Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
It is significant that the first mention of the antithesis in Scripture is also the first announcement of the coming of Christ. We find this passage in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” While every believer recognizes that this is the promise of Christ, Who would come at some time in the future to crush the power of Satan and deliver His people from the sin into which they fell, this gracious promise of Christ is mentioned in the same breath with “enmity.” Between Christ and Satan would be nothing but enmity; and between those who belong to Christ and those who belong to Satan, nothing but enmity would characterize their relationship. That enmity is the antithesis.
It is emphatically asserted in this passage that God creates that enmity, and by it, creates the antithesis. God creates the antithesis, therefore, by sending Christ and, through Christ, by saving His people. The antithesis is rooted in the work of Christ. More particularly, the antithesis is rooted in the sovereign rule of Christ over all.
Christ is exalted at God’s right hand from which position of honor and power He rules over all God’s creation. To put it differently, all God’s counsel, which He has determined to do from all eternity is executed and realized through the exalted Christ.
This is clearly taught in many passages of Scripture. Christ Himself tells His disciples just prior to His exaltation that, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). In his great chapter on the resurrection of Christ, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For he (Christ) must reign, till he hath put all things under his feet” (I Cor. 15:27). To the Philippians Paul writes, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth (Philippians 2:9, 10). In Revelation 15 Christ is called the Prince of the kings of the earth. In Revelation 12, where the exaltation of Christ is described in figurative language, the saints in heaven are quoted as saying, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ” (Rev. 12:10). This theme is repeated in the book of Revelation [cf. Rev. 5:12-14, Rev. 19:16, etc.). Already in prophecy Daniel saw this and pictured the exaltation of Christ in these words: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13, 14).
Thus the Scriptures teach that Christ’s rule is in the strictest and widest sense of the word universal. He rules over the whole creation in heaven and on earth; but He rules also over all men and angels and devils. Absolutely nothing is outside His rule. He is even Lord of lords and King of kings.
But this rule of Christ over all men is exercised in two different ways; and in this lies the antithesis.
The difference has often, by Reformed theologians, been described as the rule of Christ’s grace and the rule of Christ’s power. This terminology is, however, not completely accurate. The difference does not lie in the sovereignty or power of Christ’s rule, as if in one case Christ is less sovereign than in the other; Christ is always sovereign. Whether His rule is over the wicked or over His people, it is absolutely sovereign. Nothing that happens in this world, also in the affairs of men and nations, is apart from His rule. His sovereignty is equally exercised in either case. The difference lies in the manner of His rule. This must be clearly understood.
The difference between Christ’s rule of the wicked and His rule of His people is, first of all, a difference of attitude. Christ, reflecting the attitude of His Father, hates the wicked and loves His people. Some deny this and maintain that Christ loves all men. But this clearly denies that God creates enmity between His people and the wicked. How can God create such enmity when His love is equally for all? This is impossible.
In the second place, the difference between the rule of Christ over the wicked and the rule of Christ over His people is a difference of the nature of character of this rule. The wicked live in rebellion against Christ. They do all they can to destroy Christ and His kingdom. They are at enmity with Christ and seek to establish their own kingdom of wickedness. But in all this rebellion, Christ nevertheless rules. He rules in such a way that, on the one hand, the wicked remain wholly accountable for their sin and become ripe for judgment, and yet, on the other hand, they serve the purpose which Christ has determined. This is the clear statement of Psalm 2. The wicked are described as raging and imagining vain things. They set themselves and take counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed. They proudly boast that they will break Christ’s bands and throw away Christ’s cords. But He that sits in the heavens laughs and holds them in derision. How can this be? Does God laugh because in the end the wicked are finally defeated? This is, of course, true. But this laughter is also due to the fact that in all their raging and proud boasting they simply serve Christ’s purpose and do His will. They are chessmen on the chess board of history. Everything they do is sovereignly determined. The great truth of this was clearly set forth in the cross itself. The wicked destroyed Christ; but they, through their hatred and fury, were instruments in God’s hands to accomplish redemption. “For of a truth against the holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27, 28). Christ’s rule over the wicked is in spite of and even through the means of their rebellion.
