Harmonizing the Bible’s Teaching About Christian Dominion Over the Nations with Its Teaching that Few Will Be Saved
Will there come a time in history when all nations submit to the rule of Christ before His return in judgment? And if so, how can that be reconciled with the Bible’s teaching that a relatively small number among mankind will find eternal life?
There are Bible passages that appear to speak of a time when the nations will submit to Christ prior to end of this age. Some of these are:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2-2:4)
“the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9)
“And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” (Daniel 7:27)
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
“Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33)
But then there are also passages that tell us few among mankind are actually going to be saved. Some of these are:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)
“God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (Romans 11:2-5 referring to 1 Kings 19:14-18)
On the surface, the doctrines taught in these two sets of Scripture verses seem to be contradictory, and it may be puzzling as to how they could be reconciled. How could both be true? How could it be possible that all the nations of the earth could be brought into submission to Christ and yet there be relatively few true Christians who would see eternal life?
The answer may be found in a study of church history. Consider, for example, the early Protestants and the later Puritans. If you have read much of their writings, you will notice that they often talk about the ungodliness in the general society around them and repeatedly bemoan the fact that there are many false professors in the church. It may seem odd that at the high point of the Reformation in European nations, which had already been Christianized for many centuries and which were experiencing a revival of true religion, that there yet remained a great deal of infidelity — not only in the nation generally speaking but even in the Reformed Christian congregations, according to the testimony we have received from many of the most highly esteemed ministers of the time.
But perhaps therein lies the answer to reconciling the two sets of Scripture above. Christianity was unquestionably the dominant religion at that time in those nations, to the extent that no other religion was tolerated — even heretical sects of Christianity were suppressed. And yet it appears that many, or perhaps most, of the people were not truly converted. And if that is the case, then it seems reasonable to assume that the same thing could happen worldwide, whereby Christ would have the dominion over all nations through the church while there still would be many unconverted souls within those nations and even within the visible church.
And this comports with what we learn from observing other periods of history, which testifies to the fact that it has always been committed minorities who have ruled nations and led the people of their nations to embrace the religion of the ruling minority. This has been true both for good and for evil. In early European history, we see examples of nations being converted to Christianity when first the king and the nobles of the nation converted to Christianity, and then Christian doctrines were taught to the people by way of churches established under authorization of the king, while paganism was simultaneously put down. These could truly be called Christian nations, yet who can doubt that many among the people were never truly converted to Christianity and still secretly cherished their idols and superstitions? We can also observe a similar phenomenon in anti-Christ revolutionaries, such as the Jacobins in France and the Marxists in Russia who were both small minorities that took control of their nations and then led the people into embracing their doctrines, both by means of force and by constant propaganda through education and information institutions, while Christianity was suppressed. These could truly be called Anti-Christian nations and yet who can doubt that many of the people still cherished a love for Christ and the church?
The aforementioned are examples of rather sudden changes in societies. And if we can set aside our indoctrination into principles of democratic government — which is certainly not a godly form of government — then we can accept that there is nothing wrong with a Christian king or government imposing Christianity on the people over whom they have authority. And, in fact, there would be nothing wrong with a Christian nation forcefully conquering a pagan nation as the Spanish did to the Aztecs, putting an end to all the abominations they were practicing, including sacrificing thousands of men to their sun god, though their form of Christianity was itself in a less than ideal state. We in America have been told for so long the lie that democracy is not only a preferable system but a virtuous one, that most Americans have come to believe everything has to be accomplished with the approval of the majority. However, those who understand how our so-called democratic political system really works will understand that religious values, good or bad, are actually dictated to the people by the ruling class via various channels including educational institutions, news outlets, and entertainment productions, and that the political system is actually controlled by a small minority at the top.
But we need not think that a sudden, top-down model of dominion is necessarily the only way to achieve it. Certainly, it could also be the case that in some nations, or even most of them, a more gradual conversion process will take place organically as the leaven of the gospel slowly works its way through the society and godly leaders over time replace or force out the ungodly. This, in fact, is what happened in the case of the early church in the Roman Empire, although the church itself began to be corrupted and lost its savor over the following centuries.
But whether dominion be accomplished suddenly in some nations or gradually in others, it is not necessary that all of mankind, nor even a majority of it, need be truly regenerated in order for Christianity to become the dominant force over all nations at some time in the future, and so we need not deny either the Bible’s testimony that the church will have dominion over the earth, or the truth that relatively few among the totality of mankind will be saved. Both can be true. And it is with this understanding that we can, with confidence in our success, obey Christ’s words in Matthew 28, knowing despite the fact that many will reject the truth, yet the church will be victorious and Christ will reign over the nations through His people.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
The Kingdom Has Greatly Advanced Over Time and Will Continue To Do So
Some will object: “Where do we see this happening? It has been almost two thousand years since the time of Christ and the world is full of evil. Even the church is becoming worse and worse.” This is all true at the present time in America but we cannot make judgments about such things based on what is occurring at any particular point in history in certain places or even one period of history covering several centuries. We must look at the matter over the totality of time across the entire world. And if we do so, we see that Christianity is indeed moving forward. It is like the incoming tide which consists of ebbs and flows. Individual waves move in and then recede backwards but the overall tide advances.
