I often talk about God being in control. But that seems to fly in the face of our lives which themselves often seem like chaos. Then we watch the news and see 127 dead and 180 wounded in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in France. What does “God reigns” mean in the face of so much chaos, suffering, and outright evil? How can God be in control when so many people are in rebellion against his reign? And while we’re at it, what does God’s sovereignty actually have to do with me anyway? If God is going to be sovereign with or without me, what difference does it make for me?
We see the reign of God in stages in scripture.
Across the spectrum of scripture God is declared as sovereign over all as both creator and Lord. One example of that comes in Isaiah:
“…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8–11, NASB95)
But much of scripture speaks in terms of the rebellion we see around us and God is promised to be coming to reign in fullness.
For example in in 1 Chronicles 16:31 “The Lord reigns” is a hopeful statement in the midst of a psalm written perhaps by Asaph when the Ark of God finally comes to Jerusalem. Looking prophetically into the future and is a cry for the gentile nations to “say” that the Lord reigns.
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” (1 Chronicles 16:31, NASB95)
Until at the last in Revelation he is indeed reigning in fullness.
Revelation 11:15-17 “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:15–17, NASB95)
“The Lord Reigns” then is both a present reality and a future promise. But that Future promise cannot come to pass without that present reality. In other words if God does not right now reign, how can he bring about his full and complete reign at the end of the age? “The Lord reigns” is a claim to Absolute Sovereignty.
Sovereignly Delegated Authority
God’s sovereignty is exercised through delegation. That is to say that his reign is not displayed in scripture as monolithic. God chooses for the purposes of His own glory, and for the joy of those he creates, to delegate authority to His created children. Perhaps surprisingly this means both men and angels.
Now first, and most unfamiliar to us, is God’s apparent delegation of authority to the Angelic beings he surrounds himself with. Second, and most familiar to us, is God’s delegation of authority to the descendants of Adam and Eve.
Delegated to Angelic Beings
So looking at the first group we can see that God works out his sovereignty through his angelic beings. Now, where do we see this in scripture? Well. We’re going to take a circuitous route through the chronology of scripture.
Let’s begin with Job. In the book of Job 1:6, 2:1, & 38:7 three times we see the angelic host referred to as “Sons of God.” Now, don’t let this worry you about Jesus. Jesus is the unique (μονογενής in John 3:16) son of God in that he is God in the flesh. These Spirit beings (angels) are called “sons of God” to emphasize that they are created by God, and that they work for God as his agents in the same way that in that ancient culture, the sons of men worked for their fathers.
As God’s created angels we see them in Job 38:7 shouting for joy as God creates the earth. But in chapter 1 and 2 we see them coming into God’s throne room to answer to Him for the job they’ve been doing.
Next, there’s a very curious scene in 1 Kings 22:19-22 where God is sitting on his throne surrounded by all of this heavenly host and God holds a conference to see how to get Ahab to die. And different beings step forward with different ideas until one of them picks a winner. God gives permission and that Spirit goes off to do the job.
So we can see that God, while he does not need Angel or Spirit beings to accomplish his tasks, he chooses to use them. They work under God to accomplish his sovereign purpose.
“And of the angels He says, “[He] makes His angels winds, And His ministers a flame of fire.”” (Hebrews 1:7, NASB95)
But here’s the problem: Some of these angelic beings are in rebellion. Again, we assume that it all begins with Satan and that comes from Genesis 3 (Rev 12 tells us the snake isn’t really a physical snake but it’s actually Satan). It also comes from two prophets who describe what is likely Satan’s fall from grace. (Ezek 28, and Isa 14.)
So the question is, can the rebellion of these angelic beings short-circuit God’s reign? That is, after all what Satan wanted – to be “Like the Most High”. Well. The short answer is: no. God has a plan, and he had that plan before the foundations of the world were laid while the sons of God were shouting for Joy. It’s a very ancient plan. “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20, NASB95)
The plan was so good that even the Devil didn’t realize it until it was too late.
