The Defeat of the “Strong Man” (Arnold)

Powers of Darkness: Principalities & Powers in Paul's Letters by [Arnold, Clinton E.] When Jesus was answering the Pharisees’ diabolical accusation that he cast out demons “by the ruler of demons” (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων) he gave an illustration:  “…No one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house” (NET).  That is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ power over the kingdom of darkness.  Here’s how Clinton Arnold nicely explains it:

From the context of Jesus’ words it is clear ‘the strong man’ is a reference to Satan, and his ‘house’ corresponds to his kingdom.  ‘Possessions’ [or property] are Satan’s greatest value and are not things, but people. Satan holds unbelieving humanity in bondage.  Christ has come to engage this ‘strong man’ and plunder his house; that is to release the captives in Satan’s kingdom.

This passage thus becomes a very important testimony to Jesus’ mission.  It provides additional clarification to the nature of the atonement. Jesus came not only to deal with the problem of sin in the world but also to deal with God’s prime supernatural opponent – Satan himself!

Jesus’ many exorcisms clearly demonstrate his power over the evil one.  They also provide numerous examples of Jesus’ ability to ‘bind’ Satan and ‘rob his house.’  In Mark’s account of the Gerasene demoniac, a man plagued with perhaps thousands of demons, it is highly significant to note that ‘no one could bind him’ (Mk. 5:1-20, esp. v. 3).  With only the concise command, ‘come out of the man, you unclean spirit,’ Jesus freed this man from horrific demonic influence.

The exorcisms, however, were not adequate by themselves to deal in any decisive way with the devil and his powers; that is, to ‘tie him up.’  They can only foreshadow an event of much greater importance.  Early Christian tradition uniformly looks to the cross/resurrection event as the point of fundamental significance in Christ’s conflict with the powers (Jn. 12:31-33; Acts 2:34-35, [etc., etc.]).  It was through this event that Satan and his hosts were dealt the fatal blow that spelled their final doom.  The strong man was defeated.

Clinton Arnold, The Powers of Darkness, p. 79-80.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Reformed Theology and the Kingdom of God

Coming of the Kingdom From time to time I read critiques that Reformed theology doesn’t really do justice to the kingdom of God, or that it is weak on kingdom theology.  In other words, some current theologians, teachers, and authors are critical of Reformed theology because (in their view) it relegates the kingdom of God to a minor place in the overall theological scheme.

Before disproving this accusation, I think it is worth nothing that in evangelical circles the term “kingdom” has taken on an almost faddish status.  In today’s evangelical world when a few popular figures emphasize the kingdom in a trendy way, others latch on and it goes viral overnight (“kingdom” becomes a hip evangelical word like “authentic” or “vintage”).  What happens then is those evangelicals who equate Reformed theology with TULIP/Calvinism say that Reformed theology has a weak view of God’s kingdom because TULIP doesn’t talk much about the kingdom.  I realize this is debatable, but it is worth discussion.

However, one thing is clear: historic Reformed theology does not ignore the kingdom of God.  Kingdom theology makes up one of the great and important threads of Reformation doctrine.  We have to remember that there’s much more to Reformed theology than TULIP.

First, God’s kingdom is discussed in the creeds and confessions.  In the Nicene Creed we confess together that Christ’s kingdom “shall have no end.”  In the Heidelberg Catechism the following topics are discussed: Christ as King (Q/A 31), the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Q/A 83-85), and the petition in the Lord’s prayer, Your kingdom come (Q/A 123; cf. Q/A 128).  The Belgic Confession mentions the kingdom of God in articles 27 and 36 while the Canons of Dort speak about the kingdom in III/IV.10.  Similarly, the Westminster Standards discuss the reign of Christ and his kingdom extensively: WCF 8:1, 5; 23:3, 25:2, 30:1-2, WLC 42, 45, 53, 191, 196 and WSC 23, 26, 102, and 107.  Very clearly the Reformed Creeds and Confessions have much to say about the kingdom of God.  It is no mere footnote.

Second, the kingdom of God was discussed quite often by Reformed theologians in the past.  John Calvin (d. 1564) wrote about the kingdom so often in the Institutes it would take too long to list the references here.  In commenting on the Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus (d. 1583) spoke in-depth about the kingdom (Commentary, p. 176, 440-463, and 632-637).  Similarly, Thomas Watson (d. 1680) wrote much about the kingdom in several of his books, including The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes, and Heaven Taken by Storm.  Dutch theologian Willem Teelinck (d.1629) wrote about the kingdom of grace and how it applies to godliness in The Path of True Godliness.  The following Reformed theologians also had a lot to say about Christ’s kingdom: Herman Witsius, Herman Bavinck, Wilhelmus a Brakel, William Ames, and the list goes on.

Third, and finally, Reformed theologians of recent history have written on the kingdom of God.  For example, Herman Ridderbos wrote The Coming of the Kingdom and Meredith Kline wrote Kingdom Prologue (see also Geerhardus Vos’ The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church).  Kim Riddlebarger speaks of it in A Case for Amillennialism while Anthony Hoekma did the same in The Bible and the Future (see also C. Venema’s work, The Promise of the Future).  David VanDrunen has also recently done extensive study in kingdom theology (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms).  And the list goes on; I’ve only mentioned a small handful here.