However, it is easy to misunderstand this process. If we had no prior knowledge of how an incoming tide works and we were to try to analyze it by looking at a snapshot of the surf at a particular time when a wave was moving in, then we might mistakenly come to believe that tides consist of nothing but advancing waves and would not understand how a receding wave could be part of an overall process of advance. And this is similar to what we sometimes do when we isolate short or even relatively long periods of time in the history of the world without looking at the complete span of it. It is true that we in America and Europe are now experiencing a period of declension and have been doing so for the past few centuries. But what will we conclude if, rather than focus on the condition of the church in these places at this moment, or judge by what has happened in the recent past, we instead look at the history of the world since the time of Christ? Has the church advanced in that time? It is beyond question that it has advanced enormously in that time.
How many persons among all the tongues, tribes, and nations of the world had any knowledge of the true God at the time that the apostles began their ministry? We know that the dispersed Jews had congregations in various cities in parts of southern and eastern Europe but they certainly were not making many converts and the rest of the world was in utter darkness. However, just several centuries later, there were many, many thousands, or perhaps even millions, of Christians all over Europe. And how many Christians existed in the huge continents of North and South America six hundred years ago? Precisely zero, as far as we know. Today, there are millions of professing Christians on both continents. And how about Asia, Africa, and Australia? Except for the northernmost parts of Africa, there were no Christians on those continents five hundred years ago but today there are millions who claim the name of Christ.
So we see that Christianity has indeed been in the process of conquering the world since the time of Christ and we have no reason to believe that this process will not continue. It is true that much of what passes as Christianity in the world is either apostate or polluted with error to varying degrees, and there is still a tremendous amount of ungodliness and a multitude of false religions in the world. But no one doubts that despite all of this dross there are now multitudes of true Christians scattered across nearly the entire world. It is undeniable that the kingdom has progressed tremendously over time and we have every reason to believe that it will continue to do so.
Christ Is Already Present With Us and Leading Us to Victory
Some will remain unconvinced, but how does anything except eventual victory for the church in this world comport with “The Great Commission” of Christ in Matthew 28? How can it be that He has commanded us to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” and yet all nations will not be brought in submission to Christ? Has He sent us out on what is to be an unsuccessful venture or one that will have only limited success?
And why is “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” immediately prefaced with “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” Did He not mean that this power would be directed toward our efforts to make them prevail? Does not the word “therefore” in “Go ye therefore” refer back to the statement “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth”? Is He not saying, in other words, “Go ye and do this, and because of my power it will be successful”? What else can this mean? Is it not absurd to think the opposite, that is, “Go ye and do this but in spite of my power it is going to be a failure or only marginally successful?”
And what of the statement “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world”. Is this not clearly saying that He is going to be our leader in this endeavor until the end of the world? And is it not true that to believe the church will fail to take dominion in the world is to believe that Satan will have dominion over it through all ages? How then has he fallen like lightning? How has he been defeated by Christ? Has anyone ever heard of a general who was called victorious when his army lost the battle?
And if someone were to say that it requires Jesus Christ to return bodily to gain victory for the church, is this not denying the words “I am with you alway”? And is it not denying the power of the the Holy Spirit of God dwelling among us who is very God Himself and one with the Father and Son? Is it not saying that unless we have a bodily present king, we are lacking something? If so, does this not deny the spiritual nature of the war and repeat the error of the Jews who sought an earthly conqueror to overthrow the Romans? And is this not saying that Christ has left us without a head and without the fullness of His power, and that by leaving bodily our King has abandoned us, at least to a certain degree? Would you fight under a commander whom you believed was not leaving your presence to direct your army more carefully from a higher place but was instead withdrawing to a place where he would be involved in the battle to a lesser degree, and would only return to engage the enemy directly with a larger, more powerful army after the army in which you had enlisted was defeated?
And regarding the many in today’s churches who say the Bible teaches no such victory, but rather teaches that Christians will always be oppressed and marginalized in this world, is it any wonder that they do not bother to fight and that they instead just try to keep their heads down and avoid conflict? Is it a mere coincidence that this is the prevailing view among Christian men in our age and that our age is also one of passive indifference to the evil in the world and an almost complete lack of opposition to it? Should we be surprised that few want to go into battle, knowing most believe that the leader, while communicating his battle strategy, was also hinting that his side is not going to be successful in the upcoming conflict? Who would voluntarily join an army while believing that the commander has already predicted their defeat? And who would want a man in his army if he believed that victory were unattainable?
The Church Has Conquered Nations Before
Certainly, the apostles never indicated that they expected to fail in making disciples of all nations. Rather, they fought as though they expected to win.
