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The Covenantal Kingdom

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Chapter Three


Biblical Optimism: Satan Defeated, the World Converted

Postmillennialism holds that both amillennialism and premillennialism are guilty of virtually surrendering history to Satan, as if, by his temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden, Satan had defeated God's original purpose to manifest His glory in time and on earth through the rule of His image-bearer, man.[32] Postmillennialists do not believe that God simply quits the historical battle with Satan, bringing time to an abrupt end. Nor do they believe that God defeats Satan in history by naked force. Postmillennialists believe that Satan's plan to spoil God's image by lies is defeated by the truth of the cross and resurrection. Satan's lies must be defeated by God's words of truth, and not sheer brute power, or else the message of history is nothing more than a demonstration that God is bigger and stronger than Satan.

Postmillennial hope is an aspect of Biblical soteriology. In the Bible, soteriology and eschatology are one. Furthermore, the historical conflict between Christ and Satan is at the very heart of Biblical soteriology. Christians sometimes forget that the first promise of salvation in the Bible was a promise that Christ would defeat Satan (Gn. 3:15). That promise said nothing specifically of salvation by faith or of a future resurrection, yet the defeat of Satan meant the reversal of Satan's program and the undoing of all the damage he had done. The rest of the promises in the Bible fill out the meaning of the promise that Satan would be defeated. We must view the defeat of Satan and the plan of salvation through the Gospel as one, for that is the perspective of the Bible.

The Defeat of Satan in the New Testament

The New Testament bears abundant witness to the fact that Satan is a defeated foe. The twofold prophecy of Genesis 3:15 that Satan would inflict injury on Christ but Christ would crush Satan's head was fulfilled in Christ's first coming: "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 Jn. 3:8b). Jesus' entire ministry was a series of battles with Satan, epitomized by our Lord's repeatedly healing the demon-possessed. When accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus answered: ". . . if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house" (Mt. 12:28-29). Here Christ indicates the twofold significance of His miraculous casting out of demons: 1) Satan has been bound; 2) the kingdom of God has come! Salvation and the defeat of Satan are inseparable.

Jesus Himself indicated that the fulfillment of both aspects of Genesis 3:15 are concentrated at a single point in time. Referring to His imminent crucifixion, Jesus said: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (Jn. 12:31; cf. 16:11). The cross is the focus of salvation and of the historical conflict between Christ and Satan. In the same way that the defeat of Pharaoh was necessary for the deliverance of Israel, the defeat of Satan was essential to our salvation: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14-15). Paul uses the Exodus imagery to describe our salvation by Christ's death as being taken from one kingdom and placed in another: "Giving thanks unto the Father . . . who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:12a, 13-14).

The Church still fights with Satan, but not as in the Old Covenant era. Salvation has come and the Church has been given victory in Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit guarantees that we are safe because "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4b). John assures us three times that in Christ we overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:4-5) and then promises that Satan cannot even touch us (1 Jn. 5:18). In like manner, Paul encourages the church in Rome: "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16:20a). Alluding to the Genesis promise of salvation, Paul teaches Christians that the victory of the cross is to be worked out in our lives. Now that Christ has defeated Satan, we are to make the victory manifest by spreading the Gospel and obeying God's word.

It is clear from the passages above that our battle with Satan is not to be fought on Satan's terms. Though Satan still practices deception and raw violence, Christ gained the definitive victory at the cross. He is defeating Satan progressively by the sword which proceeds from His mouth (Rev. 19:15), even the word of God (cf. Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12). And when all of His enemies have been defeated by the power of the Spirit and the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:24-25), Jesus will return in judgment to finish the destruction of the devil. The analogy with individual salvation is clear: definitive salvation in justification, progressive salvation in sanctification, final salvation at the resurrection. The postmillennial vision of Christ's warfare with Satan is distinctively evangelical and optimistic.[33]

The Salvation of the World

The New Testament speaks clearly and repeatedly of the plan of the Triune God for the salvation of the world. The Bible teaches that the Father has determined to save the world, that Christ died to save the world, and that the Holy Spirit, through the Gospel, will bring the world to saving faith in Christ. The Three Persons of the Trinity are committed to the salvation of the world that They created. The significance of this fact cannot be overemphasized. The salvation of the world by the saving work of the Triune God is essential to a truly Biblical concept of the Gospel of Christ.

