Nebuchadnezzar, king of the mighty Babylonian Empire, remembered the words of God but it was too late. Walking the roof of his palace, he boasted to himself “is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 ESV) He then remembered the prophet Daniel’s interpretation of a troubling dream foretelling the great king being humbled by God for a period of time until he recognized that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” (Daniel 4:25 ESV). God raised Nebuchadnezzar to power for his own purposes and his great empire would fall at a time of God’s choosing.
God Raises and Destroys Kingdoms
This central thought, “God rules in the kingdoms of men,” fills the Bible. It is demonstrated in visions of Daniel foretelling the rise of the Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Isaiah and Jeremiah contain many prophesies of the rise and fall of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Moabites, Ammonites, Ethiopians, Egyptians, and others. When God divided Israel into Israel and Judah, God determined what person would divide the kingdom, the proportion of tribal division, and the preservation of David’s family rule in Jerusalem, 1 Kings 11:30-36. God punished the northern tribes (Israel) by raising the Assyrian Empire to take them into captivity and later bringing the Babylonian Empire to power to subjugate Judah and punish other nations. Yet God was in control of the situation and determined the time of Judean captivity (70 years) and raised Cyrus to power to allow the Jews to return to their homeland (Jeremiah 29:4, 10-14; Isaiah 44:28-45:7). God brings kingdoms into power. Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 tell us that the authorities exist because of God and they are sent by Him for His purposes.
Some Kingdoms are Oppressive to the Faithful
Even though authorities exist because of God, this does does not mean that it will always be peaceful and calm for the Christian. The Christians in the first few centuries were persecuted by local and national leaders because of their faith. Jesus was delivered to political powers to be crucified. Presented before Pilate to be crucified, Jesus reminded Pilate that the power to condemn or release was given to him by God, John 19:7-11. Jesus warned his apostles that they would be brought before kings and political leaders and persecuted.
Why Would God Allow Oppressive or Wicked Kingdoms?
- Opportunity for the gospel: In his warning to the apostles, Jesus said that they would have opportunity to share the gospel with the kings and rulers, Luke 21:10-19. Paul stood before many leaders and proclaimed the message to those with whom he might never have had an audience with otherwise (Acts 22-26). Through his “oppression” Paul was able to teach the whole palace guard (Philippians 1:12-13) and there were believers in Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). The persecution of the church in the early chapters of Acts scattered Christians who went everywhere preaching the word, Acts 8:4.
- Magnify the wickedness of mankind: When people will not retain God in their knowledge, their hearts become darkened and they become oppressive and fleshly (Romans 1). Some of the most wicked nations, like Nazi Germany, remind us what can happen when a nation bows down to the idols of power, oppression, eugenics, and hatred. There have been evil political movements carried out in the name of God, such as the Inquisition and the “holy” wars of the Middle Ages, but the focus was on political power and struggle with a facade of, or misapplication of, a godly cause. Jesus said that His kingdom was not like these earthly kingdoms and its power did not reside in the armaments of men, Matthew 20:25-28; John 18:26. Evil kingdoms remind us how bad mankind can be and the importance of vanquishing evil in our hearts and the world’s need for the gospel.
The Christian Role in Earthly Kingdoms
When the Herodians challenged Jesus on service to the government, He told them to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what belongs to Him, Mark 12:13-17. Peter echoed this obligation in 1 Peter 2:13-17 in the exhortation to render obedience and honor to the government for God’s glory. Even though the Caesar occupied the highest religious office in the idolatry of Rome, the Christians still had to honor and respect him and obey the laws. Paul equated resisting the government to resisting God, Romans 13:1-7. Obedience and respect is not based on whether we agree with the laws the ruling party, but in obedience to God. Acknowledging God’s overarching rule, we obey those who are his ministers below.
The only exception to obedience to the government is when “Caesar demands what is God’s.” When the political power requires the Christian to act in a way that disobeys God, the Christian must obey God. The Jewish leaders forbade Peter and John to preach the gospel but Jesus gave the great commission to take the gospel to the world. Therefore, when confronted by the Sanhedrin, Peter and John said, “we must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:27-29. When the Caesar’s demanded Christians sacrifice and worship them, the Christians had to resist even through they would faithfully obey other laws that were not in conflict.
How we respect and obey the government is an example to non-believers! The world will observe our respect for authority in our obedience to laws we consider inconvenient or disagreeable. They will observe when we pay our taxes and fulfill other obligations to glorify God, not out of fear of the government’s “sword.” They will also observe whether we are respectful of our leaders (“Honor the king”) or spew hateful personal venom towards those with whom we disagree. They will observe if we are respectful of those with whom we disagree. Ultimately, they will see whether the fruits of the Spirit permeate our life as citizens of an earthly kingdom.
Our Greatest Citizenship is in Heaven
As much as we may love our homeland, we must remember that the greatest citizenship is heavenly, Philippians 3:20-21; Hebrews 11:13-16; and Ephesians 2:19-22. We live as pilgrims, exiles, and aliens in this world and that includes worldly citizenship. The nations of this earth will rise and fall but the kingdom of heaven remains forever. Let your greatest loyalty and service be for the banner of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Be more concerned with advancing the gospel into the hearts of men than an earthly agenda in an ever changing political climate. I do not believe it is wrong to be involved in the earthly political system, but do not let it be your god and do not expect it to accomplish the work of moral change that is inherent in the gospel’s power.