Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and the Kingdom of God

Lincoln, King and the Kingdom: what’s the relationship?  I’ve always wondered who in the government decided to put Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) together.  Although my students will tell you that sometimes I get a little preachy when I teach history, I’ve always tried to not lecture history from the pulpit.  This time, I’m going to ask that you indulge me just a little bit.

It’s always around this time of year that my American History class studies the Civil War.  It just so happens that right in the middle of that, my wife and I visited D.C. over the Christmas break.  I stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and looked across the reflection pool toward the Washington Monument.  The words of the Gettysburg Address are carved into Lincoln’s memorial in 12″ letters.  It’s hard not to come back and say something about it.

Tomorrow (Jan 18) is Martin Luther King Day.  Dr. King stood at the Lincoln Memorial, 100 years after the Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation, and addressed a crowd of thousands on behalf of civil rights and racial equality.  It took over a century for the lofty ideals Lincoln held, and those embodied by the 14th and 15th Amendments, to become a true reality.  At the heart of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, he says that it is for us the living to be dedicated to finishing the task the those brave men fought and died for, lest they should die in vain.  Lincoln’s primary goal throughout the war was to preserve the Union.  He repeats the well-known words from the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.  You may scoff that “all white men are created equal,” but Thomas Jefferson originally included wording to end slavery in the new country.  The 13 colonies had to be united in order to fight against England, and the slavery verbage was dropped in order to get the support of the southern colonies, already depending on slave labor to work their plantations.  Lincoln questioned whether the president had the Constitutional right to free the slaves, but reasoned that as Commander-in-Chief the Emancipation Proclamation would help the Union win the war.  Included was a provision that free blacks in the North could enlist in the army, which they had not previously been allowed to do.  They could now join the fight to end slavery.  England was persuaded by the Emancipation Proclamation not to aid the Confederacy, as most of Europe favored abolition by the 19th Century.

The Bible says the Kingdom of God will be made up of people from every tribe, every tongue and every nation.  During the Civil War, and the years leading up to it, preachers on both sides of the slavery issue tossed Bible verses at each other to support their case.  Throwing verses at your opponent to win a debate is a misuse of scripture.  Does the Bible say that slaves should obey their masters?  Yes it does.   The Bible also instructs masters on how to treat their slaves, which the Southern pastors were not preaching.  And the Bible never gives us permission to treat any human being like they are less than a person created in God’s image.  We are each instructed not to think too highly of ourselves, and to think of others before thinking of ourselves.  Slavery in the Bible – just like slavery in Africa, by the way – was not based on race.  Slaves worked all day, then went home to their families.  Children born to slaves were not the property of the slave holders, and a family member or the slave himself could buy a slave’s freedom.  We must consider each verse from the Bible in its context.

I love living in the United States, and teaching our history to my students.  That said, America is not the Kingdom of God, and cannot bring the Kingdom to earth.  America is not Israel. Why do I say that?  Because listening to some preachers could give one the idea that America today represents Israel of the Old Testament.  Some will come right out and say it, others hint at it or imply that God’s promises to Israel in the OT apply to all Christians today.  Christians are not Israel. The health and prosperity guys tell us that God has promised to bless us and declare we must simply name it and claim it.  “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  Have you ever heard that verse?  Did some preacher or Bible teacher suggest (or boldly declare) that our prayers and obedience would lead God to restore America to power or protect it from danger?  Because that verse does not promise us that.  I quoted word for word 2 Chronicles 7:14, but it’s out of context.  It doesn’t mean what it looks like it means.  Verse 14 picks up in the middle of a sentence.  Read the entire passage and see that this promise is conditional.  God is talking to the people of Israel, at their height of power as an independent nation.  He also warns that if they do evil as the people before them did evil then he will pluck them from the land.  This promise is specifically given to a very specific group of people, with circumstances unique to them and different from our own.

God is bringing his Kingdom, and it will not be any current nation of this world.  This world, and it’s nations and thrones, is temporary.  It will all be destroyed by fire, and God will create a new heaven and a new earth.  His coming Kingdom consists of all believers from every nation, from every race, and of every language.  I love my country, but the truth is it’s doomed.  We cannot even save ourselves.  All those who come to God in the name of Jesus will be saved by God, and of his rule their will be no end.

The study of Old Testament Israel is still useful, however.  Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land.  We are born slaves to sin.  This world is the wilderness we pass through, and someday we will cross over Jordan.  We must follow Jesus as the Hebrews followed Moses.  Through Moses, God gave the Law.  Through Christ, God offers salvation.  We can enter the land flowing with milk and honey, but it will be in the next life, not this one.

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One thought on “Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and the Kingdom of God

  1. I like what you say about the Kingdom of Heaven and that ALL are included in it. Jesus didn’t come to start a religon. He came to show us how to let go of this temporary existence, strive to live as he did and take up the slck when we can’t. He came to wake us from our slumber and harvest the souls that are ready.

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