Rethinking the Two Kingdoms

The first part of this essay is a handful of selected Scriptures. I believe every Christian should read the following Scriptures and ask the Lord to speak to their heart in order that they may be able to discern heavenly truth from worldly passion.

The second part of this essay is what I believe to be the clear application of what we read in the following Scriptures. We must sincerely seek the Lord in these matters. It is a matter that is central to the person and the work of Christ.

Therefore, a close examination is necessary for discipleship. Being an election year, I pray the Lord will open our eyes and help us to see Christ rightly that we might reflect his person and works. May we recognize the great cost in following Jesus and the radical nature of the Gospel in all aspects of our lives.

*Please take time to read the following Scriptures.  It is best to read in one sitting.  Please allow the Lord to open your heart as you read.

Matthew 5
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, Do not resist (Gk: “forcefully resist”) an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

John 18
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Matthew 4
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms  of the world and their splendor.
9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

John 12
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world (i.e. Satan) will be driven out.
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Luke 4
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.
6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.
7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”

Revelation 20
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth– Gog and Magog– to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people (i.e. the church), the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast (i.e. ROMAN EMPIRE) and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 12
9 The great dragon was hurled down– that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Luke 4
42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.
43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Acts
3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch,
22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Luke 10

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

John 13
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Matthew 16
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (i.e. live the way I am living, do as I am doing).
25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

1 Peter 2
9 But you (i.e. the church) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
13 Submit (e.g. in the way of Christ) yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,
14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.
17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, (only) honor the king.
18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
19 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.
20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Matthew 22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians (i.e. zealous militants) . “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?
19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius,
20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (i.e. taxes), and to God what is God’s (i.e. full allegiance, obedience to Christ).”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Hebrews 11
3 All these people (i.e. the patriarchs, men of faith) were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.
15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Philippians 3
18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach (i.e. feelings/emotions), and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

NOTE:
The words soter (Savior) and euangellion (Gospel) were used by Paul to signify a rebuke against Caesar who used these words to describe himself as “Savior” and what he can do for the Empire as good news or “Gospel”. He writes to the believers in the Roman colony (i.e. retirement home for Roman patriots) of Philippi and deliberately uses language that opposes Rome. He also uses the words “Jesus Christ (messiah, king)” or “Christ Jesus” more than any other time in his epistles. Paul is saying and has said (Rom. 12) that we are in the world, but we are not of it. Our citizenship (loyalties, support, allegiance) rests with Christ.  Our earthly citizenship becomes necessary only for the sake of functioning in the kingdoms of the world and for the advancement of the Gospel (Acts 22:23-29).

Christ is the complete revelation of God’s good will for his people (Col. 2:9; Heb. 8:13). His kingship and kingdom threatens the rule of the kingdoms of the world.  It is no wonder why Paul was treated more harshly in this city of Philippi more than any other in the first-century (Acts 16). His language defied the rule of the present-day empire.

2 Corinthians 10
3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Matthew 26
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

Ephesians 6
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador (i.e. a foreign minister of diplomacy, one who is sent from another place) in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

NOTE:
Paul uses physical Roman military attire to describe the spiritual armor and weaponry of the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of peace. It shows the stark contrast in the two kingdoms. It becomes clear that the kingdoms of the world are utterly opposed in practice to the Kingdom of God.

1 Timothy 2
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs– he wants to please his commanding officer.
5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.
6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel,
9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.
10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

1 John 2
3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.
4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:
6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.
8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world.
17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

Revelation 17
14 They (i.e. the nations of the world) will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings– and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

Romans 12
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head (i.e. act of kindness leading to repentance).”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 13
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Rethinking the Two Kingdoms: The Cross or the Sword?

It is very important to note what lies between Romans 12 and the end of Romans 13.  Romans 13:1-7 is placed between a very clear description of right Christian living. It is very clear indeed: The Christian life is marked by love, longsuffering, and estrangement.

