israel. (13)
25. Before the Second Coming of Christ, the vast majority of Jews and Gentiles will be converted to the Christian faith. (14)
26. All of Christ's enemies are gradually being subdued under His reign from heaven. He will remain in heaven until all enemies have been defeated. The last enemy, Death, will be destroyed when He returns. (16)
27. Jesus Christ will return on the Last Day, when the Resurrection and the Last Judgment will take place. (16)
28. The Rapture and the Second Coming will occur together. (16)
29. There will be one Resurrection of all men; the righteous will be raised to everlasting life, and the wicked will be raised to damnation. (16)
30. The primary concern of prophecy is ethical conduct: obedience to God's commands. (17)
31. The Canon of Scripture was closed in A.D. 70, when the Old Covenant passed away. (18)
32. The Book of Revelation is not to be interpreted "futuristically"; for its first-century readers, its message was contemporary, and the time of its fulfillment was "at hand." (18)
33. The "Beast" of Revelation was a symbol of both Nero in particular and the Roman Empire in general. (20)
34. The "False Prophet" symbolized the Jewish religious leadership. (20)
35. The "Harlot" symbolized apostate Jerusalem, which had ceased to be the City of God. (21)
36. The "Millennium" is the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which He established at His First Advent. (22)
37. The "First Resurrection" is a Spiritual resurrection: our justification and regeneration in Christ. (22)
38. The "thousand years" of Revelation 20 is symbolic for a vast number of years—most likely many thousands. (22, 24)
39. All Christians are priests in this age; all Christians are now seated in the heavenly places in Christ. (22)
40. The New Creation has already begun: The Bible describes our salvation in Christ, both now and in eternity, as "a new heaven and a new earth." (23)
41. The "New Jerusalem," the City of God, is the Church, now and forever. (23)
42. The center of the Christian reconstruction of the world is the Church. The essence of Biblical religion, and the source of Christian culture, is the worship of God. (24)
43. The Church's worship and government are officially recognized in the heavenly Court. When the Church pronounces lawful judgments, they are executed on earth, in history, through God's providential administration of the world. (24)
44. The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law. (24)
45. The Christian standard for ethics in every area—for individuals, families, businesses, and governments—is Biblical law. The Christian cannot be satisfied with "pluralism," for his calling is to work for the dominion of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom throughout the world. Prosperity for the world will come from Jesus Christ, and from Jesus Christ alone. (24)
Misunderstandings of the Hope
Most of the standard objections to the Hope are based on radical misunderstandings of the position. The following passage from Hal Lindsey's best-selling Late Great Planet Earth is typical of many uninformed and poorly researched statements on the subject:
There used to be a group called "postmillennialists." They believed that the Christians would root out the evil in the world, abolish godless rulers, and convert the world through ever increasing evangelism until they brought about the Kingdom of God on earth through their own efforts. Then after 1,000 years of the institutional church reigning on earth with peace, equality, and righteousness, Christ would return and time would end. These people rejected much of the Scripture as being literal and believed in the inherent goodness of man. World War I greatly disheartened this group and World War II virtually wiped out this viewpoint. No self-respecting scholar who looks at the world conditions and the accelerating decline of Christian influence today is a "postmillennialist" (p. 176).
While Lindsey's statement has almost as many errors as words, it is a remarkably concise summary of the numerous misrepresentations of the postmillennial position by evangelicals. In the following numbered sections, I will reply briefly to the major errors in Lindsey's remarks.
1. There used to be a group called "postmillennialists."
No, we're still around. In fact, more and more Christians are becoming convinced of the Biblical basis for an eschatology of dominion all the time. (The reasons for the twentieth-century decline of postmillennialism will be discussed in No. 6, below). As I have indicated at several points in this book, the eschatology of dominion is the historic position of the Church. This is not to say that everyone had in mind some specific calendar of events known as "postmillennialism." In fact, it was not regarded as an ism, for the expectation of Christ's dominion over the world through the gospel was just the orthodox Hope—the commonly accepted attitude of Christians.
