Some 2000 years ago, in the insignificant town of Bethlehem, a baby boy was born into the humblest of circumstances. This firstborn child of a young woman far from home was born in a cattle stall, wrapped in whatever scraps of cloth the mother had been able to accumulate, and laid in a manger. And so came into the world the child named in His tongue Jehovah-salvation (Jesus), because the angel testified that this One would save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
The lowliness of this birth is important theologically. It points to the fact that the promised Messiah came in the state of humiliation. He was born in abject poverty. His humble birth already indicates that the way of the Savior was to be a life of suffering and humiliation.
Yet that is not the whole story, as we all know. This child Jesus is a wonder. The angel Gabriel instructed Mary concerning this wonder saying, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). God was born in Bethlehem. Or, expressing it as the Spirit gave John to write, the Word who was from the beginning, who is God, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-14).
Not only that, but the Bible makes plain that the birth of Jesus was a victorious entrance into the world. Hebrews 1:6 relates that when God brought “in the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” This Jesus came as Lord. Such was the testimony of the angel to the shepherds—”For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
This victorious character of Jesus’ birth can be understood only as connected with His cross. Of course, the same is true of all Jesus’ activity—His whole life and all His teaching, miracles, and suffering— none of it can be rightly understood except as related to the cross. The miraculous birth of Jesus was for the purpose of going to the cross.
Jesus’ first coming is victory. It is a full and complete triumph. Nothing can be added to improve it. All that God sent Him to accomplish, Christ did. This includes the full salvation of the elect, the full redemption of the creation, the full destruction of Satan’s kingdom, and the utter defeat of the kingdoms of this world.
This truth of Jesus’ victory must be maintained over against the erroneous teaching that Jesus’ first coming was not the victory. It must be defended in the face of the assertion that Christ does not now rule over the present creation, but only claims ownership and sovereignty over it.
The idea is touted in Reformed circles that the victory of Jesus in His first coming was only the start of an unfinished war. According to this view, Satan moved in and took over God’s creation, just as an army of soldiers might invade a foreign country and occupy it with military force. Then in His first coming, Jesus launched a counteroffensive in order to reclaim his rightful dominion. Some, indeed, will say that by His death and resurrection Jesus achieved victory in principle. However, this “victory in principle,” they maintain, only established a beachhead, an entry point, from which His armies can go forth to conquer the whole earth.
Comparison is made to the fighting by the Allied forces in World War II. According to this analogy, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was necessary for victory just as D-Day (the huge invasion of Normandy in June of 1944) was necessary to break Hitler’s stranglehold on Europe. Yet that massive invasion was only the start of fighting that would lead to V-Day in 1945. Similarly, it is said, Christians today are Christ’s soldiers, fighting against the agents of Satan for full control of the earth—a “mop-up” operation.
That understanding of Christ’s first coming and subsequent history is altogether wrong.
First, it is a dualistic view of history. A dualism maintains that two opposing powers inhabit the universe. In this case the two powers are God and Satan. They are the forces of good and evil. They have separate origins, separate bases of power, and separate organizations. They battle each other all through history, seeking to destroy the other and take full control of the universe. This dualistic view of Scripture teaches that God will ultimately triumph due to His superior power.
The Reformed believer recognizes immediately that dualism denies the sovereignty of God. It denies that God is the Creator of all things, all of which, including Satan and his host, are but creatures dependent on God for their continued existence.
The truth is, Satan did not, like some foreign power, “invade” God’s earth and take control. Rather, God formed Satan, endued him with power, and determined that he would fall (which Satan did in willful rebellion). Likewise God willed eternally that Adam and Eve, made king and queen of the earthly creation, would heed the temptation of Satan and rebel (which they willingly did). God cursed man and the creation under man. God in perfect judgment then gave man into the bondage of Satan, to whom God gave the power of death (Heb. 2:14). The Bible teaches no dualism, but the absolute sovereignty of God.
