The Messianic Pretensions of a Culture
By any standard, this has been a bizarre and difficult year for the vast majority of people. Tragically, the lives of some of the very elderly and most vulnerable have been cut short this year. Exacerbating the tragedy is that some of these deaths were not primarily due to a virus, but to neglect and loneliness resulting from lockdown orders. The unprecedented shuttering of society has destroyed the livelihoods of millions, abandoning people to uncertainty or even despair. Fear is palpable. Critical operations, key medical treatments and screenings have been cancelled or delayed, and suicide attempts have skyrocketed. Many struggle to make ends meet with state handouts when they would rather be earning their own living, all the while hearing how their government and its medical technocrats are enacting measures to ‘keep them safe.’
Christians around the world were locked out of our churches at Easter as celebrating the resurrection together was summarily banned by a panicked over-reaching state. Now, eight months later, whilst Costco and Walmart are packed and doing a roaring trade, many Christians in the West face the prospect of being officially locked out of fellowship for Christmas as well, in both churches and homes. This is not the first time in history the state has claimed to be man’s saviour. In fact, at the very first Christmas, Herod was seeking to kill Christ in order to prevent anyone from worshipping the new-born King – all in the name of saving the nation state.
As the sense of crisis has deepened, some remarkably timed books have appeared, arguing that we should utilize this historic disruption to transform history and remake the world in the image of a green, socialist and woke utopia – the experiment of corporate elites and intellectuals which they seem determined to impose upon reality. The founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, has written a book called Covid-19: The Great Reset, which he sent to numerous political leaders around the world. In the opening pages he writes:
Millions of companies risk disappearing, and many industries face an uncertain future … On an individual basis, for many, life as they have known it is unravelling at an alarming speed. But deep, existential crises also favor introspection and can harbor the potential for transformation. The fault lines of the world – most notably social divides, lack of fairness, absence of cooperation, failure of global governance and leadership – now lie exposed as never before and people feel the time for reinvention has come.
Just who those people are who feel this need for reinvention he doesn’t say, but given the WEF cliental is billionaires, corporate and political elites and celebrities who gather annually in Davos, Switzerland, having flown in on their private jets, it is not likely that you and I are in mind. The kind of reinvention Schwab imagines is emblazoned on the WEF website:
… the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a “Great Reset” of capitalism.
Specifically, the WEF is calling for “a new social contract centred on human dignity [and] social justice”. “Human dignity” is a euphemism for radical human autonomy – a liberation from transcendent law (entailing abortion, euthanasia, transgenderism etc.,) – and “social justice” is a euphemism for a neo-Marxist worldview. In short, salvation is again on offer by philosopher kings, politicians and elites who are convinced they can regenerate the world and save us from ourselves by halting history and resetting reality with a new social contract. Many of these corporate billionaires, global political elites and utopian moralists believe these things with religious fervor and conviction. For them such a reimagining of reality is a moral obligation and logical necessity – for there is no kingdom of God, only the immanent kingdom of man. Our lives must be transformed if we are to be saved, and they are the ones to accomplish it. I am reminded of the sobering words of C. S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
The Coming of the King
Over against all this panic, confusion and vain utopian plotting against the Lord is the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords that we celebrate at Christmas. The humility and apparent obscurity of His coming lead some to miss its full significance and power. Christians can sometimes inadvertently reduce the manger to a lovely story of gentle Jesus meek and mild. But note how Mary, having conceived by the power of Holy Spirit, responded during her meeting with Elizabeth who was carrying a leaping John the Baptist:
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. (Luke 1:49-53)
The Advent of the Lord in the flesh was the ultimate disruption of the continuity of history. Here is one who will be for the fall and rising of many in Israel and a sign that is opposed (Luke 2:34); here is the one that shall scatter the proud and pull down the mighty from their thrones! All this was predicted by the prophets. Consider the following remarkable prophecies that the church has rightly recognized as pertaining to the identity and role of the child in the manger:
I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult. (Num. 24:17)
Overthrown, overthrown, I will make it overthrown! It shall be no longer, Until He comes whose right it is, And I will give it to Him.” (Ezek. 21:27)
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace. (Micah 5:2-5)
I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’
Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. (Ps. 2:7-12)
The message of the Christmas season is that the King of kings has come with salvation and judgment to scatter the proud and pull down kings, rule and authority – so fall down and worship Him.
The Kingdom of Man versus the Claims of Christ
That the early church understood this is evident from their resistance to the messianic claims of the state in the first century, where Augustus Caesar had declared himself king and high priest (Pontifex Maximus) and the saviour of the world – a presumption directly rebutted by the apostle Peter in Acts 4:12. These divine claims of the state were not particularly shocking; until the gospel was proclaimed, for most of history the state had been the centre of man’s religious life, his lord, saviour and shepherd. The city-state, the ancient polis, was an emphatically religious body. Each state was like one false church with a common confession. No religious cult could flourish without the express permission of the state, which entailed a recognition of the state or its ruler as divine lord and mediator. The early church could have gained recognition as a registered and legitimate cult had she been ready to accept the mediatorial role of the emperor and city of Rome. By refusing to do so the earliest Christians were committing a political offense and an act of treason.
The early disciples understood and believed that Jesus Christ is Lord and the head of His church which He promised to build. The historical marvel of the emergence of the church as a free institution is missed if we fail to recognise what R. J. Rushdoony pointed out:
The church as a separate and distinct religious institution is a newcomer to much of the world and it has created a bitterly resented rent in the pagan order. Worship was once an aspect of the public works of the state; the state in Christian society is no longer placed over worship but must itself acknowledge the sovereign and transcendent God. The state cannot again become the religious order of society and of man without denying and destroying the church or else absorbing it … the state is again seeking to establish the pagan totality idea to make itself the religious order of society. This is no less true in Western democracies than in Marxist states and in the Buddhist, Islamic, and African states.
