The ancient Kingdom of God (ie, the Kingdom of Israel) is gone. The greater, worldwide Kingdom of God is yet to come. We are living in the long period between the ancient and the future Kingdoms — a period that is called in Scripture “the times of the Gentiles”.
During “the times of the Gentiles”, great empires have come and gone, and kings have conquered and been conquered; nations have destroyed others and been destroyed in their turns. To people who do not know that God has a purpose with the world, it looks as though the whole course of history has been shaped by powerful, evil men. But those who have been enlightened by the Word of God have learned to look at world events in a different light. They know that God is in charge. He is working out a plan which has been revealed in a prophetic program set out beforehand in the Bible. Bible readers know that God sets up kings and removes kings:
“The Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan 4:17).
It will not always be like this. Men’s greed, oppression, wickedness, and lust for power will only last until God sends Jesus to the earth to set up a righteous government.
The present is no more than a period of waiting, watching, and witnessing for the people of God. Confident that God is really in charge, and that the promised kingdom is not far away, God’s servants do not meddle in the affairs of the nations. They do not fight, and they do not take an active part in politics. They are a people set apart from the rest.
From time to time countries hold elections. People are asked to vote for the political party or the leader they wish to see in power. How can a follower of Christ vote for a party that is not dedicated to serving Christ? How can he vote for any other representative when he has already “voted” for the Lord Jesus as his Leader?
A follower of Christ recognizes that to vote for another leader would be an act of disloyalty to his real Leader. But in obedience to that Leader’s command he is willing to accept whatever human government is in control, knowing that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). Because he is willing to give loyal and cheerful service to whatever human government is in control, it would be unseemly for a true follower of Christ to take sides, to pick and choose, favoring one and rejecting another. He can assure every ruler of every government in every country that he will obey all the laws of the land (unless, of course, that obedience would mean disobeying God’s law). His promise of obedience will have greater weight if he can honestly say that he has never taken sides in politics.
In the same way, it would be wrong for a follower of Christ to lend his support to a political creed or ideology. Men claim to be conservative, liberal, capitalist, socialist, communist, fascist, nationalist, and even racist. How can one who “campaigns” for the coming Kingdom of God show any enthusiasm for these lesser and (to some degree, in every case) misguided political ideas? He knows, of course, that they are all doomed to ultimate failure. He will simply not be interested.
In the first century, many Christians had to live in a slave-owning society. Paul’s instructions to Christian slaves were that they were to obey their masters — bad masters as well as good. Although Paul’s hopes were fixed on better things, he did not condemn the slave society; but he often stressed the need for a spirit of contentment, which would make the hardships much easier to bear. His own personal example was:
“I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content” (Phi 4:11).
And when he wrote these words, he was in prison! If then Paul taught his fellow believers to accept that sort of society cheerfully, we may be sure that it is our duty to submit to governments today which permit freedom and an easier life.
Christians have no right to grumble, and they certainly ought not to agitate, demonstrate, or strike. They should not even dream of taking strong action against a bad social or industrial situation. When the Lord Jesus returns, all the evils of human society will be swept away, but until that time comes it is the Christian’s duty to render cheerful obedience to those who govern him.
Of course it is right for a believer to speak out against the blasphemy, the profanity, the wickedness, and the neglect of God’s Word which disgraces the world — but that is another matter.
An International Brotherhood
There is another reason why the followers of the Lord Jesus ought not to get involved in the politics of the countries where they live. It is because, as believers, they are members of a great international brotherhood. Speaking to Christians everywhere, Peter said:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war within you. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1Pe 2:9-12).
Aliens and exiles! When a foreigner visits other countries he does not expect to vote in their elections, and they don’t want him to do so. But during his stay in these countries he is expected to keep their laws, pay all debts, and generally keep himself out of trouble. The members of this great international brotherhood must act like this wherever they are — at home or abroad — because they do not really belong to any country!
It would obviously be wrong for those who belong to this universal fellowship to adopt any narrow nationalist or racist attitude that would exclude or condemn to a lower place their brethren in other lands.
It is good that the servants of God are able to say both to their brethren in other lands and to the authorities in all countries that, in obedience to Christ, they are also obedient to all human governments. It is good for them to say that they would not set themselves against the policies of any government, at home or abroad. It is good that they are able to say that they have always acted like this.