The nations will walk by [the city’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
I expect that the title of this devotion, “Christian Faith and Politics from an Unusual Perspective” will impress my readers in a variety of ways. Some of you are probably eager to read on while others of you have already dumped this devotion in the trash because, frankly, you’re sick of politics and the Christians who try to combine it with faith. In certain traditions of the church, faith finds its most vibrant expression in what we call politics. In other traditions, the faithful try hard to avoid the pitfalls and pratfalls of the political realm. Given all that’s going on in American presidential politics right now, it might seem foolhardy to write a devotion having to do with faith and politics. But if I’m going to be faithful to John’s vision in Revelation 21, then I can’t avoid this topic, even though it has the potential to distract and divide believers. (No, I’m not going to suggest that any of the current candidates is the Antichrist, though I did a Google search and found that some Christians are worried about this very thing, seeing potential Antichrists on both sides of the political aisle.)
How we exercise political power matters to the One who is King of kings and Lord of Lords, who created us with the capacity for ruling, and who, in the end, receives the “splendor” of kings.
Notice that in verse 24 the text says, “The nations will walk by [the city’s] light.” The word translated as “nations” could also be rendered “Gentiles,” but in this context “nations” is preferable. Every English translation I checked, from the KJV to the ESV to the CEB to the Message, uses “nations.” John is not talking about lots of individual Gentiles, but rather about Gentiles organized as nations. The nations will be the ones who bring their “glory and honor” into the holy city.
This reading is confirmed by the last phrase of verse 24, “and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” Whatever “splendor” means exactly, there is no question about who is doing the bringing. John is talking about kings, those who exercise authority over nations. Thus, it’s clear that Revelation 21, following Isaiah 60 (see yesterday’s devotion), is referring to political systems (nations) and political leaders (kings). His vision includes what we would call politics (or, less controversially, governing and governors, or ruling and rulers).
In the vision of Revelation, nations and kings play an essential role in God’s future. They are ultimately brought under God’s full authority in a way that is not true in the world today, though, in a sense, all political authority comes from God (see Romans 13:1-5). In the future, according to John, the kings serve God, not under compulsion, but willingly.
Why should this future vision of kings and nations relating to God matter to us today? Because it strongly suggests that political structures and roles are part of God’s end-time plan as well as the created order of this world. Politics does indeed matter to God, much as work matters to God, art matters to God, parenting matters to God, and church matters to God. All of life matters to the one who created life with all of its nuances. How we exercise political power matters to the One who is King of kings and Lord of Lords, who created us with the capacity for ruling, and who, in the end, receives the “splendor” of kings.
Moreover, Revelation 21 reminds us that political systems and political rulers will one day recognize their subservience to God even as they offer to God the very best they have produced.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Does John’s vision of nations and kings in God’s future surprise you? Or is it consistent with what you envision for the future?
What does it mean for you to be politically active under God’s kingly authority?
Gracious God, you have created all things, including the human capacity for creating political structures. Though all political systems are part of this fallen world, they also reflect your concern for order, justice, and the common good.
One day, all political systems and all rulers will reflect your overall sovereignty. Even kings will serve you as they bring their splendor before you. In the meanwhile, Lord, our political realities and personalities seem to be out of sync with your kingdom. We might be tempted to forget about politics altogether. But John’s vision of your future reminds us that governing matters, as do those who govern. So, we ask you to guide our political leaders and to help our political systems be more reflective of your justice. Help us, in the exercise of our citizenship, to seek and honor you. Amen.