In our Scripture reading for August 12, Jesus makes one of the most outrageous and intriguing promises in the Scriptures. Jesus says he will give his followers “authority over the nations.” (Revelation 2:26) That promise means we will share in Jesus’ authoritative rule over all nations, which Psalm 2 describes with the image of “a rod of iron,” (Psalm 2:9) and which Jesus fulfills by making “disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:16-20)
Jesus’ promise of authority to rule all nations makes me wonder: what will that authority look like in the new creation, and how does our Lord form us for that responsibility now?
In the new creation, followers of Jesus will celebrate with “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Rev. 7:9) As we live and reign together, we will enjoy fruit from the tree of life, and we will experience the tree’s leaves as beauty “for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:3) Sharing the worship and work of the new creation with fascinating people from every nation and language inspires me to pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
With respect to formation now for that new creation life, I think first of Jesus’ instructions in a climactic Gospel scene, where he commissions his followers to “teach them [people from all nations] to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20) To make disciples of all nations entails first practicing discipleship ourselves. And our best hope for such discipleship is to cultivate a keen sense that Jesus is Immanuel—God with us—“always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
When I try to specify what international discipleship means for an American like myself—serving in Canada as pastor of an increasingly multi-national congregation—my mind goes to Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address from the concluding months of the Civil War. When I think of the political culture in the U.S. today and its effect on the world, I wonder if we would all do well to read excerpts from Lincoln’s speech, such as the two I offer below.
Speaking of the opposing sides in the Civil War, Lincoln says: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”
Refusing to let his non-judgmentalism degenerate into either relativism or passivity, Lincoln goes on to say: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”