This charge to mimic the very actions of Christ himself obviously precludes the notion that the Christian can participate in oppressing evil with violence and rule of worldly law (even if that law claims to be God’s). The method of the Kingdom of God is to overcome and destroy evil by going to the root of man’s predicament (i.e. crucifying flesh by the cross of Christ and being made new in his likeness).

This means the Christian loves like Christ in hopes that the sinner will come to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Christ’s love not only opens the door of man’s heart… according to the book of 1 John… its display in our lives is the great indicator to knowing whether or not we belong to him.

The worldly kingdoms or governments are not concerned with why a person does right… only that they obey what is established as right. The rule of worldly kingdoms are necessary only to suppress evil doers and restrain them from bringing the world to utter chaos.  They can never bring about the spiritual renewal that is produced by the Kingdom of God.

It should be very obvious to the believer that participating in the oppression of evil men through worldly kingdom power with violence and law is not the method of Christ. The Christian recognizes the unfortunate necessity of the rule of the kingdoms of the world, yet they know that the Kingdom of God stands in contrast to them all, even to those “peace” loving and “freedom” giving ones.

The Christian should submit to the rule of the kingdoms of the world in the same manner of Christ. The New Testament tells us we are to live at peace with all men as long as it depends on us. We are even to pray for the leaders of the worldly kingdoms.

However, the Christian will clash with the kingdoms of the world when asked to violate a Kingdom of God principle (e.g. killing your enemies instead of loving them, using power-over instead of power-under, etc.).

The Christian, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of the OT, will acknowledge that obedience to Christ is supreme. This example is seen in Christ’s actions as well as his followers for the first 200-300 years of church history.

It was not until the rule of Constantine that many professing believers compartmentalized their faith and created doctrines to excuse participation in the power-over rule of the kingdoms of the world.  Yet, there was always a remnant that was faithful to the teachings of Jesus.

They were usually the ones being burnt alive and thrown to the lions in the arena.

The Kingdom of God vs. The Kingdoms of the World

The kingdoms of the world, much like man’s flesh, cannot be redeemed. Satan has power over them; power to manipulate and pervert justice. Therefore, like the flesh, you see a mix of good and evil within every kingdom of the world.

Throughout history you see a constant shifting cycle of good and evil within the kingdoms of the world. There will be nations that do a lot of good and there will be those whose leaders are purely evil. However, it is important to remember that all of the kingdoms of the world are tainted.

God will not bring about the summation of his will by these corrupted kingdoms, but by his church which is proclaiming the eternal reign of the Kingdom of God. The book of Revelation makes it very clear that all the kingdoms of the world (i.e. the Beast) will be cast into the fire with the devil in the end.

Martin Luther was right when he called worldly governments the “Left Hand” of God and the church the “Right Hand.” As time goes on the Lord keeps evil restrained with his sovereign left hand through the use of man’s law. Even as Satan manipulates and controls, the Lord is ultimately sovereign over them.

With his right hand he is doing a completely new work with the church. It is a kingdom not of this world. It’s his new creation. It threatens all other kingdoms with the proclamation of heavenly citizenship and allegiance to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

As the Christian alternative band Switchfoot sings, “I pledge allegiance to a country without borders… without politicians… watching for my sky get torn apart.”

Christ will return to establish this Kingdom in its entirety very soon. In the meantime, we are caught between the workings of two kingdoms: the kingdoms of the world vs. the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God has broken into the kingdoms of the world and is dismantling them by the upside-down ways of Christ through his church. Yet, the Kingdom is not yet known it its fullness. It is referred to as the “already, but not yet” aspect of the eternal Kingdom of our God and King.

The Christian is to keep these two kingdoms separate in theory and in practice. I regret that Martin Luther did not understand the full implications of this biblical truth. Luther, along with other “reformers,” persecuted other Christians that refused to mix themselves with religion and politics.

An honest assessment of history will prove this fact to be undeniable. It is not enough just to recognize the two kingdoms.  We must choose which one we will give our lives to in participation.

