Does Romans 13 Teach That Christians Have Permission to Kill For Their Government?

It is my conviction that since the fourth century AD, the frequent misinterpretation of Romans 13 has done more to harm the reputation of Christianity than perhaps any other misinterpreted scripture.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God , an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. – Romans 13.1-4

This scripture is used to support the idea that Christians have a “dual citizenship.” That is, since God set up government, and since they do not bear the sword in vain, Christians have obligations both to God and to the government. These obligations do not conflict with one another since government authorities have different responsibilities than private individuals.

According to this view, when a Christian is acting as an agent of their government, they may bear the sword against their enemies, but when they act as individuals they are to love their enemies. Therefore a Christian may bear the sword against evildoers without sinning if they are doing so as an agent of the government.

This has been the dominant way of understanding Romans 13 ever since the Catholic Church came into political power in the late 4th century. But this is not what Romans 13 actually teaches. In fact, Romans 13 teaches nearly the opposite.

What is Wrong with the “Dual Citizenship” Idea?

Before looking at Romans 13, these three things should cause us to pause before accepting the dual citizenship interpretation.

  1. The way the New Testament describes Jesus

Jesus didn’t have divided loyalties. Rather, Jesus was executed by the Jewish and Roman authorities because they viewed Him as their enemy. Jesus did have lots to say that should impact the way a Christian approaches politics, but Jesus never sought a political office or political reform. Jesus served only one Master.

Also notice the language that the early Christians used to describe Jesus. In the early Roman Empire, the unifying slogan was “Caesar is Lord.” When Christians confessed “Jesus is Lord”, this not only made a statement about Jesus, it also made a statement about Caesar. If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.  They didn’t have two sets of loyalties; they had one. This was the primary reason Christians were thrown into prison and persecuted by their government.

  1. What Jesus taught about love for enemies

Jesus’ teachings about love for enemies rule out any possibility of allowing that love to be qualified by anyone or anything.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. – Matthew 5.43-45

Christians are to love the way the Father loves, and the Father doesn’t pick and choose who He is going to send rain and sunshine to. Just as the Father has no exception clause when it comes to His love for enemies, likewise Jesus offered no exception clause for Christians when they love their enemies.

This rules out any possibility of Christians saying “I’m going to love this kind of enemy, but not that kind of enemy”, or “I’m going to love my enemies in these circumstances, but not in those circumstances.”  The command has nothing to do with the nature of our enemies or our circumstances.

This undermines the idea Christians must do good to their enemies, unless they are acting in the political realm, in which case they are allowed to bear the sword against them. Unqualified, enemy-love, is the identifying mark of those who are sons of their Father. As soon as we look for a time when it is “okay” to not love our enemies, we have ceased to love the way our Father loves.

  1. What Jesus taught about resisting evil

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. – Matthew 5.38-39

When Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person,” He didn’t mean Christians are to be passive and do nothing in response to evil.  The Greek word translated “resist” specifically refers to violent resistance. It means that Christians aren’t to respond with an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a bullet for a bullet, or a bomb for a bomb. Christians can and should resist evil by getting involved and even laying down their lives if necessary, but they aren’t to respond to violence with violence.

Just retaliation was the principle upon which all the Old Testament scriptures about punishing violence were founded (Ex. 21.24), and it is likewise the principle of justice that underlies our modern social system. Jesus said, “You have heard” that principle of justice, and then immediately instructs his followers not to follow that principle. Disciples of Jesus cannot use the principle of justice to justify violence against enemies.

Supporters of the “dual citizenship” idea sometimes look to the Old Testament to defend their position. Jesus recognized that the Old Testament commanded just retaliation. But Jesus commanded His followers not to follow that principle, but rather to love the way the Father loves.

Does Romans 13 Make An Exception?

Romans 13 is often used to make two closely related points. 1) While God doesn’t approve of private retaliation, He does approve of governments when they bear the sword. 2) Therefore, when Christians bear the sword against evildoers as agents of the government, they are not sinning.

Next time you hear Romans 13 used in this way, consider these three points.

  1. “Institutes” does not mean “approved”

The Greek word translated as “institutes” is “Tasso”. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines Tasso as “to arrange in an orderly manner.” Thayer’s Lexicon defines it as “To place in a certain order, to arrange, to assign a place, to appoint.” “Tasso” cannot be translated as “created” or “approves of”.

When a librarian arranges books, it doesn’t matter whether the librarian likes a book or despises a book. To arrange those books in a certain order doesn’t infer that the librarian approves of what is written in those books.

Romans 13 builds on the Old Testament teachings about how God uses pagan governments to accomplish His will. God used nations such as the Assyrians and Babylonians as His ministers, but continually made it clear that He did not approve of the violence of those nations.

Romans 13 doesn’t teach that God “approves” of governments. Rather it teaches that God takes them as they are, whether good or evil, and arranges them in a way which serves His purposes. God arranges them to avenge the one who practices evil for the good of His children. Therefore governments do not bear the sword in vain.

  1. Not bearing the sword in vain is not the same as “not sinning”

In this context, when Paul writes that governments “do not bear the sword in vain”, this means that when governments wield the sword of violence, God arranges them to ensure that their violence is not without purpose.

God can make all things work together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8.28). In the context of Romans 8, this includes persecution, distress, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. No one would argue that persecution “is good” or “has God’s approval”, but God can use horrible things to work together for the good of His children. They are not in vain.

In the same way, governments do not bear the sword in vain. But there is not one word in Romans 13 that can be used to suggest that Christians have permission to bear the sword against their enemies without sinning.