1. The Father's Love

The most often quoted verse of Scripture points to God's unfailing love for the world and His purpose to save it: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (Jn. 3:16-17). Interpreters struggle with this glorious declaration of God's saving grace. The amillennial, "five-point" Calvinist insists, rightly, that the passage does not say, and cannot be made to say, that God's love did no more than to make salvation possible -- the interpretation of both Arminians and so-called "four-point Calvinists." Most evangelicals in America today hold to the mistaken Arminian interpretation and thus are confused in their understanding of Biblical soteriology. God's love did not merely give us the option of "self-help" salvation, nor was God's love for the world an impersonal, indefinite, "do-good" kind of love. He sent His Son for the purpose of saving the world, and His purpose must be accomplished.[34]

The Arminian position is not entirely wrong, however. Arminians insist that the word "world" in John 3:16 does not mean, and cannot be made to mean, a small number of elect individuals -- the amillennial, "five-point" Calvinist interpretation. John could have said "elect" if that is what he meant. Why would John say "world" if he was, in the amillennial Calvinist understanding, referring to such a small portion of humanity?[35] The Arminians are right when they insist that the amillennial Calvinist interpretation of "world" in John 3:16 is too restrictive.

The dilemma of whether to take God's love to be effectual, or whether to take "world" to mean "world," can only be solved by saying "Stop! You're both right!" The answer is found in a correct Biblical eschatology. There is no need to water down either aspect of the teaching anywhere in the New Testament where we encounter the language of effectual salvation and global extent. God will actually save the world, meaning the vast majority of mankind, and even more broadly, the creation under man's dominion as well (cf. Rom. 8:19-22).[36]

2. The Son's Atonement

The New Testament witness to our Lord's saving work is no less clear. Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29). John declares, with emphasis, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 Jn. 2:2). Paul wrote of Jesus' redemptive work for the world: "Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:6). He also spoke of reconciliation in universal terms: "And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:20). And he declared that God's grace "bringeth salvation to all men" (Tit. 2:11).[37]

Warfield chose the following three sentences from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 as his text for a sermon entitled "The Gospel of Paul."[38]

"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21)

Warfield refers to these verses as "not only an announcement of the essence of Paul's Gospel, perhaps the most clear and formal announcement of its essence to be found in his Epistles, but also this announcement in the form which he habitually gave it."[39] He states, "You cannot exaggerate, therefore, the significance to his Gospel of Paul's universalism. In important respects this universalism was his Gospel."[40] By universalism, Warfield does not mean the salvation of each and every individual man, an idea which he emphatically denies Paul ever entertained.[41] Neither can we understand Paul to be teaching "an inoperative universalism of redemption which does not actually save."[42] What, then, is the significance of Paul's universalism? "He is proclaiming the world-wide reach, the world-wide destiny of God's salvation."[43] "'The world for Christ' -- not one nation, not one class, not one race or condition of men, but the world and nothing less than the world for Christ!"[44] The salvation of the world by the Gospel of Christ -- the postmillennial vision of a converted world -- is an essential aspect of the Good News of God's saving grace: Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!

Nor is this the Gospel as preached only by Paul. Explaining 1 John 2:2, Warfield argues:

. . . Jesus Christ is very expressly the Saviour of the whole world: he had come into the world to save not individuals merely, out of the world, but the world itself. It belongs therefore distinctly to his mission that he should take away the sin of the world. It is this great conception which John is reflecting in the phrase, "he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the whole world." This must not be diluted into the notion that he came to offer salvation to the world, or to do his part toward the salvation of the world, or to lay such a basis for salvation that it is the world's fault if it is not saved. John's thinking does not run on such lines; and what he actually says is something very different, namely that Jesus Christ is a propitiation for the world, that he has expiated the whole world's sins. He came into the world because of love of the world, in order that he might save the world, and he actually saves the world. Where expositors have gone astray is in not perceiving that this salvation of the world was not conceived by John -- any more than the salvation of the individual -- as accomplishing itself all at once. Jesus came to save the world, and the world will through him be saved; at the end of the day he will have a saved world to present to his father.[45]

3. The Spirit's Power

The salvation planned by the Father and accomplished by the Son is applied by the Spirit. It is only by the gracious work of the Spirit of God in our hearts that we are able to understand the word of God and exercise faith in Jesus Christ. It is only by His work that we are able to persevere in faith unto the end. And it is only by His work in our hearts that we are able to influence others for the Gospel.