Secondly, the “D-Day” theory of Christ’s first coming is wrong because God never lost His creation. Believers today join the church of the old dispensation singing “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24.1). God maintains full control over His world—watering the hills from His chambers; causing the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man (Ps. 104:13-14). Moses demonstrated to reprobate Pharaoh that God is in control, telling him, “As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD’S” (Ex. 9:29). God repeated the same message to His people more than once (Ps. 50:12; Deut. 10:14). God never once allowed men to believe that Satan had taken over His world, and that Christ had to reclaim it.
Third, that Jesus did not come to displace an invader (Satan) and reestablish His control is evident from the truth that He came as Lord (Luke 2:11). The Christ is very man, but also very God. As God, He ruled over all, so that everything, and everyone, accomplished His sovereign will. For instance, when Satan entered into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus, God sent Satan. In this way Judas became God’s agent to bring Jesus to the cross on that Friday.
When the Sanhedrin came together illegally to judge Jesus, God controlled them, so that they condemned Jesus to death and brought Him to Pilate. When Pilate was faced with the distasteful task of condemning and executing an innocent man, his heart was in the hand of the God, who turned it as He willed.
God was executing His counsel, and all these men were doing whatsoever God’s “counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). Through God’s sovereign control of devils and men, Jesus became accursed for our sakes, paid for our sins, and crushed the head of the serpent.
Fourth, this false presentation of Christ’s first coming leaves the outcome of the battle up to men. Despite the pious reassurance that Jesus achieved victory in His death and resurrection, this theory implies that Christ’s soldiers, like the Allied troops of WW II, are still fighting for the victory. The proof is that the supposed “mop-up” operation demands fierce fighting against the agents of Satan. Fighting for what? Fighting to establish the rule of Jesus Christ, that is, to make His claim of dominion a reality.
Convinced by this false propaganda, these folks insist that the Christian’s calling is to realize Christ’s dominion over this earth. Some pursue this goal by means of “regaining” or “redeeming” creation— going through all the spheres of creation and setting things right, according to God’s law for each sphere. In an effort to make this sound proper, they may call their activity reformational. Some are busy cleaning up this dirty creation, joining hands with unbelievers, who supposedly have common grace in order to cooperate with believers to improve the creation, thus establishing Christ’s rule.
Others seek to establish Christ’s rule by political means. They insist that Christians must band together to obtain seats in congress or parliament and must pressure their leaders to rule in a way that establishes Christ’s law or rule in the land.
Others are determined through education to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”—something Paul did through preaching (II Cor. 10:5). Still others are digging trenches in culture wars, hoping to establish the claims of Christ upon the morals of society. And some strive to extend Christ’s rule over the earth through preaching.
The final outcome, and the coming of Christ’s kingdom, depends on the diligence of the Christian soldiers. One proponent of this false teaching, Al Wolters (Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview), illustrates how God’s people can and must regain the creation for Christ in each sphere. After discussing one such example, that of dance, he concludes: “…the kingdom of God will not come in its fullness without the redemption of this area of human celebration and enjoyment also” (p. 95).
All this is misguided zeal, at best. And it is devilish at worst. In most instances, efforts to establish Christ’s rule in the earth are closely related to a failure to recognize the true nature of Jesus’ kingdom. It is a heavenly and spiritual kingdom, not an earthly.
Miss that, and one can only conclude that the first coming of Christ was a complete failure. It was not even the establishment of a beachhead. It was a defeat of the worst kind.
In His three and a half years of unceasing labor, Jesus did not change Jewish society one whit; He did not exert influence on the leaders; He did not get a “Jesus for king” movement started (in fact, He killed that movement). After years of hard work, Jesus had but a handful of faithful followers, and even they forsook Him in His darkest hour. His own people rejected Him. His rulers condemned Him to death. And the great world power of the day, represented by Herod and Pilate, joined in condemning and crucifying Him.
He died. He was buried. He lost.
That brings us to the heart of the issue. This erroneous teaching is premised on the false notion that Jesus’ “victory” in His first coming was in name only. The fact is, however, the victory has been won. Christ Jesus truly accomplished it in His first coming.