And it is obvious that the early church was victorious. Christianity did indeed take dominion over the nations in which it was preached. Consider this quote by John Chrysostom, one of the leading lights of the early post-apostolic church who lived in Constantinople a few centuries after the time of Christ:
“Let both Jews and Hellenes [Greeks] know that Christians are the guardians, protectors, rulers and teachers of the city; and let the reprobates and libertines learn the same thing, that they should be afraid of God’s servants, and that if they want to say anything blasphemous or mocking, they look around and fear even the shadows, fearing that a Christian might overhear.”
Chrysostom is here speaking of a Christianity that had become dominant in his nation to the point where ungodly men needed to fear if they spoke out against it in public. But in the fact that he names Jews, Greeks, reprobates, and libertines, he is making it obvious that there were still many unconverted persons in his nation. This is an example of dominion, without the conversion of everyone under it, and it is what Christians had over Europe for many centuries which also continued into the early years of North America. This is what we have lost and need to regain. In American society today it has become just the opposite: many Christians “fear even the shadows” and dare not speak out publicly against the ungodly and all of their perversions. We have allowed the Anti-Christs to gain the ascendancy over the godly.
The Kingdom of God Is a Spiritual Kingdom That Is Manifested on Earth
Some will object that our concept of victory may be different from God’s concept of victory, and that as long as we are making converts and thereby saving numerous souls, then we are building the kingdom and triumphing regardless of the fact that the world remains under the control of the wicked. They might further assert that to seek for dominion in this world is to think like the carnal minded Jews who desired an earthly king. After all, they could point out, Christ did say “my kingdom is not of this world”.
But could it not be the case that when Christ said this in answer to Pilate, he was referring to the fact that His kingdom is of a higher, heavenly nature rather than meaning that the kingdom was not to be manifested in this world? In other words, that He was to rule over the hearts and minds of men in all nations, rather than just rule over them in a limited, earthly manner as if he were a mere man. It is granted that any time we are making converts we are advancing the kingdom. But if this kingdom was never to be manifested on earth through national institutions, then were the Christians of John Chrysostom’s time and of the Reformation era in error because they actually did take dominion over their nations? Can it not be the case that we are not only to build the kingdom by bringing individuals to a saving knowledge of Christ, but that we are also to teach these converts how to apply the Christian religion to all spheres of life, and that by these disciples doing so, they naturally leaven the nations and conform their institutions to Christian principles?
And although this article is focused on the victory that consists of Christian dominion over the nations through the centuries before the eternal state, it needs to be acknowledged that Christian victory also takes other forms. When a believer first repents and believes, that is a victory over the kingdom of Satan and an extension of the kingdom of God. As a Christian grows by grace through his lifetime by mortifying his sin, that process of santification is a triumph for the kingdom. When children are faithfully raised by godly parents “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” and the children go on to do the same, that is an example of Christians taking dominion. Establishing a church in a previously heathen nation or preaching the gospel to a tribe that has never been evangelized, are examples of the same. These are all earthly manifestations of the advance of the spiritual kingdom of God. Of course, all forms of victory or dominion will pale in comparison to the final consummation of the age when Jesus Christ returns in judgment and the eternal state is ushered in, but there are many levels of Christian dominion prior to that event and proclaiming the truth of the eventual victory of the church over the nations does not deny or lessen the importance of the other forms of dominion.
Christianity Must Be Victorious — There Is No Other Option
It is difficult to see how can Christianity can continue to exist if our success is perpetually limited to merely saving souls out of a world dominated by the forces of evil. For it is plainly obvious that when Christians fail to gain control over all the institutions of a nation, then the anti-Christs gain control over all the institutions of that nation — including the visible church. This is precisely what we are witnessing today in the nations of North America and Western Europe. And it is not the case that our enemies will occupy the centers of power and then allow us to peacefully rest in our own compartmentalized religious safe space. No, it is very clear that the anti-Christs will not be appeased until either Christians are eliminated from the earth or their so-called Christianity is distorted to the degree that it has actually become Satanism. And if this is the case in one nation or on one continent, then in time it will be the case worldwide. Christianity must dominate the nations before the consummation of the eternal state because domination is essential to its survival — Christianity cannot continue to exist without it taking dominion.
Furthermore, true Christianity is a religion that cannot be rightly practiced in an anti-Christian society. Our religion is meant to be applied to every facet of life both public and private, not relegated to a small personal sphere. A Christianity that is thus reduced is not Christianity at all but a mere truncated and compromised imitation, and so even if the anti-Christs would tolerate such a reduction of our religion and we were to accept it, that religion would then cease to be the religion of the Bible. It is actually to the benefit of Christians, by the providential hand of God, that the Satanists ultimately will not tolerate even a downgraded form of Christianity. Because of their determined and relentless opposition, Christians will be forced to overcome the wicked completely and to entirely drive out all competing religions. There can be no other way, if true Christianity is to survive.
Light must drive out darkness. The kingdom of Christ must drive out the kingdom of Satan. We must, and will be, victorious. It is not possible that we can fail because “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4) and “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Victory is inevitable.