  1. Context, Context, Context

If we read Romans 13 in context we can see that Paul is actually teaching something opposite of the “dual citizenship” idea.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Never pay back evil for evil to anyoneNever take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12: 14, 17, 19-21

Like Jesus, Paul offers no qualifications to enemy-love. We are to love all of our enemies, all the time, without exception. Christians are to leave all vengeance to God. This is the same Greek word (ekdikeos) used in Romans 13.4 to describe what God uses governments to accomplish.

Never take your own revenge (ekdikeo), beloved. – Romans 12.19a

Why? Because…

Vengeance (ekdikos) is mine”… says the Lord.” – Romans 12.19b

How does God execute vengeance on our enemies?

[Government] is a minister of God, an avenger (ekdikos) who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. – Romans 13.4

God uses governments to do the very thing He forbids Christians from doing. Christians are never to execute vengeance. We aren’t allowed to do that.

Conclusion

Romans 13 must not be used to encourage Christians to bear the sword for their government against evildoers. First of all Romans 13 does not teach God’s approval of governments when they bear the sword. And even more importantly, no Christian should ever offer any service to their government that would cause them to compromise their commitment to Christ. As Christians, we have sworn off all vengeance against our enemies. Vengeance belongs to God, and God uses governments to bring it about.

Christians do not have dual citizenship with dual allegiances and dual sets of responsibilities. Yes, in a legal sense, we do have citizenship in an earthly country. But when it comes to our allegiance, we are to proclaim that Jesus is Lord (and Caesar is not).

Come Out of Her My People… But Who Is She?

Christians must come out of “Babylon”, wherever Babylon-like powers may be found. Our allegiance should belong to Jesus alone. If we misplace our allegiance, we risk facing the same judgment that the wicked will eventually suffer.

And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”– Revelation 18.2-5

We are clearly supposed to “come out of her”, but who is “Babylon the Great” in the book of Revelation? What are the different ways people have interpreted Revelation? How have these different interpretations impacted the way people read Revelation 18.2-5? With so many different interpretations of these verses, found within such a complex book, what application can the church draw from the command to “Come out of her”?

Context, Context, Context

As with studying any other Biblical text, our goal is to seek the author’s (and the Holy Spirit’s) original intent. The primary meaning of these verses is what John intended them to mean, which in turn must also have been something his readers could have understood.

Revelation is a difficult book, and it has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Before surveying the most popluar approaches to the book, it is helpful identify some contextual landmarks to guide us on our journey.

  • Revelation identifies itself as apocalyptic literature, which is highly symbolic in nature (1.1). Babylon the Great symbolizes something which necessarily must bear some resemblance and have some sort of similar qualities with the ancient Babylonian empire, otherwise the image wouldn’t make any sense.
  • The text identifies “Babylon the Great” as “the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17.18).
  • John says the book is a prophecy regarding things which “must soon take place” (1.3).
  • The book is addressed to the seven churches of Asia (1.4).
  • The church’s confrontation with persecution is clearly a major theme throughout the book.
  • This great city, Babylon, is presented to us in Revelation 17-18 as a contrast with the holy city, the New Jerusalem, described in Revelation 21-22. The former is described as a prostitute (17.1-13), thus forming a contrast with the pure and righteous marriage of the Lamb (19.7-10). The former city is judged (17-18), thus forming a contrast with the saints who are rewarded (21.22).

As we survey different approaches to Revelation we must continually ask if the path they suggest makes sense in light of these contextual landmarks.

Babylon The Great is Rome

This understanding comes from what is often called a “preterist” approach towards Revelation. The word “preterist” simply means “gone by”. The preterist view holds that the events referred to in Revelation were specifically fulfilled in the first century or shortly thereafter.

According to the most common version of the preterist approach, the book of Revelation was written to warn and encourage the church in light of Roman persecution. The book served to encourage Christians to persevere by reassuring them that God was in control, even over the Roman government. Babylon, “the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” would therefore be Rome. The command to “come out of her” would thus be read a command to the church to withdraw their allegiance and trust from the Roman government. The church must not support the state, align with the state or seek to reform the state. They are to withdraw from the state, and maintain an attitude of submission to the state, even if that means death.

Those who suggest that the book should be read in this way point to several of the landmarks we identified earlier. They insist that we must attempt to read Revelation from the perspective of first-century Christians to whom it was originally written. Revelation was written to the “seven churches of Asia” (1.4), about “things which must soon take place” (1.1), because “the time is near” (1.3). Throughout the book there is an urgency for the readers to respond quickly (2.16; 3.10-11; 22.6, 7, 12, 20). These statements require that we look for fulfillments during the lifetime of the original audience.

However, according to this view, there are timeless lessons which Christians can take from Revelation. For example, from the passage we have just examined, Christians should continually view the state as a “Babylon,” a “prostitute” who is continually attempting to seduce Christians by the pleasures she offers. The state should be viewed in contrast to God’s kingdom. Since all earthly kingdoms will be destroyed just as Rome was (1 Cor. 15.24), Christians should continually “come out of her” lest they share in that destruction.

Babylon the Great is Jerusalem

This is a different variation of the “preterist” view and shares many of the same strengths. Those who hold this view contend that Revelation was written at a very early date, prior to the fall of Jerusalem, and was written with specific reference to that event. This view is based largely on the similarity of the vivid language used in Revelation with that used by Jesus in Matthew 24. Since Matthew 24 was almost certainly written with reference to the fall of Jerusalem, Revelation most likely refers to the same event. “The great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” was written in reference to the city of Jerusalem. Of course Jerusalem never actually reigned over the kings of the earth in the same way Rome did, but according to this view, that’s part of the point of the accusation. The Jewish authorities had come to think so highly of themselves that they had essentially become like the wicked Babylonians.

These verses would thus be understood as a call for Christians to flee the doomed city of Jerusalem before she was destroyed by the Romans, just as Jesus had commanded them to flee the sudden destruction of the city in Matthew 24.16-18.