If you thought that Reformed theology neglected the topic of Christ’s kingdom, I encourage you to check out some of the above resources.  Or, next time you hear someone wrongly accuse Reformed theology of ignoring the kingdom theme, you can (lovingly!) prove otherwise.  Reformed theology has a rich, biblical, and edifying view of Christ’s kingdom and what it means to be a citizen of it.

(This is a repost from February 2013)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Gospel Does Not Discriminate (Bavinck)

Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Paperback) There is nothing that tears down walls between people like the gospel does.  There is nothing that brings all sorts of people together like the gospel does.  Herman Bavinck describes this quite well:

“In order to be a Christian, a citizen of the kingdom of God and heir of eternal life, it matters not at all whether one is Jew or Greek, barbarian or Scythian, male or female, free or slave, rich or poor, socially important or unimportant.  The only way to enter the kingdom of heaven, which is available to all, is by way of regeneration, an inner change, faith, conversion.  No nationality, no gender, no social standing, no class, no wealth or poverty, no freedom or slavery has any preference here.”

“The walls of division have fallen away, the palisades taken down; the gospel is intended for all and must be proclaimed to all.  The despised and those without rights in antiquity – the barbarians, the uncivilized, the ignoble, women, slaves, publicans, sinners, whoremongers, idol worshipers – are all people of God’s family, destined for his kingdom.  Yes, if there is any preference, then the poor, the ignoble, the unlearned, the oppressed are the ones who are considered first for the gospel.  God chooses the poor, the despised, and the ignoble, so that no one should boast before him.”

“What a revolution this gospel brought about in the ancient world: it gave a reforming power to humanity!  All people are equal before God.  He rates no one inferior because of social standing or rank, because of simplicity or unimportance.  God loves everyone who fears him from all peoples and generations and social classes.  This is a raising in status, this is the birthday of a new humanity, the beginning of a new society.  Christians, however different they were among themselves in origin and social status, were an elect family, a holy nation, a people made his own, a holy priesthood, one body with many members.”

We desperately need to remember this truth today: …in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to the other member…Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you... (Rom 12:5 NIV).  We need to make sure that we don’t put up walls and barriers that Jesus broke down on the cross.  No matter our political views, no matter how we school our kids (home, private, public), no matter our ethnicity, no matter our income level or job situation, the gospel brought us together and it must keep us together!

The above quotes are found on page 140-141 of Herman Bavinck’s Essays on Religion, Science, and Society.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)  Hammond, WI

The Sabbath As A Bulwark Against Satan’s Kingdom

Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary God gave his people the Sabbath for their good.  It was a day on which they could rest their bodies from physical labor and refresh their hearts and minds by remembering his works of creation and redemption (Ex. 20:8-13, Deut. 5:12-15).  J. G. Vos asks a good question – and answers it well in his commentary on the 4th commandment:

Q: Why does Satan, with  his servants, try so hard to break down and destroy the Sabbath day?

A: Satan, with his agents and citizens of his kingdom, is engaged in an age-long warfare against God and God’s kingdom.  God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and it is defended and propagated by spiritual weapons and methods.  The real extension of God’s kingdom depends on people’s being converted to Christ, repenting of their sins, and loving and serving God sincerely and loyally.  These things depend chiefly upon the preaching of the gospel and the public and private exercises of God’s worship, such as Bible study, the sacraments, and prayer.  These divine ordinances can find but little time on weekdays; they are largely dependent on the Sabbath day for an adequate amount of time and attention.

Satan of course understands this, and he realizes that if he can break down the Sabbath, then the preaching of the gospel and the ordinances of divine worship will be neglected – if the preaching of the gospel and the ordinances of worship are neglected, then God’s kingdom cannot prosper – if God’s kingdom cannot prosper, then Satan’s kingdom will not be interfered with – and if Satan’s kingdom is not interfered with, then Satan will have a clear track to accomplish his wicked purposes in the world.  So we see that the Sabbath, far from being an arbitrary or unreasonable command of God, is calculated to accomplish a great purpose and to form a real bulwark against Satan’s kingdom and the floods of iniquity.”

J. G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, p. 338-9.

shane lems

The Two-fold Aspect of God’s Kingdom (Witsius)

Sacred Dissertations on the Lord's Prayer  In Reformed church history, theologians have generally made a distinction when it came to discussing God’s kingdom or kingdoms.  Simply put, historic Reformed theology distinguished between God’s general kingdom (his kingdom of power/nature) and God’s saving kingdom (his kingdom of grace/glory).  Here’s how Herman Witsius spoke about this distinction in his discussion on the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come.

The kingdom of God must be viewed by us in a twofold aspect, as universal and as special. I use the phrase, universal kingdom, to express his boundless greatness, majesty, authority, and power over all. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all.” This is the kingdom to which the sun with all the stars, the sea with her waves, the winds with all their tempestuous fury, the seasons of the year with their various changes, the alternate returns of day and night, all the empires of the world, though engaged in acts of mutual hostility—are subject….

