We have seen that God’s original plan for man in Genesis 1:24-26 was to be His vice-regent on the earth—to “have dominion” over it. Under God’s authority, we were to rule for Him according to His law, on the earth that He created,.
However, through Satan’s deception and Adam and Eve’s unwillingness to exercise the leadership responsibilities of their new office, they succumbed to Satan’s temptation. They believed his lie, obeyed his instruction, became his slaves, and legally lost man’s right to rule the earth and all its inhabitants to him (Romans 6:16).
So Satan ruled for several millennia as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But, “In the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), God sent His Son Jesus as the “second man,” (2 Corinthians 15:47) to do battle again with Satan as had Adam, the first man. This time Jesus, unlike Adam, was successful in refusing to yield to Satan’s temptation and then defeated Satan definitively and permanently at the cross.
As Jesus died there, Satan lost “the kingdom” over which he had legally ruled for centuries by crucifying Jesus. Jesus was born of a virgin, therefore He was not a descendant of Adam. Thus, when He came to earth as a man, He was not born into Satan’s kingdom as are all of Adam’s posterity.
Satan was a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). At the cross, in God’s court of divine justice, he became one legally, when, in a brilliant, divine “sting” operation” designed by God (1 Corinthians 2:7, 8), he murdered Jesus. As a convicted murderer, he forfeited that right to rule over the earth and all its inhabitants because he crucified One over whom he had no legal authority.
So, what is the current state of the kingdom of God? Since Satan lost it at the cross, who rules over it now?
In Acts 1, we have the story of Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples, culminating with His ascent into Heaven:
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight ” (verse 9). Two angels, standing nearby, then spoke to the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (verse 11).
Here we have the very familiar picture of what happened at the ascension as the disciples observed it—as Jesus left the earth. But where did Jesus go when He ascended, and what happened when He got there?
We know generally that He “ascended into heaven,” but in order to comprehend the significance of this event in our understanding of the kingdom of God, we must be more specific.
In Daniel 7, written some 600 years earlier, the Bible gives us a dramatic, prophetic look into Jesus’ return to heaven for the first time since the incarnation and the events accompanying His arrival.
In verse 13, Daniel sees prophetically “One like the Son of Man (Jesus Christ), coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before Him.”
Because of the phrase “coming with the clouds of heaven,” many have equated this with the second coming of Jesus Christ, because the angels said in Acts 1 that Jesus would return in the same manner that He had left—on a cloud.
However, this passage in Daniel 7 cannot be the second coming, because Jesus “came to the Ancient of Days,” who, we can see in verses 9 and 10, is God the Father, the sovereign God of history, seated in the throne-room in heaven.
Furthermore, Jesus is coming up in this passage, not coming down! Daniel is not prophesying Jesus’ return to earth in 7:13, but is giving us a prophetic look at what would indeed occur at the other end of the ascension. He is giving us a picture of Jesus’ return to His heavenly home, a home He left thirty-three years earlier when He came to earth and took upon Himself human flesh.
I can imagine the scene of rejoicing and jubilation as the myriad of angels welcomed Him back and then brought Him into the Father’s presence where Jesus snapped off a salute, so to speak, and reported on the task He had been given to do; “Father, mission accomplished!”
What had He accomplished on the earth? 1.) Godward: He satisfied God’s justice forever with regard to sin, 2) Manward: He took our old Adamic man to death and raised our new man to a new life of faith in Him, and 3.) Satanward: He permanently and finally defeated Satan at the cross, wresting the kingdom of God from him by His death and resurrection.
The coronation scene that followed Jesus’ arrival in heaven is pictured for us in the next verse, Daniel 7:14:
“Then to Him (Jesus) was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
In the words of Peter on the Day of Pentecost, “This Jesus God has raised up…being exalted to the right hand of God…God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:32-36), This a perfect description of what Daniel had prophesied.
Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 are powerful prophetic descriptions of this same event—Jesus’ coronation at the ascension. He has been given the kingdom. Since the ascension, for the first time, Jesus now rules, from God’s right hand, as King of all kings and Lord of all lords. At the ascension, all authority was given to Him—Satan now has none—and He rules, right now, not at some future time, from His Father’s right hand (as Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:20, 21) over both heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18)!
This is one of the most attested events in the Bible. There are at least eight references or allusions to Jesus’ exaltation to the Father’s right hand in the New Testament, all referring to this event prophesied in Daniel 7:14, and in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.
So, the kingdom—rule over the earth—originally belonged to earth’s Creator, God Himself. He created man (Adam) with the express purpose of delegating this kingdom to him to rule over it as His representative. However, Adam lost it to Satan, who then ruled the earth from the Fall to the Cross, where he lost the kingdom by crucifying Jesus, an innocent man. At the ascension, Jesus received the kingdom from His Father and now rules over it for Him, and will do so “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool” (Psalm 110:1).
Here is the chronological order of those who have legally “possessed the kingdom,” the rule over the earth, since creation: God→Adam→Satan→God→Jesus. Have we answered the question we asked in the title of today’s post? Is it Jesus Himself who rules over the earth? Next week we will see that there is one more thing to be done, according to Daniel’s prophecy.
That revelation that Daniel’s prophecy referred to Christ’s ascension rather than His return first hit me full force in David Chilton’s Paradise Restored. The misinterpretation of Daniel 7 nourished the defeatist/withdrawal strain of Christianity, which ultimately gave us the world we live in today.