This view is thus dependent on proving that Revelation was written at a very early date. Most scholars have concluded that the evidence for an early date of the book is lacking. This view is also called into question in that it was addressed to the seven churches in Asia rather than to Judean Christians. Asia Minor was a hot bed for emperor worship, which seems to me to support the Roman government view of Babylon. If, however, the “Jerusalem” view is correct, the modern applications would not be drastically different. Christians still must withdraw from aligning themselves with wicked Babylonian-like authorities, wherever and whenever they may be found.

Babylon the Great is a Spiritual Paradigm

Many Christians throughout history have held to what is referred to as the “spiritualist” view of Revelation (sometimes called the “idealist” view). This particular approach to Revelation denies that the events and figures found within the book have any direct correlation with actual events or figures, either in the past or in the future. To search for the specific fulfillment, they argue, is to misunderstand the apocalyptic genre of the book.

According to this view, “Babylon the Great” is just a spiritual paradigm that encourages Christians to withdraw from aligning themselves with wickedness, wherever and whenever it may be found. The verses were to be applied to Christians whenever they find themselves in spiritual conflict.

This perspective has some strengths. It strongly affirms the symbolic nature of Revelation (1.1), and with it, the absurdity of trying to interpret it literally (6.13; 8.12; 12.4). This view reminds its readers to maintain humility as they read the book. If the book doesn’t specifically tell us what it refers to, we can at best rely on human wisdom when we try to “interpret it.”

The weaknesses I see with this view is that the book itself claims that it contains actual prophecy (1.3; 22.7, 9-11), which referred to events which would soon take place (1.1). It was addressed to specific historical churches (1.4), and it doesn’t easily account for the repeated warned or readers to respond quickly (2.16; 3.10-11; 22.6, 7, 12, 20).

Babylon the Great was (and is?) a Future Empire

This futurist view contends that “Babylon the Great” referred to something well beyond the era of the Roman Empire. Some believe the events of Revelation have already begun to unfold, while others believe all the events remain in our future.

Many protestant reformers and also the early leaders of the restoration movement believed that Babylon the Great referred to the Catholic church, and the book prophecies the great reformation movement. Others have believed that Babylon the Great refers to Communist China, America, or some other empire that will yet arise one day in the future. According to the futurists approach, Christians are expected to somehow identify Babylon once it arises, and then withdraw from her.

A big problem I find with this view is that it seems to contradict the book’s own claim that it was written about “things which must soon take place” (1.1). If the futurist view is correct, it necessitates that we know later history to be able to understand the book. Therefore this approach wouldn’t have made any sense to John’s original readers.

Come Out of Her!

If we keep in mind the landmarks found in the historical and literary context, I am convinced that we can have a pretty good idea about how we should read and apply Revelation 18.2-5.

I personally find the “Babylon is Rome” view most compelling. The “Babylon is Jerusalem” view is also a possibility. I also believe that the vagueness of apocalyptic literature makes it easy to draw spiritual principles that can be applied to Christians in any era as the idealist suggest. The futurist view doesn’t impress me at all. In fact, it concerns me since it leads so many people to try to read the book as some sort of horoscope telling the future, an approach which becomes dangerously close to the sin of divination.

But regardless of what conclusions you draw from Revelation 18, the modern application remains essentially the same. It is the same basic admonition Paul made to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 6.14-18), encouraging them to cut all ties that would bind them to unbelievers.  Christians must not align themselves with wickedness.

Babylon the Great

Written to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire, the book of Revelation encourages Christians to be patient and faithfully obedient to Christ. Reading the book, however, can prove to be a daunting challenge for most modern Christians. Revelation reads completely different from the kind of literature we are accustomed to. It speaks of heavenly creatures, terrible plagues, and multi-headed monsters. It’s a very weird (yet fascinating) book to say the least!

Consider for a moment the strange scene described in Revelation 14.6-13:

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, and having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and springs of waters.”

And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or in his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “So that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14.6-13

Why are the angels pronouncing judgment on “Babylon”, a powerful world empire that fell hundreds of years before Revelation was written? What on earth (or in heaven?) is going on here? Apart from a couple of phrases we usually associate with hell (vs. 10-11), and an encouraging verse about those who “die in the Lord”, which we sometimes hear read at funerals (v. 13), these verses sound very strange indeed!

In order to get what is going on with these verses, in order to feel the full force of the strange imagery, and in order to understand the reality to which it points so that we can begin to apply it to our lives, we must first consider Babylon through the lens of the Old Testament, especially the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Babylon in Isaiah

The poetic writings of the prophets are sometimes complex, but being familiar with Isaiah is vital to understanding Revelation 14.

One of the major themes in the book of Isaiah is the superiority of the LORD over Babylon and her “gods”. The first 39 chapters contain Isaiah’s message of judgment on Israel, culminating in the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in exile in 597 B.C. In Isaiah 40, the tone of the book begins to change from judgment to hope for Israel.

In Isaiah 41-48 we read a series of poems written to remind us that God is greater than Babylon and her gods. Even in the exile, God was still in control (41.2-5), and was orchestrating the exile for Israel’s good (43.22-28). In chapters 47-48 we are reminded that God is faithful to His people no matter what evil Babylon may do.

In Isaiah 49-55 we are introduced to a mysterious character known as “God’s Servant”, who will rescues Israel from Babylon and bring justice. Yet this strange rescue plan necessitates that the Servant will suffer and die at the hands of the nations. It is through this suffering and death that the Servant will bring salvation for Israel and bring God’s justice into the world.

Surrounding these poems are announcements of doom against Babylon. One such warning is found in Isaiah 51.22-23:

Thus says the Lord, the LORD, even your God
Who contends for His people,
Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling,
The chalice of My anger;
You will never drink it again.
I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
Who have said to you, ‘Lie down that we may walk over you.’
You have even made your back like the ground
And like the street for those who walk over it.”

