The Hope of the Ages-Part 6

By: Dr. Michael Stallard; ©2000
Dr. Stallard looks at the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations of the world and God’s plan for them in the coming kingdom.

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THE HOPE OF THE AGES—Part 6

This article is the sixth in a multi-part series outlining the Bible’s message of prophetic hope as it pertains to the future of this age, the Church, the nation of Israel, the Gentile nations of the world, and the created universe. Previous articles have addressed the wonderful prospect of hope for the separate institutions of the nation Israel and the Church. This article will focus on the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations of the world. In particular, this is not simply a discussion of the future demonstration of the redemption of individuals within the nations, although an individual element does exist. It is more a discussion of God’s national plans for certain nations as they take their place in the coming kingdom.

At the outset it is important to define the term nation or nations. In Hebrew the most frequent term in the plural is goyim (the people); in Greek it is ethnos. Based upon the conceptual idea in the Bible, these terms generally refer to the various people groups in the world. The context of each passage would determine the range of those groups intended and whether the emphasis should be on (1) political entities, (2) ethnic backgrounds, or (3) geographical territories (or perhaps a combination).

God’s purpose in raising up nationalities within history begins to surface in the Table of Nations cited in Genesis chapter 10 (see also 1 Chronicles 1:5-23). In that chapter, the expansion of the human race after the Flood in various people groups is shown through the genealogies of the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The idea of distinctions among the nations is intensified in the next chapter of Genesis with the episode at the Tower of Babel. There, God confuses the language of the people so that the human race that had congregated at Babel was scattered throughout the whole earth with various spoken languages. Consequently, barriers were strengthened over time marking off the nations as separate ethnic groups.

However, God always had kind intentions toward the nations. Even though he chooses one nation from among all the nations in Genesis 12:1-3 by graciously raising up Abraham and his descendants, God’s promise to Abraham included “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). It is also true that Israel is often viewed as a light to all of the other nations. For example, Jonah, the reluctant prophet of Israel, is sent to witness to the wicked Assyrians. In addition, the prophet Isaiah reminded the nation of Israel that its Messiah, the Servant, was to be a light to the other nations as well (Isa. 42:1-6; 49:6).

In Isaiah, the idea of a nation is mentioned seventy-six times. This prominent focus demonstrates more clearly than any of the other Old Testament books the future prospect and hope of the nations. For example, in Isaiah 2:1-4 the nations are pictured in the last days as streaming to Mount Zion in Jerusalem to learn the word of God from the Lord Himself. This kingdom picture shows that God will judge between nations and that war will be done away (v. 4). Isaiah chapter eleven gives a beautiful portrait of God’s coming kingdom for which he gathers the children of Israel from the four quarters of the earth (see v. 11-16). However, it is also a time when the “nations will resort to the root of Jesse” (v. 10), that is, to the Messiah of Israel. The last chapter of Isaiah (66) teaches that there is coming a day when God will “gather all nations and tongues” to see His glory (v. 18). In all of these kinds of passages, the biblical writers do not seem to be eliminating ethnic and national distinctions as they discuss the future hope for the nations. This hope is specifically wrapped up in the same Person, the Messiah of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the basis for the future hope of the nations is the same as it is for God’s chosen people Israel.

The book of Daniel also aids our understanding of the future hope of the nations. In chapter two, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar shows the progression of the four world king­doms that can be identified (with help throughout the book of Daniel) with Babylon, Medo­Persia, Greece, and Rome. The text is clear that God is in control of world history through­out the rise and fall of these empires. In the parallel passage in Daniel chapter seven, the Son of Man (Christ) begins to rule the national, political, earthly ethnic kingdom of God centered in Israel, but it is clearly stated that “all peoples, nations, and men of every lan­guage might serve him” (v. 14). That God does not view all political entities as done away with at that time can be known from the fact that such dominion shall be handed over to the saints to be continued (v. 27).

The New Testament continues an interest in the non-Jewish people groups of the world. Gentiles are included in the genealogies of Matthew chapter one. The Persian Magi come to worship the Christ-child in Matthew chapter two. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, there is a highlighting of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s future plan. However, much of it anticipates the inclusion of the Gentiles into the anticipated Church (see Matthew 13 & 16) where no national or political boundaries and distinctions are emphasized (see also the book of Acts).

However, Matthew 24-25 suggests that the Second Coming of Christ brings with it a judgment upon the nations. Christ sits upon His throne and gathers the nations in order to separate them into the sheep and the goats (25:32). The sheep are the ones who have treated the “brethren” well while the goats have mistreated them (25:40). In the context of the Olivet Discourse (chapters 24-25), the brethren appear to refer to the nation of Israel, the fellow Jews of Jesus. The judgment does not seem to be focused primarily on national aspects, but on individuals (see 25:35-46). However, this prophetic picture does not un­ravel any national, ethnic elements.

Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, underscores God’s focus on the na­tions of the world. In chapter seven, there are tribulation saints (perhaps martyrs) who come from every nation, all tribes, peoples, and tongues (v. 9). At the end of the millen­nium, Satan deceives the nations one more time (20:7-10) showing that ethnic distinctions are not done away with in that time period. Finally, in the new Jerusalem of the eternal state, there is a tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (22:2). While many of these promises are directed to individuals from within people groups and not the people groups themselves, they at least highlight the fact that God has not dismissed national identities. Coupled with the many passages that teach the administrative rewards of the coming kingdom (e.g., Dan. 7:14, Lk. 19:11ff), it is not hard to understand that God has designed a glorious future with political structures in place for the many peoples of the world as He rules from His seat of authority in Jerusalem.

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