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The Covenantal Kingdom

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Chapter Three


Introduction to Chapter Three

From the time of man's fall in the Garden of Eden, the history of man has been the history of conflict: "Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known" (Rom. 3:15-17). But the primary conflict does not concern nations and tribes. The real battle is between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gn. 3:15). This is the fundamental, underlying war.

Most Christians understand that this was true in the Old Covenant era before the incarnation. Repeatedly we see Satanic foes trying to destroy the seed of Abraham to prevent the birth of the Messiah. Abimelek in Genesis, Pharaoh in Exodus, Haman in the book of Esther, and King Herod in the Gospels are only a few examples of demonically inspired leaders who sought to destroy the seed to prevent the salvation of the world (cf. Rev. 12). But the war did not end with the birth of Christ. It continues on in history.

This historical conflict is at the heart of the Christian philosophy of history and eschatology. It is also at the heart of the eschatological debate, even though postmillennialists, amillennialists, and premillennialists[1] agree on many of the fundamental issues of the philosophy of history.[2] All believe in the supernatural creation of the world, God's sovereign control of history for His own glory, the sin of man and the redeeming work of Christ the incarnate Son, and the future resurrection of the body unto life everlasting.[3] Concerning the final victory of God, all positions are equally optimistic and confident. There is no disagreement about who wins in the very end, when history comes to a close. The people of God are taken to heaven and the devil and all wicked men are cast into hell forever (Mt. 25:34, 41, 46). God is victorious over all who rebel against His sovereign authority.[4]

There is significant disagreement, however, when we consider the conflict between Christ and Satan within history itself. The debate centers around two issues in the historical conflict:

1. What is the nature of the historical conflict?

2. Who is the victor in the New Covenant historical era?

These questions concern the New Covenant era from the death of Christ until His return. With regard to this age, the three schools of eschatology fit into two groups. Premillennialism and amillennialism are pessimistic about the historical conflict between Christ and Satan.[5] Proponents of these positions often object to being called "pessimistic," but the fact is that both positions assert the victory of Satan through violence and deception until the time that Christ returns. When Christ does return, He defeats Satan by raw power.

Postmillennialism, on the other hand, is optimistic, but this is no Pollyanna-style optimism. Postmillennial optimism is grounded in the Gospel. The historical conflict is seen as primarily ethical and covenantal, with Christ victorious through the spread of the Gospel. His second coming brings final judgment after the Gospel has already achieved the fullness of victory.[6]


1. See David Chilton, Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Fort Worth: Dominion Press, 1987), pp. 493-98, for a discussion of the inadequacy of these terms and the historical development of eschatology.

2. There are five basic questions that the philosophy of history must answer: 1) Who is in ultimate control over history? 2) Who are His representatives in history? 3) What are the laws by which He rules the world? 4) What sanctions does He administer in history to those who keep or disobey His laws? 5) To what end is He leading history? These five questions follow the five-point covenant outline developed by Ray Sutton, That You May Prosper (Fort Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987). They can be stated in different words and from slightly different perspectives, but the basic issues are the same.

3. This is a rough summary of the Apostles Creed which, as a statement of faith in the Triune God, is also a statement of faith about history. It points to the radically historical character of Christian religion in contrast to other religions of the world whose confessions are statements of ideas, not history. See R. J. Rushdoony, The Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press, [1969] 1978), pp. 4-5.

4. It must be pointed out, regretfully, that evangelicals in America do not all agree on one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, the doctrine of hell. In May, 1989, 385 evangelical theologians, Christian leaders, and laymen met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to clearly define the word "evangelical." Organized by Carl F. H. Henry and Kenneth Kantzer, the conference represented mainstream evangelical thinking. When a debate broke out on the conference floor over the doctrine of "annihilationism" (the doctrine that non-Christians will not be sent to hell but wiped out of existence), evangelical theologian J. I. Packer pressed the assembly to adopt a statement affirming the eternal punishment of unbelievers. The vote was split, according to the chairman, in favor of those denying the doctrine of hell. No statement was adopted. See: Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 633, note 16.

J. I. Packer did get a second chance, however, when Zondervan published Evangelical Affirmations, a collection of articles based upon the conference. Packer's article explicitly refutes universalism and annihilationism and names the leading evangelicals denying the doctrine of hell: John Stott, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, and John W. Wenham. Kenneth S. Kantzer and Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, Academie Books, 1990), pp. 124, 135.

5. Vern S. Poythress' discussion of the optimism and pessimism of the various millennial positions is helpful to a degree, in so far as it reminds us that all Christians are optimistic in the final sense. But Poythress has missed the central issue of the optimistic-pessimistic debate, at least from the postmillennial perspective. All Christians agree that the church is now at war with the world and the devil. The issue is: Who wins this great historical conflict? See Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), pp. 48-50.

6. R. J. Rushdoony's The Biblical Philosophy of History (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), David Chilton's Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion, (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1985), and Gary North's Dominion and Common Grace (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1987) are three basic books dealing extensively with the philosophy of history.

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