God will take the cup of wrath that Babylon made Israel drink, and he will make them drink from it. In other words, God is going to give Babylon a taste of her own medicine! They will fall victim to the same evil that they brought on others!

It is in this context that the “good news”, the “gospel” is proclaimed:

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52.7

Today we use the word “gospel” in many different ways. We have “gospel singing” and “gospel meetings”, and we refer to faithful preachers as “gospel preachers.” The word “gospel” is often used as synonymous with God’s plan of salvation.

Although Isaiah doesn’t detract from God’s plan of saving individuals, here in Isaiah, the word “gospel” specifically refers to Israel’s prophesied victory over Babylon. For Isaiah, there are three elements of this “gospel” he immediately mentions:

“Your God reigns!”

And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”…

The LORD has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52.7, 9)

This message, announced to Israelites in exile, means that God has won the victory and now reigns over Babylon, and the Israelites are free to go home!

God Himself is coming to restore Zion.

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
They shout joyfully together;
For they will see with their own eyes
When the LORD restores Zion. – Isaiah 52.8

Jerusalem had been destroyed. But now, the “gospel” was the message that the LORD would restore Zion in a public, visible way.

God is going to bring salvation from Babylon, and all the nations will see.

Break forth, shout joyfully together,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the LORD has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52.9-10

As history rolled on by, Babylon did indeed fall, and the Israelites returned home from exile. But nobody concluded that Isaiah’s prophecies had been fulfilled. Instead of God reigning, other empires rose to reign in Babylon’s place. There was never any evidence that God Himself ever returned to Zion. Rather than being saved from oppression, the nation of Israel continued to live under oppression for hundreds of years.

So what was Isaiah speaking of? When would Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled? The early Christians concluded that God’s victory, His personal return to Zion, and deliverance from Babylon was finally experienced when Jesus died on the cross as an innocent lamb (Is. 53.7).

Babylon in Jeremiah

A second key text to understand is Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived through the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians, and spent much of his life under the shadow of their power.

At the end of his book (Jeremiah 46-51), Jeremiah has a long list of poems about how God is going to bring judgment on all of the earthly kingdoms that surround Israel (Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, the Ammonites, and Damascus).

He saves the longest poems for last. Chapters 50-51 form the climax of the book as Jeremiah describes how God will bring judgment on the biggest and most evil of all the earthly kingdoms. God is going to judge Babylon.

Babylon in Revelation 14

After reading the prophets we can finally start to see why the image of “Babylon” was so important in Revelation and why this book would provide so much encouragement for Christians living under the yoke of Roman Empire. And once we grasp that, we can see why this book can be encouraging for Christians today as well.

The first angel announces that God is going to bring judgment:

And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” – Revelation 14.7

The second angel announces that Babylon is fallen:

And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality” – Revelation 14.8

In judgment, Babylon will be made to drink of the wine of her passion. (Remember what we just read about this cup in Isaiah 51.22-23?)

The third angel warns that this judgment will be thorough and complete, and it will be for all those who have allowed themselves to be seduced by Babylon’s appeal.

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14.9-10

This “good news” about the fall of Babylon is described in verse 6 as “the eternal gospel.”

What does the “Gospel” in Revelation 14 Mean for Us?

First of all, the gospel cannot be separated from judgment – specifically judgment upon Babylon, the image and ultimate example of an earthly nation. For Christians who were being persecuted in the Roman Empire, this most certainly would be a message of “good news!” When Christians see all the wickedness happening in their country, in their government, and in the world at large, they can take courage. They can know with confidence that judgment is coming upon Babylon, no matter what form Babylon may take in our day.

Secondly, for John, this is a call for endurance.

Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14.12-13

The book of Revelation encourages Christians to resist the temptation to place their trust in Babylon. Babylon has been judged. Babylon has been defeated. Therefore, no matter how wicked earthly nations may grow, Christians can rest assured that their deeds will follow beyond the evil of Babylon, beyond the grave itself. We must therefore remain patient and faithfully obedient to Christ.

Kingdoms in Conflict: An Important, Yet Overlooked Theme in the Bible

God and Government

From beginning to end, the Bible continually shows that there is a conflict between the governments of this world and the Kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world were established as a result of the fall of man, and God’s kingdom was established for the purpose of confronting and ultimately destroying these kingdoms (Dan. 2.44; 1 Cor. 15. 24-26). Christ came to rescue His world and to destroy the power of the evil one. To ignore this theme is to overlook the full significance of the cross and causes us to misunderstand the mission of God’s kingdom to confront the governmental powers of the world.

For some reason, this theme is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t catch us off guard. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually shows himself as superior to the pagan rulers and authorities (the Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Assyrians and the Babylonians). A major theme in the prophets is how God is more powerful than these political powers and will ultimately deliver His people from Babylon. If Jesus is to be understood as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, we should read the New Testament with the expectation that this conflict between Israel and the pagan nations would somehow, in some way, be resolved.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, he came to announce a “kingdom” to a world where Caesar thought of himself as the only “Lord” and “Savior”. We can be sure that the early disciples gave serious consideration to the question of how our citizenship in the kingdom of God should impact our relationship to the governments under which we now live.

