Waiting for the Return of the King
In April of this year, Shadi Hamid wrote for The Atlantic in an article originally titled “Politics Is the New Religion” that “American faith, it turns out, is as fervent as ever; it’s just that what was once religious belief has now been channeled into political belief.”
As church attendance has dwindled, political activism has escalated. The increasingly influential fringes of society agitate for a nationalist ethnostate or a communist utopia—not under the auspices of an end-times supernatural intervention but as the result of coordinated political activity. How are we supposed to live out Yeshua’s gospel in this increasingly polarized political environment? Put simply, what should our politics be?
Followers of Yeshua have an inherently complicated relationship with politics. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” is packed with political significance. A kingdom is a monarchy, a type of government; to be subject to a monarch’s rule is a political reality within which the disciples of Yeshua volunteer to locate themselves. Yet this kingdom is not an earthly reality; Yeshua has no throne in Jerusalem on which to sit. Today, most Christians live under governmental systems that had no analog in ancient times—democracies, republics, and constitutional monarchies. We live in the tension between our allegiance to Yeshua and our responsibility to the secular governments of the nations.
This tension is not always easy to negotiate.
The natural place for us to look for direction is within the pages of Scripture. While the Bible does not specifically anticipate modern-day government structures, it does have broad guidance for the people of God.
The Old Testament
None of us is in a position to start our own country. As we seek to influence the world around us for good, however, we might think to look to the ancient Israelites for a government model that could inform our political decisions. Indeed, the children of Israel experimented with many political systems. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the patriarchs of a tribe; their word was law. Hundreds of years later, Moses, who God called to lead the entire nation of Israel, scaled this system up when he “chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Exodus 18:25). At the top of the hierarchy was God himself, with Moses as his representative, and seventy elders under him (Numbers 11:16-25).
The law of God had already been set in stone (literally); God was also the chief executive. Moses and the seventy elders adjudicated disputes under the direction of God’s Spirit, the ancient equivalent of a modern-day judicial branch. Together these factors combined to form an ideal system of government. Our generation, however, lacks a prophet like Moses; consequently, this system is an impractical goal today. After the chaotic period of the judges, God instructed the Prophet Samuel to anoint a king, inaugurating a monarchy (which after three generations became two competing monarchies) that lasted for several hundred years. As is historically the case under a monarchy, the king carried executive, legislative, and judicial powers.
Unfortunately, many kings of Israel led the nation into idolatry, reaping the consequences of their actions through military defeat and subservience to the surrounding nations. Eventually, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the two monarchies, bringing the children of Israel into exile.
First Fruits of Zion