One of my regular commenters, Phil, posted the following point in response to my previous article, Hey Pessimistic Christian, Cheer up. Christ Will Have Dominion. Because my answer is necessarily detailed, I thought I’d post it here. Here is Phil’s question:
“Regarding the fact that the Lord Jesus will sit at God’s right hand *until* God makes all his enemies his footstool, your conclusion assumes that sitting at God’s right hand refers to the time between Jesus’ ascension and 2nd advent. But what if the phrase ‘sitting at God’s right hand’ was not a literal statement about Jesus’ geographical location but more of a metaphor signifying that Jesus is the Father’s vicegerent and his chief minister in exercising authority, so that the Father rules through him? In that case, may it not be said that Jesus will still be *sitting* at God’s right hand even when he returns to earth to destroy his enemies in the final showdown?”
Good question, but I think the answer is decidedly no. Let me begin by saying that you’re right when you say that the term “sit at my right hand” doesn’t necessarily have to indicate a geographical location, as such. The right hand in scripture is a symbol of power (Psalm 118:6 for instance – “The right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”). Also, a king being seated indicates kingly rule (“So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established” 1 Kings 2:12), but of course the king isn’t always sitting there. So, yes it is a figure of speech rather than necessarily a geographical location, as such, although I think that Revelation 5 and following make it clear that Jesus – the Lamb – rules from the Throne Room of God, and there is nothing there that indicates a physical return to crush his enemies.
In order to posit the idea that Jesus will return to earth for a final showdown, you would of course have to show from Scripture that this is so. Now, I know that many do think there is such a time, but I believe that they have misinterpreted what Scripture is saying and have “wedged” in huge periods of time into prophesies where it simply doesn’t exist.
For example, in Daniel 7, you have four consecutive kingdoms represented by four consecutive beasts. They are pretty clearly Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (under Alexander), and then Rome. After Rome, it says this:
“As I looked thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”
And then a few verses later it says this:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him 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 one that shall not be destroyed.”
The language here confuses many. Because it talks about a court, judgement and books being opened, it is commonly assumed that it’s talking about the end of time. But this is absolutely not the case (see how certain I am 😊). What it is talking about is Jesus’s ascension, at which time the empires of that time are judged. Hence the reason that there is no time gap between Daniel’s vision of the Rome-beast, and the vision of one like a Son of Man (Jesus) coming to the Ancient of Days (God the Father) in the Throne/Court Room.
After Jesus was justified by the Father, demonstrated in his resurrection from the dead, he basically earned the right to rule, and at his ascension all those world empires – Rome in particular – were judged. Which is why we no longer have a Roman empire 2,000 years later, whereas we do have the Kingdom of God, which has been steadily growing under the rule of King Jesus, and which now almost certainly has more people in it on the earth than at any point in the last 2,000 years (despite its shrinkage in the West).
What many people try to do is wedge a couple of thousand years in between those verses, because they assume it’s talking about the end of time. They then do the same with the seventy weeks of chapter 9:
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.”
It’s understandable why people might think this, because again some of the language seems to refer to events in our future, not in our past. But again, I don’t think this is correct. Jesus finished the transgression and put an end to sin by dying on the cross. He atoned for iniquity by making the only sacrifice that the Father would accept as atonement for the sins of mankind. He established everlasting righteousness when his sacrifice was accepted by God the Father (i.e. there is no other righteousness wherein we can have everlasting life). He sealed the vision and the prophet in that there is now no need for any further revelation from God. As the writer to the Hebrews points out, God has spoken in these latter days by his Son. And he anointed a most holy place, by rising from the dead as the new temple, which he had promised to rebuild in three days.
There is absolutely no sense in Daniel’s prophesy that he has imagined a hiatus of 2,000 years in there. It is more a case that people reading the prophesy don’t take the words as being accomplished when Jesus said “It is finished”, and so they await a future fulfilment.
Furthermore, because of these misunderstandings, all sorts of other things get wedged into the that period. For example, there is apparently to be a rebuilt temple, in Jerusalem, based on Ezekiel’s vision. This might sound a bit strong, but I think that this is a complete blasphemy. The vision in Ezekiel is of a temple which has a priesthood and animal sacrifices. If this were to be rebuilt, as many Christians think it will be, it would completely undermine everything about Christ and his work. He is the temple. He is the High Priest. He already offered up himself as the one saving sacrifice. A new temple, priesthood and sacrificial system is completely anathema to what he has already done.
And so the idea of Christ returning to rule on the earth from a rebuilt Temple finds, I believe, no basis in Scripture. But furthermore, I think that if we read 1 Corinthians 15 in context it becomes even clearer that what is envisioned is Christ ruling from the Throne Room of God, gradually subduing the world, by his Spirit, until he has taken complete dominion. Here’s what it says:
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
The key bit here for our purposes is this: “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” In other words, when he returns, he does so to raise the dead. It doesn’t mention anything about coming to crush his enemies or to destroy the so-called antichrist (a word that is only mentioned four times in Scripture (all in John’s epistles), and never remotely resembling the end-times figure that we so often hear about). Rather *at his coming* he raises the dead, and then delivers the kingdom (which is complete) up to God the Father.
In summary, I believe there is no justifiable reason to suppose that prophets such as Daniel and Ezekiel were thinking about the end of time in their prophesies. If you try to put from your mind the idea that they were, and just read what they wrote, I think it’s obvious that they were prophesying events either in their near future, or at the most going down to the first coming of Christ, even though of course the details are often very hard for us to get our heads around.
By contrast, the most important New Testament passage on the end of time is in 1 Corinthians 15. But there we find no hint at all of Christ coming to earth to rule in order to put down his enemies. On the contrary, we find him coming back to do two things: firstly, to raise the dead, and then to hand the completed kingdom over to his father.
Feel free to challenge.