Created to Rule

The human race was designed to rule and was given authority to exercise dominion over the rest of creation. Evolutionary chance didn’t smile upon us, nor did we have to fight our way to the top of the food chain. Adam’s mandate to rule and subdue the earth came directly from God.

Immediately after saying “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26), God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Man was intended by God to be the sovereign of the planet. He was literally instructed to subdue the planet, take dominion, and rule over everything God had placed on earth.

Of course this speaks collectively of the whole human race—not just Adam. This is made clear by the plural pronoun in verse 26: “Let them have dominion” (NKJV). The scope of humanity’s dominion over the earth was very broad, too. And it was to include every living creature. God’s mandate to Adam expressly listed the creatures in the order of their creation: “the fish of the sea . . . the birds of the sky . . . the cattle . . . [and] every creeping thing” (Genesis 1:26).

The first step of this dominion involved something very practical. Genesis 2:19 records this: “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.” That was Adam’s first task. He had to look at the characteristics of each creature and give it a fitting name.

Man was made in God’s image, so it was appropriate that God would delegate to man something of His own sovereign prerogative. Notice that God Himself had already named day and night (Genesis 1:5), heaven (Genesis 1:8), and the earth and the seas (Genesis 1:10). It is the Creator’s privilege to name what He creates, but in this case He delegated that task to Adam. It became Adam’s first duty as ruler of the world.

Another responsibility was assigned to Adam. He was made the gardener in Eden. Genesis 2:15 says “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Of course, this task was given to him before he fell into sin. That means there was no curse yet, so there were no weeds, and the environment was perfect. This was an easy and pleasant assignment for Adam. No doubt it was a source of great joy. And it was the only work he was given to do—if such an occupation can even be called “work” in a sweatless, weedless, curse–free environment. The garden was filled with every kind of fruit tree God had made. Water for the garden was readily available from a river that ran through it. And Adam’s only responsibility was to make sure that the trees and plants in this perfect environment had appropriate care. It was the most pleasant vocation any person could ever have.

Adam’s responsibility to subdue the earth and rule over it was perfectly complemented by his duty to tend the garden. In Douglas F. Kelly’s words:

The call to tend the garden and classify the animals provides a fine and fruitful balance in the relationship of mankind to the environment which God has placed under his derived authority. This healthy balance is not to be found outside the biblical faith. Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, for instance, tend to neglect developing “the garden” (viewing it as a sort of God, not to be tampered with), as do some forms of Christian mysticism; materialist, technological industrialism tends to destroy “the garden” for short–sighted economic purposes, whether in the strip mines of West Virginia, the slag heaps of the English Midlands, or the dead rivers of Romania; and the ultra–environmentalists or “Greens” tend to elevate it above the legitimate needs and purposes of human society, thus losing their own significance and failing to bring to fruition what man could accomplish with the remarkable capacities of the created order. But the dominion of Genesis teaches man both to respect and to subdue nature, so as to shape it in a direction that will reflect the beauty, order and glory of its Creator. [1]

So Adam was given both dominion over God’s creation and the responsibility to care for it.

Unfortunately, when he fell, Adam abdicated some of his God–given authority. When he yielded to Satan, he forfeited the absolute dominion God had given him over the earth. It is interesting that Jesus repeatedly referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:3114:3016:11). That was supposed to be man’s role. But Adam’s willful sin in effect forfeited dominion to the devil.

Christ Himself will return to regain that dominion and establish Himself as the ruler of this world. He has already defeated the powers of evil at the cross: “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 2:15). And upon His return to earth, He will receive His kingdom and establish it worldwide, reigning on an earthly throne in His glorified human body. And thus in the person of Christ, humanity will finally have the full dominion God planned from the start—and moreHebrews 2:8 celebrates this certainty: “‘You have put all things in subjection under his feet.’ For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.”

The writer of Hebrews continues, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” We still live in a world that is under the curse of sin, so we cannot subdue the garden of God as we would like. Weeds, pests, harmful bacteria, harmful viruses, and other effects of the Curse—not to mention fallen human nature—keep the task of subduing the earth constantly out of reach. It is ironic that man was originally given dominion over all of creation, and yet in his fallen state, even the tiniest microbes can bring him low.

And yet fallen humanity has managed to take dominion over creation to an amazing degree, devising technology that allows us to cultivate only a fraction of the earth’s potential farmland and still grow enough crops to feed the world. Technology has permitted us to travel to the moon, develop amazing communications networks, travel across vast continents by air in a few hours, build dams to create large reservoirs, devise power systems that harness the energy in the universe to humanity’s benefit, and develop medical technology that prolongs life. Even in his fallen state, the human being is a wonderful creature, still endued with the image of his maker.

But we do not yet see all things subjected to man. There is still war and disease and poverty. Most of the technology humanity has developed has created new problems while attempting to solve old ones. Man sometimes has a destructive effect on his own environment. Above all, man is unable to subdue his own sinful tendencies.

Christ, the perfect man, will do what fallen man has been unable to do. He will destroy all the works of the devil (1 John 3:8)—and even destroy the devil himself (Hebrews 2:14). That victory was already sealed when Christ rose from the dead. We are now simply awaiting its culmination. And that will occur at the end of the age.

Then comes the end, when He 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. (1 Corinthians 15:24–27)

Scripture says the redeemed will reign with Christ in an earthly kingdom for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4). The earth will be restored as a paradise. Major elements of the Curse will be reversed. “The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom profusely and rejoice” (Isaiah 35:1–2). The animals will revert to their pre–Fall state, so that none will be carnivorous, and even the most fearsome predators will pose no danger to humanity or to other species (Isaiah 11:6–9).

Even sin and death will be mitigated in the millennial kingdom.

No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed. (Isaiah 65:20)

In other words, infant mortality will be eliminated and life expectancy greatly extended. (It seems reasonable to think that many who enter into the kingdom alive might survive through the entire millennium.) Since those born in the earthly kingdom do inherit a sin nature, the effects of sin will not be entirely erased. Most people, it appears, will be redeemed. But those who persist in sin and unbelief will be judged with death. And humanity’s normal life expectancy will be such that if someone dies at one hundred years old (because of willful sin and persistent unbelief), he will be regarded as someone who died tragically young—as if he died in childhood.

During that millennial kingdom, humanity will finally get a taste of what life in Eden could have been. With Christ reigning and the effects of sin mitigated, earthly life will be as close to paradise as a world tainted with sin could ever know.

And finally, when the millennial kingdom is complete, the heavens and earth will pass away and be replaced by a new creation (Revelation 21:1). That world, untainted with sin or sorrow of any kind, will even surpass Eden in its delights. And a man—the man Christ Jesus—will have dominion over it, with His saints finally sharing the perfect dominion man was originally created to enjoy. 

Used with permission from John MacArthur.

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