Editor’s note: This is the second excerpt from a much longer article based on Acts 28:17-31, focused on the spiritual clash between the kingdoms of heaven and of earth. (Part one can be found here.) For the time being, God has given the power of the sword to the governments of this earth. The church’s role is to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom throughout all the world. But when the church comes into conflict with earthly rulers, God’s word is guaranteed to win the victory.
This article was first published, in its entirety and in the original Chinese, on the Grace to City site in April 2022.
The Sword Has Power, Yet It Is Not the Church’s Focus
After three days, Paul invited the leaders of the Jews to come. When they had all arrived, Paul said, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”
The Sword’s Power
Paul became a prisoner. He did not break Jewish law or Roman law, yet he was imprisoned in Jerusalem, tried many times, and became a death row prisoner under the Roman sword. His physical freedom was greatly restricted, and death chased him relentlessly. All this is the power of the sword. In Romans 13, Paul says God has given the government the authority of the sword, and that the government does not bear the sword in vain. This sword has the strong power to deter those who do what is wrong.
All of us experience the power of this sword in our daily lives. For example, U.S. immigration policy has recently contracted in size. Because of this, some Chinese people who studied and worked in the U.S. are unable to go back to the States to study and work after they went to China to visit their families. Because of removing term limits for the office of chairman of the Communist Party [Xi Jinping is now “president for life”], both officials and normal people have, to varying degrees, felt the impact on the social development of contemporary China. Many economic and political events have a concrete and far-reaching impact on the world – including the trade war between the U.S. and China, and the social unrest in Hong Kong because of a movement opposed to plans to allow extradition to mainland China.
The Church’s Focus
As you can imagine, when Paul was alive, the political, economic, and religious policies of the Roman Empire surely had a significant impact on his life. But in Acts 28:20, Paul tells the Jews in Rome that he was in chains “because of the hope of Israel.” Although the government power of Rome bound Paul, Paul’s main concern was the hope that God had given Israel. He was not focused on the intimidation coming from the sword of the Roman Empire. Luke the physician, masterful historian that he was, did not give any account of whether Paul won or lost in the court of Julius Caesar.
Church history says that Paul was under house arrest in Rome from 60-62 A.D., after which he was released. Then, he was martyred for the Lord sometime between 64-67. Luke was most likely in Rome when finished writing the book of Acts around 62 A.D., but he did not spend a single word on the verdict of Roman authorities against the apostle Paul. Why?
The purpose of Acts was to help Christians and church leaders of that time focused on King Jesus, the hope of all humanity. It was not to fix their thoughts on the power of Caesar or his religious policies. Paul was bound for the sake of Christ, not because of the trickery of the Jewish people or the religious policies of Rome. Because Paul was bound for Christ’s sake, he did not try to escape from his bondage, nor did he endure because he had the sacrificial spirit of a revolutionary. In the face of the sword’s power, Paul focused on the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the one on whom Israel was counting. When the church faces the power of the sword, she must also focus only on the Savior.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Kingdom Gospel: The Sword of Victory for the Church
The gospel of the kingdom is the true and most powerful political discourse the church possesses. When she confronts the authority of the earthly sword, the gospel of the kingdom is her sword of victory.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Is. 9:6-7)
Today’s political reality is that God reigns in Christ. God is the sovereign Lord over all things, both in heaven and on earth. Throughout history, he has appointed and abolished kings. He is the Redeemer of the church, and the Provider for all her needs. During the New Testament era, while the Messianic kingdom was being established and spread throughout the earth, God gave the governments of this earth the sword. To the church, he gave authority to proclaim, interpret, and apply his word to his people, Christ’s body. When the earthly sword’s power is directed at his church, the gospel of the kingdom – the sharp sword of God’s word – is guaranteed victory.
For years, the Christian church has struggled to maintain biblical church-state relations. Social and public life is not a neutral zone, but the battleground of the gods. As the two meet, God’s people are not to seize the authority of the earthly sword. Instead, the church should continue to proclaim on earth the gospel of the kingdom. The church should continue to walk in heavenly freedom, in the midst of the bondage of the flesh. As Pastor Wang Yi said in his article, “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience”: “The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.”
Dr. Ben Chen is the director of Chinese language at Third Millennium Ministries.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese churches to focus on the Savior when she faces the terror of the sword.