How Does the Bible Define the Word Nation? (It Is Not What You Think)



The Tower of Babel by Dore

One World Government

Is there any basis in Scripture for the Christian to take back a nation for Jesus? Nations are first mentioned in Genesis 10:5: “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.”

The scattering of those nations across the globe is described in the next chapter and came as God opposed man’s first efforts at building a Utopia. The leaders of this early one-party system wanted to construct a tower that would reach heaven and make a name for themselves.

 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:6-9

The idea that “if it weren’t for God’s holding them back, they could and would do whatever they imagined” is not a compliment, because it is really speaking of the conjured up thoughts from the hearts of men which are only a cesspool of continuous evil (cf. Gen. 6:5). Unimaginable blood-letting occurs when men cooperate without restraint. From the French Revolution to the Third Reich, citizen cooperation in nations demonstrates a putrefying picture of man as a savage beast. It is important to remember that the perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes were just ordinary people. We must not think of them as different from ourselves in their basic make-up.

Democratic principles and freedom to vote are no guarantee that the people won’t elect a blood-thirsty tyrant, especially when nationalism flourishes or when the people have an opportunity to eliminate the weak and powerless who might stand in the way of their continued prosperity. Adolph Hitler remained popular right up to the end among the German people.

When the people of Israel were in rebellion against God, it could not look ahead and fathom the atrocities they would commit under God’s judgment, but the Bible doesn’t mince words. Fathers and mothers would soon be eating their own newborn children, while hiding this “food” from their spouse and older children who were themselves starving to death. It would get worse:

And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver. And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barn floor, or out of the winepress? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. II Kings 6:25-29

No law can make people live righteously; it may at best keep them from killing and cannibalizing each other. In the midst of this nightmare, there is hope. The tragedy of Genesis 11 is contrasted with the promise of God to Abram in Genesis 12 that he would have a great name, be made into a great nation,[1] and receive a great blessing.

“Nation” in the Old Testament

Because God deals with nations throughout the Bible, it is certainly relevant to ask what the word “nation” means in the context of Scripture. It does not seem to have the same meaning as the English word country (which usually denotes a place of fixed borders and stable government), but rather the idea of a people or nationality. This is clear from the following passages:

And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.[2] (emphasis mine) Genesis 25:23

Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. Exodus 33:13

And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them…. I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. Leviticus 20:23-26

Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. Deuteronomy 4:6 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. Daniel 7:14

“Nation” in the New Testament

The word “nation” has two primary connotations in the New Testament. In both cases, the focus is on people, not governments or borders of a country. In the first example (Mt. 21:43), after Jesus told the parable of the vineyard, He warns that the kingdom of God was about to be taken from those who outwardly rejected Him and given to those who received Him. Since we know that Jesus is not referring to Egypt or Syria or any other physical nation with borders, we can only conclude He means the church (people of all languages, tribes, tongues, nations)

The following passages also seem to me unintelligible unless the word “nations” refers to a people group.

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:31-34, 41

This is obviously the last day, the judgment day. He is addressing people, who will be judged as individuals. God is not bringing Australia or Zimbabwe, Botswana or Yugoslavia before himself. He is bringing every man to account out of every nation, and those that are saved will enter the kingdom, planned from the foundation of the world.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19

Governments and borders cannot be baptized or taught; He is referring to people, here.

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. Revelation 5:9f

God promises in Revelation not to save the nations, but save His people out of the nations, and make them kings.

The second meaning of the word “nation” appears to be a synonym for the word “Gentiles”, as shown in this passage:

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:31-33

The words “nations” and “Gentiles” are sometimes used interchangeably in English translations. In those cases “the nations” refers to all nations except for Israel. What you have then in the New Testament, is “the nations” (the Gentiles) and THE nation, the people of God. This was true of the church in the Old Testament as well as in the New.

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you. Leviticus 18:24

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. I Peter 2:9f

Why is it said of Christians that they were not a people? It is because they were not a distinct nation. Those particular Christians that Peter addressed were previously only citizens of their earthly nations. Only in Christ had they become truly a people, under one king, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is fitting then, that the people of God would be physically scattered among the Gentiles and yet spiritually gathered out of them to become a distinct people, a holy nation.

When a child is adopted, his birth certificate is changed to reflect that as a matter of law, he receives the same right to the inheritance as any natural born child. The parents listed on the certificate are now the adopting parents, not the biological parents. The boy is to be treated exactly as if he had been theirs from the very first day, no matter how old he actually was when adopted. In the Scriptures the same concept is applied to citizenship:

Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah. I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there. And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah. (emphasis mine) Psalm 87:3-6

It does not matter what country you were born in (or what your nationality); if you are born again, it is counted as if you were born in God’s heavenly city Zion, giving you citizenship in heaven. This does not just mean that in the future you get to “go to heaven”; it means you have the rights and responsibilities of citizenship now. We are to seek after God’s things, not our own, for He has promised to take care of us.



[1] In Genesis 17, God expands the promise to include many nations and kings.

[2]  I unequivocally reject Kinism (the philosophy that the most important connection people have is race). When God promised Abraham that many nations would come from him, and emphasized one seed, the Bible is talking about all of those of the faith of Abraham who would come to Christ from every ethnicity and nationality (see Rom. 4:12-25, 9:6-13, Gal. 3:16-20). Though the word “nation” can include the concept of race in some contexts, the Bible does not for a moment consider the kingdom of God to be made up of one race, physically. It is quite the opposite. God has invited all, without distinction (see Rom. 10:11, for example). Revelation 5, verses 9 and 10, describe the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.

Tomorrow we will turn to the question of whether America is a Christian nation or not.  Please join us in conversations over these topics from my book, With Christ in the Voting Booth, over the next few days.

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