The following passage from the Prophet, Isaiah, isn’t just a platitude to recite at Christmas:
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus has many names, but the one used (perhaps) the most is Lord. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus. (Matt. 28:18) Christians revel in that statement. In the next breath, after Jesus said this, he said:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations….”Matthew 28:19
When we think of the authority and lordship of Jesus, we might jump immediately to the ultimate conclusion – of Jesus ruling and reigning at the right hand of the Father. When Jesus told the disciples that all authority had been given him, however, his instruction to follow does not take us where our minds might be tempted to go. He did command us to take over the government or set up a new government.
His charge to the disciples was to go to all nations and make disciples.
That is still his instruction at this time.
Perhaps, we can be excused for forgetting the last instructions he gave after almost 2000 years. Or maybe not…. He was pretty clear about it. We also have the following reminder from the Apostle, Peter:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”2 Peter 3:8-9)
Of course, the government will ultimately be committed into His hands. (Is. 22:21) He will ultimately make a footstool of all his enemies. (Ps. 110:1) Jesus will ultimately sit on the throne with throngs of people proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy. Lord God Almighty!” (Rev. 4:2)
Jesus will be seen as the Lion of Judah and the Root of King David (Rev. 5:5) at that time with a sharp sword coming out of his mouth, striking down the the nations, ruling them with an iron scepter, and treading “the winepress with the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty!” (Rev. 19:15)
But, that time is yet to come. We aren’t there yet.
Even in John’s vision of this future time, the most common description of Jesus is as a Lamb (28 times). Jesus is first the Lamb who was slain, and that is the most prominent name he is given, even in the Book of Revelation.
We have yet to experience Jesus, the Lion of Judah, with sword in his mouth, a scepter in his hand, and a winepress at his feet. That time has not yet come.
Meanwhile, Jesus came not to Judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47) Jesus came not for the healthy, but the sick; and Jesus presently desires mercy. (Matt. 9:12-13)
Jesus is not yet the Judge, treading a winepress with the fury of the wrath of God Almighty; He is the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. He is not presently in the business of condemning the world; he is currently in the business of seeking and saving the lost. (Luke 9:10)
So, we should be.
The charge that Jesus gave us – to go and make disciples of all the nations – is still our marching orders. It hasn’t changed.
No matter how close we think we are to the end, God is still currently in the mode of being patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but wanting everyone to come to repentance.
We are easily distracted by many things. We can be so obsessed about the past and we can be so forward-thinking that we forget about the present. We can be so focused on the end times that we do not understand the times in which we live.
We may be close to the end times, but we may yet be far off, by human reckoning. To God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. (2 Pet. 3:8) Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour. Most importantly, we are still in the times in which Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations.
He didn’t tell us to make enemies of the nations. He didn’t tell us to set up new nations. He didn’t tell us to take over nations. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
This, so far, is just a preface for talking about politics and government in the 21st Century. Yes, the government will be on the shoulders of Jesus, but what of the Kingdom of God now? How should Christians orientate themselves to the world in which we live and conduct ourselves in the political and governmental spheres of present life?
The “Great Commission” might be translated literally as a commandment to “disciple all the nations”. The word translated into English as “disciple” is μαθητεύω (mathéteuó), It means to make a disciple of, train in discipleship; to teach, instruct.
We could, theoretically, disciple a nation of people, but I don’t think that is exactly what Jesus meant. The word translated “nations” is ἔθνος, ους, τό (ethnos), meaning a race, a nation, the nations (as distinct from Israel); i.e., Gentiles. This word is used interchangeably to mean nations or Gentiles.
It doesn’t suggest sovereign, governmental entities so much as it suggests groups of people, and specifically all the groups of people who are not Jews – the Gentiles.
A discipler is not someone who comes with a sword. A discipler comes with a book. A discipler is not a ruler or even a leader. A discipler is a teacher, mentor, a trainer, an instructor.
