The prophets made it clear that, like Adam, the coming King was to rule over the entire world . . . .
—David Chilton, Paradise Restored (1985)
A Little Lower than the Angels
David wrote these words nearly three thousand years after Adam fell into sin:
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth.
This psalm is a summary of the Dominion Mandate. In it, David reminds us that God made man to have dominion over the works of His hands (v. 6). Then, in language drawn from Genesis 1, David lists some of man’s subjects—sheep, oxen, and such. The psalm is a hymn of praise to God for His mercy in creating man as the pinnacle of the earthly creation. Interestingly, David doesn’t speak of that mercy as something wasted or pointless. He doesn’t lament God’s plan for mankind as a tragic failure. Rather, he celebrates it and praises God for it. Hebrews 2 explains why.
But We See Jesus
The author of Hebrews begins his book by telling his readers about the excellencies of Jesus the Messiah. He is greater than all angels. He is God’s final and complete revelation to man. He is the heir of all things and the Creator of the universe. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of His Person. He upholds all things by the word of His power. He has, by Himself, dealt with our sins once for all. He is, according to the Bible, seated on the right hand of God (Heb. 1:1-3). He is Elohim, Adonai, and Yahweh (vv. 8-13). He is Lord of the world to come.
The world to come is the Kingdom of God, the new creation begun in Christ and perfected in the Resurrection, a world that we see and lay hold of now by faith (Heb. 12:22-24). The writer points out that this new world order isn’t subject to angels. Then he quotes Psalm 8.
The point is this: Man was created to rule the world under God. Sin has distorted and corrupted man’s impulse to dominion, and the curse has made its implementation slow and difficult. But that doesn’t mean that God has withdrawn the Dominion Mandate or that man’s sin is a valid excuse for his failure to obey it properly. Man’s sinful nature doesn’t excuse him from God’s righteous demands. But if we are to see how God is going to save the world and restore man’s dominion, we have to look past fallen Adam and sinful humanity. We must look to Jesus.
And, even though we don’t (at present) see this fully realized, we do see Jesus, “who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). Jesus Christ is the Son of man, the Last Adam. As a reward for His complete obedience to His Father, He has received universal dominion, all authority in heaven and earth. He has received the dominion that Adam lost—and much more besides.
The Authority of the Son of Man
Daniel foresaw this enthronement of the Messiah in his night visions:
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 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 (Dan. 7:13-14).
Notice that the Son of man is going to the Father, not descending from Him. This is Christ’s ascension, not His Second Coming. After His resurrection, Jesus confirmed the truth of Daniel’s prophecy and claimed universal power and authority:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matt. 28:18-20).
“All power” means all power. Adam’s authority over birds and beast was a training ground, a pilot plant, a shadow. Christ’s dominion far surpasses what Adam had or could have had (cf. Rom. 5:8-21). For Jesus is the incarnate Son of God. He is eternal deity. His authority extends over all of creation, over all of human life and culture. Peter Leithart writes:
Christ’s control is as comprehensive as His authority. He is Head over all things (Eph. 1:21-23). It is unbiblical to limit Christ’s reign to “ruling in the hearts of His people.” He does indeed rule in the hearts of His people, but He also rules the heart of Pharaoh (Prov. 21:1; Rom 9:17-18). The temporal and eternal destiny of every man and every thing is at His sovereign disposal. As God-man, He governs the angels, sending them out to do His bidding. He feeds the animals and causes the grass to grow. He governs the course of the planets and the orbits of electrons. He rules the clouds that bring hurricanes to the Gulf Coast and the butterfly flapping its wings in Peking (57).
We need to see that this authority is that of Christ as Mediator. This is the authority that Jesus as the God-man, the Messiah, the Last Adam, received for His obedience unto death on the cross (Phil. 2:5-11). Paul pursues this theme in Ephesians 1. He tells us that God raised Christ 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 the church . . . (Eph. 1:20-22).
Christ’s universal dominion is for the sake of His people. All that Christ does is for the sake of His people, for their salvation in all its cosmic totality. He doesn’t maintain two kingdoms, two programs, one for His people and another for the world at large. He rules the world at large for the sake of His Church, and He rules to subdue the nations to His grace and truth—to make the nations His disciples, citizens of His kingdom, and members of His Church (Matt. 28:18-20; Ps. 72; Isa. 60). He will reign from heaven until He has achieved that goal.
Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension have gained for the Church much, much more than Adam lost. This is most certainly true. But it doesn’t mean that Jesus surrendered up man’s original responsibilities, the very project man was set to do. Rather, in saving men from sin and making them children of God, He now empowers them to love God, obey His commandments, and through the Spirit-empowered Gospel, disciple the nations to covenant obedience in every area of thought, life, and culture. Jesus is Lord of all. All humanity must acknowledge this, beginning with those in the church who actually call Him Lord.
For Further Reading
William Symington, Messiah the Prince, or, The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ (Edmonton, 1884; Still Waters Revival Books, 1990 rpt.).
Peter J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power, Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1993).
Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace, The Biblical Basis for Progress (Tyler, TX: The Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).
David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope, Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999).