To be clear on this, in a sense it is right to speak of Satan’s “control” of this sin-cursed world. He is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), and, “the god of this world [who] hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (II Cor. 4:4). His power, graphically demonstrated in the demon-possession recorded in Scripture, is terrible. As we have noted, God justly placed man under that dreadful control of Satan. Indeed, Christ came to deliver His people from the one who had the power of death (Heb. 2:14).
How? Not by some mortal combat with Satan, as if Jesus had to wrestle His people from Satan. Rather, Christ’s saving work is the work of redemption first of all. His work involves bearing the guilt of His people, paying for their sins, thus redeeming them from the punishment of sin, death, and Satan’s power. In fact, Christ came to redeem the whole creation from the curse placed on it for man’s sake (Rom. 8:21).
But how, specifically? By satisfying the justice of God. Christ came to fulfill God’s righteous demands— perfect obedience, atoning sacrifice, substitutionary death. If Christ accomplished this, He would deliver His people from the power of Satan.
Surely then we can see that in this work Christ battled against the enemy of God. Satan opposed Jesus by every means at his disposal. He stirred up ungodly men to seek Jesus’ life before He could accomplish God’s will (Herod, the people of Nazareth). He used the unbelieving lawyers and Pharisees in attempts to pit Jesus against God’s law. Above all, he tempted Jesus to be unfaithful to God—to forsake the way of obedience, the way of suffering, the way of satisfying God’s wrath for His chosen.
But none of these attacks deterred Jesus. He did His Father’s will perfectly. Jesus was victorious— completely victorious.
Approving of this complete victory—for nothing less than complete victory could have pleased God—God lifted Jesus out of the grave. And then, “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15). Jesus ascended as a conquering general, leading “captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8). From God’s right hand, Jesus rules over all things by the sovereign power of His might. He rules in the hearts of His people by His sovereign grace. But He rules sovereignly in every sphere of life.
It is important for believers to be reminded that this same Jesus is Lord over all now. All over the globe, wicked men strive, and it appears that they are opposing the rule of Christ. Indeed, they are spiritual rebels, opposed to Christ. And yet, even their raging (for which they are accountable) only serves His purposes.
The perverse act of a blasphemous rock star fulfills Christ’s purpose to reveal the depravity of man, and expose the full horror of Adam’s root sin.
Profane man turns upside down the creation order with regard to the marriage of one man and one woman for life—and thus demonstrate man’s total rebellion against God—even to his own hurt. No one is outside the rule of Jesus Christ.
Christ will continue to rule over all. He has even told His church what He will bring to pass as He opens the seals of God’s counsel. He will unify the false church around the lie, so that the hearts of many men will be revealed. These “pious” reprobates will reveal their hatred of the Lord Jesus by killing the believers and openly bowing the knee to the man of sin who represents Satan.
The Lord will bring together all the nations of the world, again using Satan as His agent. Christ determines the great persecution for His purposes of cleansing the church and filling up “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24).
Christ Jesus rules. God has given Him full power over all creatures (Eph. 1:19-22). There is not one square inch of the creation that is outside of His sovereign power.
Even the birth of the Savior demonstrates that He is Lord. The Incarnation is the wonder of all wonders. That babe in Bethlehem’s manger is God Himself. In Him the divine and the human are perfectly united. What incomprehensible power!
The soldiers of Jesus Christ do indeed fight in this time between His first victorious coming and His triumphant return. They fight for the cause of Christ and against sin and Satan. The only weapon they need is the one Christ has given— His powerful Word. Thus they preach His truth, and send it over all the earth, for it is the power of God unto salvation. By the Word His spiritual kingdom is established, and the sovereign power of might is replaced by the sovereign power of grace in the hearts and lives of His people.
Believers are certainly called to fight, but their fighting is not for an earthly kingdom. Our warfare is not aimed at regaining the creation— Christ already redeemed it. We fight not for the victory, for Christ has already accomplished it, and the victory is ours through faith in Jesus (I John 5:4). We fight in victory—the victory of the Lord, born in Bethlehem