A discipler lives among others and models the instruction he seeks to instill. Disciplers are not quick to condemn. They are patient and steadfast in their instruction and demonstration of that instruction – the way Jesus taught and modeled the kingdom of God to his disciples.
While the command from Jesus doesn’t necessarily exclude political activity, it also doesn’t necessarily include it. His focus was to describe God’s kingdom and model it. His mission was not to condemn the world, but to save it. His message was the Gospel.
Jesus is our model. Jesus not only taught the Gospel. He lived it, and he instructed his disciples to do as he did (take up their crosses daily and follow him (Luke 9:23)), just as he did what he saw the Father doing. (John 5:19).
Any system of government on earth, in this age, is ultimately a shadow of God’s kingdom. A governance system may be more or less aligned with God and His kingdom, but we can’t confuse any man-made system with the kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom is based on a law that can be summarized in two principals: love God and love your neighbor. (Matt. 11:36-40) This is what Jesus taught, and this is what Jesus modeled, laying down his own life for us.
God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed. It may not appear impressive, but it becomes a great shelter and support for all the birds. (Matt. 13:31-32) God’s kingdom is like yeast that is mixed into and through the dough.”(Matt. 13:33) It is mixed in and influences the whole batch, though we might not detect with the naked eye its influence.
God’s kingdom now is not like a government entity. It’s organic like a seed that grows into a plant and like yeast that is kneaded painstakingly into the dough and dramatically influences the whole loaf, though we may not see what it is doing.
God’s kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field (Matt. 13:44): we have to dig below the surface to find it. It’s like a pearl (Matt. 13:45): we have to dive below the surface to find the oyster that yields up it’s treasure that cannot be seen.
God’s kingdom is counter cultural. Always. In every age.
God’s kingdom is like the net let down that collects all kinds of fish that are sorted into baskets, sorted by the angels at the end of the age. (Matt. 13:47-50) Not by us, now.
God’s kingdom is like the man who sowed good seed in a field. The seed grows up, but the weeds grow up among the wheat. The weeds must be tolerated, now, until the time of the harvest, lest the wheat be destroyed with weeds. (Matt. 13:24-30)
The harvest is not yet come. God is still patiently sowing, patiently watering, He is the Good Shepherd, not wanting any to perish. Meanwhile, the people of the kingdom of God are like salt and light. They flavor and preserve and illuminate a dark world.
God’s children are not the first. They are the last. They are not rattling sabers or clanging gongs. They are kind, patient, forgiving, merciful, persevering, long suffering, winsome and different from people who are perishing.
They do not boast or beat their chests. They don’t immediately stand out in a crowd. They don’t call attention to themselves. They speak of God and His kingdom
God’s people cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, and they change the world by their very presence in it. They are not known by their political orientation or the signs in their yard. They are known by their character and winsomeness.
God’s people are known by what they do. They are known for who they are, which defies labels in a world that labels everything and builds walls to keep some out and to keep others in.
God’s people tear down walls like their Lord did by the sacrifice of his own life, abolishing the hostilities that keep people apart, offering them peace and unity in Him. (Eph. 2:13-14)
God’s people are aliens and strangers in this world because the are citizens in the kingdom of God that is here now, but yet to come.
The government will someday be on His shoulders.
Meanwhile, God’s kingdom is growing like the seeds in a field. It is operating like the leaven in the bread. It’s a treasure that may not be evident on the surface of this life. It grows among the weeds.
The kingdom of God awaits the great sorting, and it’s people live as aliens and strangers in this world because they are being made into the citizens of the world to come – the new Jerusalem that will come down from heaven in God’s time. (Rev. 21)
The government will be on His shoulders, not on ours, and we should conduct our lives accordingly.
Meanwhile, we can be salt and light in the world where we live. We can be lights shining in this dark world. We can be involved in politics, and even in government, but we shouldn’t confuse the kingdom of God with the kingdoms and governments of this world.