With the political posturing and ominous warnings that many Christians indulge in every time their nation takes a step away from God, it's excusable to think the Bible teaches that nations should be Christian kingdoms. And some churches do teach this. But the Bible does not. The misinterpretation came about because people translated God's word and the prophecy in His word through the geo-political makeup that they saw around them, and not literally, as God intended.
Does God want Christians to establish the kingdom and force people to obey God's laws?
It actually started with Jesus. The Old Testament promised that God would send a Messiah to rescue His people Israel. There are many descriptions of the kingdom He will rule, the peace that will result, and the blessings His followers will enjoy. When Jesus came, the Jews were ready. They wanted their military/political savior to rescue them from the rule of the Romans. They wanted a nation where they could worship God as He had dictated to them, independent from any interference from their polytheistic neighbors.
But that wasn't why Jesus came at that time. He came to save the Jews from their sins, to make them free from the law. He had no intention of taking the Jews out from under Roman rule.
The problem was with the interpretation of Daniel's Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. Scholars understand "week" to mean seven Jewish years of 360 days each. The countdown began when Artaxerxes gave word to Nehemiah that the Jews were to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The sixty-ninth week ended with the last year of Jesus' ministry. But Daniel's prophecy was for the Jews, not the Gentiles or their church. What Daniel could not have known was that in between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks—in between Jesus being "cut off" and the signing of a truce between Israel and her enemies—is not a single night, but the entire church age. The Jews in Jesus' time thought the arrival of the political Messiah was imminent—that nothing else needed to be fulfilled before His arrival. They didn't realize that their independence and peace would come only after the Gentiles had a chance to learn about and follow Jesus. Until the "fullness of the Gentiles has come in," the Jews have to wait (Romans 11:25).
Before the mid-twentieth century, the literal fulfillment of Daniel's seventieth week and Jesus' reign looked impossible. How could God bless a nation that didn't exist? It didn't help that since the 4th century, nations across Europe had begun adopting Christianity as a state religion. In many places there was little difference between the state and the religion. In the context of a world with several Christian nations and no Jewish nation, the promises made to Israel became "spiritualized"—that is, if they could not be interpreted literally, they must have a spiritual meaning.
This led to several misinterpretations of End Times prophecy, but the one most relevant to this discussion is the Kingdom of Christ and the role of the church in it. It had been well over seventy "weeks" (490 years) since the time of Nehemiah. This being the case, scholars reasoned, the world must be in the millennial kingdom now. Several problems emerged, not the least of which were that the "millennium" had already lasted over one thousand years, and that Jesus was not on any political throne. If the prophecies were not literal, they must be spiritual. The thousand years must be a metaphor for "a long time" (2 Peter 3:8). Similarly, Jesus' "reign" must be allegorical; it was either over the saints in heaven, the hearts of believers on earth, or both. Or, perhaps, Jesus could not take His throne until the promises of that kingdom had already come to pass. Those promises included political peace and an overall, worldwide adherence to biblical standards. Since the Jews were powerless and Jesus was waiting, it came to Christians to establish the Kingdom of God. This is called covenant theology.
At one point in time, when many European nations were so heavily enmeshed with Christian churches, this made sense. Of course there were other extenuating circumstances. Power corrupts—especially political power in the hands of clergy. If it was the responsibility of nations to follow God's law, the interpreters of that law would have a great deal of political power. It was in the best worldly interest of the clergy to maintain that church-nation enmeshment.
There was (and is) another, more altruistic motivation for Christians to bring about God's Kingdom. The more people as individuals and as a group follow Christ's teaching, the more open they are to God's blessings. God's common grace works best when we don't fight it. The problem with this is that Christians interpret and emphasize God's will in different ways. Conservatives focus on such teachings as avoiding debt, the importance of work (2 Thessalonians 3:10), and a strong national defense (Luke 22:36). Liberals tend to focus on showing practical love by providing for the needy (James 1:27) and accepting the sinful (Luke 19:5-7). Unfortunately, we take these beliefs to unbiblical extremes, and God's word is lost in our political fervor.
These are the historical reasons why some Christians seem bent on transferring biblical teaching into political law, although many such Christians don't know the background of their own desire to establish God's Kingdom on earth. Covenant theology teaches that the church replaces Israel in God's promises. This theology is taught by Catholicism, Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. It is usually not taught in Baptist churches. If a Baptist wishes his country to follow Christ's teachings, it more likely because Christ's teachings are universally good for everyone.
The alternative to covenant theology is dispensational theology. Dispensational theology teaches a long break between Daniel's sixty-ninth week and the seventieth. The seventieth week will occur after the age of the church—after the Rapture—and will bring Israel back into the forefront of human history. We know this last week as the Tribulation.
It is after the Tribulation, during the literal 1000-year long Millennial Kingdom of Christ, that the blessings God promised to Israel will be realized. The church will also be blessed as Gentile Christians will, for the first time, live in nations that recognize Jesus as King. Until then, it is within the best interests of believers to encourage their countrymen to follow Christ's teaching, whether through government law or common sense. God designed humans, and His laws teach us how humans can receive His blessings. But it is not biblically required for Christians to force their countries to become a part of God's kingdom.
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