O’Donovan – the nations under Christ

When O’Donovan moves into the New Testament, he rightly finds the locus of God’s reign in Christ (DOTN 89). In a detailed treatment, he demonstrates that Jesus is the fulfilment of the three paradigmic themes of authority; salvation, judgement  and possession (DOTN 93-113). In him, salvation has been won once and for all, and the possession is Christ himself: ‘Membership in Christ replaced all other political identities’ (DOTN 148). Judgment, on the other hand, has only provisionally been revealed, and will be finally revealed on the last day (146). In the mean time, Christ rules this world, and he mediates his authority through his providential rule. This rule is split in two (DOTN 146, 234); The primary expression of Christ’s rule is his people – the Church – which ‘represents God’s kingdom by living under its rule, and by welcoming the world under its rule.’ (DOTN 174) As the church invites people into the Kingdom, they participate in the salvation and possession that Jesus has provided, and look forward to the final judgment (DOTN 176 ff). However, Christ’s continued providential rule is also represented in the governments of the nations (DOTN 46). This is a temporary rule: ‘they are not agents of Christ, but are marked for displacement when the rule of God in Christ is finally disclosed. They are Christ’s conquered enemies; yet they have an indirect testimony to give, bearing the marks of his sovereignty imposed upon them, negating their pretensions and evoking their acknowledgement.’ (DOTN 211-2)

So the question becomes: ‘Given that God has overcome the principalities and powers by his death and resurrection, what rights can they still claim?’ (DOTN 147) To answer that, O’Donovan turns to Romans 13:1-7. Reading this passage as a manifesto for governmental activity, he concludes: ‘St Paul’s new assertion is that the performance of judgement alone justifies government; and this reflects his new Christian understanding of the political situation.’ (DOTN 148)Referencing his three paradigmic themes, O’Donovan argues that ‘secular authorities are no longer in the fullest sense mediators of the rule of God. They mediate his judgements only. The power that they exercise in defeating their enemies, the national possessions they safeguard, these are now rendered irrelevant by Christ’s triumph.’ (DOTN 151) But even the judgment that governments execute is provisional, because we are now awaiting the revelation of Christ’s judgment on the final day (WOJ 28).


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