Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mediatorial Kingship of Jesus Christ Pt.3 (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

Having addressed the relationship of the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ to the bodily resurrection of believers from 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, I want to focus attention on a different issue. Intertwined around Paul's theologically rich exposition of the guarantee of bodily resurrection, is some very profound insight into the nature of Christ's contemporary kingdom rule. Specifically, this text leads us to engage the debate which centers on the so-called TWO-KINGDOM THEOLOGY. Our aim in this post is to concentrate on defending the Biblical, and confessionally Reformed view that Christ has TWO KINGDOMS.

First, let's set forth some of the classical distinctions and terminology typically used the two kingdom discussion. Historically, Reformed theological reflection on the kingdom of Christ has distinguished between the kingdom of power and the kingdom of grace and glory. The kingdom of power is Christ's rule over creation and providence in view of his concern to rule, build, and preserve his church; and the kingdom of grace is Christ's special rule over the church as the God-man, while the kingdom of glory is the eternal state of glorification following upon the consummation of this age. As we will see below, this is a crucial distinction we must maintain in the kingly rule of Christ; otherwise, failing to distinguish between the two kingdoms, will lead to substantial tension in the theological formulation of the ontological Trinity.

Second, let's just make it clear that the classic, Reformed tradition has made this distinction. John Calvin in his Institutes unambiguously upholds two kingdom construction of Christ's kingly rule when he says:

We must here set forth a distinction. This, then, is the distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it (2.2.13)

Let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bold to perform (see Book 4, chap. 10, sec. 3-6). To these two forms are commonly given the not inappropriate names of spiritual and temporal jurisdiction, intimating that the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely honorably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom. Now, these two, as we have divided them, are always to be viewed apart from each other. When the one is considered, we should call off our minds, and not allow them to think of the other (3.19.15)

But he who knows to distinguish between the body and the soul, between the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated (4.20.1).

Alright, you might say, "those quotes are fairly clear; Calvin seems to make a distinction in the kingly administration of Christ's rule, between his governance of the church, and his rule over creation in general. But that is just Calvin, and we know he was somewhat influenced by Luther, so probably, the rest of the Reformed theologians who stand at a greater temporal distance from Luther, don't maintain this distinction." That is a false understanding of Reformed thought. Ursinus, in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, commenting on the 2nd petition of the Lord's Prayer, "thy kingdom come," makes the following distinctions regarding the kingdom of God:

The kingdom of God is that in which God alone rules and exercises dominion over all creatures; but especially does he govern and preserve the church. This kingdom is universal. The special kingdom of God—that which he exercises in his church consists in sending the Son from the Father, from the very beginning of the world, that he might institute and preserve the ministry of the church, and accomplish his purposes by it—that he might gather a church from the whole human race by his word and Spirit—rule, preserve and defend it against all enemies (p.1118).
It is very clear from this first, initial comment on the 2nd petition, that Ursinus is making a distinction in the kingly rule of Christ. On the one hand, he acknowledges a kingly rule of Christ that is over all. But then, on the other hand, he explains that along side that rule, which is over all things and creatures, that Christ has a "special kingdom" which is Christ's kingly rule over the church. In subsequent remarks he expands upon and clarifies this twofold kingdom of Christ. He argues that the rule of Christ that we pray for in the 2nd petition is the rule of Christ which is "spiritual" and which he has already identified as the "special kingdom." Then he goes on to characterize this special kingdom in a manner similar to Calvin, explaining, "It is commonly spoken of and distinguished as the Kingdom of grace and of glory" (p.1119). In making use of these categories "kingdom of grace" and "kingdom of glory" he is simply clarifying the point that the kingdom of grace bears within its womb the consummate kingdom, the kingdom of glory, that is, the glorified eternal state. This is precisely the meaning in view today, when Biblical theologians describe and distinguish between this interadventual period and the eternal state by using the terminology of "already and not-yet." The "already" is the current reign of Christ manifest in the his kingly rule in the hearts of believers, and the "not-yet," as the full manifestation and outworking of Christ's saving rule in the glorified, eternal state.

Let's add one more Reformed stallwart to the mix here, Francis Turretin. Expounding upon the mediatorial kingship of Christ, Turretin offers the following distinction: we must distinguish between the twofold kingdom belonging to Christ: one natural or essential; the other mediatorial and economical. Christ possesses the former over all creatures with glory and majesty equal to the Father and Holy Spirit. The latter (according to the economy of grace) he administers in a peculiar manner as God-man. The former extends equally over all creatures; the latter is terminated especially on the church (16th question, p.486, vol.2). Obviously, Turretin is working with the kingdom categories typically used in classical Reformed discussion about the kingdom. In general, we can conclude from these three references that the Reformed were clear to distinguish between the administration of Christ's kingly rule over creation and providence, and his kingly rule over the church. The rule over nature was grounded in his eternal being, shared with the Father and Holy Spirity, peculiarly administered for a time as the God-man; while, the rule over the church was Christ's very own special rule, received, exercised, and administered as the reward and fruit of his mediatorial, redemptive work.

