Christ’s Supremacy: The Questions
We’re Afraid to Ask but Must
Where do we Christians get our impressions about what the reign of our Savior looks like today?
I wonder how often our assumptions have been shaped inadvertently by how we view the operations of earthly sovereigns—queens, dictators, prime ministers, presidents, generals.
Unwittingly, many of us may be envisioning the reign of King Jesus based on how rulers down through time have used superior force to override human resistance or wipe out active opposition; or how they have taken charge in monolithic, absolute, even coercive, ways that allow them to dominate people and events sufficiently to impose and secure the completion of their personal agenda.
That may be a big reason why many Christians don’t dare to—are actually afraid to— entertain questions about Jesus’ reign. We’re fearful of what we might uncover—not wanting to disrupt the comfortable nature of our current view of Christ.
And yet we must—if we want to grow in him and go into more of him, which is the ultimate destiny of all who belong to him. We are all headed toward that day when “EVERY KNEE will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and EVERY TONGUE will confess that Jesus Christ IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11, emphasis added).
But nothing could be healthier
than questions like these!
As we’ve already seen in this summer series, despite theological differences among God’s people on certain facets of the topic of God’s sovereignty in Christ, there remains so much we share in common when it comes to how we seek and speak of the spectacular supremacy of God’s Son.
So there’s no reason to hesitate as we venture into these age-old questions—as long as we root our answers in Scripture, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and determined to magnify his glory among his people by whatever conclusions we reach.
Spiritually, nothing could be healthier for any of us than confronting and wrestling a little with questions like we’ve been tackling.
So far in this series, we’ve bored down quite a bit into one of the central debates of the past two thousand years: the relationship between the sovereignty of God manifested through the reign of the Son at his right hand and human initiative, freedom, and decision.
We’ve discovered in this summer series that learning to ask the right questions about the main issues may be the most important step any of us can take to go deeper in our wonder and worship of Christ as supreme.
I encourage you to go back and read, or reread, the first two installments in the series:
Those two blog posts, comprising twenty-four pages, introduce dozens of questions most Christians are afraid to ask. They will take you places you’ve never gone before in your thinking about what it means for you to call Jesus your Lord.
As I said, nothing could be spiritually healthier for any of us.
A Final Feast of Questions All of Us Must Ask
To conclude our series, I want to guide you into a few other important questions about the supremacy of Christ—reflections to take with you as you continue to build a relationship with God’s Son that leads you into “intimacy with his supremacy.”
In what ways is Jesus’ reign marked by generosity?
How generous is Jesus in his reign? Are there any limits to his generosity toward his creation? Toward the nations? Toward his own subjects?
In other words, is our King not only omnipotent but also omnibenevolent? If not, at what point does he start to withhold his generosity?
How much of Jesus’ reign is seen vs. unseen?
Currently, how visible, tangible, measurable, and quantifiable is Christ’s kingdom work? How much of it remains hidden, quiet, secret, inaccessible, mysterious?
For example: How much is evil being contained by our Victor “behind the scenes” (so to speak)? How much is he actively opposing evil right now, even if we can’t say for sure how and where?
How quantitative vs. qualitative is his reign?
How often does Scripture measure Jesus’ kingdom invasion in quantitative terms—that is, by describing open displays of his dominion in various facets of human activity?
On the other hand, how often does the Bible measure the Kingdom’s advance in qualitative terms—that is, by how King Jesus transforms and renews the world by how he transforms and renews human hearts and relationships?
Where is the balance?
How does Christ engage with human cultures
as he exercises his lordship among the nations?
Biblical scholars suggest at least six possible responses:
(1) As the King of Glory, Jesus stands apart from human cultures—he is indifferent about their usefulness because, in the end, they are irrelevant to fulfilling his kingdom agenda.
(2) Our Sovereign rejects human cultures—he sees the myriad of earth’s people groups as sufficiently depraved that their cultures are irredeemable and must be set aside for a whole other “culture” created by Heaven.
(3) Going a step further, other Christians see Jesus actively judging cultures—as he brings his justice to bear on all unrighteousness and ungodliness wherever it appears, resisting all that is evil in every nation.