Nationalism: Building Walls Christ Destroyed On the Cross

Throughout world history we have seen some kingdoms of the world do a better job than others when it comes to enforcing “just” law. At other times we have seen men, like Hitler and Stalin, use the kingdoms of the world to wreak havoc and chaos through an unashamed perversion of right and wrong.

It is not hard to see the evil nature in examples such as these. However, we must see that all worldly kingdoms have a level of evil in them. Even the “freedom” giving nations are corrupt, as was Rome and the United States after it. Within these kingdoms are men who use “freedom” as a cover up for evil.

Many in the U.S. claim that America has received God’s favor like no other nation before it. This claim is most definitely made in light of America’s material abundance and references to God on her currency. This is a scary criterion to make this judgment by, no doubt.

This is not the first time a whole nation has believed this. And what is most disturbing about the American Empire is that in its founding it violated the same Scripture that many Christians use to impose upon those Christians who do not wish to involve themselves with politics (e.g. Romans 13:1-2).

The founding of this modern-day empire was built upon rebellion and treason; a rebellion against the governing authorities established by God (i.e. the British Empire). The agendas of all worldly kingdoms are no secret to us who have eyes to see and ears to hear! Their agendas are power and wealth and securing these things in the name of God and peace.

Like the Pax Romana (i.e. Peace of Rome), nations after them have enforced threats and violence to uphold the rule of law and keep this worldly peace; to further its own glory and satisfy its lust for power.

The myth of “redemptive violence” is undoubtedly tied to economic advancement and the furtherance of a particular way of life. It is born out of a tribal mentality that prides itself in natural distinctions and divisions that Christ destroyed on the cross. It is the same thing that fuels racism.

It’s also what produces denominations and the pride that ensues in them. The only difference, patriotism is seen as admirable and encouraged by the masses, racism for the most part is condemned in the public as barbarian (Many do not see that racism and slavery are actually in keeping with what fuels patriotism).

Instead of focusing on color of skin, patriotism is entirely dependent upon what piece of land you were born on. And of course, denominations secretly believe they are better than all others while at the same time holding a uniform front of a love for all creeds.

All of this should be seen rightly in its absolute absurdity! It should be no hard thing for the Christian to see the great gulf that lies between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God.

For example, asking God to “bless America” is inherently connected to pride and nationalism that Jesus rejected, as well as his followers for the two centuries of the church. It ignores the work of the cross.

Jesus turned the tables on worldly thinking. He said there are only two teams: citizens of the world and citizens of the cross.  Every division and distinction of man (e.g. race, nationality, slave, free, etc.) has been eradicated (Gal.3:28).

The only distinctions the Christian should see are those laid down by Christ himself. The Christian does not see nations (i.e. political entities) that need to be blessed by God. They only see the world and Christ. They see lost mankind and a God who loves everyone irrespective of nationality.

Gregory Boyd writes, “The kingdom of God participant has by love transcended the tribal and nationalistic parameters of whatever version of the kingdom of the world they find themselves in.” He goes on to say, “kingdom of God participants carry the cross, not the sword.” (The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, p.47)

I have lost count of how many times I have heard a professing believer agree that we should love all men of every nation and at the same time tell me they are still proud to be an American, and they think I should move because I am not proud.

I can’t help but wonder who has really placed their allegiance (i.e. unwavering devotion) and trust in Christ. They clearly do not understand what it means to be “in” the world, but not “of” it. In saying this, they prove that there is an unhealthy interest in the world. They do not see things rightly.

The mouth exposes the heart.

We simply cannot hear the betrayal in our words until the Lord Jesus has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. A close and honest examination of the person and work of Christ will cause us to see the veil that has been pulled over our eyes.

As many men have noted in the past, an over-abundance of worldly freedom leads to idolatry and all kinds of wickedness.  Especially when a man is not constrained by the Holy Spirit of God, the flesh is given full power to reign and do whatever is right in his own eyes.