God and the Pagan Kingdoms of the Old Testament

The entire Old Testament, on one level at least, is a story of how God continually delivered His people from the political oppression of pagan nations and their rulers. Think back to the most significant stories of the Old Testament. After Cain killed Abel, he responded by building a city “in the east”, the part of the world that would eventually become nation of Babylon (Gen. 4 16-17). The continual rebellion of Genesis 1-11 culminates in the construction of the tower of Babel (the same word which is later translated “Babylon”), as the people organize to make a name for themselves in rebellion to the authority of God (Gen. 11.1-9). The scattering of the nations from Babel becomes the backdrop for the story of Abraham, as God calls Abram to leave his home in the east and to trust in Him to “make his name great” and bless all the nations of the earth through him. The promise to Abraham is thus given as the answer to the problem of human arrogance and nation building (Gen. 12.1-3). At this point we are only a few chapters in to the Bible, but we should already be noticing that there is going to be a some sort of conflict between God’s people and Babylon.

We soon find Abraham’s family in Egypt, oppressed by evil ruler, Pharaoh. In one of the most important stories of the whole Old Testament, God demonstrates His superiority over the Egyptian rulers and delivers His people through the blood of a lamb. The conflict between God and the pagan rulers continues into the Promised Land as God gives Israel victories over the Amelikites, the Moabites and the Canaanites. The book of Judges can be read as a series of “mini-exodus” stories, as God continually delivers his people from pagan authorities.

In 1 Samuel 8, Israel demands a king to be “like all the nations”, and so their king would act as a judge over them and fight their battles for them. Samuel then warns Israel of the disastrous results of having a king like all the nations (vs. 10-22). The books of 1 and 2 Kings prove Samuel to be right in his warning, as Israel’s kings continually lead Israel further and further away from God, ultimately resulting Israel going back to Babel once again, oppressed by yet another pagan government. During the fall and exile of Israel, the prophets continually reflect on the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

Isaiah, writing during this time of downfall, reminded Israel that God was still in control, and was using even the most wicked of earthly powers as His ministers to accomplish His will (Is. 10.5-15). Isaiah pointed to the Israel’s alliances with these earthly nations as one of the key reasons for their downfall (Is. 30.1-6). Isaiah encouraged Israel not to be enamored by the apparent strength of these nations, and encouraged them to view these nations the same way God views them: as “a drop in a bucket”, “meaningless” and “nothing” (Is. 40. 12-26). Isaiah looked forward to a day when God’s Servant would defeat these earthly powers (Is. 52).

Likewise Daniel looked forward to the day when God’s righteous people would be delivered (Dan. 9), exalted over the “beasts” of earthly governments (Dan. 7), resulting in a Kingdom which could not be shaken, through which all the other earthly governments would be dashed to pieces (Dan. 2).

This hope of victory over the pagan rulers of the world continues to be repeated time and time again throughout the psalms (See Psalms 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, and 144). God reigns over the nations. God sits on His throne. God will raise up His King and will deliver His people. These are the songs that Israel continually sang for the centuries that followed the destruction of Jerusalem. These are the songs that Israel was singing when Jesus came and started proclaiming God’s Kingdom under “Lord” Caesar’s nose.

God and Caesar

So what did Jesus have to do with this story? Did Jesus simply use “kingdom” as a synonym for the church, establishing a nice and neat division of church and state, allowing Caesar to be the ruler the political world, while Jesus claimed rule over the spiritual world? Not so fast.

As Luke opens his gospel account by referring to a decree that went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered for a census for the purpose of taxation:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth… And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with May, who was engaged to him, and was with child. – Luke 2.1-5

This opening, which highlights Caesar’s dominion over the world, is usually passed over as a random bit of incidental history.  But if we read Luke-Acts from beginning to end, we should notice that the story which begins with Caesar’s decree which leads to the birth of  David’s offspring in the city where the Messiah was to be born, goes on to emphasize that Jesus was crucified precisely for challenging Caesar’s authority and proclaiming Himself to be king (Lk. 23.1-2). Interestingly, Luke’s second volume ends with Paul, in Rome, right under Caesar’s nose, “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28.31). Luke clearly intends his readers to recognize that in Jesus, God had defeated the pagan ruler.

Matthew’s equivalent of the opening of Luke 2 is found in Matthew 2, where Herod the Great receives a visit from some wise men from the east who are seeking the a newly born “King of the Jews”. The Jewish King Herod responds with the same kind of violence that you would typically expect from a wicked pagan ruler. Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, continually looms in the background of Jesus’s ministry, killing his cousin John and threatening Jesus’s own work (11.1-4; 14.1-12). In the end, God shows himself victorious over Caesar and Herod when the guards at the tomb are unable to prevent Jesus’s resurrection.

Mark is even more obvious. One passage which may be highlighted is Mark 10.42-45:

Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be the first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus thus makes it very clear that His followers are not to rule in the same way that Gentile rulers do.

In John, Jesus expresses a similar thought as he explains the significance of His upcoming death.

Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of the world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. – John 12.31-33

There it is again. The world’s rulers will be overthrown through the death of Jesus. The rulers of this world flexed their muscles and condemned Jesus with the most powerful weapon they had: death. And yet it was in that death that that those world powers were ultimately disarmed.

There is much more that could be said about Jesus and His teachings in the gospels, but this should be sufficient to make the point: the gospel writers continued to embrace the theme that was introduced in the Old Testament. God’s kingdom is continually described as in conflict with, and victorious over the governments of this world.

The Christian and Political Powers Today

After Jesus’ victories over the political powers of His day, the New Testament authors continued to reflect on how Jesus’ death and resurrection should impact the way we relate to the human governments under which we now live. Paul recognized the kingdoms of this world as enemies of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15.24-26), but He encouraged Christians not to fight against flesh and blood (2 Cor. 10.3-4; Eph. 6.12), but rather to pray for our rulers (1 Tim 2.1-2) and submit to them, recognizing that God is in control and will use them as His ministers (Rom. 12.29-13.5). John likewise recognized that the world was under the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5.19), but knew that God’s kingdom would ultimately be victorious over the kingdoms of this world (Rev. 11.15-18). Peter embraced the idea that Christians were stranger and exiles in relation to their earthly country (1 Pet. 2.11-12), but like Paul, He encouraged Christians to submit to their earthly rulers for the Lord’s sake (1 Pet 2.13-17).

