The progress of the gospel throughout the world is certainly going to have the eventual effect of making your neighborhood a lot nicer, but that should not be considered as the extent of it. We look forward to the time when every son of Israel is at peace under his own fig tree, but there are also larger geopolitical issues involved. And those issues are directly related to what we are celebrating on this Ascension Sunday.
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).
“And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it” (Rev. 21:24–26).
“Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, and lick up the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD, for they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (Is. 49:23, NKJV).
Summary of the Texts
Our first text is one we are accustomed to refer to in our Christmas celebrations because the story is given to us in the narrative of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem. But the story is also proleptic or anticipatory. What Augustus did unwittingly, what Herod rebelled against doing, these rulers from the east did gladly, and that was to serve the interests of the holy family. These men worshiped the Lord, and they brought gifts to Him. That is what all the kings of the earth are summoned to do (Ps. 2:12), and which all will eventually do. Revelation tells us that leaves from the trees of life will be made readily available for the healing of the nations, and the New Jerusalem, which is the Christian church, will provide light for the nations to live by. The nations, and their kings, will bring their glory and honor into the Church. What the devil offered to Christ on that very high mountain as a bribe (Matt. 4:8)—the glory of the nations—is instead brought into His Church as bounden tribute. This all happens when the Gentile nations bring sons of God in their arms and come carrying daughters of God on their shoulders. They will support the Church, not as lords over the Church, but as sons and daughters of the church themselves. Just as Jacob bowed down to Joseph, so also the mighty ones of the earth will acknowledge the wisdom of God resident in the Church, and will do so as they bow down.
A Voice of Authority
But before the kings of the earth will recognize the great authority that has been bestowed on the Church, something else must come before that time. The rulers of the Church will have to recognize it first, and they will have to repent of acting so embarrassed about everything. The Church is not a social club with an interest in theological topics, in which we dabble during the course of our Sunday meetings. Rather the Church is a militant army that makes the gates of Hades tremble as though they were the gates of Jericho. Often this is in spite of ourselves.
There is something in the carriage of this kind of authority that makes carnal rulers shake, even when it appears that they are holding all the cards. “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid” (John 19:80). Why on earth would Pilate be afraid? The kind of courage and faith that is involved in this kind of encounter is a mysterious blessing from God.
Mighty Through God
A robust eschatology encompasses all of history. The “end times” are the last chapter in the story, and so if you really understand the last chapter, you understand the whole book. And as God is the author of the entire story, and because we are His friends, He has invited us to read His story in manuscript, well before final publication. We know the story. We know the outcome here.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:3–6).
2 Cor. 10:3-6 (KJV)
These words were written, and understood, and acted on, by the apostle Paul, who lived two thousand years ago. That being the case, he was clearly playing the long game. And because he was playing the long game two thousand years ago, we have no business refusing to play that same long game. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11). The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). And why? Because of what happened at the Ascension (Dan. 7:13-14).
So as God gives opportunity, and we stand before rulers and kings, we should be bold to declare what the magi in Bethlehem saw at the first so clearly. We should be willing to echo what Paul said to Agrippa.
“For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:26–29).
Acts 26:26-29 (KJV)
Where does such authority come from? It comes from the recognition that the Christ who was crucified was the same Christ who was raised, and the Christ who was raised is the same Christ who has ascended to the right hand of the Father— where He has been given blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, amen (Rev. 7:12).