During the past 4 weeks on Wednesday nights we’ve been looking to the scriptures to examine what racial reconciliation and justice look like in a few different scripture passages. We’ve considered the Babel narrative of Genesis 11, the implications of us all becoming one in Christ from Galatians 3, and the implications for “the dividing wall of hostility” to be torn down in Ephesians 2. Since we had a power outage on the last Wednesday, we were unable to finish the story from Revelation. Below are summaries from each week, with some thoughts on racial reconciliation and justice finding their culmination in Revelation.
Week 1: Genesis 11
In Genesis 11 we saw that self-glorification played a major role in the division of humanity into ethnic groups. The people “sought to make a name for themselves”. This is of course a direct result of the fall, and division is surely a result when racial groups pursue self-glorification. Seeking to exalt one ethnicity over the other simply results in more division, not justice or reconciliation. What’s worse, it’s not ultimately one people group against another, but all of them against God. We look forward to the day when the effects of Babel are reversed.
Week 2: Galatians 3:24-29
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, since you are all one in Christ Jesus”. This verse has been used to justify “colorblindness” when it comes to racial issues, but as we studied it we saw that that interpretation is inconsistent. We wouldn’t argue that Paul calls us to be blind to gender or socioeconomic status. Ignoring those aspects of someone’s “lower-case i” identity can actually be harmful because this is part of who they are. If we insisted on seeing everyone as the same we would be going against the main point of Galatians, which insists that pushing “sameness” onto everyone is adding to the gospel! Instead, the deep unity we have in the gospel allows us to do the difficult thing and stand unified despite different backgrounds. Seeing the backgrounds for what they are and under the greater Identity in Christ allows for God-honoring dialogue, empathy, worship, and the pursuit of justice because we’ll see it clearly instead of being “colorblind”. God is more glorified when we are united despite those differences that can culturally divide us.
Week 3: Ephesians 2:11-22
Beginning with verse 11, we are called primarily to remember the gospel which brings with it all kinds of implications for racial reconciliation. Paul’s point is that reconciliation has already been accomplished in the gospel, we don’t have to make it happen. Our job is to remember the the hostility has literally “been put to death”, and live out the implications. Since the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down, we ignore the Biblical message if we perpetuate hostility between races in general and among believers specifically. We see that we are citizens of a new kingdom, members of a new family, and stones that make up a new temple.
Week 4: Revelation
Due to power outage we didn’t get to meet, but here are some thoughts from a few different passages in Revelation. First, in chapter 5 we see a mighty angel asking “who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” John wept because no one was able to, but one of the elders told him, “do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” John heard the description of the Lion, but looked and saw the Lamb, who was worthy. The elders and four creatures sang a new song to the Lamb in response. Part of their song says, “You are worthy…because you were slaughtered and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
In chapter 6 we see the Lamb open the seals and various judgments follow. However in chapter 7 a promise to preserve the sealed people of God. But who are the sealed? Again, John heard the number of 144,000 in 7:4, but then he “looked and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The people of God are known perfectly by God, yet innumerable from a human perspective. The differences amongst people groups are so glorious that those differences are used by the author to point out God’s glory in salvation. Although in Babel they “made a name for themselves”, here God gives them a new name and a new identity.
We see many places where the nations are deceived by the beast, but especially by the harlot of Babylon (remember from week one that Babylon and Babel have the same root?). We see this in 13:7, 14:6-8, 16:19, 17:15, 18:3, 18:23. No people group is devoid of responsibility, no people group avoided falling for the lies of the harlot of Babylon, and no people group is outside God’s judgment except for the newly created multi-cultural people who are sealed by the blood of the Lamb.
Finally in chapters 21-22 we see heaven and earth meeting and the new creation beginning. In 21:23-26, part of this glory is that within the beautiful city, the “lamp is the Lamb, and the nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. It’s gates will never close by door because it will never be night there. They will bring glory and honor of the nations into it.” A few verses later in chapter 22’s description of the tree of life, we read that “the leaves of the tree are for healing the nations” in verse 2. There is one people of God, but interestingly enough the distinction “nations” still appears in the new creation.
Observations and Application
1. God makes a new multi-ethnic people by the sealing blood of the Lamb. The diversity of it makes it more glorious, and there is no indication that the ethnic diversity goes away in the new creation. Thus we do not need to be timid or avoidant of racial distinctions or discussions. We can glory in the differences because God does, and God also gloriously brings us all together in a bond that is stronger than the powers that try to divide. Let’s continue to root out the messages, overt or embedded deep in us, that seek division along ethnic lines.
2. As we see the beast deceive the nations through the Harlot of Babylon, we observe that no people group is spared of deceit and judgement as they try to make names for themselves just like their ancestors at Babel did. Only the intervening mercy of God can spare anyone from being led astray and judged. This should lead us to humility and compassion for those blinded by the lies, for all that makes us different is the mercy of God. May we carry the same eternal gospel message in 14:6 that the angel announces to every nation, tribe, language, and people.
3. The nations need healing, and due to the work of the Lamb, all nations will have access to the tree of life. Where before our rebellion prevented humankind from accessing it, we will then have access to it’s healing by the work of Christ. If this is our future reality and God’s ultimate goal for the nations, wouldn’t it follow that we ought to pursue this now when we say, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? If it’s God’s ultimate goal, shouldn’t it at least be a part of our goals here? The future reality should shape our present hope and temper our present expectations as we pursue reconciliation, justice, and righteousness here and now.