This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy. This column is the third segment of a five-part series dealing with Christian perspectives on nations and nationalism.
God is not concerned about the repentance and salvation of America as a nation-state but rather the salvation of the nations within America. Jesus Christ used the term nation to mean His chosen people—the spiritual “seed” of Abraham (Galatians 3:29)—as opposed to Abraham’s physical lineage. “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Matthew 21:43). The Apostle Peter makes it clear that the church of Jesus Christ is now God’s “holy nation” and His “special people” rather than ethnic Israel. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). And the Apostle John similarly esteems the work of Christ in redeeming His church from all racial and cultural groups: “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Accordingly, Jesus “shall inherit all nations”, not in some political sense but in terms of gaining a people from all ethnic groups.(1) The Psalms declare that Jesus Christ has “the nations” for His “inheritance”, and has become the “head of the nations”, where “all the families of the nations shall worship before” Him. God’s salvation is known “among all nations”,(2) so that “all nations shall serve Him” and “all nations shall call Him blessed” (Psalms 82:8; 2:8; 18:43; 22:27; 67:2; 72:11, 17). Now “all nations shall flow to” the Lord’s house, “a house of prayer for all nations”, where “all the nations shall be blessed” (Isaiah 2:2; Mark 11:17; Galatians 3:8). The gospel is at the present “a witness unto all nations” that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations”, “for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name” (Matthew 24:14; Luke 24:47; Romans 1:5). Thus, Christians are called to “make disciples of all the nations” via the gospel which must “be preached to all the nations” (Matthew 28:19; Mark 13:10). As a result, “the glory and the honor of the nations” will be present in heaven (Revelation 21:26).
Clearly, God is interested in forming His church from the remnant of nations now confined in all countries worldwide. Capricious political boundaries are not in view in these verses—Roman or otherwise. The Bible is speaking of reaching all ethnic groups. In the end, Jesus will gather “all the nations” before Him for judgment (Matthew 25:32), speaking not of judging political authorities or constituencies but rather ethnic aggregates.
While “the nations rage”, it is the Lord that “makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and guides them” (Psalm 2:1; Acts 4:25; Job 12:23; cf. Psalm 118:10). God “destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan”; “the nations have perished out of His land” (Acts 13:19; Psalm 10:16). Indeed, “All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless” (Isaiah 40:17). God is speaking about the insignificance of people groups, not of political covenants.
Just think about the blessings that have been bestowed upon ethnic groups within Western Europe and America in recent centuries, stemming from revivals and widespread acceptance of the Gospel for many generations. Sometimes God will “grant…repentance” to masses of people (2 Timothy 2:25), such as He did in the case of Nineveh, Macedonia, and Corinth (Jonah 3:5; 4:2, 11; Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:42; Acts 16:9-10; 18:10). These good people, God’s elect, were not so much identified by their political allegiances as by their ethnic and cultural attributes. They retained their godly character even after being exiled to new political jurisdictions, as with the Puritans fleeing to America.(3) Hence, the blessings of America are not the result of God favoring its political organization but rather the godly culture of the nations which have flowed into it.
Individuals repent and believe; political entities do not. Only individuals or ethnic groups are said to be judged in the Bible: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” and “Let the nations be judged in Your sight” (Psalm 9:17, 19). “When He gives quietness, who then can make trouble? And when He hides His face, who then can see Him, whether it is against a nation or a man alone?” (Job 34:29). The idea of national repentance defined by non-ethnic, political boundaries is bogus.
(1) This idea is likely implied in the apostolic discussion of the “firstfruits” from Achaia in Romans 16:15 and 1 Corinthians 16:15.
(2) Under this blessed existence, “men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23).
(3) Many other examples could be cited: the Huguenots fleeing from French papists, the Baptists fleeing from persecution in central Europe to the new world, or the early Roman Christians being exiled to the southern shores of the Black Sea by Nero (1 Peter 1:1).
Originally published in The Times Examiner on September 14, 2005.