On the other hand, there was a viewpoint which was regarded by most Christians as offbeat—it was always an "ism." From the time of Cerinthus, this was called chiliasm (meaning thousand-year-ism). It is known today as premillennialism, the doctrine that the "Kingdom Age" will not take place until the Second Coming of Christ. This view was always on the fringes of Christianity until it was revived in the nineteenth century by a number of millennialist sects; it finally achieved widespread publicity after the appearance of the Scofield Bible in 1909. Now, however, this ancient ism is being abandoned by many in favor of the majority position of the orthodox Church throughout the ages: the eschatology of dominion.
2. They believed that Christians would…[bring] about the Kingdom of God on earth through their own efforts.
This is one of the most commonly heard objections to the Hope. The dominion outlook is equated with the liberal "Social Gospel" movement of the early 1900s. Such an identification is utterly absurd, devoid of any foundation whatsoever. The leaders of the Social Gospel movement were evolutionary humanists and socialists, and were openly hostile toward Biblical Christianity. It is true that they borrowed certain terms and concepts from Christianity, in order to pervert them for their own uses. Thus they talked about the "Kingdom of God," but what they meant was far removed from the traditional Christian faith. Orthodox postmillennial teachers such as Benjamin Warfield and J. Gresham Machen vigorously opposed the Social Gospel. True postmillennialism has always been truly evangelical: It teaches that the Kingdom was established by Jesus Christ alone, and that the Kingdom is advanced through the spread of the gospel and the application of the Bible to every area of life.
There is another dimension to this issue, however. Since we believe that Christians will overcome all opposition and will bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, postmillennialists are accused of having faith in man. This is a radical distortion. The truth is that postmillennialists believe in God, who works in history through redeemed man. We believe that the omnipotent Lord of heaven and earth is indwelling His Church, and will not allow us to be defeated in the mission He gave us. St. Augustine prayed: "Give what You command, and command what You will." That is our attitude as well. Because God works in history to bless the godly and curse the ungodly, history is on our side. In the battle between redeemed men and wicked men, we have faith in redeemed men. We believe that God's people will overcome, in time and on earth, as well as in eternity. In Christ we are the heirs of all things.
3. Then after 1,000 years of the institutional church reigning on earth….
As I showed in Chapters 22 and 24, we do not believe that the Kingdom will last only for 1,000 years. Admittedly, some postmillennialists have believed that a coming period of worldwide peace and blessedness will last for a literal thousand years, but they are definitely in the minority. In fact, out of dozens of outstanding postmillennial teachers in history, I can think of only a couple who held that view. Most have taught that the "millennium" of Revelation 20 is identical with the Kingdom established by Christ at His First Advent.
Mr. Lindsey further states that we believe that "the institutional church" will reign on the earth. I do not quite know what to make of that. I have never heard or read it advocated by anybody. It sounds as if he is saying that we believe Church officers should exercise police powers, or should be in charge of the civil government. In case there are any doubts on that score, let me state categorically that we do not believe that the institutional Church should rule over the State. We do, however, believe that rulers should be Christians, and should apply Biblical principles of justice within their areas of responsibility. The point is not that Church and State are merged into one organization; rather, the point is that Church and State are both under God and the absolute authority of His Word. The Church is the divinely appointed ministry of grace; the State is the divinely appointed ministry of justice. Both receive their commission from the Word of God.
4. These people rejected much of the Scripture as being literal….
Again, it is hard to be certain about Lindsey's exact meaning here. If he simply means that postmillennialists reject the idea that all of Scripture is to be interpreted "literally," we must plead guilty; but then, we're in safe company. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not "literalists," to judge by the way they interpreted prophecy. They recognized the symbolic character of this passage in Isaiah:
A voice is calling,
Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together,
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isa. 40:3-5)
A strictly "literalist" interpretation would have to understand this as a prophecy of a massive road-building project in Palestine. Yet each of the four Gospels declares that Isaiah's words were fulfilled by the preaching and baptizing ministry of John (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23). The fact is that both literal and symbolic forms of speech are in the Bible, and we must be careful to interpret Biblical statements in terms of Biblical guidelines.
Of course, Hal Lindsey himself is not a "literalist," either. Where the Book of Revelation speaks of falling stars, Lindsey can only see thermonuclear weapons; where it mentions locusts, he beholds Cobra helicopters instead (There's a New World Coming [Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 19731, pp. 132, 138f.). Whatever else may be said about Lindsey's unique interpretations, they are anything but "literal."