“… we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age [The Devil and his angels] has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;” (1 Corinthians 2:7–8, NASB95)
While God may have turned over the Spiritual rule of the earth for a season to other ministering Spirits (Daniel, Jude, Deuteronomy, Job 1-2, ) , his absolute sovereignty even over those Spirits is unwavering and unyielding. The book of Job displays it clearly, and Martin Luther stated it plainly: “Even the Devil is God’s devil.”
Delegated to Humanity
The second part of God’s reign being delegated is through humanity. God creates a garden. He also creates two humans: Adam and Eve. He makes them “a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7,9). Then God places Adam into the garden, and he creates Eve to be his “helper” so that they may labor as God’s children to do His bidding. There he gives out his delegation orders: Multiply and fill the earth and bring it all to look like Eden. (Gen 1:28)
Just as some of the angelic beings rebelled, so also Adam and Eve rebel. Instead of obedience they choose autonomy; plunging themselves and all of their descendants into rebellion. Since then every human imager of God has chosen rebellion and sin.
So with at least some of God’s created angelic court in rebellion, and now with Adam and Eve in Rebellion is God’s reign somehow in peril? Can the rebellion of angels and men short-circuit God’s reign? The short answer again, is: no. God has a plan, and he had that plan before the foundations of the world were laid while the sons of God were shouting for Joy. It’s a very ancient plan from before the foundations of the world.
Sovereignty over the rebellious
God’s sovereign rule over the universe is absolute. In fact it is so absolute that even when evil enters the world, God still has absolute authority. God sovereignly works through the wicked – whether angelic or human.
So Satan deceives Eve, who rebels, and Adam then rebels. God eventually chooses one man: Abraham to be the one through whom he’ll bring redemption. Even though Abraham sins, as do all of his descendants, God’s plan is still not derailed. The promise to redeem passes from Abraham who sins to Isaac who sins to Jacob (who is eventually renamed to Israel) he sins too. Finally it passes to Israel’s son Judah who sins, and ultimately to Judah’s much later descendant: King David, who sins. Every descendant of David is born a sinner and chooses sin – except one. The promise passes through the generations until it lands upon He to whom it was meant to fulfill it. A young virgin from Nazareth named Mary gives birth to God’s son: Jesus.
Through Him, God the father will not only redeem his human children, but he will resurrect His original plan to have his human imagers act as his delegates to rule over His creation.
So at the end of gospels in the work of Christ we read in the great commission that Jesus now has been given all authority in heaven (what was given to the angelic creatures) and on earth (What was given to humans). (Mat 28:19ff)
“The Lord reigns” is a declaration that Jesus our Lord is now sovereign.
And now to those who come to Christ, God once again has the promise that Those who are faithful to Christ will rule the nations – seated on Jesus’ throne.
“‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;” (Revelation 2:26, NASB95)
In that Day, God even declares through the Apostle Paul that Christians will sit as judge over the world, and even over the angels.
“Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:2–3, NASB95)
Jesus Christ will rule until God has put everything under his feet, and then Jesus will pass the crown to the Father so that God will be above all.
“…then comes the end, when He [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24–28, NASB95)
In the end, God’s sovereignty will be absolute over the universe, over the angels, and over His people who will work together with God to rule over His new creation to bring about his purposes.
God is absolutely sovereign – even though men or angels should rebel against Him, they cannot thwart his plan. Like Satan fooled into murdering Jesus on the cross. Or like Pharaoh having his heart hardened in order to demonstrate God’s power, even the evil that Muslim terrorists do will, in the end, prove to answer to God’s sovereign hand.
Therefore, we can trust in Him, even when our lives feel like they are out of control.
Therefore we can wait for Him with eager longing, even when we struggle to know how God will bring about his plan.
Therefore we can hope in Him with absolute assurance and patience born of certainty that God’s reign will come to pass.
And therefore too we can join with the Old Testament prophets to declare to the nations that God reigns.