This article continues a series of weekly posts originally authored by David Lipscomb, an important figure in the Churches of Christ in the 1800s. Learn more about Lipscomb’s background here and here, and see other references to him on LCI here. The series is titled “The Church of Christ and World-Powers”, and it was also originally published as a series of 18 articles in The Gospel Advocate in 1866. (To read from the beginning of the series, start here.)
In this entry, Lipscomb turns to the temptations of Jesus as recorded in Matthew and Luke to reiterate that the “kingdoms of this world” belong to Satan. The crucial argument here, often unappreciated by most Christians, is that though Satan may be the “father of lies” the offer to rule if only Jesus would bow down to Satan is a sincere and true offer. Otherwise, it is not a temptation at all. You can note how this has been a major theme in my own writings for over a decade.
The Church of Christ and World-Powers (6) — David Lipscomb in The Gospel Advocate, Mar. 6, 1866, pp. 145-149.
We have found that God’s government, as established among the Jews as its subjects, was separated from all the institutions of man—that they were taught to rely upon God’s appointments in every emergency of life—that a failure to rely upon his appointments by seeking aid through their own inventions or through alliance with other human institutions, was always regarded by God as an indication of lack of faith in Him, and as an act of rebellion against His authority. We find that for four thousand years he has been teaching His servants the impossibility of forming alliances with, and participating in the institutions of man, and at the same time retaining his favor. They are finally rejected, cast out, a dispersed and scattered nation, on account of their persistent determination to participate in and to rely upon these institutions. For near two thousand years they have been a scattered, exiled, wandering, despised and persecuted people, and stand to-day a living monument attesting to every nation under the sun, “How great a folly and crime it is for God’s people to intermeddle with or participate in the institutions of human mould—to touch, taste, handle those things ‘which are for the destruction of those who use them.'” (Col. 2:22, Anderson’s Translation.) He has taught the lesson of complete and perfect separation from the world kingdoms, he has taught them this for the benefit of the Church of Christ, he has assigned them a position of complete separation from all human institutions, which position they are to retain upon peril of their rejection and destruction as God’s people. Into the position from which they were broken, the believers in Christ were graffed [sic]. The believers in Christ, or the Church of God, stand then entirely separated from the world-powers by the direction and work of God. Daniel says, “it was to break in pieces and consume all these earthly kingdoms.” I repeat then, if there were not a single word in the New Testament indicating they were separate, without specific authority of precept or example, for the subjects of the one participating in the affairs of the other, they must forever remain distinct, allowing no interparticipation in the affairs of one by members and citizens of the other.
Is there example for so connecting them to the law and the testimony? Christ, the king, the representative of that church on earth, is met at the moment of his birth by a decree from the civil government under which he was born, for his destruction. The ruler recognizes him as the founder and head of the kingdom which “shall break in pieces and consume all these,” is then his enemy. He is preserved by his Father from destruction.
He commences his mission openly as the Son of God. Is recognized by his Father as “My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In the commencement of his public ministry his fidelity to his Father must be tested. He comes into the world to engage in a stupendous work — He must suffer excruciating torments — will he be faithful to his Father who sent him? Test him at the beginning. He is tempted, tried as never man was tried. He is tried at every point by the wicked one. In that temptation the devil taketh him up into a high mountain and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and saith unto him, “all these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Mat. 4:5, 9. Or as Luke 4:5 records it. “The devil taking him up into a high mountain shewed hint all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time and the devil said unto him, ‘All this power avail give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou wilt fall down and worship me, all shall be thine.’” We are seeking to locate the true position of the kingdoms of the earth — all the kingdoms of the earth. The devil says, “They are mine, I will give them thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
“But,” says one, “the devil is a liar and the truth is not in him. He owns not a foot of soil.” Yea, but a liar, even the father of lies may tell the truth, and should be accredited when corroborated by one so truthful as the Son of God. Does the Son of God corroborate this statement? Let us examine for a moment. The Divine historian says he was tempted. Paul says, “He hath suffered, being tempted.” Heb. 2:18. Now in order to its being a temptation, it must have been a veritable offer of something to the Son of God, which he very intently desired, yet could not take upon the terms offered. In other words, it must have been an offer of an object or possession ardently desired, by one having the right or power to bestow it. Now Jesus Christ knew the possessor of these kingdoms. It could be no temptation to an individual for me to offer him a title to a tract of land which he knew I did not have the shadow of a right to, or the power to obtain that right. Then in order to the offer’s being a temptation to the Son of God, He must have thought the devil had the power to give what he proposed to bestow. Then if the Son of God was tempted by the devil, all the kingdoms of this world were the devil’s kingdoms.