As I noted above, however, Lindsey's accusation against postmillennialists is somewhat confusing. According to him, "These people rejected much of the Scripture as being literal." This may just be imprecise language, but it strongly implies that the eschatology of dominion is a liberal position which rejects Scripture. Nothing could be farther from the truth (as I trust the present book has demonstrated). Indeed, postmillennialists throughout history have been outstanding defenders of the inspiration and final authority of Scripture. Most of the members of the historic Westminster Assembly were staunch postmillennialists, and in the very first chapter of their influential 1646 document, The Westminster Confession of Faith, they declared that all sixty-six books of the Bible "are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life…."
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God....
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself….
The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
Perhaps the most outstanding exponent of the Hope in the early part of this century was Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield, whose writings have influenced many toward an understanding of the eschatology of dominion. He is perhaps best known, however, for his writings collected in the volume titled The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, which has become a recognized classic of conservative scholarship. Examples could be multiplied, but perhaps it is enough to point out that postmillennialists have been such forthright defenders of the Bible's inerrancy that in recent years some opponents have actually accused them of "Bibliolatry!"
5. …and believed in the inherent goodness of man.
Unfortunately, this charge does not seem to be merely "imprecise" or sloppy language. Lindsey is directly accusing the postmillennial school of thought of believing in the false doctrine of man's "inherent goodness." I would simply answer: Name one. I would not accuse Lindsey of deliberately lying, but he is at least guilty of very poor research and baseless, inflammatory rhetoric. In any case, the fact remains that no postmillennialist has ever taught the heresy that man is inherently good. We can refute this with a representative statement from the Reformer John Calvin:
The mind of man has been so completely estranged from God's righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench. But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2:5:19).
That is perhaps putting it somewhat stronger than even Mr. Lindsey would wish. But Calvin's statement certainly does not reflect any doctrine of man's "inherent goodness." And the same could be said of all other postmillennialists throughout the history of the Church, for the eschatology of victory is simply the orthodox Hope of historic Christianity.
6. World War I greatly disheartened this group and World War II virtually wiped out this viewpoint.
Let us momentarily suppose, for the sake of argument, that this statement is correct. The proper answer is: So what? This does not prove that the Christian Hope is untrue—only that people stopped believing that it is true. The implication of the statement, however, is that the fact of two world wars constitutes evidence that the Hope is mistaken, since the world is not "getting better and better." I will grant this much: The two world wars (and the threat of a third) did considerably damage the hopes of those humanists who believed in the heretical doctrine of "automatic" human progress toward peace and brotherhood. Often falsely confused with postmillennialism, it is actually no closer to the eschatology of dominion than pagan sacrifices are to the Lord's Supper. The Christian does not need to become discouraged in the face of world war or widespread persecution. His faith is in God, not in man; his hope is not tied to the destiny of any particular culture. If his nation or civilization falls under the righteous judgment of God, the faithful Christian realizes that God is being faithful to His promises of blessing and cursing. The Hope is no guarantee of blessing for the disobedient. It is a guarantee of judgment unto blessing for the world.
But let us now tackle the question head-on: Did the two world wars destroy the Hope? In reality, the origins of postmillennialism's decline began long before World War I, with the rise of theological liberalism (which taught that the Bible's predictions could not be relied upon) and evolutionary "progressivism" (which taught that progress was "natural" rather than ethical). In reaction to these enemies of Biblical Christianity, many evangelical Christians despaired of seeing victory for the gospel. They gave up hope. Like Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee, they looked at "nature" rather than at the Lord Jesus Christ; like the Israelites on the border of Canaan, they looked at the "giants in the land" instead of trusting the infallible promises of God; they were filled with fear, and took flight. They began to listen to false prophets of despair who taught that the Church is doomed to failure, and that it is "unspiritual" for Christians to seek dominion over civilization. They then demonstrated a major principle of life: If you believe that you will lose, you probably will lose. That's what happened to twentieth-century evangelicalism, and it backed into a cultural retreat that lasted for decades.
At long last, that picture has begun to change. I think two major issues provided the impetus for the recent resurgence of Christian activism in the United States. First, there was the infamous Roe vs. Wade pro-abortion decision of the U. S. Supreme Court. That woke Christians up. They realized that thousands of children were being legally slaughtered every day, and they knew that they must act to stop the killings. I believe that 1973 could well be seen as a watershed year in American history—the moment when American Christians began the long march back toward national repentance.