We must avoid concluding that the Bible presents the kingdoms of men as the ultimate enemy. The Biblical authors were very much aware that there was a darker, even more significant evil power that stands behind all the kingdoms of this world. This evil power is frequently referred to as “Satan” who is the “god of this world.” Jesus frequently reminded people, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in hell” (Mt. 10.28; cf. Lk 12.4-5). But that doesn’t mean that we should conclude that the conflict between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of man is a secondary or minor story line of the Bible either. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s kingdom is presented as in conflict with the kingdoms of this world. As students of Scripture, Christians should be mindful of this theme and allow it to impact the way they relate to the kingdoms of this world.

9 Things Peter and John Said That Should Impact The Way a Christian Approaches Politics

Like Jesus and like Paul, John recognized that the nations of this world are under demonic influence. Peter likewise understood this and encouraged Christians to endure persecution from their rulers, while maintaining honor and reverence towards them. Together, with the rest of the New Testament writers, Peter and John encourage Christians to remember that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.

1.The World Is Under The Power of the Evil One

We know that we are of God and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. – 1 John 5.19

Even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, John still viewed the whole world as being under the power of the evil one. The church is God’s, but outside the church is Satan’s (1 Cor. 5.1-5; 1 Tim. 1.20; 1 Tim. 5. 15). Three times Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of the world (Jn. 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). In other words, Satan holds the highest position of authority in this world. Paul frequently taught the same thing (2 Cor. 4.4; Eph. 2.2; Eph. 2.2).

Of course John understood that God ultimately holds more authority and power, which is why He will win (1 Jn. 5.4-5). But in the present, Satan is the one who exercises the most power and influence over this world.

If you’ve ever wondered why the governments of this world have continually failed to provide lasting solutions to social and global problems, or why they continually gravitate towards violence and oppression, this should help answer those questions. If we recognize that Satan is the ruler over this world and its kingdoms, we shouldn’t be surprised.

2. God’s Kingdom Will Be Victorious Over the Nations

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever… We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And all the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bondservants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” – Revelation 11.15-18

John’s Revelation describes two different kingdoms that are at war against one another: The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of Christ. In keeping with John 5.19, these verses do not describe God as having unilateral control over the nations of the earth. When the Kingdom of Christ is victorious over the kingdom of the world, the nations become enraged. The nations are thus described as being on the side of the kingdom of this world. How can Christians seek to build up and strengthen those nations which exist in opposition to Christ’s kingdom?

3.Earthly Governments are Deceived by the Destroyer

Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, God and Magog, to gather them together for the war the number of them like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20.7-10

The dragon, through His deception, has rallied all the nations of the world together against God’s kingdom. But when they are confronted with God’s justice, everyone who has refused to be a part of God’s kingdom will be destroyed. And so the dragon, the nations, and all who chose them are eternally punished, never again able to corrupt God’s good creation.

Abaddon, the Destroyer, is identified as the king of the nations of this this world (Rev. 9.11; 11.15). The world is deceived by the power of the great beast, and thus they worship the beast and give authority to the beast (Rev. 13.11-15). In John’s Revelation, it’s not just a few of the “bad” nations, or particuraly powerful “empires” that are deceived. Rather all the “nations which are in the four corners of the earth” are deceived by Him. These nations are collectively identified as “Gog and Magog”, an archetype of earthly governments who trust in military power (Ezekiel 38).

4.Babylon Will Be Destroyed

 Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality…

And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning…

So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer… and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. – Revelation 18.2-3, 9, 21-23

Babylon, the great and evil earthly nation that swallowed up the Israelites in 597 B.C. became a symbol of the wickedness, idolatry, immorality, and violence of later earthly nations. In John’s Revelation it is stated that “all the kings of the earth” have committed acts of immorality with “Babylon,” for the nations were deceived by her. “Babylon”, the great kingdom of this world will be destroyed. When she falls, all the earthly governments will mourn, for they have long loved the sensual pleasures that she provides.

5.Come Out of Her!

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues. – Revelation 18.4

God’s people should recognize Babylon and come out of her! Come out of her who is deceived by Satan. Come out of her who seduces kings in their lust for wealth and power. Come out of her who oppresses and kills God’s people.

Why? Because she will suffer plagues for her sins. And when she does,  kings and merchants (vs. 9-18) will share in her plagues when she is punished. Meanwhile the saints and apostles and prophets, who have avoided her seductions, will rejoice when she is judged (vs. 19-20).

God’s saints should be careful to distance themselves from the deceptive allure of the prostitute named Babylon.

6.Christians Are Strangers and Exiles

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2.11-12

Peter recognized that Christians should fill the role as strangers and exiles. These words were used to identify those who live in a city, but do not identify as permanent residents of that city. It should be no wonder that Peter, who lived long after the earthly nation of Babylon had been destroyed, identified himself as living in “Babylon” (1 Pet. 5.13). Peter was picking up on the same concept that was to be described in the book of Revelation. Peter and his readers did not have permanent ties to the earthly city or nation in which they lived. As exiles, they did not wage war against the enemies of their earthly nation, but rather they waged their warfare against fleshly lusts.

7.Be Subject to Them

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may be able to silence the ignorance of foolish men…. Fear God. Honor the king. – 1 Peter 2.13-17

Christians are instructed to subject themselves to earthly rulers. Why? Not for the sake of the rulers themselves, but for the Lord’s sake. The Lord is the one Christians should fear, yet we should still show honor to earthly rulers by subjecting ourselves to them.

