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The gospel unites us all in Christ

Allen Browne

(Photo: Unsplash)

The gospel changes nations, not just individuals.

God rewrote international relations the day he raised Jesus from the dead. When God made his gospel proclamation — giving his Son all authority over all the peoples of the earth — he brought an end to the war for power, our struggles to gain ascendency over each other.

If you think of the gospel merely in terms of personal forgiveness, you’ve not yet begun to understand the global impact God’s gospel has. God’s gospel proclamation brings all nations together under one leader.

Background of the nations

The opening chapters of your Bible explain why the world is divided into nations in conflict. God intended us to be one people with authority to implement his sovereign care for the earth (Genesis 1:26-31). Taking his brother’s life saw Cain separated from God’s presence. He moved elsewhere, building a city here people called on violence for justice (Genesis 4:16-24).

This reliance on violence corrupted God’s world (Genesis 6:11-13). After cleansing the earth, God gave communal leaders authority to deal with violence (9:4-7). For the first time, there were nations (10:5, 20, 31, 32), nations whose warriors formed the kingdoms that tried to destroy God’s people (10:8-12). When they attempted to build a city to rule the world, taking heaven’s power into human hands, the Lord scattered them (11:8-9).

So, now we have the divided, scattered, warring nations and kingdoms of the earth. This was never God’s intention, so he called a family to partner with him in restoring the blessing of his leadership to all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:3), to all nations on earth (18:18; 22:18; 26:4).

The nations versus God’s reign

God’s people suffered oppression under human rulers. But the day Pharaoh’s army sank to the depths, a song broke out: The Lord reigns! (Exodus 15:18). Jacob’s descendants met the heavenly sovereign at Sinai, agreeing to the covenant that made him their king (Exodus 24), building a house for his throne among them (Exodus 25–40).

But even in the land God gave them, God’s nation was constantly attacked by other nations (Judges). They asked for a king like the nations, a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:20). God gave them a king to reign as his anointed on earth, but still the nations conspire … against the Lord and against his anointed (Psalm 2:1-2). David had his victories, but his descendants could not to keep the nations at bay.

The Davidic kingship fell, and yet the song of God’s reign kept reverberating in his people: The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. … For you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth. (Psalm 97:1, 9). They yearned for the day when the eternal sovereign would bring their enemies into submission under his Davidic king (Psalm 110:1).

Prophets like Isaiah kept declaring that God would give his Davidic king authority over the nations: In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him (Isaiah 11:10), for God rules all nations (Isaiah 13–25). Through his servant, God’s reign would set the world right, bring justice to the nations (42:1), a light for the nations that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth (49:6). My justice will become a light to the nations … and my arm will bring justice to the nations (51:4-5). Isaiah’s gospel was: Your God reigns (52:7). God promised to make the Davidic king a ruler and commander of the peoples, so nations you do not know will come running to you (55:3-5).

God’s glorious reign restores to the whole earth. It’s the hope of history:
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (60:2-3).

This was always the eternal sovereign’s goal: I am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory, and proclaim my glory among the nations (66:18-19).

Those are not mere prooftexts from Isaiah. The whole story, the whole point of the nation of Israel was the restoration of God’s reign over all the earth.

Other prophets also looked for the return of Zion’s king: lowly and riding on a donkey … he will proclaim peace to the nations (Zechariah 9:10-11). The goal is: the Lord will be king over the whole earth, and then the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty (Zechariah 14:9, 16).

Christ’s reign and the nations

When God installed his anointed as king, he changed global politics. He erased the divisions that previously existed. Raised from the dead, seated at God’s right hand far above all rule and authority, all power and dominion, Christ received the regal title above every name people call on, the name higher than present rulers or future rulers. God placed all things — the whole planet — under his authority. There’s already an assembly (ekklēsia) gathering round the king in recognition of his authority, and one day he will fill everything in every way (Ephesians 1:19-23).

Christ’s enthronement spelt the end of the old divisions between God’s nation (Israel) and the nations. God has redrawn the map, unifying the whole world in the reign of his anointed. Every dividing wall of hostility was broken down by the failed attempt to reject God’s authority — the crucifixion of his Christ. In taking up his cross, God put the hostility to death (Ephesians 2:14-16).

So, now there is no difference whether we’ve descended from God’s nation or the nations. God has installed one resurrected Lord over us all. We’re all one family with access to the one Father of us all. We’re all fellow-citizens in God’s household. The house of God’s kingship — declared by both New Testament apostles and Old Testament prophets — is established on the enthronement of King Jesus. The entire global structure of God’s reign in Christ is rising into a holy dwelling place for the heavenly sovereign on earth by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:17-22).