Worldly men that seek any freedom outside of Christ are therefore worshippers of tolerance.  True Christian living will eventually be interpreted as intolerance.

In early Christianity followers of Christ were seen as haters of culture and the empire. But it was not because of the “Religious Right” or some other politically militant agenda that the Empire viewed Christians as haters of society.  It was because early Christians did not live for the advancement of the kingdoms of the world and her temporary pursuits of glory.

Naturally, they were seen as non-violent rebels of the greatest Empire ever to come across the global horizon.

Michael Martin writes,  “Christendom (i.e. Christian government, coalitions, institutions, etc.) tries to control morality through civil means because they have failed to uphold the truth in their own assemblies.  They have diluted the Gospel and rendered themselves savorless salt. Now they turn to human government to do what the church should have done through Christian influence. The Remnant who takes God at his Word will flourish.” (Cup and Cross: An Introduction to Anabaptist History, p.305)

Christian Language in Politics

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  Maximus from the movie Gladiator said, “Rome is the light.”  How many times have we heard this language and not been alerted spiritually to the mixing of the two kingdoms?  This language was used early in American history.

America was identified with Israel and their conquest and the Indians were the Canaanites that needed to be wiped out.  Biblical language was infused with politics to arouse the Christians to get involved and support the slaughter of thousands.

This same thing was done to support the American Revolution and in almost every war America has fought. It didn’t matter then, and apparently doesn’t matter now, that the founding fathers were Deists and most of them did not even believe Christ was and is God.

Earthly power and prestige has won the day over meekness and mourning.

Many Christians have disowned their Lord and have chosen to be religious zealots instead of non-violent peacemakers.  Jesus is obviously not enough for some believers.

Is it not enough that Jesus is the light?  Is Rome (i.e. America) the light too?  Can it really be?  Which gospel will we follow? Caesar’s or Jesus’… the way of the cross or the way of the sword?

Religion paired with politics can ignite a patriotism that achieves what no nation has ever achieved. To the flesh this is irresistible!  Even Hitler understood how important it was to have “God” on your side.

Hitler’s troops were often sprinkled with holy water by the priests. He stood for family values and opposed the practice of homosexuality. He was a charismatic leader who spoke of God and restoring Germany to a place of security.

It is safe to say that Nazi Germany could be described as a “Christian” nation whose citizens were indoctrinated by both church and state, and blindly followed all authority figures, political and ecclesiastical.

We might think that Hitler’s actions toward the Jews nullify his good “Christian” deeds, therefore, he can’t be compared to any American president. The Holocaust was no doubt a horrifying event and to this day it stands as a reminder of man’s capability to do the worst evil.

What is most noticeable about the Holocaust is that it all happened at a single point in time. From a biblical perspective, we should see American atrocities strung out over 200 years no differently (e.g. the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Vietnam, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, etc.).

Our inability to see the evil in them all is proof that we have been polluted by a worldly agenda and a nationalistic fervor.  The same evil that fueled Hitler is capable of being born out of our own nationalistic pursuits. The starting place for this great evil is the same for Hitler as it is for all those who passionately live for worldly gain.

Hitler was convinced that the Jews were the evil that needed to be eradicated. Bush believes they are terrorists.  The question we should be asking is, “What does Jesus see?”  Bush may not be of the same evil caliber as Hitler, but he is still an agent of wrath. Who can disagree with this?

The Christian’s response to evil should be much different than those of the government. The Lord has given the authority to the government to be “agents of wrath,” but the church is to be his agents of love.

There is no doubt that politicians today know the benefits that come from invoking the name of God and religion, and they use it to their advantage. Listen and you will hear it even now as the elections approach us. Presidents past and present have invoked religion when it suits their own purposes.

However, when it comes to social morality and true justice, the majority of American politicians are leaving religion at the door.

America does not want anyone telling her how to live. The Christian voice is stifled and ignored in his cry to address issues of ethics and morality. The politicians will use the naïve politically active Christian to get a vote for war because so many have blindly believed that America is favored by God.  They throw them to the lions once they have what they want.