By showing honor and subjecting ourselves to earthly rulers, the ignorance of their foolishness is silenced. If Christians want to see the ignorance of foolish rulers silenced, they must keep their behavior excellent, submissive, showing honor to their enemies in power.

8.Do not fear them.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,” but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.. – 1 Peter 3.13-17

Christians are not to fear earthly rulers. Neither are they to consider their earthly rulers as “Lord.” Rather they are to set apart Christ as their Lord. When earthly rulers slander disciples of Christ, we must be ready to give an answer for our hope, while continually maintaining gentleness and reverence towards them.

9. Recognize that Jesus is our King

Baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. – 1 Peter 3.21-22

When Jesus rose from the dead, he was exalted above the authorities and powers. Earthly governmental powers have been defeated in the resurrection. Like the flood which delivered Noah from the wicked world in which he lived, baptism delivers Christians from their wicked world. It is for this reason that Peter, living right under the nose of the Roman emperor, could boldly proclaim, “To Him [Jesus, not Caesar] be dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet. 5.11). When we are baptized, we confess that Jesus is the Lord, the ruler. And by implication, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.

Conclusion

Peter and John stand firmly in agreement with Jesus and Paul. They never encouraged Christians to become involved in earthly politics, but rather they sought to overcome those powers by peacefully submitting to them.

9 Things The Apostle Paul Said That Should Impact The Way A Christian Approaches Politics

Jesus never sought to become involved in politics, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he refused to take sides in their political arguments. Jesus recognized that the devil ruled as the god of this world, and therefore He placed absolutely no trust in this world’s deceptive power.

But what about the Apostle Paul? How did Paul understand the Christian’s relationship to the governments of this world?

1.Submit to governing authorities

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. – Romans 12.29-13.5

Paul forbade Christians from revolting against their leaders. In Romans 12, Paul encouraged Christians to love their enemies and overcome evil with good. In Romans 13, Paul applies that principle to one specific kind of enemy: governing authorities. (It helps to remember that Nero was the emperor at the time that this was written. He certainly would have been one of, if not the very first person to come to mind whenever Roman Christians read about “enemies”.)

Paul commanded to Roman Christians to overcome evil by submitting to the governing authorities. Insubordination and rebellion against government are thus forbidden. Just as elsewhere in the New Testament, whenever we read the command to “submit”, this implies that there are two different parties being discussed with potentially conflicting wills. Paul wrote Romans with the understanding that Christians and the government were two separate entities.

2. God uses governments “for good”

For it is a minister of God to you for good. – Romans 13.4a

In the same way that Paul reminded the Roman Christians that God can use all kinds of horrible things to work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8.28), so also Paul reminds them that God will even use governing authorities as evil as Nero for good. Throughout this passage, Paul was teaching the same thing the prophets taught concerning evil Assyria (Isaiah 10.5-15) and Babylon (Habakkuk 2). In the same way that God, through His providence, raised up those evil nations and used them as His ministers to accomplish His purpose, so too God would use the Roman government for good. This doesn’t mean that God approved of everything Nero did any more than He approved of what the Assyrians or the Babylonians did. But it does mean that Christians need to remember that no matter who is in power, and no matter how evil they may be, God still has a plan. We can trust that somehow, someway, God will use them for good. Therefore, we can submit to their evil rule.

3.Earthly rulers are enemies of God’s Kingdom

Then comes the end, when He hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. – 1 Corinthians 15.24-26

Paul understood that the rulers, authorities and powers were among the enemies of Jesus to be destroyed at His coming. He reigns in His kingdom, which, “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2.44).

Since it is the mission of Jesus and His kingdom to put all these enemies under His feet and abolish these kingdoms, rulers, authorities and powers, how can His servants enter into, strengthen, and build up that which Christ and His kingdom are to destroy?

4.Do not be yoked with unbelievers

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God has said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Therefore, “Come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean
And I will welcome you.
And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6.14-18

While this passage in itself does not seem to be written specifically towards political partnerships, it certainly discourages it. To be unequally yoked (KJV) is to be bound together with an unbeliever in a way which allows the believer to be controlled by the unbeliever. So that Christians do not compromise their purposes, their values, or their life, they must avoid these kinds of partnerships. The principle Paul gives here would apply to any relationship in which a Christian will be controlled or heavily influenced by a non-Christian.

5.Do not fight with fleshly weapons

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2 Corinthians 10.3-4

To use a fleshly weapon is to seek to win a battle without God. Christians do not wage war according to the flesh. The spiritual weapons are the only ones a child of God can use, and these spiritual weapons are powerful in destroying the strongholds of Satan. We weaken our strength when we appeal to government power, which of necessity uses fleshly weapons to accomplish its purposes.

6.Do not fight against flesh and blood

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6.12

Christians do not fight against flesh and blood. We fight for them (Lk. 6.27-35). Earthly political fights make enemies out of other humans.

Who is the real enemy we fight against? Rulers. Authorities. World-powers. No, not a fight against the individuals people who fill those offices and march in their armies, but rather our battle is focused on the spiritual evil that stands beneath and supports all those government powers. Therefore, the weapons we need for this battle are a different type of weapon than that which is used by earthly governments.

7.The rulers and authorities have been disarmed.

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display over them, having triumphed over them through Him. – Colossians 2.15

The rulers and authorities are here described as enemies of Christ which were conquered. The rulers and authorities have only one power: death. On the cross, the rulers and authorities condemned Jesus with the only power they had at their disposal. When Jesus conquered death, he left all government power ineffective towards those who are being resurrected.

8.Pray for rulers.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2.1-2

Christians are not instructed to pray that their rulers should be strong, prosperous and permanent rulers. Neither should our prayers be limited only towards those rulers of  our country in which we live.  We should be praying for “all” men and “all” who are in authority. This includes even praying for our enemies.  Rather the object of our prayers is for peace and tranquility.

