Last time we looked briefly at some of the reasons some evangelicals (Dispensationalists) have had difficulty with the biblical and historic Christian doctrine that Jesus is presently reigning over all things and particularly his church. That view is in contrast to the Reformed confession in Heidelberg Catechism 50
50. Why is it added: “And sits at the right hand of God”?
Because Christ ascended into heaven for this end, that He might there appear as the Head of His Church, by whom the Father governs all things.
Dispensationalism generally exists outside the Reformed churches but there is within Reformed churches another, more subtle, objection to the notion that Jesus is presently reigning and that comes from those who affirm that Christ is reigning now but after future developments (e.g., conversion of the nations, the affirmation by political leaders and governments of Christ as Lord) then Jesus will be truly reigning. In contrast to such a view and to any other view that might suggest that Jesus is not truly ruling and reigning now, we should think that Jesus is as much a king now as he shall ever be before his bodily return. The biblical evidence is overwhelming that Scripture wants Christians to understand that Jesus is presently seated and reigning in royal power and glory. He testified to his kingship before the high priest:
And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matt 26:63–68; ESV).
The irony here was that they really were mocking the King of kings. That he allowed them to abuse him thus was a greatest demonstration of his forbearance and grace toward sinners. Now is the time of salvation and free acceptance with God. When he returns, that time shall have ended.
He testified to his disciples, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62; ESV). In the interregnum “But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69; ESV). Paul says, in his resurrection, the Father seated his Son as King, at the right hand.
…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1:19–23; ESV).
This is biblical, ancient language of royalty, of dominion, power, and authority. If our conception of Christ’s present reign does not allow for what Paul says is now true, then we need to adjust our conception since, he says, we are also presently seated with him, by his grace alone, through faith alone, by virtue of our union with him: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1; ESV). It is true that we do not experience this royal authority yet but we shall. More on this below.
Hebrews 8:1 says that not only is Jesus King but he is also a high priest, “one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven….” He is a Melchizedekian priest-king who earned his place in glory, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). In his vision of heaven, the Apostle John saw Jesus’ present royal reign (Rev 5:1). He is on the throne. He has the scroll (5:7).
To be sure, there is a distinction between the present time, the interregnum, and that period after his return, the judgment, and consummation of all things. We do not see every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10–11; Rom 14:11). As Hebrews 2:8 says, presently, “we do not see everything under subjection to him” but when he returns we shall see it. Here’s the distinction. Christ is presently sovereign over all things. Nothing happens without his royal decree or permission. Nothing is outside his providence. When the Christians were arrested and martyred in the 2nd century, that happened according to King Jesus’ good pleasure. When Christians today suffer in Iraq and the Sudan, that happens according to his good pleasure. Psalm 2 says:
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
He rules the nations, all of them, with a rod of iron and with that royal scepter he will smash them all in his return. He has no particular national people now. That singular relationship, with national Israel, was intentionally temporary (Gal 3) and ended with his crucifixion. There are no new national peoples but he has people in every nation, in every tribe, from every tongue (Rev 5:9). He is Mediator and King of his church particularly, those are his special, covenanted people. In his general, sovereign providence he rules everything and everyone else.
Jesus is reigning now. We need to resist the temptation that, because we do not see him presently putting all opposition under his feet, that he because he has not yet crushed Satan under foot (Rom 16:20) that he is not truly reigning. He is. He is working by his sovereign Holy Spirit to call his elect to faith and to sanctify those whom he has justified. When he is done, then his kingdom shall be manifest in all its glory. Until then we submit to his rule, we live in his kingdom, we trust his good purposes and we wait patiently. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).