These politicians have adopted Constantine’s methods. Pandering to the ignorant “evangelical” Christian activist can be very advantageous to the kingdom when you need a vote. The 2000 and 2004 election is proof of this.

When it is all said and done the politically active Christian sells his soul expecting to reap a reward of worldly kingdom security, only to find that he denies his Lord by his actions and still suffers the same fate.

It can hardly be denied that our current Caesar’s rule has been made possible by religious zealots who sincerely believe that God has favorite nations and that real Christians can be agents of wrath.

Not long ago, Ronald Reagan took the words of Jesus about his church and used them to apply to this present-day Empire.  He said America, not the church, is a “city on a hill”, a light to the world. The same language is used frequently by the current president.

My question to all of us is, “Which will it be?” Jesus said that we must serve one master. There is no such thing as dual citizenship and keeping one foot in both kingdoms. We will serve one and hate the other.

I can’t love my wife above all others and also love my neighbor’s wife above all others. Neither can I have competing allegiances with the Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter what we may think and how we may justify disobeying Christ’s commands, this is an accurate portrayal of the situation before us now. His commands are clear and to him alone ought we to pledge our allegiance.  We make no promises to this worldly kingdom.

We are loyal to Christ alone and his precepts.

Early Christian Beliefs

Many professing believers across the religio-political landscape claim to have God’s perspective on the matter as they twist Scriptures and proof-text in order to support civil action. It is very disturbing to see how many professing believers practice their faith in Christ. Especially when compared to the lives of the early Christians.

What were Christians saying before the merging of church and state in the fourth century? What were the practices of the disciples of the disciples? How did they live out Kingdom principles before the “Christianizing” of empires? How political were they?

The following quotes are taken from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by David W. Bercot:

In “Letter to Diognetus” (c. 125-200 AD.), 1.27 “Christians obey the prescribed laws. In fact, they actually surpass the laws by their lives.”

“The Caesars too would have believed on Christ, if either the Caesars had not been necessary for the world, or if Christians could have been Caesars.” Tertullian (c. 197 AD, W), 3.35

“In us, all ardor in the pursuit of glory and honor is dead. So we have no pressing inducement to take part in your public (civic) meetings. Nor is there anything more entirely foreign to us than affairs of the state.” Tertulilian (c.197 AD, W), 3.45.

“Civil laws are one thing, which varies everywhere according to customs. However, justice is another thing—which God has set forth uniformly and simply to all.” Lactantius (c. 304-313 a.d.)

“God imposed upon mankind the fear of man, for mankind did not acknowledge the fear of God. So He did this in order that, being subjected to the authority of men, and kept under restraint by their law, mankind might obtain some degree of justice. They might exercise mutual forbearance through dread of the sword…Earthly rule, therefore, has been appointed by God for the benefit of nations.” Irenaeus (c. 180 AD, E/W), 1.552

“Examine then, and see if God is not the dispenser of kingdoms. For He is Lord both of the world that is ruled and of the man who rules. See if He has ordained the changes of dynasties, with their appointed seasons… See if the rise and fall of states are not His work, under whose sovereignty the human race once was without states at all.” Tertullian (c. 197 AD, W), 3.35.

Justin Martyr (160 AD) writes, “We who formerly murdered one another now refrain from making war even upon our enemies.”

“We have learned not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us. Instead, even to those who strike us on one side of the face, we offer the other side also. Athenagoras (c. 175 AD, E), 2.129.

Finally, listen to John’s account of the angel who spoke of the end of Babylon (i.e. Rome, worldly kingdoms):

NIV Revelation 18:1 “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.  2 With a mighty voice he shouted: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.  3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. 6 Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup.

7 Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’  8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.  9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more– 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!

