The Scottish Referendum – How Should We Pray? image

The Scottish Referendum – How Should We Pray?

I must begin with the proviso that this is a summary of how I personally understand the gospel, the message of the Bible, to relate to the imminent referendum for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. Others have different views about politics and about the connection between earthly kingdoms and the Kingdom of God; this is my initial attempt at a biblical theology of politics. However, I humbly ask the Christian reader to “examine the Scriptures… to see whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11).

1.  Politics is Jesus’ speciality

Colossians 1:16 says that “in Jesus all things were created, in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether …”  We would expect Paul to continue “… oceans or mountains or stars”.  Instead, he specifies “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” – all of these “have been created through Jesus and for Jesus”.  That is hugely important.  Psalm 86:9 says “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord”.  Paul goes further, explaining that every form of authority was actually designed with Jesus in mind, as the only one who can properly handle it.

We could be specific, then:  The United States, a federal republic, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  China, a socialist republic, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  The European Union, with its Parliament, Council, and Commission, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  The United Nations, with its General Assembly, Security Council, and so on, was created through Jesus and for Jesus.  No political system can function properly without His direct oversight and allegiance to Him.  Yet all leadership that genuinely seeks to take responsibility to care for others is a reflection of His character (Eph 3:14-15; Ps 22:27-28; Ps 82), and therefore derives its authority from Him (John 19:10-11; Rom 13:1-7; 1Pet 2:13-17).

2.  God’s plan is for global political unity

A.  Only one legal ruler of humanity
Humanity was designed politically on the model of a family, with Adam as its first ruler, followed by his son Seth, who as the promised ‘seed’ was given authority over his siblings (Gen 4:1-2, 9, 25; Ps 22:27).  This line of authority continued via Enoch to Noah (Gen 5:29), via Shem (Gen 9:26-27; 11:31) to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Gen 17:19-21; 26:3-5; 28:13-15).  Then among Israel’s twelve sons, Judah was given the authority (Gen 49:8-12), and therefore his descendant David was legally ruler of Israel and thus of all nations, for their blessing (Ps 18:43-50; 72:8-11).  Jesus was the direct heir of David’s throne (Matt 1:1-21; cf. 1Chron 1:1–3:24), and therefore legally took responsibility for the actions of His people by dying in their place as ‘King of the Jews’ (John 19:14-22; Num 30:15).  At the same time, though, He was also dying as the rightful King of all nations, who alone could legally pay for the sins of any Gentile peoples who accepted His authority (Rom 5:12-21).  Having appeared the first time to deal with sins, He will come a second time to fulfil all of God’s promises of salvation and restoration of all things (Heb 9:28; Acts 3:19-21; Matt 19:28-29).

B.  Global government awaits its appointed time
From the beginning God has been actively governing all nations.  Adam and Eve, and then Noah, were given humanity’s commission to “fill the earth” (Gen 1:27-28; 9:1), and yet soon after the Flood, humanity attempted a premature political unity at the Tower of Babylon, in disobedience to their commission (Gen 11:1-9).  God thwarted their intention at that time by dispersing humanity and creating nations (Gen 10), but at the same time called Noah’s heir Abram to be a blessing to all the nations (Gen 12:1-3).  Ever since Abram’s day, many nations have attempted to create empires (Gen 14), but the one nation that inherited Abram’s authority has had to wait for God’s timing, while being used by Him to bless other nations (Acts 3:25-26).  Prophets from God’s chosen people Israel not only elaborated God’s future plans for Israel and its promised King to govern all nations (Isa 11; 60; Mic 4; Zec 9–10), but also took God’s messages to other nations and empires (Amos 1–2; Isa 13–23; Jer 25; 46–51; Ezek 25–32; Heb 1:1-2).  Yet even when the promised King finally arrived, after His resurrection and return from Galilee to Jerusalem, it was still not yet time for Jesus to take up the throne of His father David over the nations.  His disciples were expecting these promises of the prophets to be fulfilled immediately for Israel (Acts 1:3, 6; 3:21; Luke 19:11-28; 22:28-30), but they had not grasped how vital all other nations were to His kingdom also (Matt 24:14, 30-31).