But His rule over His people is the rule of His grace. He rules over them in such a way that by a wonder of grace Christ translates them out of the kingdom of darkness into His own kingdom of heaven. He destroys the power of sin and death in them and makes them citizens of His heavenly kingdom so that they become willing subjects of Him and bow in worship and service before Him. The wicked are unwilling subjects of Christ; the righteous love their great King Who has redeemed them and bow in humble and willing obedience to their Lord and Master.
In the third place, the end or purpose of Christ’s rule is different in both instances. Christ rules over the wicked so that, while history unfolds, the wicked may serve the purpose of the salvation of the church, and so that, at the end of time, the wicked, then ripe for judgment, may justly be cast into everlasting hell. Then their kingdom shall be destroyed and the kingdom of Christ shall be established forever. But the purpose of Christ’s rule over His people is to save them, make them heirs of His kingdom and bring them as princes and princesses into the everlasting kingdom of heaven.
This important and crucial distinction between the rule of Christ over the wicked and the rule of Christ over His people is rooted in Christ’s work on earth. Principally this distinction is rooted in the cross. On the one hand, it was on the cross that Genesis 3:15 was fulfilled and the head of the serpent and his seed was crushed. Scripture speaks of this more than once. Jesus, in speaking of His cross, says, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Paul, in describing what Christ accomplished on the cross, speaks of the fact that Christ, “Having spoiled principalities and powers, made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15). That is, part of Christ’s work on the cross in crushing the head of the serpent and his seed was to storm the citadel of Satan and the wicked world. This He did in such a way that he conquered this stronghold and laid it waste and took all the spoils for His own kingdom. When Christ finished His work, the power of Satan was forever broken beyond repair.
But on this same cross, Christ accomplished salvation for His people. By destroying forever the power of sin and death, by conquering the stronghold of Satan and defeating the powers of darkness, He at the same time accomplished salvation for His people. He died in their place and paid the debt of sin and guilt. He earned for them salvation and an everlasting place in His kingdom as citizens.
It all belongs together. Because Christ accomplished on the cross the whole will of God, God has also highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name. And what Christ did on His cross is now accomplished throughout history as Christ defeats the forces of darkness and gathers and saves His church. The distinction in the rule of Christ is rooted in His cross.
As that purpose of Christ’s cross is carried out, the antithesis becomes a reality in this present world. By taking His people into His own kingdom through grace, Christ establishes enmity between those of His kingdom and those of the kingdom of this world.
It is not difficult to see how all this stands related. Those who teach that Christ died for everyone because of His love for all can no longer speak of an antithesis. And those who maintain that Christ is gracious towards all in this life in any sense of the word cannot speak of an antithesis. And they cannot speak of an antithesis because they deny the distinction in the rule of Christ. If Christ is gracious to all, then His rule over all is a rule of grace. And if His rule over all is a rule of grace, even though “common,” the antithesis has disappeared. Christ’s rule over this wicked world in which the elect are called to live is a rule of grace just as His rule over His people is a rule of grace. The result is that between God’s people and the wicked there are all kinds of opportunities for cooperation, mutual concern and interest, reciprocal relationships and fellowship. How this idea of universal love and grace has destroyed the antithesis in the church is plain for all to see. The church and the world now make common cause in many areas. The chasm of the antithesis between church and world is now bridged by a grace and love common to all. And the result is that the world rushes into the church and sweeps the church into the world so that worldliness and carnality become the general character of God’s people. Friendship, cooperation, mutual respect, fellowship take the place of enmity.
It is because of Christ’s rule that God’s people are called to live out of the principle of the new life of Christ within their hearts. And because their Lord and Sovereign rules over them by grace, makes them citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but rules over the wicked in His wrath and hatred, they too are called to live in enmity over against the world. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 5:4). Therefore, “be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord . . .” (II Cor. 6:14-17).