17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ “Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off.  18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’

19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!  20 Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.'”  21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 2

2 The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. 24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.”

In my opinion, this is the most frightening passage in all of Scripture. It speaks of the end of the power and glory of the empires past, present, and future.  This not only refers to John’s day (i.e. Rome), but every generation the church enters.

Without going too far into eschatology and getting lost in stupid debates about dates and so forth… I will only say that this much is not up for discussion:  The Lord will crush the kingdoms of the world which persecuted God’s people!

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44

At this time we will see the earth destroyed by fire and the heavenly city coming down out of heaven to the new purified earth. What a wonderful reality we will know soon. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Everything will be exposed. Nothing will be hidden.

Terrorist will no longer hide in caves and presidents will no longer profane the name of God by wicked deeds done in secret. All will be weighed on this: works done in the flesh and those done through the person of Christ. Nations will no longer matter and status will be irrelevant. Those things done out of the flesh for the power and glory of man will fade, only those who are found faithful in Christ will overcome.

Follow Christ

So then, how did Christ respond to the evil of his day? How do we identify ourselves as “overcomers”? We are supposed to confront evil the way he did and do as he did in every area of life (1 Jn. 2:6).

I believe the actions and reactions of Christ to his day should be displayed in every realm of our day as well. At the same time, we recognize that this means there are some things that are off limits to the Christian. We recognize that in participating with agents of wrath, we violate Kingdom of God principles.

The problem I see is where Christians are participating in things of the world that do not concern them. It is there they are asking, “How can I be Christ here?” The answer may be, “Christ would never even be there to begin with.”

For example: Christ was into politics, however it wasn’t through working the system. It was through working against it. Christ had much to say about the empire of his day, but it was from the outside of that empire. When he finally did directly engage the empire he did a treasonous thing by proclaiming himself the ruler of all things, for this he was crucified.

If Christians were to live like Christ, their outcome might be very similar. Yet from what I see, those believers who work the political landscape of the empire today from the inside, lose their authentic Christian influence and never experience the same rejection Christ did.

The real Christ is never seen in these people because they have violated Kingdom principles and joined themselves with the kingdoms of the world. They are trying to do good things by working the system instead of working against the system by way of the cross of Christ. They are joining the “oppressors” of evil and have refused to follow the way of the “defeater” of evil.

The ways of the Kingdom of God are upside-down and unattractive to those who do not know the power of salvation!

We must study Christ’s actions to the issues of his day. We then must carry that over into our modern day circumstances. The Spirit will then guide us into all things Christian. We should rest in the peace of knowing that Christ lives in us!

The first step is in discerning between the two kingdoms. The Christian has entered in to the Kingdom of God and has forsaken the ways of the kingdoms of this world. We now are to trust in the “foolishness” of the cross and the way of Christ.

Even when it appears that the methods of the agents of wrath are more effective. We know the truth to their purpose and their calling. It is in this recognition that we will be able to clearly articulate the Kingdom of God to a world that is consumed with itself.

Christian, trust the way of the cross, not the sword. Begin professing today, “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.”  Then go and walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

“Empire, learning, and religion have in past ages been traveling from east to west, and this continent (America) is their last western state… Here then is God erecting a stage on which to exhibit the great things of His kingdom.” Thomas Brockaway, (1784 AD).

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.”  Paul, Col. 1:13-14

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Paul, Col. 1:13-20

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Paul, Col. 2:15

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus, Jn. 14:27

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18-19

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Jesus, Jn. 16:33

SUGGESTED READING:

“The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God” by George Eldon Ladd
”

The Upside-Down Kingdom” by Donald Kraybill

“God is Not… Religious, Nice, “One of Us”, an American, a Capitalist” by Brent Laytham

“The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church” by Gregory A. Boyd

“Jesus for President” by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

“Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder” by Richard A. Horsley

“Cross and Community: Philippians as Pauline Political Discourse” by Jeph Holloway  (published in Christian Ethics Today Issue 042 www.christianethicstoday.com)

“Resident Aliens” by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon

“The Politics of Jesus” by John Howard Yoder

“Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World” by Lee Camp

“Do Followers of Jesus Fight?: A Bible Inquiry” (Benchmark Press) by Edward Yoder

“Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation” by Bruce Metzger

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David has over 15 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

6 responses to “Rethinking the Two Kingdoms

  • Adam

    question: you seem to be making the point that the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the kingdoms of the earth. if i am not incorrectly reading you, does this not seem to be too much of a bifurcation of God’s world? further, can one not give his life in service to his nation (i.e., military, politics, etc.) as an expression of his life being ultimately given to Christ and His lordship?