The second issue has been Christian Education. More and more Christians have recognized that God's Word commands us to educate our children in terms of God's standards for every area of life. The Christian School and Home School movements have grown tremendously in the last decade, and are rapidly increasing in numbers and influence. The evil attempt by the Federal government to destroy the Christian School movement in 1978 only served to unite many more Christians in a greater determination to raise their children in the full-orbed faith of the Bible. Moreover, the very existence of Christian schools has made Christians realize that true Spirituality does not mean flight from the world, but rather demands that we conquer the world in the name of our Lord. Christians have seen the necessity of developing a consistently Christian "world and life view," a distinctively Biblical perspective on history, law, government, the arts, the sciences, and every other field of thought and action.
And God is blessing this obedience. Christians have finally begun to fight against the enemy—and, to their utter astonishment, they have begun to win. They have seen, again and again, that resistance to the devil will put him to flight, as God has promised. They are discovering the truth of the third-century Church Father Tertullian's boast against the demons: "At a distance they oppose us, but at close quarters they beg for mercy." Having tasted victory, Christians today are talking much less about escaping in the Rapture, and much more about God's requirements in this life. They are even thinking about the kind of world they are preparing for their grandchildren, and the heritage of godliness which they will leave behind them. Instinctively, because they are again acting in obedience to God's commands, Christians are returning to a dominion eschatology. Through doing God's will, they are coming to a knowledge of the doctrine (cf. John 7:17; 2 Pet. 1:5-8). Because a strong Biblical faith is again on the rise, the Biblical eschatology of hope is regaining ground as well.
7. No self-respecting scholar who looks at the world conditions and the accelerating decline of Christian influence today is a "postmillennialist."
Once upon a time, a courtier must have assured a nervous Pharaoh with these words: "No self-respecting scholar who looks at world conditions and the accelerating decline of Hebrew influence agrees with Moses." After all, Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world. What chance did Hebrew slaves have against that mighty empire? Let's take other examples. What did "world conditions" look like on the day before the Flood? What were world conditions like on the day before the first Christmas? What were they like after Christmas, when King Herod was slaughtering babies in Bethlehem? And wasn't "Christian influence" in terrible decline on Good Friday?
Hal Lindsey and his group of self-respecting scholars have committed one crucial error which undermines their entire system of interpretation. Their attention is focused on world conditions rather than on the authoritative and unchanging promises of God. This fallacy-ridden approach to prophecy has been rightly termed "newspaper exegesis"—studying current events rather than the Bible for clues to the future. The question is not whether current conditions seem favorable for the worldwide triumph of the gospel; the question is only this: What does the Bible say? As Christians, we know that God is the Lord of history. "Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases" (Ps. 115:3); "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth" (Ps. 135:6). If God has said that the world will be filled with His glory, then it will happen, and no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth can possibly stop it:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His Kingdom endures from generation to generation.
And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can restrain His hand
Or say to Him, "What hast Thou done?" (Dan. 4:34-35)
We are not to derive our theology from the newspapers or the evening news. Our faith and hope must be drawn from the unfailing Word of the sovereign God, who brings all things to pass according to His unalterable will. And when we go to God's word, we must recognize that our purpose is not to glean juicy tidbits of information about the future. Rather, as the great theologian and educator R. J. Rushdoony says, we go to receive our "marching orders":
Too often, the modern theologian and churchman goes to the Bible seeking insight, not orders. Indeed, I may go to Calvin, Luther, Augustine, and others, to scholars Christian and non-Christian, for insights, for data, and for learned studies, but when I go to the Bible I must go to hear God's marching orders for my life. I cannot treat the Bible as a devotional manual designed to give me peace of mind or a "higher plane" of living; it is a command book which can disturb my peace with its orders, and it tells me that I can only find peace in obeying the Almighty. The Bible is not an inspirational book for my personal edification, nor a book of beautiful thoughts and insights for my pleasure. It is the word of the sovereign and Almighty God: I must hear and obey, I must believe and be faithful, because God requires it. I am His property, and His absolute possession. There can be nothing better than that (Law and Society [Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 19821, pp. 691f.).