Third, having clarified the classic, historic, Reformed teaching concerning the kingdom, let's pause to examine how 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 bears on this important distinction. Without thinking on v24 for too long, one begins to see an apparent problem when Paul explains that Jesus Christ will "hand over the kingdom to the Father." Now add to that indications of the temporal limitations of his rule in v25, implied in the words "he must reign UNTIL." Finally, v28 forces us to grasp at some sort of a distinction in order to save the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity when Paul says, "then the Son also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him." Verse 28 falls on the heals of Paul's clarification that the application of the words of Psalm 8:6 to Jesus, "all things are under subject to his feet," does not involve a subjection of the Father to Christ. Rather, the Father is excepted, and once the total conquest of Christ's enemies has been achieved, then "the Son" will himself be subjected to the Father.

This language causes insuperable problems theologically, if Paul's intention is to actually refer to the 2nd person of the Trinity, when he says "the Son" will be subject to the Father. If that language is designed to identify "the Son" with the second person of the Trinity, then it must follow that the Son of God is ontologically subordinate to the Father, and thus we would be forced to conclude that there is ontological hierarchy and subordination within the Trinity. In other words, we would have confess that the Son is less divine, and less authoritative than the Father. Of course, that would be completely out of accord with the full sweep of scripture which repeatedly affirms the full essential parity of the persons of the Trinity. But there have been many unscrupulous interepreters in the history of Christianity who have taken the word "Son" here to refer to the second divine person, the Son, and they have argued that such a referent, with its consequenent subordination, is consistent with the language of v24 that Christ will deliver over the kingdom to the Father, the language of v25 which implies a termination to Christ's kingly rule, and finally, to the exception clause of v27 which not only clarifies that the Father is not subject to the Son, but seems to imply, that the Son is indeed subordinate to the Father.

So, what then is the solution? Well, the solution lies in making a distinction between the kingdoms. When Paul explains that Christ must deliver over the kingdom, has a temporary rule, is subject to the Father, and eventually will yield up his authority and openly subject himself to the Father, we must see these remarks as references to Christ's mediatorial rule. The key is to see that the kingdom rule in view here in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is Christ's kingly rule over creation and providence, which he exercises as the God-man, throughout the interadventual period, and maintains with a view to his rule and preservation of the church. Charles Hodge, in commenting on v24, makes this explanation of the kingly rule in view here:

The Scriptures constantly teach that Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and of his dominion there is no end. In what sense, then, can he be said to deliver up his kingdom? Paul refers here to that dominion to which he was exalted after his resurrection, when all power in heaven and earth was committed to his hands. This kingdom, which he exercises as the Theanthropos, and which extends over all principalities and powers, he is to deliver up when the work of redemption is accomplished. He was invested with this dominion in his mediatorial character for the purpose of carrying on his work to its consummation. When that is done, i.e. when he has subdued all his enemies, then he will no longer reign over the universe as Mediator, but only as God; while his headship over his people is to continue for ever.

With that clarification in view, we are positioned to interpet the reference to "the Son" in the phrase "then the Son Himself will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him" in way that is contextually sensitive and theologically coherent. The reference to "the Son" in v28 is not a reference to the 2nd person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God; rather, it is a messianic title, designating Jesus as the royal Son of Psalm 2 and 110 who delivers over his rule, once he has thoroughly conquered his foes. Again, Hodge offers a nuanced defense of this interpretive decision when he argues:

This passage is evidently parallel with that in v. 24. The subjection of the Son to the Father here means precisely what is there meant by his delivering up the kingdom to God even the Father. The thing done, and the person who does it, are the same. The subjection here spoken of is not predicated of the eternal Logos, the second person of the Trinity, any more than the kingdom spoken of in v. 24 is the dominion which belongs essentially to Christ as God. As there the word Christ designates the Theanthropos, so does the word Son here designate, not the Logos as such, but the Logos as incarnate. It is not the subjection of the Son as Son, but of the Son as Theanthropos of which the apostle here speaks.

There you have it. Hodge in defending his interpetation of "Son" as a messianic title, grounds his interpretation by appealing to classic Reformed christological categories which include both his person and his offices.

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 is one passage among others that has led to the classic Reformed distinction between the spheres of Christ's kingly rule. In vew of the theological problems inherent in a one kingdom view,discussed above, it is incumbent upon Christians who want to maintain fidelity to scripture, theology, and the creeds and confessions of the Church, to recognize and uphold the distinction between the kingdom of power and the kingdom of grace and glory. Failure to do so only leads to dangerous theological confusion which can potentially mislead the saints and provide fotter for heretics who seek the destruction of orthodox Trinitarian theology and Christology. However, acknowledging the fact and necessity of this distinction, does not by itself require one to subscribe to a single, monolithic view of the implications of this distinction for culture and politics. How the confession of these distinctions in Christ's kingly rule bears upon the issue of the relationship between church and culture will have to be left for the next post.