  • David D. Flowers

    Adam, thanks for your respectful reply.
    I have done my best to lay out a biblical treatise (i.e. an apology from Scripture itself) of the two conflicting kingdoms and how they should not be mixed. When the Kingdom of God is mixed with the kingdoms of the world… it looses its uniqueness. The entire Gospel is lost. We cannot honor Christ by disobeying his commands (e.g. loving enemies, servant leadership, etc.) We are able to see the clear line of distiniction between the two kingdoms by the commands of its King.
    We must rethink how Christ engaged the kingdoms of the world and what the “kingdom not of this world” truly looks like in tension with a world in estrangement to God.
    I encourage you to check out a few of the books listed under “Suggested Reading.”

  • Adam

    i appreciate your response, but it didn’t really answer my question (the first or the second). i agree that often the Kingdom does conflict with the kingdoms of the earth; however, i think it would be pushing it to say that the two are always diametrically opposed to one another. another question i would like to pose is related to the continuity of the Gospel and the “true Church” from the time of Christ and the early Church throughout Church history. has there only been a “remnant” from that time until now, or has the Church – though undoubtedly flawed at times and places – faithfully been the Body of Christ in the world?

  • David D. Flowers

    Adam,
    I believe I have answered your questions… both of them. I have stated my answer just the way I believe we should. I leave the door cracked open for you to ponder the Word for yourself and see if what I have written does not line up with the words of Jesus and the presentation of the two kingdoms.
    Maybe I should be asking you the questions. How do you understand the words of Jesus? How can we serve a radically upside-down Kingdom that too often clashes with the kingdoms of the world?
    As for the church question… I believe the church is the remnant. There is not a remnant within the church for the church can be nothing but a remnant. Yes, the church is flawed, but Christ, our head, is perfecting her every hour. I do not believe in some church utopia on this earth.
    However, I do believe the Body of Christ will be conformed more to the image of her Lord before his return. This will happen much like it did in the beginning. The church reflects her Lord in the greatest light by way of suffering and persecution. There is where we will know the true church and remnant: the overcomers (i.e. Kingdom of God participants) vs. the beast worshippers (i.e. participants in the kingdoms of the world) of Revelation.
    I apologize if my answer has not sufficed. I always give it my best. May the Lord give us the light we need to see his true Person that HIS works will shine forth in this wicked generation.

  • April

    My husband is considering joining the military. Do you believe that joining the military would make it nearly impossible for him to follow Jesus’s command to love your enemies? I am uncertain.

  • David D. Flowers

    April,

    Thanks for commenting. You and your husband, I believe, have some serious things to think about.

    Can we love our enemies and kill them? I personally believe our cultural Christianity has produced and encouraged such a ridiculous question. I mean no disrespect to you and yours. I am simply learning more and more of how blind we all are to authentic New Testament Christianity and the teachings of Jesus. It is very disturbing to see how the evil one has fooled us into accepting human wisdom over God’s non-sense love and the upside-down ways of the Kingdom of God.

    I strongly encourage your husband to read “The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Gregory Boyd. I believe this book will help you guys to rethink Jesus’ words and how we are to apply them to our lives. You may also check out the radical book, “Mere Discipleship” by Lee Camp. Both books will challenge you to rethink the words of Christ and examines American history.

    Thanks for being so bold to rise to this challenge. Those of us who take Jesus at his word are few indeed. Blessings!

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