(4) On the other hand, others believe the Lord of Heaven’s armies are proactively invading cultures today—bringing his kingdom purposes to bear on the content and direction of each culture, leading to a spiritual revolution within each, primarily through the impact of the gospel.
(5) Many believe that, ultimately, wherever the gospel spreads, our Lord Jesus is intent on transforming cultures by unleashing in every sphere of life—family, economy, government, the arts, the media, the marketplace, etc.—a preliminary manifestation of how his reign will one day saturate heaven and earth.
(6) Some suggest his reign expresses a combination of each approach. That’s because the peoples and cultures of the world, in and of themselves, are fallen, frail, and fleeting. So, on the one hand, they are irrelevant, unacceptable, and unworthy.
Still, through his reign, to one degree or another God’s grace can and does invade and then transform every “tongue and tribe and nation” until one day these words of Revelation 21 finally come to pass: “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”
To what extent are his kingdom ways expressed corporately?
To what extent are they expressed individually?
Scripture does teach that God sovereignly “elects” and “predestines” people in relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. But how much of that teaching relates to the corporate dimensions of our Savior’s reign—either over unbelievers or over Jesus followers? How much is about categories of people versus every single individual?
On the other hand, how much of the biblical theme specifically relates to his intentions to predetermine every individual destiny—to set the life course for everyone who has ever been born, both for those inside as well as those outside God’s chosen people?
In other words, does our King express God’s sovereignty with individuals and with groups in the same ways or in different ways? Does his reign confront the plans and passions of individuals differently from how he works with groups, such as governments or with whole people groups? If so, according to Scripture, what are the differences?
There are serious, devout Christians who come down on one side or the other. Where do you come out?
To what degree is the reign of Christ arbitrary by nature?
In other words, are the Father’s designs for the unfolding of Jesus’ kingdom set in concrete from all eternity?
Or, as they unfold, does God extend some measure of freedom to his creation—freedom that might require the King, at times, to make wise, just, and righteous adjustments or revisions in the expressing his supremacy, based, first of all, on how others respond to his kingdom initiatives?
All Christians agree it is clear in Scripture, in the final analysis, that God has predestined whatever is necessary to conclusively preserve and fulfill the preplanned outcomes for the kingdom of his dear Son.
But within the truth of that predestination, many Christians believe there remains room for humankind to experience some measure of genuine freedom as in this present age God’s eternal strategy keeps moving toward its victorious climax.
Can freedom and sovereignty work in tandem wherever Jesus rules?
Is there ever any kind of limits placed on the reign of Christ?
In this present age, does the Son ever willfully and purposefully place temporary limits on his scepter’s sway?
Or, does Jesus unrelentingly advance his rule despite external restraints and boundaries—doing so without needing to recalculate his initiatives based on prior decisions and responses, actions and reactions, from his subjects, from his enemies, or from Satan’s minions?
To ask it another way: In what sense, if any, does Jesus’ sovereignty allow for a measure of human ambitions, while at the same time restricting the scope and the extent of those activities?
In this age, does God, in any sense, place parameters on his Son’s rule, permitting human freedom to express itself up to a point?
Which outlook feels more biblical to you?
How involved is God’s Son in determining
who gets into God’s kingdom?
Every believer agrees that as God’s anointed ruler, Christ alone determines both the future as well as the day-to-day operations of his monarchy.
Certainly, this applies in comprehensive ways to all who have been saved and “transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son” (Colossians 1) and who call him “Lord.”
But to what degree, if any, does his reign predetermine specifically who is born again into his kingdom?
Even more critically: To what extent, if any, does he actively determine who is left out of his kingdom?
How do earthly disasters fit into his kingdom’s advance?
How often are the disasters that touch our lives—whether political, social, relational, physical, meteorological, epidemical, etc.—a result of how King Jesus is effectively pressing his saving kingdom deeper and deeper into enemy territory?
In other words, how much evil and suffering in the world are due to collateral damage resulting from a cosmic battle confronting the dark forces that have usurped this planet for their treasonous attack on the glory of God?