C.  Promises for Israel depend on the nations
Jesus explained to them that Israel’s promises could only be fulfilled once all nations, even in the remotest part of the earth, had been blessed with the good news that Jesus had demonstrated God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel, and that all nations could now accept Israel’s God for themselves (Acts 1:6-8; 13:32-49; 14:15-17; 17:30-31; Rom 15:8-12).  Before the disciples could reign as kings over their own nation, therefore, they had to serve as ambassadors to all nations, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Paul perceived that this was all part of God’s plan: Jews like himself would serve as a light to all other nations first (Isa 49:5-7; 60:1-16; Acts 3:25-26; 13:47), so that once all nations had heard and accepted Jesus’ kingship (Hag 2:6-9; Zec 2:10-12; 8:20-23; Rom 11:12, 15, 30), then their own nation Israel would become jealous for their rightful King and turn back to Him (Deut 32:18-21; Rom 11:11, 13-14, 25-27, 31), ready to welcome Him when He returns to Jerusalem (Matt 23:37-39; Luke 21:24).

D.  No global kingdom without every nation represented
Jesus intends to reign as emperor when He returns, over every tribe, language, people and nation (Ps 2; 1Cor 15:20-25; Rev 1:5-6; 7:9-10; 11:15; 15:3-4; 17:12-14; 19:15-16).  This one-world empire will be entirely unified under His righteous government (Zec 14:3-4, 9, 16; Mic 4:1-8; 5:2-4), although He will maintain the unique identities of each diverse nation and people group (Ps 47:8-9; 87:4-6; Isa 25:6-8; Amos 9:11-12).  Jesus needs disciples in every nation to serve as His government in the resurrection when He returns (Dan 7:18; Luke 19:11-27; Rom 8:17-21; 2Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:9-10; 20:4-6).  Adam and Eve’s original commission to “fill the earth”, in order to “rule over” it, is now understood to apply not just to humanity in the image of Adam, but to redeemed humanity in the image of Jesus (Rom 5:12-21; 8:16-25; 1Cor 15:44-50).  This is why He has been waiting patiently for nearly two thousand years for us to fulfil His greater commission; when He returns as judge at the end of this age, He does not want any nation to perish entirely (Matt 24:14; 28:18-20; Acts 17:26-31; 2Pet 3:3-4, 9, 12, 15-16; Jdg 21:3, 15, 17).

3.  Jesus’ government is characterised by unity

The Church in the present age is meant to be a microcosm and prototype for the worldwide Kingdom of God that will be revealed when Jesus returns.  Within the Church, Jesus’ co-heirs are learning His principles for how to govern people with justice (Matt 18; 1Cor 5:1–6:8), manage finances (Luke 16:1-13; 2Cor 8–9), make war (2Cor 10:3-6; Eph 6:10-20), and engage in international relations (Rom 15:25-28; 16:16).  However, following the example of Abraham (Gen 14:13–15:1) and Jesus (Luke 4:5-8; John 18:33-37), the Church ought not to take or accept authority from the world, but must wait for the kingdom to be granted to it from God Himself when Jesus returns (Heb 10:32–11:40).  Of course, that does not prevent servants of Jesus from engaging as actively as possible in politics in a personal capacity, for the benefit of their fellow citizens (Gen 45:4-8; Dan 5:29–6:28; Rom 16:23; 1Tim 2:1-4).