When Christians pray, they have the full attention of the highest office in the land, the King of kings. When Christians exercise power in the voting booth, their voice is barely heard among thousands of other voices, and only once every few years.

9. Don’t Be Distracted From Our Fight

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. – 2 Timothy 2.3-4

To please our commanding officer, it is necessary that we are not distracted by the affairs of enemy powers. When soldiers are placed in foreign lands, their responsibility is to suffer, if need be, to carry out the agendas of the homeland. His assignment is not to become involved in “the affairs of everyday life.”

Christians are soldiers in enemy territory. We live in a territory that is governed by “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4) and “principality and power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). Our task is not to be distracted by the affairs of his country, but rather to please our commanding officer by imitating His example and following His commands.

When Christians mistakenly think they are building up God’s kingdom by promoting which political options, candidates or policies are the “right ones”, they are letting themselves get distracted from the task that Christians are given. Our task is to do what Jesus did. He preached the Kingdom of God and defeated His enemies by how He lived, died, and rose again, not by some great political victory.

Conclusion

Like Jesus, Paul understood that the earthly rulers and authorities were under demonic influence. They were part of the domain of darkness, among the enemies of Christ which have been disarmed and defeated. Therefore Paul never encouraged Christians to take political action or seek political power.

Paul did not think Christians should feel a need to overthrow their enemies, but rather should overcome evil by good by submitting to those in power. He had faith that just as God had used the Assyrians and Babylonians for good, so He would continue to cause all things to work together for good.

Paul encouraged Christians maintain their separation from unbelievers, so that they are not distracted from a far more important mission.

In A Democracy, Don’t Christians Have A Responsibility to Participate in Politics?

In a previous post I recounted nine things Jesus said or did that should influence the way Christians approach politics. Jesus never tried to gain power in the political system of his day. But, it has been argued that in almost every instance that the Bible references the Christian’s relationship with government, the governments were emperors or kings. Governments in that day didn’t allow for the public to participate in the same way they do today. Caesar and Pilate weren’t elected by popular vote.

We, however, live in a democracy where our government allows and encourages the public to be involved in the political process. Suddenly the governments are not “thems”, but rather the governments are “us” (or so it is argued). Does the Christians relationship to government and politics change in a democracy? Do modern Christians now have a responsibility to try to change society using political methods?

First of all it is not true that in democratic or any other kind of government that the people are themselves the rulers. They choose the rulers, among a select few individuals who have been given the opportunity to run for office. Once elected, these individuals tend to rule for their own selfish good and glory the same way other rulers in other forms of government rule.

Our Citizenship is in a Foreign County

Christians must remember that we are citizens of a foreign country. “For our citizenship is in heaven“, wrote Paul (Phil. 3.20). We are “foreigners” and “exiles” in our own country (1 Pet. 2.11). Does this basic relationship towards earthly governments change depending on the type of government we happen to be under?

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy:

“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” – 2 Timothy 2.4

Our commitment to be a soldier of the cross doesn’t change based on the form of government we are under. As a soldier, we must not be distracted from our mission.

Jesus emphasized the contrast between the pagan path of greatness and the Christian path to greatness:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” – Matthew 20.25-26

The disciples of Jesus should abstain from the pagan desire to rule over others. This key distinction doesn’t change when the form of government changes.

Even if Christians themselves were the rulers, this raises another difficult challenge: How can a Christian fulfill the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities as a Christian at the same time?

Governments are to avenge evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are forbidden from avenging themselves (Rom. 12.19). Governments carry out God’s wrath on evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to leave it to God’s wrath (Rom. 12.18). Governments do not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to feed their enemies (Rom. 12.20-21). Romans 12-13 only makes sense if it is understood that Christians are a separate entity, with separate responsibilities from the governmental authorities. If, in a democracy, Christians become one in the same with the government, Romans 12-13 must be seen to be commanding contradictory responsibilities at the same time.

Christians are to be in subjection to earthly rulers (Rom. 13.1). Every instance of “subjection” in the New Testament indicates the presence of at least two separate, and potentially opposing entities. If Christians are one and the same with government, are they then to submit to themselves? If “we” are now the government, how are we supposed to submit to ourselves? To the extent that government can desire something of us that we would not choose ourselves, they are a separate entity.

Earthly Governments Will Be Destroyed

If in a democracy, “we” are now one in the same with the government in Romans 13, are we also one in the same in 1 Corinthians 15 with the rulers and authorities and powers who will be destroyed along with the rest of Jesus’s enemies when He returns?

Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and all power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Surely we would not argue that simply because we live in a democracy that “we” are the rulers and authorities that will be destroyed in 1 Corinthians 15. How can we claim to be one in the same with the rulers in Romans 13, but not in 1 Corinthians 15?

When Paul speaks of Christians wrestling against authorities and rulers and powers (Eph. 6.12), did He envision Christians wrestling against themselves, since they are now the rulers in a democracy?

Absolutely not. The day will come when “Babylon” will be judged and destroyed. We should therefore heed the warning of Revelation 18.4:

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins are piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

If we are one in the same with government just because we live under a democracy, we should be very concerned! We should be seeking any way possible to get out! If we don’t “come out of her” we will share in the judgment she will receive.

Conclusion

Thankfully, “we” are not the government. We represent a different kingdom. The kingdom in which we enjoy citizenship will be delivered to the Father when all the other kingdoms are destroyed. We are to change the world, but we are not to use the same methods the world uses. Our power to change the world is rooted in prayer and sacrificial love. Whatever distracts us from this task should be avoided.

Living in a democracy certainly makes it easy to be politically involved if we choose to do so. But that doesn’t mean we have a responsibility to do so. If anything, it means we must be even more careful to maintain the important distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.