What will become of the politics, nations, and kingdoms of this world?
Political philosophy and practice are invariably wrapped up in eschatology: what you deem will be shapes what can be imagined for today and informs the view of the present. For those who have no spiritual hope, politics has always been and always will be power games between those who have and those who want to have it. For those who have a “scorched earth” view of the future, a “scorched earth” politics of the present seems sensible. Those enamored with progress will seek to frame their desires and ideology in terms of establishing progress; those enamored with the heritage of the past will seek to frame their desires and ideology in terms of maintaining the legacy of the past.
The Christian should live in the present according to the hope of the future: we live as exiles and sojourners at the moment as we look forward to a city with foundations, the everlasting dominion and glory of God in Christ (cf. Romans 8:17-25, 1 Peter 2:11-17, Hebrews 11:1-12:2). But what exactly does that everlasting dominion and glory of God in Christ look like, and thus what is the end of the politics, nations, and kingdoms of this world?
John received vivid visions of the end of all things. In Revelation 11:15-18, upon hearing the seventh trumpet sounded, John heard the proclamation: the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. God was praised, for He had taken His great power and reigned. The nations had been angry, yet the wrath of God came, and judgment had been enacted to reward the prophets, the saints, and all who fear His name, and to destroy those who destroyed the earth. The events seen in Revelation 19:6-22:5 seem to present the same idea in different imagery: a summons to the marriage supper of the Lamb; the devastation of the armies of the world by the Lord of lords and King of kings; the casting of the beast, false prophet, and those who bore his mark into the lake of fire; the binding of Satan; the reign of Christ and His saints; the return of Satan and the day of judgment; the casting of Satan and those whose names were not in the book of life into the lake of fire; the portrayal of the people of God as heavenly Jerusalem coming down from the “new heavens” to the “new earth,” bearing the glory of God; the people of God dwelling in the presence of God in Christ forever; the river of life and the tree of life, and the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations; the light of God in Christ for the people of God forever.
How John’s visions ought to be understood remain some of the most contentious matters in the Christian faith. Many make much of Jesus’ millennial reign. Some have created the dispensational premillennialist scheme and a story of great mayhem and violence leading to the end; yet it remains hard to reconcile such a scheme with the rest of what the New Testament reveals about Jesus, His Kingdom, and His return. Others have imagined their efforts will bring the millennial reign of Jesus to fruition, whether the progressive fantasy of previous generations or the last to endure from the wreckage of modernity now prevalent among Christian Dominionists/Reconstructionists. Others focus on portrayals of devastation of the end, presuming God will completely destroy everything in the creation, and thus do not believe they have much responsibility to steward and preserve what will be destroyed soon anyway. Many do well to recognize how John speaks in visions and thus metaphors, yet then discount the metaphors as having no substantive meaning on which we can depend, relegating the whole book to the realm of speculation.
We do well to integrate both what we find in Revelation and our view of politics, nations, and kingdoms with what is told in the rest of the Scriptures. According to the Scriptures, God made a good creation which was subjected to corruption and decay by sin and death (Genesis 1:31, Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-23). Human governments, and the powers and principalities above them, are empowered by God, have a commission to uphold justice and condemn evil, yet all invariably are corrupted and submit to darkness (Romans 13:1-8, Ephesians 6:12). In His death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers and principalities, and was declared the Son of God in power; in His ascension He was given an eternal dominion and was made Lord and Christ over all (Romans 1:4, Ephesians 1:20-23, Colossians 1:15-20, 2:15). Jesus reigns as Lord, and all are called to submit to His rule and embody the values of His Kingdom in His body, the church (Ephesians 1:20-23, 4:11-16). On the day of judgment Jesus will return, and all will rise from the dead: those who have not known God and obeyed the Gospel of Jesus to a resurrection of condemnation, and those who are in Christ to the resurrection of life, in which death is defeated and is no more, the people of God remain in the presence of God forever, having been given the glory of God (John 5:28-29, Romans 2:5-11, 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
We can understand the story of Revelation in terms of this story set forth in Scripture. As it is written, the kingdoms of the world will become the Kingdom of God and of His Christ: Jesus’ rule will triumph over sin and death, and the powers present over this world will submit to God fully (cf. Revelation 11:15). Such does not demand the elimination of the nations, but their redemption: the redeemed of all the nations will endure, and the tree of life has leaves to heal them (Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 22:1-5). Sufficient references are made to the saints ruling over the nations to demand credibility, even if we do not understand what that rule will look like (cf. Revelation 2:26-27, 3:21, 20:4; cf. Luke 22:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:3-4). God has not given up on His creation; it will be redeemed, even if by fire (Romans 8:17-23, 2 Peter 3:8-13, Revelation 21:1).
The kingdoms of this world will come and go; the hope of the nations to endure is through the Kingdom of God in Christ. Our politics, as with everything else, must be part of our story as Christians. We are called to embody what the reign of Christ looks like: thus we pray and work diligently to do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. We ought to seek the welfare of those around us, not capitulating to the defeat of futility, but doing good to all people, especially to those of the household of faith, and advocate with the powers that be in order to better embody justice and righteousness. Our posture will be of resistance, seeking to stand firm against the powers and principalities of this present darkness through the strength which God supplies in Jesus; we will not find in any polity the full embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and it is not for us to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. God Himself will return in Christ to establish that reign in the resurrection; it is enough for us to wait for it, hasten it through prayer and the practice of righteousness, and to orient our political philosophy and practice to this end. May we all live in ways which glorify God in Christ that we would receive His glory on the final day, and share in the rule and dominion of Christ for all eternity!
Ethan R. Longhenry