…Besides this universal kingdom, or, as it may be called, the kingdom of nature, God has constituted a special kingdom over his people, expressly elected for this purpose. This, again, is either the kingdom of grace in this world, or of glory in the world to come.  The kingdom of grace may be likewise subdivided into the two economies of the Old and New Testaments.  Under the Old Testament God was certainly the king of the people of Israel.  …The form of political government established among the children of Israel was entitled in every way to the name of a theocracy.  …In the Gospel…the kingdom of God is scarcely ever used in any other sense than as denoting that state of dignity and freedom which belongs to the church of the New Testament under the reign of the Messiah.

[In the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, the kingdom] is neither the universal kingdom of God, nor that kingdom which he had in a peculiar manner over ancient Israel, but the kingdom of God as it was to be manifested under the economy of the New Testament.

For Witsius’ entire discussion of “Thy kingdom come” see “Dissertation 9” in his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer. 

shane lems

God’s Kingdom: From OT to NT

An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach In chapter six of An Old Testament Theology, Bruce Waltke argues that the center of the OT is that Israel’s God, who is holy and merciful, glorifies himself by establishing his rule through the Messiah; the Lord’s Prayer “Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come” encapsulates this center, Waltke notes.  After discussing this theme in the various genres of the OT, Walkte explains it from a NT perspective.  Here’s his summary near the end of the chapter.

“This summary also shows that there has always been an already-and-not-yet aspect of the kingdom.  The portrait of God’s kingdom on the broad canvas of the Bible depicts the realization of Israel’s physical kingdom in the Old Testament as a picture of the true kingdom to come.  The prophets and the psalm writers proclaim the hope of this new kingdom:

Waiting in the wings is a greater seed – not the physical people of Abraham, but a spiritual people, true inheritors of his faith.

There is a greater law, a new covenant that Christ writes on the heart of his people through the Holy Spirit and that supersedes the covenant mediated by Moses.

There is a greater land, which is both present and not-yet.  On the one hand, the land is presently ‘Christified,’ for in Jesus Christ his people find the place of life and rest that is not bounded by geography and is available to the heretofore disenfranchised.  On the other hand, the land promises will be consummated in the future new heaven and new earth.

And there is a greater king – a King who rules from a heavenly, transcendent throne and establishes his reign, not through military conquest over foreign powers but through his defeat of Satan through suffering for his people.

Ultimately, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the full resolution to the questions posed by the two narratives [OT and NT].  In Paul’s theology according to Colossians, Jesus Christ unites the universe – heaven and earth – by his death, resurrection, and heavenly session.”

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 168.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Hodge on Christ’s Twofold Reign

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes Charles Hodge (d. 1878) spoke about Christ’s twofold kingship like other Reformed theologians spoke of it (see here).  Hodge said, “Christ exercises his royal authority, so to speak, in different spheres.”  Here’s a summary of Hodge’s discussion, found in his Systematic Theology, III.XI.3-4.

1) Christ’s dominion over the universe.  Christ has what theologians are accustomed to call his kingdom of power.  As theanthropos (God-man) and Mediator, all power in heaven and upon earth has been committed to his hands (Matt. 28:18; cf. Eph. 1:20-22, 1 Cor. 15:27, Heb. 1:13, 2:8, Phil. 2:9-10).  The person to whom ‘all things’ are to bow the knee is Jesus, not the Logos, but the God-man.  It is in virtue of this dominion over the universe that Christ is called Lord of lords and King of kings, i.e. the Sovereign over all other sovereigns in heaven and on earth.  This universal authority is exercised in a providential control, and for the benefit of his Church.  Under the present dispensation (era)… Christ is the God of providence.  It is in and thorough and by him that the universe is governed.  This dominion or kingdom is to last until its object is accomplished, i.e. until all his enemies, all forms of evil, and even death itself is subdued.  Then this kingdom, this mediatorial government of the universe, is to be given up (1 Cor. 15:24).

2) Christ’s spiritual kingdom.  Besides this kingdom of power, Christ has a kingdom of grace.  He is the king of every believing soul.  He translates it from the kingdom of darkness and brings it into subjection with himself.  Every believer recognizes Christ as his absolute Sovereign; Lord of his inward, as well as of his outward, life.  This kingdom of Christ over all his people is exercised not only by his power in their protection and direction, but especially by his Word and Spirit, through which and by whom he reigns in and rules over them. The kingdom of grace in this era is temporary; when Christ returns it will become a kingdom of glory (consummated, the kingdom of heaven).

Of course, Hodge says more on this topic; above is a summary.  If you want to read more on how Reformed theologians made the kingdom of power/kingdom of grace and glory distinction, see The Reformed Scholastics on the Regnum Christi, Kuyper and Kingdoms, Bavinck on the Two Kingdoms, and “How to Obtain the Kingdom of God.”

shane lems
hammond, wi