Knowing that the Father loved the world and sent Christ to save it, knowing that Christ was the propitiation for the sins of the world, we should not be surprised when we read that the work of the Spirit is also declared to be global: "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (Jn. 16:8). The Great Commission, which commands the Church to disciple all the nations of the earth, can, then, only be fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit, Who was sent to us for that very purpose (Acts 1:8).


In spite of the opposition of Satan and the struggle against indwelling sin, man in Christ will by the grace of God and the power of His Holy Spirit, without continuous miraculous intervention, fulfill God's original purpose for him by loving obedience to God's commandments. God defeats Satan in history by the death and resurrection of Christ. Redeemed men, applying to their lives the principle of the cross (Mk. 10:42-45; Jn. 12:24-26), and imitating Christ's obedience to the Father, prove that true, historical power is found not in brute force but in righteousness (cf. Jn. 15:1-16). Satan's promise that man can succeed in building a kingdom without God or His law is demonstrated in history to be a lie. Obedience to Christ -- which Satan claimed would limit man and prevent him from realizing his full potential -- proves in time and eternity to be the true source of both individual and social vitality, joy, strength, and creativity.

The original purpose of the sovereign God to rule the world through His special image, man, is fulfilled by the rule of Christ, the last Adam, through His people (cf. Eph. 1:18-23). Man, ruined by the fall, is also the instrument for God's historical defeat of Satan. For God's purpose in creation cannot be undone. God loves the world. By no means does He commit it to Satan for the duration of time.


The idea that Jesus is the loser in the historical conflict seems so unChristian it may startle the reader that anyone could hold to such a position. However, both premillennialism and amillennialism maintain, though in slightly different ways, that Satan wins the historical conflict in the present age. In the end, both positions interpret the nature of the battle as a contest of brute strength, won by Satan in history.

Postmillennialism teaches that Christ is the victor in history and that the nature of the historical battle is covenantal and ethical. It is by the Gospel that Jesus defeats His enemies. That Christ has commissioned His Church to work with Him here and now to accomplish His mission is one of Her greatest privileges. He loves the world and He will save the world (Jn. 3:16-17). The Church's preaching of the Gospel is the means through which Christ defeats the evil one and brings the love of God to the world (Mt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 15:25).

The message of history is not a story of God defeating evil by brute force, nor is it a story of God's trashing history altogether and finding the answer in eternity. The story of history is the story of God's love marching slowly but relentlessly onward to fulfill His own purpose in creation, defeating His enemy by the apparently weak and foolish message of the cross of Jesus. This is the Biblical story of the world.

The historical question can be summed up, then, in the words of Gary North:

Postmillennialism is an inescapable concept. It is never a question of cultural triumph vs. no cultural triumph prior to Jesus' Second Coming; it is a question of which kingdom's cultural triumph. The amillennialist [and the premillennialist, too, R.S.] has identified the victorious kingdom in history: Satan's.[46]

The Bible identifies the victorious kingdom as God's:

"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. [note: this is the ascension of Christ] And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." (Dn. 7:13-14)


32. On the Cultural Mandate, see the discussion in Gary North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, revised 1987), pp. 27-36, 133f, 147-49, etc.

33. For an extended essay on the doctrine of Satan, see: Greg Bahnsen, "The Person, Work, and Present Status of Satan" in Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Winter 1974, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 11-43.

34. See the classic work by Archibald Alexander Hodge, The Atonement (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974, reprint).

35. It is bad enough when a fisherman insists on repeatedly telling us about the "one that got away." The amillennialist imagines John to be the kind of fisherman who comes home with a trout the size of a guppy and claims it's a great catch!

36. See Benjamin B. Warfield's famous sermon on John 3:16 "God's Immeasurable Love" in, The Saviour of the World: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Cherry Hill, N.J.: Mack Publishing Co., reprint, 1972), pp. 69-87.

37. The King James and some other translations relate the words "all men" with the verb "hath appeared," but it is better to understand the connection as I have translated above, which agrees also with the New American Standard Bible. See, J. E. Huther, Meyer's Commentary on the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1881), p. 357.

38. The Saviour of the World, pp. 89-107.

39. The Saviour of the World, p. 91.

40. Ibid., p. 93.

41. Ibid., pp. 93-4

42. Ibid., p. 94.

43. Ibid., p. 95.

44. Ibid., p. 94.

45. John E. Meeter, ed., Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, 2 vols. (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, [1915] 1970), I:176.

46. Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory, p. 116.

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