The pagan totality idea is the concept of a total state that arrogates to itself a right of legislation for every other realm of life. This is in direct contradiction to Scripture, which tells us that Christ Jesus has total jurisdiction over all things as creator, lawgiver and redeemer, that His name is above every name and that all power and authority is subject to Him (Ps. 2; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Tim. 1:17). By rejecting the claims of Christ and His law-word, the social planning of the modern state has become a form of counterfeit predestination revealing the state’s secular religious character – that is, a realm that denies any claim over it from Christ the Lord. There may be a traditional or perfunctory nod toward the priority of God (as in the preamble of the Canadian Charter), but for all practical purposes, the secular state sees the root of determination of law and history from within history itself, not in the triune God who sent His Son into the world. This is the apostasy of the West as it falls back into a pagan total state.
This Christmas we may lament the condition of our culture, the eager authoritarianism of our politicians and medical technocrats, and the corruption of our political life which has been on such terrible display this past year in Canada (just think of the scandals in the Trudeau government as well as Bill C-6 and C-7) and the USA. There can be little doubt that the heavy hand of God’s judgment is upon us. However, the far-reaching erosion of the Christian way of life in our nation cannot be simply put down to external factors. We must reckon with what Herman Dooyeweerd called an ‘inner decay.’ He writes:
This was also the danger of which Joshua, called by God, warned the Israelites when they had arrived in the promised land, namely, integration with heathen peoples and the search for a compromise between the service of Jehovah and the worship of idols. As soon as Christianity began to compromise learning, culture and political life with pagan and humanistic philosophy, with its view of state and culture, Christianity’s inner strength was broken.
He goes on to argue that the process of decay and ‘becoming like the world’ is only arrested through reformation and revival which involves a recovery of the inner meaning of the incarnation. A genuinely Christian view and recovery of social and cultural life, “is rooted in the radical, scriptural view regarding the relationship between the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus and the temporal societal structures.” It begins with the transformation of the centre of man’s life – the heart. Dooyeweerd sums up the comprehensive character of this work of Christ the King:
In Adam not only all mankind fell, but also that entire temporal cosmos of which man was the crowned head. And in Christ, the Word become flesh, the second Covenant Head, God gave the new root of His redeemed creation, in Whom true humanity has been implanted through self-surrender, through surrender of the centre of existence, the heart.
Christ Jesus is born the new crowned covenant head of all creation. My favorite Christmas carol, ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,’ declares:
Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine own sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne
The King comes to establish His gracious kingdom, which involves nothing less than the bringing of everything into subjection to Himself and the reconciliation of all things to God – a redeemed creation. This begins in the heart and works itself out into every area of life.
The power and scope of Christ’s reign and kingship is clearly set out by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22-26:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death.
We must recover this fundamental insight – that the birth, death and resurrection of Christ were an act of war against everything that opposes God; that Christ’s Lordship is to be extended and made manifest in every area of life and thought; that He is placing His feet on the neck of everything and everyone that opposes Him in history. Appreciating the fullness of the Christmas message, is key to affecting an inner renewal of the Christian way of life. Without such renewal it is difficult to see the needle of our culture moving away from the idea of the total state. The conflict we are in is an ideological one between the Word of God and every false word; between the Spirit of truth and that of error. Everything that can be shaken is being shaken in our cultural life and so we must look to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith in times of upheaval and uncertainty.
When the apostle John is given divine insight into all that is going on in the heavenlies in the course of history whilst marooned on Patmos, he perceives the spiritual battle we are in and he sees Christ Jesus, the incarnate Word, not lying in the manger, but riding on a horse leading the armies of heaven. With clear echoes of the messianic prophecy of Psalm 2 John writes:
Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. Hehad a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev. 19:11-16)
He whom we celebrate as born in the manger is King of kings and Lord of Lords – that is the name on His robe and thigh. It is His Word, like a sharp sword wielded through his people, which strikes the nations and subdues them. This Word of the gospel of the birth, death, resurrection, ascension and session of Christ to the seat of all power and authority remains the power of God to salvation for every age.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer watched in horror in the 1930s the emergent power and ambitions of the total state of the Third Reich, even as things looked hopeless for the confessing church, he turned in a Christmas sermon in 1935 to Revelation 14 and wrote:
The gospel is eternal and remains despite everything. It remains the one and only true proclamation of God and his lordship over the world. And though there be thousands of religions and views and opinions and philosophies in the world, and though they construct the most attractive ideologies and though the hearts of the people are moved and won over by them, they are all shattered by death. They must all be broken because they are not true. Only the gospel remains … for he has the power over all the powers of this world … honor him and his holy gospel, “because the hour of his judgment is come.” And this judgment is the gospel itself. The eternal gospel is the judge of all peoples.
This Christmas season is a time to pray for and pursue reformation and revival among God’s people in terms of the radical principle of the gospel of the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus the Lord. His holy gospel remains the only hope for history and the only source of freedom and liberty from the counterfeit claims and kingdoms of men.
 Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret, Covid-19: The Great Reset (Geneva: Forum Publishing, 2020), 11.
 Klaus Schwab, “Now is the Time for a ‘Great Reset,’” World Economic Forum, accessed December 17, 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/now-is-the-time-for-a-great-reset.
 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 324.
 R. J. Rushdoony, Introduction to Herman Dooyeweerd, The Christian Idea of the State, (New Jersey: Craig Press, 1968), ix.
 Dooyeweerd, The Christian Idea of the State, 3.
 Dooyeweerd, The Christian Idea of the State, 5.
 Edwin Robertson, ed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 110-111.