In addition, to what degree today are natural disasters evidence of the King’s judgments on the earth—like we see in the plagues of Egypt or the book of Revelation?
Instead, when are natural disasters simply the predictable repercussions that happen to all who live in the midst of a complex, fallen, dysfunctional, and dying creation?
When, if ever, are phenomena like tornados, fires, floods, blizzards, volcanos, or drought expressions of the King’s anger toward sinners because they refuse, resist, or rebel against his authority and his ways?
To ask it one other way: In this present age, whenever the world is undergoing chaotic, tragic natural upheavals (earthquakes) or epochs of increased human suffering (famines, plagues), are such afflictions ever displays of the King’s judgments on the world?
How will your answer affect the way you respond to disasters right around you?
Under the reign of Christ, how do our prayers
fit into the sovereign will of God?
Internationally acclaimed demographer of the Christian movement, Patrick Johnstone, was also a widely respected prayer leader throughout the Church. In his massive book, Operation World: When We Pray God Works, he reflects on the continuing lordship of Christ as it relates to the desperate physical, political, social, and spiritual conditions found in the more than two hundred nations analyzed within the book’s 800 pages.
Turning to the dominion the Father promised to his Son expressed in Psalm 2 (“Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron.”), Johnstone ponders this age-old conundrum:
If Jesus is Lord of all and in total control of all, what possible difference could our prayers for the whole world make for the outcomes of his reign in any particular nation?
Here’s his response:
It is a breathtaking mystery. A picture comes to my mind of a strange European custom at the launch of a ship. The mighty craft lies on its slipway, where it was constructed, awaiting a VIP to break a bottle of wine on its bow, and give it the name it will bear. Once done, the ropes and cables restraining the ship are loosed by unseen hands, and the ship majestically slides off to begin its career on water. There are similarities to intercession. The proclamation of the ship’s name by the VIP is an important action, but the ship could be launched without it.
It is a mystery that our loving Father has somehow limited His [Jesus] omnipotence to team up with His redeemed people so that His actions in the world are inextricably linked with prayer.
In other words, when we pray, how does God’s will interface with our will—with the cries of our hearts?
Some would argue that “prayer changes things” for Jesus’ kingdom. Others would contend that “just as God ordains the ends so he ordains the means to those ends, with prayers offered in Jesus’ name being one of those means.” In other words, Jesus changes things through our prayers.
Which is it? Or is it both?
Your answer impinges directly on what you mean by “lordship” and “supremacy” when talking about the Son at God’s right hand.
To define how we view the reign of Christ at all times, in all places, and in our daily walk with him, Christians MUST keep asking questions like this question about prayer as well as all the themes we’ve explored in this “2020 Summer Series on Supremacy.”
Congratulations for pressing through this menu of fascinating but challenging and thought-provoking questions about the full extent of Christ’s spectacular supremacy—questions many Christians are afraid to ask but must ask if they want to keep growing and going in Jesus.
Congratulations! You have just “graduated” from the “Summer 2020 Series on Supremacy.” As you gather up your diploma, take a moment to think back over the three blog posts and consider these concluding insights:
- Despite a diversity of outlooks on all of these questions, there is lots of common ground throughout the Church in terms of our understanding of what Christ’s supremacy involves today. Look for it. Go for it.
- Whatever your conclusion to particular issues highlighted in this series, everyone should help every believer become more passionate for Jesus—causing any Jesus follower to more fully see, savor, and serve God’s Son.
- Finally, even when we don’t agree at every point, Jesus followers must first of all be willing to listen to one another and then show respect for each other’s approaches and conclusions about the sovereignty of God in Christ.How can we do otherwise—especially with fellow Christians who share together a longing for more of Christ and his reign among us? That openness is what will lead us to be willing to work together for the glory of our King and the advance of his kingdom in our generation. That’s what really matters in the end!
Continue learning more about the supremacy of Christ. Do so through some of the hundreds of free resources waiting for you at ChristNow.com. For instance, start enjoying daily doses of the 30-minute episodes of The Christ Today Podcast.
About the Author
Over the past 40 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ-awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular CHRIST TODAY podcast.
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