Previous article in this series: June 2016, p. 404.
Last time we considered how Scripture and our Reformed confessions speak of the church as God’s kingdom. But what does it mean when Scripture speaks of Christ as the King of all the earth? Are those outside the church in Christ’s kingdom, too? We turn now to consider two things: first, what it means that Christ is King of all the earth; and secondly, how He rules over those who reject Him as their King.
The King of All the Earth
That Christ is the King of all the earth means that He is the King of a group of believers that is gathered out of all the nations of the earth. A remnant from each nation believes in Christ and willingly serves Him. This is what is being referred to in many passages that speak of Christ as the King of all.
Psalm 47, for example, speaks of Christ this way: “For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (v. 2). “For God is the King of all the earth” (v. 7).1 In this passage Christ is being referred to as the King of those who serve Him willingly. This is brought out elsewhere in this psalm where it speaks of all the nations clapping their hands rejoicing that Christ is on the throne: “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (vv. 1-2). The word translated “people” is in the plural in the original Hebrew. All peoples of the earth are said to clap their hands and shout for joy in praise to Christ, their King.
Many Old Testament passages speak of this. Psalm 72 says, “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him” (v. 11). Going further in this psalm, we see again that these nations delight to serve Christ. A few verses later we read of them calling Christ blessed: “His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed” (v. 17). All nations shall serve Christ, just as God promised Abraham many years before these psalms were written. God told him that in his seed, Jesus Christ, all the families of the earth would be blessed (; ).
So when Christ is called “the King of all the earth” that does not mean that unbelievers are in His kingdom. Rather, it means that there is a believing remnant in each nation that serves Christ. When these believers are gathered to Christ, all the nations are said to serve Him.
Who rules outside the church?
So if Christ is ruling within the church, who is ruling outside the church? Christ is ruling there, too, but in a different way. Christ graciously rules by His Word and Spirit within the church, but outside the church He rules with a rod of iron, dashing the wicked to pieces ().
This judgment justly comes upon such people. Christ rules graciously by His word in those who listen to Him. But outside the church are those who refuse to believe and submit to what our Lord says. They are evil citizens that Christ refers to in the parable of the ten pounds: “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” ().
Those who refuse to serve Christ are justly punished: “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me” (). The righteous King slays those who do not desire Him to reign over them.
This slaying begins already in this life. Christ smashes rebellious unbelievers with an iron rod. When we look to Scripture to see what this means, we see that it speaks of Christ using the ungodly as His rod to beat the ungodly. In other words, He uses the ungodly to punish the ungodly. Christ uses the devil, the ungodly nations, and the ungodly person himself to destroy each person who refuses to serve Him.
First of all, He uses the devil.says that those outside the church have been delivered over to Satan. The devil does indeed rule over those outside the church. Yet He does so under the control and direction of Christ, who gives the impenitent over to Satan, accomplishing His purpose through what the devil wickedly does.
Christ uses not only the devil, but also ungodly human beings to punish the ungodly. Take, for example, the wicked Assyrians and later the ungodly Babylonians. What these empires did against Israel and Judah was evil, for which they are guilty before God. Yet our sovereign Lord was the one directing all this. He did not merely predict what these nations would do; He also determined and directed it.
God told the Israelites this in a number of places. The Assyrians, for example, are called the rod of God’s anger: “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation” (). A few verses later God says that the Assyrians who foolishly boasted of their victories were like an axe boasting against the God who was hewing with it: “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” ( ). God used similar language later when speaking through the prophet Jeremiah. He referred to the Babylonians as His battle axe by which He was destroying nations: “Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms” ( ).
God uses ungodly nations to destroy other ungodly nations. He uses the ungodly to destroy one another. In fact, He sovereignly controls the impenitent unbeliever so that he destroys himself. The sinful practices an unbeliever delights in actually turn out to his own destruction. “The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands” (). King Jesus is known by the judgment He executes. Those who reject Him as King will justly become enslaved to the destructive rulers they have chosen.
Yet we remember that we also deserve the same. The only reason we serve Christ is because God gave us to Christ, who suffered the punishment we deserved and purchased for us the right to receive a new heart with the law of our King written in it. He put His Word in our heart, and has caused us in the new man to delight to do His will. That is why we believe when others do not. Understanding this, we lovingly fear our Lord and our God and praise Him for calling us out of darkness and translating us into the kingdom of His dear Son.
1 These passages that speak of God are also referring to Christ. God reigns in and through Christ, whom He has given authority over all things (; ). Since Christ is both God and man, when Christ is reigning, it is in fact God that is reigning.