As Christians, we know that God is sovereign over all the nations of the earth. But what exactly does the Bible teach about nations and our relationship to them as believers? In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at the key passages in Scripture that address how we should think about nations from a biblical perspective.
Nations have existed since ancient times. After the great flood in Genesis, Noah’s descendants spread out and formed tribes and nations. God divided humanity into different languages and ethnic groups at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Throughout the Old Testament, Israel interacted with various nations like Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia.
In the New Testament, the gospel spread beyond Israel to Gentile nations all over the Roman Empire. Today, we live in a world with around 195 different countries. As Christians, how should we understand what the Bible teaches about nations in light of the gospel and God’s plan for humanity?
Here are the key takeaways we’ll cover:
- God established nations and determines their appointed times and boundaries.
- God judges nations according to righteousness and justice.
- God uses nations to accomplish His purposes, including spreading the gospel.
- Our ultimate allegiance should be to Jesus, not any earthly nation.
- All nations are equal before God and eligible for salvation through Christ.
- In Christ, cultural and national divisions are transcended.
Let’s look at each of these biblical principles more closely.
God Established Nations and Their Boundaries
The first key truth is that God Himself established nations and determines the rise and fall of them. The Apostle Paul, preaching in Athens, declared:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (Acts 17:26)
This tells us that nations are not random human social constructs, but part of God’s design for the world. The specific timing of a nation’s existence and the geographic boundaries of its land are ordained by God. We see this at work in history through events like the Exodus when God brought Israel out of captivity in Egypt to form a new nation in the Promised Land. God determines when a nation’s time has come and gone. He is sovereign over the nations.
God Judges Nations with Righteousness and Justice
While God establishes nations, He also judges them according to standards of righteousness and justice. The Bible often depicts God setting His judgments upon wicked nations. For example, the prophet Amos pronounces God’s judgment on the nations surrounding Israel for their evils:
For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent. Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth, I will send fire on the house of Hazael that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad. I will break down the gate of Damascus; I will destroy the king who is in the Valley of Aven and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden. The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,” says the Lord. (Amos 1:3-5)
God holds nations accountable for sins like violence, injustice, oppression, greed, and idolatry. He may use human agents like other nations or rulers to enact His judgments, as with Nebuchadnezzar and the conquest of Judah. But it is God who is sovereign over the rise and fall of nations.
As Christians, we can pray for God to have mercy on our nations and remember His compassion. But we should not presume that any nation enjoys God’s favor unjustly. God will judge in perfect justice.
God Uses Nations to Accomplish His Purposes
While God judges nations, He also actively uses them to accomplish His purposes in history and humanity’s redemption. For example, God used the armies of Assyria and Babylon as His instruments to enact judgment on the idolatrous kingdoms of Israel and Judah (Isaiah 10).
In the New Testament, we see God’s providence in allowing the Roman Empire to prepare the way for the spread of the gospel. The Roman roads and infrastructure, as well as the Pax Romana, created a context for the gospel to travel quickly. God also providentially allowed Paul to utilize his Roman citizenship to minister across the Empire. God can use the rise and fall of nations to fulfill His greater plans.
Our Ultimate Allegiance is to Jesus, Not Nations
As Christians, our identity and allegiance should be found first and foremost in Jesus Christ, rather than national identity. Paul writes:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20)
We are citizens of God’s kingdom even while living in earthly nations. Earthly cities and kingdoms are temporary, but the kingdom of God is eternal. So we pledge our ultimate loyalty to King Jesus.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, the church faced new questions about how to relate to the Roman state. Several notable Christians refused to participate in Roman state idolatry. Saint Maximilian was executed for refusing to serve in the Roman army. Perpetua and Felicity were martyred for refusing to offer sacrifices to Roman gods.
As we relate to earthly nations today, our loyalty is always first to King Jesus and His kingdom. We pledge allegiance to no other gods or idols.
All Nations are Equal Before God
The New Testament makes it clear that before God, all national and ethnic identities are equal in value and dignity. As Paul proclaimed:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Salvation through Jesus is offered freely to people from every nation. At Pentecost, a sign of the gospel’s universal scope was the disciples preaching in diverse foreign languages (Acts 2:5-12). In Revelation, the multi-ethnic multitude worshiping around God’s throne shows the equality of all nations (Revelation 7:9).
Racism and feelings of ethnic superiority are utterly contrary to the gospel. Christ’s atoning death on the cross tore down the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). In Christ, we have a trans-national identity and fellowship that transcends ethnicity and nationality.
Cultural Divisions Are Transcended in Christ
The New Testament letters also point to the reality that in Christ, other cultural and societal divisions are transcended into a new community. Paul writes:
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)
In the body of Christ, national origin, social status, and other differences no longer divide us. We are called to live out this reality by loving our brothers and sisters from all walks of life. Christians in the early church had to work through the implications of these truths.
For example, Acts 6 records tension arising between Greek and Hebrew believers. The early church realized neglecting Greek widows in the daily distribution was wrong and addressed the problem. Paul also tells the Galatians when he confronted Peter over hypocritical refusal to eat with Gentiles, Peter “stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11-14).
Living out trans-national unity in Christ in the church is an ongoing process, not an accomplished reality. As citizens of heaven, we strive to live according to Jesus’ prayer that we would be “one” just as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23).
Applying Biblical Truths To Live As Citizens of Heaven
In light of these biblical truths, how should we live as followers of Jesus relating to earthly nations? Here are a few key applications to keep in mind:
- Pray for the nations where we live and globally, that God’s justice and righteousness would prevail.
- Call our leaders and fellow citizens to moral and righteous policies, especially regarding protecting human life and dignity.
- Maintain primary loyalty to Jesus over human political parties or figures that are imperfect.
- Value people of all nationalities and ethnicities equally as image-bearers of God. Combat racism and prejudice.
- Remember that our citizenship is in heaven, and our hope is for Christ’s return and the New Creation.
- Care for immigrants, refugees and minorities in our midst as fellow eternal citizens.
- Work to make our churches places where people of all tribes, tongues and nations come together in Christ.
- Support cross-cultural missions work to fulfill the Great Commission globally.
- Pray and yearn for the day when people from all nations worship before God’s throne.
As we apply these biblical truths, we live out God’s purposes for the nations here and now while also looking ahead to the day when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord Jesus! What an amazing hope we have as citizens of heaven.
We’ve explored a biblical theology of nations -– how God relates to the nations in His sovereign plan of redemption. God established the nations and determines their boundaries and seasons. He judges nations with righteousness and justice. God actively uses nations to accomplish His providential purposes.
As Christians, our ultimate allegiance is to the kingdom of Jesus above any earthly nation. Before God, all nations are equal in dignity; cultural and national divisions are transcended in Christ.
By keeping these biblical perspectives central, we can faithfully relate to earthly nations as ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom. Our mission is advancing God’s trans-national, multi-ethnic kingdom until the day when people from every tribe and language worship Jesus together. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.