Since God’s plan is for the whole world to be governed by Jesus through His Church when He returns, the principles now expected of His Church are designed to be of benefit to nations also.  One of the most fundamental characteristics of Jesus’ government is the unity of diverse people, and not division.  Diversity is of course important, as in the model of the twelve tribes of Israel, or the Church made up of Jew and Gentile without the need to become like each other (Acts 15; 21:17-26; Rom 14).  But nevertheless, unity is the one thing Jesus prayed for the future Church in His high priestly prayer (John 17:20-23).  Paul likewise prayed this for the churches (Eph 1:18; 3:17-19; Php 2:1-5), knowing that Jesus had died to remove dividing walls of enmity (Eph 2:11-22), and will eventually perfect His entire Church in unity before His return (Eph 4:1-16).  Unity is a mark of mature believers (1Cor 3:1-4), and church leaders must constantly be on the alert to prevent disunity (Acts 20:28-30; Php 4:1-3).

4.  Political division and disunity is a sign of God’s judgement

Unity is a defining feature of God’s government, and thus also of nations that accept His authority.  Equally, the Bible clearly demonstrates that disunity is allowed by God, or even imposed, as a judgement on wicked rulers, nations or coalitions.  The New Testament tends to teach more about God’s dealings with individuals and local churches, but the Old Testament teaches much more about His dealings with whole nations.  From the curse on Adam and Eve (Gen 3:12-16), through the dispersion of the nations at the Tower of Babylon (Gen 11:1-9), to the political division between northern and southern tribes of Israel after Solomon’s reign (1Kgs 11:9-13; 12:19-24), God used division to punish rebellion and teach consequences.  Similarly, coalitions of enemy nations that had attacked God’s people were defeated when He brought confusion on them so that they turned on each other rather than on Israel (Jdg 6:33 + 7:22; 1Sam 14:19-21; 2Chr 20:22-23).

God has good plans for every nation, since He made each nation (Ps 86:9) and gave it government for the sake of His Son (Ps 2:8; Rom 13:1; 1Tim 2:1-3).  He does not wish division on any nation, therefore, but rather that there be ever-increasing unity (Isa 9:7), even between nations (Isa 11:10), in preparation for Jesus’ return to reign over the entire earth.  Of course, in many cases political unity has been forged through injustice and oppression, and for motivations of power or greed.  Even so, unity itself is ultimately a reflection of God’s heart, and political unity can be redeemed because it was created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col. 1:16, 20).  That does not mean that diversity and the unique value of each individual part should be downplayed; on the contrary, it is indispensible for the proper functioning of both the individual part and the whole entity (1Cor 12).

On the other hand, division is one of the fruits of the flesh rather than of the Spirit, involving “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, [and] factions” (Gal 5:20).  It is a characteristic of earthly rather than heavenly wisdom, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16).  On the other hand, “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18), and peacemakers “will be recognised as the children of God” (Matt 5:9).

5.  Our response should be to pray for unity and peace

Although the Church ought not to accept any power granted to it by the world, its members have been “seated … with Jesus in the heavenlies”, at the place of highest authority at the right hand of God Himself (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1-4).  Believers can therefore petition God the Father “in Jesus’ name”, that is, in agreement with the requests of Jesus Himself as revealed to two or three witnesses by the Holy Spirit (Matt 18:16, 18-20; John 14:12-14; 16:13-15, 23-27; Rom 8:26-27, 34; Heb 7:25).  To the extent that they do so, their requests will be granted by the supreme Authority over all creation.  This gives them greater influence over world affairs than any political government on earth.

Believers do not just have the opportunity to petition the King of kings; they are specifically instructed to do so, on behalf of all those around them who do not have this sort of authority.  Paul urges the servants of Jesus as a matter of first importance that “entreaties, prayers, petititions and thanksgivings” be brought to the throne of God “for kings and all who are in authority”.  The outcome of such prayers will be an environment in which people “may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity”.  This is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” who cares for “all people” and all nations/Gentiles, because such an environment will also enable the good news of His Son’s ransom and coming kingdom to be communicated freely to all (1Tim 2:1-7).

Let us then cry out to the Almighty God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5).  Let us pray, in accordance with His will as revealed in Scripture, for His judgement to be turned away from our nation, and for wisdom for our leaders and government and decision-makers (in this case all those living in Scotland).  Let us petition the Lord, and also make diligent effort in whatever way we can, “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).  “May Your kingdom come; may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)


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