God’s Plan for the Nations
I have for years had a misunderstanding of the place of nations in the plan of God. I suspect that many of you have had the same misunderstanding. Because we see the coming of eternity to be the all-encompassing time when God’s kingdom will be the only kingdom, we think that nations will be done away with and we will all be equal participants in His kingdom.
The Bible seems to present a different picture that may help us understand why nations exist in the first place and how they play into God’s eternal plan for us all. A good verse to begin with is Acts 17:26, 27:
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
So, here we see in Paul’s speech in the Areopagus that God had a purpose in forming the nations. The nations weren’t merely an evolutionary development of societies. Keep in mind as we go along that the word nations in Greek is from the word ethnos, which speaks of ethnic groups or cultural groups that form into nations because of their common language and cultural norms. These ethnic divisions, according to this passage, were given a preappointed time to exist and their boundaries were set. The purpose of this, amazingly, is “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him.” Its seems that God saw that in the confusion of human development it would be easier for people to seek and find Him from nations set by His predetermined counsel.
This passage also reminds us that these nations all began out of “one blood.” This is the Bible’s way of saying that we all are descendants from one couple of humans whose DNA carried the amazing cultural diversity we now see on planet earth. From that DNA He made the nations that exist today.
Paul in his speech at the Areopagus in Athens was probably referring to this statement in the Song of Moses: “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:8). There he refers to the separating of the “sons of Adam” and the setting of boundaries and the effect of that on the people of Israel, His chosen nation.
No doubt this implies the great division of the people at the tower of Babel where “…the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.” (Gen. 11:8). No doubt God wanted diversity, not human unity, because He knew it was best for His plan of establishing His own kingdom.
The specific definitions of these nations and their boundaries are beyond the scope of this article but it is clear that nations were part of His plan. The question then rises, does this plan extend past the Millennial kingdom of a thousand years into eternity? I have previously understood that the nations would be present during the Millennial kingdom but would be removed as we enter into eternity as the Kingdom of God prevailed. Scripture is clear that faithful saints will reign with Christ during this kingdom age (Rev. 20:4,6;2:26, 27; 2 Tim. 2:12 etc.). Now, I am convinced that there is more to this kingship than just the Millennial kingdom.
That brings us to the book of Revelation where we read this:
And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (Rev. 21:24–26).
This passage is in the context of the conditions on the new earth after the New Jerusalem descends from heaven to planet earth. I know that the book of Revelation is not set strictly by chronology but it is difficult to avoid the strong indication that these verses come after the Millennium and after the descent of the heavenly city as we enter into eternity.
This passage clearly says that those who are saved will still be living in nations which will still have kings. These kings will bring the glory and honor of the nations (whatever that looks like) into the eternal city. In the next chapter we see a river of life flowing through the city whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations” (22:2). It seems that even in our eternal state the nations still need to depend on God for continued health, vitality and healing. We will never be able to be independent of God but will be relying on Him as the source of all life into eternity.
One might wonder why we would need nations or kings when we are living in the eternal kingdom where Christ is King and we are all subservient to Him. The answer may lie in God’s desire for diversity in His creation. One look at the diverse nature of all living things reminds us that God has created each of us as special and unique beings. That is true of humans as well as all of creation.
Jesus is referred to as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). Since we who follow Christ are to be kings and priests (Rev. 1:6), we understand that we are the kings and lords through which He rules. However, in the eternity to come there will be those chosen out of this age to rule with Christ. Could it be that this expression King of kings and Lord of lords might also refer to the eternal ages?
First of all, Daniel declared that this kingdom is forever:
But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever (Daniel 7:18). He repeats “forever” three times. The kingdom extends into eternity. This is not a kingdom that lasts for just 1000 years. The millennial kingdom fulfills God’s covenant promises to Israel that they would dwell in the land and possess it (Rom. 11:25, 26; Deut. 30:5; Isa. 49:22; 60:9–18; Zech. 14:16–19, etc.). After that age the old earth and the heavens will pass away and there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” and the beginning of the ages of eternity (Rev. 21:1).
King Solomon as a psalmist says: “His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed” (Ps. 72:17). In this chapter Solomon uses the word “forever” several times. He seems to be speaking of a time in the eternal future when nations will still exist and will be blessed by Him.
The kings in that eternal kingdom will be those who are rewarded by the Lord based upon their faithfulness on earth. Many of the promises that speak of reigning with Christ are accompanied by a condition. For example, Paul told Timothy “For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.” (2 Tim. 2:11, 12). It is one thing to receive eternal life in Christ but another to reign with Him in the eternal ages. Reigning as a king or queen requires our endurance in the midst of worldly pressures and spiritual attacks.
The one who will have power over the nations is the one who “overcomes, and keeps My works until the end” (Rev. 2:26). Indeed, endurance is one of those conditions leading to kingship with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12; Romans 8:17; Rev. 2:26; 3:21; et al).
In Luke 19 we have the parable from Jesus of the nobleman who went away on a long journey and left his servants in charge of investing his wealth. He gave each of them a certain amount of money and asked them to invest it for him. When he returned he rewarded each of them according to the amount they had earned for him. The one who earned nothing because he failed to invest the money was rejected because he failed to earn for his master.
They each were rewarded for what they had done with His gift. This parable seems to clearly say that our eternal reward will be based on what we do with what the Lord gives us. They were given charge of a certain amount of cities based on their faithfulness with the Lord’s gift. In other words, they reigned over a certain realm based on their faithfulness while the master was gone.
Some will say this all speaks of the Millennium age but there is no mention of it in the passage. It seems that the message is, what you do in this life with the Lord’s gift to you will determine your eternal reward as a ruler in His kingdom in the cities and nations of eternal earth.
Here’s my point. God loves diversity. The language of the people in Babel was confounded because they were using their unity of flesh to plot against God. He confused their languages to produce the ethic cultures that surrounded the languages and the nations that resulted. God wants us to know that the nations and the racial groups there are not an accident but part of His plan. That plan continues into eternity.
We see that expressed in God using the nation of Israel as the channel through which He reached the Gentiles (nations, ethnic groups; Acts 2:9–11; 15:7–9). The New Testament unfolds God’s plan to reach out from Israel to the nations of the world. It is not an accident that at Pentecost there were many cultural groups there who received the Holy Spirit and the returned to their cultural region with the message of Christ and the Holy Spirit within.
We need to appreciate our diverse cultures and learn to see them all as part of what God plans for planet earth. Skin color and cultural distinctives are part of what God loves about earth’s inhabitants. The nations are part of that plan because God appreciates diversity of culture more than unity based on fleshly things. We need to appreciate the same diversity while praying for unity in the Spirit that bypasses external appearances. God help us to do so.