Modern Western society is of two minds regarding nationalism. In many ways modern history has been driven by the power of nationalism: today’s nation-state is about the last unifying vestige of community left, and most nation-states do all they can to inculcate a sense of pride and passion in their people for the benefit and advancement of their nation. And yet such fervent nationalism has led to unspeakably horrific tragedies, manifest in the two World Wars and the Cold War of the 20th century. To this end many have attempted to flee nationalism and embrace globalism, attempting to eliminate all differences among the nations in the pursuit of a kind of global monoculture.
The same tendencies exist among the people of God. Some who profess Christ are unrepentant “Christian nationalists,” having a faith shaped more by the ideals and aspirations of a nation-state or culture than anything resembling Jesus the Christ. Meanwhile, others would attempt to eliminate all national flavors from among the people of God and aspire to a global Christian monoculture.
The way forward involves neither nationalist idolatry nor complete uniformity. God, in Christ, works to redeem the nations.
And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).
The portrayal of eternity in the resurrection in terms of the paradise of Eden is beautiful, touching, encouraging, and exhilarating in so many ways.
There is a continually repeated point which John has seen many times in this scene that we can easily skip over: God’s redemption of the nations. The nations walk in the city of God in His light (Revelation 21:23); the kings of the earth bring the glory and honor of the nations into it (Revelation 21:24-25), and in Revelation 22:2, the leaves of the tree of life were for the healing of the nations.
Yes, Isaiah and the prophets are being evoked, but not mindlessly. Nationality and ethnicity are not going to be eliminated in the Kingdom of God.
Yes, in Christ, God is bringing people of all the nations together in one person and killing the hostility which existed among them; this is His wisdom manifest in the church according to His eternal purpose in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3:11).
But killing the hostility among people of different nations does not inherently demand eliminating all the differences between people of different nations. Jewish Christians remained ethnically Jewish; Greek Christians remained Greek; German Christians remain German; American Christians do not stop being American.
As with the Jewish people, the Greeks, and the Romans, and Christians of every other nation, so with Americans: there are aspects of Americanism we will have to renounce to follow Christ. Yet God in Christ is working to find healing for the nations. There will be healing for the Jewish person and the Greek, the white American and the black American, the Mexican and Guatemalan and El Salvadoran, and those who come from any other nation.
The hope of resurrection is ultimate redemption of the nations. May we find the way in which we can find who we are to be in Christ, and allow Christ to redeem our nationality and ethnicity to His glory and honor!
Ethan R. Longhenry