Indeed, what was the object of the mission of the Son of God into this world, but to rescue this world from the dominion of the wicked one and bring it back to its primeval allegiance to his Father? If it were not under the dominion of the wicked one, it could not be rescued from his power. Whatever rule or authority was exercised over the earth was exercised through these kingdoms. Hence Jesus Christ’s mission, sorrows, suffering and death, were all meaningless unless the kingdoms of this world be the kingdoms of the wicked one.
But let us revert to their origin. Whence did they originate? Not among the people of God, but among those in rebellion against Him. Who is the prime mover in all rebellion against God? The wicked one. There are but two sources of power in the universe, God and his great enemy. Every kingdom then not originating from God, must receive its power and authority from the wicked one. These earthly kingdoms then originated in the rebellion of the human family against God, lives to-day by virtue of that rebellion, and must die when that rebellion ceases. The little stone broke in pieces the image, and it filled the whole earth, so no place was found for these governments when the world was brought back to allegiance to God. The devil claimed them and Jesus Christ admitted his claim.
Let us look a moment at the point of this temptation. Jesus Christ came into this world to strive and wrestle with the devil for the dominion of this world, to rescue and redeem it from the power of the devil. He came as the “sent” of his Father. He came to conquer this world, destroy all dominion and principality, he came “to put down all rule and all authority and power.” When this is accomplished, he will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, and himself be subject unto the Father.” 1st Cor. 15:24, 28. Or in other words he had come to fight for the dominion of the world, when he had gained that dominion, he was to occupy the second position in the rule and authority of the domains he had conquered. He knew that the conquest would cost him suffering, sorrow, maltreatment, indignities, excruciating torments, the very anticipation of which made him draw back with the entreaty, “let the cup pass from me,” and brought great drops of blood from his soul of anguish; He knew, too, the strife for the conquest of the world must bring him down to the humiliation of death, the degradation of the grave.
The devil, with his subtility, proposed at the very threshold of his mission, “you are to be a subordinate in this kingdom under your Father, after all your sorrows and sufferings. Now worship me, or recognize me as head instead of God, and I will deliver them all into your hand with all their glory, without a struggle, a sorrow, a pang upon your part.” There was the point of the temptation, to let him rule the earth through the devil’s kingdoms, without suffering, without death, without the grave, instead of through God’s, with all these. His purpose then is not to destroy the devil’s power in his kingdoms, and then himself reign therein, but it is to destroy those kingdoms of the wicked one, and in their stead establish God’s kingdom. How came the kingdom or dominion of the earth the devil’s? “They were delivered into my hand,” says the wicked one.
What says the Divine record? As we have shown in a former number, God made man ruler over the whole under creation. He was its head. He had the authority from God to use and control it as he desired. God having once delegated authority to man, never reassumed it to himself. Hence man, in refusing to obey God, but rather to follow the dictates of the serpent, rebelled against God, and transferred his allegiance to the devil. He, as the head and rightful ruler of the world, and the founder of the kingdoms of the world, transferred, with his allegiance, the rule of the world from God to God’s great enemy.
The entire world, animate and inanimate, sympathizes in this change. The spirit of savage venom and brutish strife in the animate kingdom, and the briar, and thistle, and thorn in the inanimate, betoken the reign of the wicked one. These never had their growth in the kingdom of God, in which His will prevailed and His spirit animated. We have a strong persuasion, too, that when this world becomes the kingdom of God and of his Son, the briar, and thistle, and thorn will no longer grow, the venomous brute and the poisonous serpent will lose their devilish nature, and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” “The suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.” Isaiah 12:6, 8.
The prevalence of this feeling of venom and spite in man or brute, and the tendency of earth to grow the thistle, briar and thorn indicate clearly that the ruler is the wicked one; his spirit animates; he is the source of the power, the prince of this world. Jesus Christ came into this world to rescue the world from the dominion of the wicked one, and bring it back to its allegiance to his Father. How will he effect this? By infusing his spirit and introducing his subjects into the kingdoms of the world until he is able to out vote and control the world through the kingdoms of the wicked one? Or by destroying the kingdoms of the wicked one and establishing in their stead a kingdom of his own?
Man has no power to rule himself, all power and rule must come from God or the devil. Every institution then of earth, intended to control man, not founded of God, must look back through man, the agent to the wicked one, the prince of the world, as the source from which it sprang. Can God then rule in and animate a kingdom that has His enemy and his rival for its founder? Does not his character and his dignity require that he should destroy the works and institutions established under the inspiration of the wicked one, and establish a kingdom of his own, in and through which he will rule the world? “In the days of these kings shall the God of Heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” Dan. 2:44. “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority, and power. For he must reign; until he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Cor. 15:34, 25.
Every institution that exercises “authority, rule or power” over man, is a rival of Christ who claims sole authority, and must be “put down.” “He raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to (or in) the church.” Eph. 1:20-22. It is only through or in the church he is to be head of all things. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness (or wicked spirits) in high places.” Eph. 6:12.