This wasn’t obvious before Christ, but it is now. Through the gospel (God’s proclamation of Christ as Lord of all), the nations and God’s nation are co-heirs of what God had promised (his kingship). Together, we function as participants in his corporate government, sharing in what had been promised and is now delivered in King Jesus (Ephesians 3:3-6).

Those who serve Christ as king are the evidence God presents to earthly rulers and heavenly authorities that his many-faceted wisdom has resolved all the issues by installing his anointed ruler, King Jesus, as Lord of all (3:10-11). Together, we are God’s evidence that there is no more division between the families and clans and nations of the earth, for every family derives its name from the Father who unites us in his immeasurable love revealed his Christ, the one leader over us all (3:14-21).

Paul as ambassador to the nations

This is Paul’s gospel: the reunification of the world in the reign of King Jesus, the one God raised up as Lord of all. This good news needs to be delivered to the nations and their rulers. That’s what Ananias heard the day the king revealed himself to Saul of Tarsus: To me, this one is a vessel chosen to bear my authority to the nations and their kings, and also to the descendants of Israel (Acts 9:15).

This becomes Paul’s identity: emissary to the nations (Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:8), appointed and sent to teach the nations to place their trust in their God-appointed king (1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11).

2 Timothy 2:8-9 defines Paul’s gospel: Jesus, God’s anointed (Christ), raised from the dead, the seed of the Davidic kingship come back to life. As in Isaiah 11, the nations had felled the Davidic king, and God responded by bringing life from the dead stump. God did not destroy his enemies; he placed them under Christ’s authority. They were still giving Christ’s ambassador a hard time: Paul was suffering to the point of being chained like a criminal (verse 9).

Receiving the gospel

We cannot reduce this gospel to a personal matter, as if it was all about an individual getting off the hook. The gospel does include forgiveness, but it calls us into a life of forgiveness, forgiving each other because we all belong together in Christ’s kingship. The gospel proclaims the reunification of the world in Christ, reconciliation of relationships at every level of society from family feuds to warring nations.

To receive the gospel is to submit to the leadership of God’s anointed, to declare that Jesus Christ is Lord. Yes, he is Lord and Saviour for you personally, but that’s a small part of the story. If you think the cross was merely a personal struggle for Jesus, you haven’t understood the global significance of the leaders of God’s people conspiring with the rulers of the nations to crucify the king of the Jews.

This is how Christ’s apostles understood his cross:

Acts 4:25–27 (NIV)
25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.

God’s response to this rebellion was an act of grace. Instead of condemning the world for crucifying his son and leaving us to our own devices, he gave us back the king he had appointed for us so we can live under his leadership! In the resurrection of his Christ, God unified the world under one leader, his Son who is Lord of all. That’s the good news.

So, the gospel calls us to live together under his authority. The gospel forms us into community in Christ. The gospel spells the end of enmity, the reunification of the nations — including Israel — in Christ.

The gospel is not merely a heavenly demand that we live under Christ’s kingship. The gospel proclamation that raised his Christ from the dead has regenerative power in us too. The Spirit — the breath of God that entered into Jesus’ dead both and raised him up — is now dwelling in us, giving life to our bodies also, for our bodies are also the dwelling place of God’s Spirit (Romans 8:11).

The gospel is undeserved, yet it places us under an obligation to our Lord, the leader God has placed over us. It’s not an obligation to try harder in the strength of our old life. It’s an obligation to live the regenerated life that God’s Spirit has birthed in us, as children in Father’s family, participants with Christ in his kingship, suffering with him because he’s restoring all things (Romans 8:12-18).

The gospel forms us into what God always intended the peoples of the earth to be: the Spirit-empowered community of the one God-appointed king who is Lord of all.

What others are saying

Joshua W. Jipp, The Messianic Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020), 404:

The Scriptural promise for God to rule the world through a righteous, just, and peace-loving messianic king is ultimately fulfilled in the surprising manner of the King’s death and resurrection. This results in an ethic whereby God’s people entrust themselves and their causes to God and not to the violent coercive methods of the human kings, kingdoms, and governments of this world. Forgiveness, the rejection of violence, non-oppressive economic practices, peace-making and reconciliation, and solidarity with the vulnerable and marginalized may often have the appearance of weakness, but they are the appropriate practices for Christ’s people engaging matters of power in this world. Those who resist evil and actively pursue truth-telling, loyalty to Christ, and hope are promised the eschatological reward of vindication whereby, with their resurrected bodies, they will rule in Christ’s kingdom where the powers of Satan, Sin, and Death have all been subjected to Christ’s messianic kingship.

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Used with permission of the author, Allen Browne.

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