Even when all the world seems against him, our heavenly Father holds all history in loving hands.
Aren’t you glad the worst of the pandemic is over? It wasn’t just in school boards, state capitals, and Washington, D.C., where disagreements about medicines, masks, and mandates led to biting and devouring. The pandemic was not our finest hour in relating to our Christian family either.
Why dredge up the past? Because it’s possible that pandemic disagreements revealed a deeper misunderstanding about the two kingdoms—one earthly and one heavenly—into which God has placed us. Failing to understand distinctions between those two kingdoms leads to repeating the unhealthy cycles of biting and devouring. We see it again in the midterm elections.
But instead of stumbling back into biting and devouring, what if we took a deep breath and laughed with God? Let me explain.
Misunderstanding God’s two kingdoms
Lurking behind anger you’ll usually find fear (Psalm 37:8). For many Christians, a common misunderstanding fuels fear when we become confused about the distinctions between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this world.
Our primary, eternal citizenship is heavenly, earned by Jesus’ life and death. A baptismal watermark validates our passport. Luther called this the “kingdom of God’s right hand.” Here Christians treasure the Spirit’s sword and aim it at hearts to confirm believers in faith, empower them to live as heavenly heirs, and win unbelievers to faith. This kingdom’s focus isn’t on outward things like “eating and drinking, but . . . righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Getting people to live right outwardly isn’t this kingdom’s first goal. That’s the fruit of hearts touched by gospel power. This kingdom’s ultimate goal is to keep us close to the undeserved love of our heavenly Father.
During our earthly pilgrimage, God also gives us an earthly citizenship. Luther called earthly kingdoms the “kingdom of God’s left hand.” These kingdoms have the singular focus of protecting outward safety. God gave earthly kingdoms a different “sword”: laws with punishments for disobedience and blessings for obedience (Romans 13:4). Christians participate here as salt and light. Since all earthly governments are of, by, and for sinners, these kingdoms struggle. Often the best they can accomplish is compromise that permits one evil to avoid a greater evil.
Great trouble results whenever Christians confuse these two kingdoms. Many harbor the faulty belief that the United States is God’s New Testament Israel. Adding to that confusion is the utterly unbiblical, millennialistic dream that Christians must control worldly power structures either before or after Jesus returns.
This fans the fearful misbelief that God’s right-hand kingdom needs to keep the United States as “God’s people.” Then every political debate, every election, every cultural battle, becomes a fearful crusade to stem the tide of evil. Sadly, some conclude that any Christian who deviates from the “only right way” to exercise earthly citizenship is presumed to be in league with the enemy.
Ironically, what adds to this war’s intensity is that many unbelievers pursue a similar “holy” war. They see this life as a potential heaven and want to perfect it in their own image. Gaining control of earthly kingdoms is their crusade. Thus, both groups believe they’re in a winner-take-all crusade. Every opponent is an evil enemy.
If we allow this confusion of God’s two kingdoms to grab our hearts, we will inevitably be drawn into this war’s biting and devouring, malice and discord.
A sure comforting hope
The answer isn’t to wash our hands of the messiness. Jesus has made us salt and light in earthly kingdoms to show compassion for others’ physical welfare and to promote outward peace so we can proclaim Jesus’ peace without barriers (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
But how do we stay engaged in earthly kingdoms without being drawn into fear and anger over fallen-world realities with policies and agendas we oppose? How do we keep from biting and devouring one another when even Christians disagree about the best way forward for their nation?
Two pictures in Revelation help us lay aside fear and anger.
Revelation 5 pictures a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. What’s written on this scroll is the future. At first, no earthly or heavenly creature is worthy to open the scroll. No one can hold the future in his hands.
But then the Lion of Judah steps forward. He appears as a Lamb that had been slain. He takes the scroll, breaks its seals, and reveals everything in it. This assures us the future isn’t a driverless vehicle careening wildly through history’s streets. Our slain and risen Lion-Lamb reigns over it all!
So history’s grand future narrative is secure in Jesus, but what about the little narratives of individual lives? That question is answered in Revelation 1. Here Jesus appears as almighty God. He walks among seven golden lampstands and holds seven stars. The seven lampstands are the seven congregations, and the seven stars are their spiritual leaders. By that vision, Jesus tells us plainly: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Combine both pictures, and you have the message of great comfort: No matter the severity of cultural winds blowing against us, we remain more than conquerors in Jesus. That’s true as pandemics come and go, as nations rise and fall, and as an unbelieving world rushes headlong from evil to evil until the Last Day. God protects his elect through it all. We have nothing to fear.
Laughing with your Father
And how does our heavenly Father view all this? He has seen it all before. He has seen so many abandon his grace only to oppose it and work against it. He has also seen his faithful people suffer because of those who oppose him. Psalm 2 shares our heavenly Father’s reaction when he sees the plans of the earth’s mighty ones to overthrow him, his Anointed One, and those in his kingdom of grace. “The One enthroned in heaven laughs” (v. 4) at his foes’ futile fuming. God laughs because this remains true: “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain” (v. 6). God laughs because his saving plans and purposes for us prevail. The evil and foolishness of his enemies will not!
So when fear and anger from living in a dying and decaying world grab you, pause. Open your ears and listen for your Father’s laughter. His Messiah rules this world and holds its history in his nail-marked hands. The world is not out of control.
We are his forgiven children destined for eternity. We are no different by nature from the world around us, yet, won to faith in our Father’s grace in Jesus, we live differently. We no longer belong to this world with its malice and discord. We belong to our Father, and we seek to love like he has loved us. We encourage our sisters and brothers to show kindness, gentleness, and self-control even when we see and experience so little of them.
The Lord reigns. We can laugh with our Father.
Author: Richard Gurgel
Volume 109, Number 11
Issue: November 2022