When he preached to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens Paul explained : "From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God, and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-27).
Jesus said "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you" (Matthew 7:7). But for each person the prayer, and the search, and the knocking at God's door begins from a particular racial and cultural background. But when a nation's lifestyle becomes so corrupted that it becomes difficult for people to pray, and search, and knock, the Messiah intervenes in wrath to correct the situation.
In his vision of the city of God John saw that nations and tribes will also make their contribution to the glory of heaven."The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it" (Revelation 21:24). Each nation has faults. So in the process of history the dross has to be removed, but the special qualities of each nation will be perfected for heaven to enjoy for ever.
To illustrate the long continuing history of national groupings we begin with the table of nations in Genesis chapter 10. To this day there are three main kinds of linguistic origin. From Japheth (10:2) we have the Indo-European nations. Scholars have found that their language has a common origin in Latin, Greek, early German, and Sanskrit. They stretched from the Celts and Iberians of Spain (Tubal), across Europe and Scandinavia (Gomer), Greece (Javan), the Ukrainians and Slavs (Meshech and Tiras), and the Aryans of Iran and North India (Madai). [N.B. some of these identifications are questionable]
The Shemitic nations are listed in Genesis 10:21-31. Here we are using the word Shemitic as in the table of nations (not in the sense of what scholars call Semitic nations like the Jews and Arabs). Whereas the verb structure of the Indo-European languages had an original regularity, the Shemitic group of nations listed seem to have been agglutinative, as in Chinese. I have concluded they included peoples such as the Basques, Etruscans, Lydians, Sumerians, Armenians, Kurds, Mongolians. The Indus Valley people of Mohenjodara and Harappa were probably Sumerian in origin, and they were pushed south by the invading Aryans, but still they survive as the Tamil speaking Dravidians of South India. Abraham came from the Sumerian city of Ur, and he is listed as a Shemitic descendant of Arphachshad (Genesis 11:12). This suggests that he himself was a Sumerian.
The Hamitic group of nations included the Nubians (Cush), ancient Egyptians (Mizraim), Libyans (Put) and the Canaanites (Genesis 10:6). Nimrod moved up from Ethiopia and took over the previous Sumerian cities of Babel, Erech, and Accad (Genesis 10:8-10). This resulted in their language being spoken in Babylonia. Scholars were confused by the fact that the Jews and Arabs spoke a West Canaanite dialect. But the Table of Nations makes clear that Abraham was a Sumerian who learned a Hamitic language when he moved south into Canaan.
There are many problems in making exact identifications, but it is clear that the Indo-European nations, the Hamitic peoples of Africa, and the various groupings of other nations (which the Bible named as Shemitic) continue to this day after five thousand years. The growth of the Arab nations under the tribe of Ishmael is promised in Genesis 17:20 (see 21:18, 25:1-18, 36:1-42).
We began with the fact that nations have an important place in the plan of salvation. But when they become so corrupted that people can no longer pray, and seek, and find God, the Son of God intervenes in wrath to correct them. In Isaiah 13 the prophet describes the imminent end of the great city of Babylon (it went back to the time of Nimrod). It was the capital of the ruthless Babylonian empire that force-marched the Jewish people into exile.
The Messiah intervened in what the prophets often describe as a "day of the Lord." And the sudden end of that magnificent city is described metaphorically as "the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light . . . I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place" (Isaiah 13:10, 13). Here the sun is the emperor, the moon represents the queen and her attendants, and the stars are the generals, dignitaries, and rich merchants of the empire. The powers of heaven being shaken represent the end of an era.
It is interesting that Jesus quoted exactly these portents from Isaiah when he predicted the toppling of the temple and the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:27-29). Because they had failed to provide "a house of prayer for all nations" the high priest and the whole Jewish priesthood would be terminated without trace. The Pharisees had deceived the people into miserable legalism, and they would also be removed in that generation (Matthew 23:36). As a result the Jewish people who refused to follow the Messiah were scattered in a second exile. That continued for 19 centuries, and ended in the holocaust, before the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
Before trying to discover on what principles the Messiah intervenes in wrath, it is important to see that what looks like final wrath may not be the end of a nation. Jeremiah predicted that Moab had become "a horror to all his neighbors" and would be destroyed as a nation. But a few verses later we read: "Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days says the Lord" (Jeremiah 48:42 & 47). Similarly the Ammonites would be taken into exile, but they would be restored (Jeremiah 49:2-6). The astonishing way in which the Lord can restore a nation that has been decimated is a fact of history, and the Bible chronicles this among the Jews and among the surrounding Arab nations.
The parable of the sheep and the goats is often taken to be God's judgment of individuals based on their performance. But it clearly refers to the Son of Man coming in his glory, when nations are gathered before him. They are judged by the way their poorest people, aliens, and their sick and prisoners are cared for. (Matthew 25:31-2, 42-43). The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41) is not for individuals to burn in hell, but is the same as in the judgment on the city of ancient Rome and its false religion (Revelation 20:10).
It therefore seems that a nation is judged by its care for the weaker members of it society. One of the reasons for the "day of the Lord" in the termination of Communist rule over eastern Europe in 1989 was the terrible oppression of other nations and the thousands who languished in the Gulag concentration camps of Siberia. Similar days of the Lord occur in the history of all nations where the social fabric has been corrupted. In France the day of the Lord was signaled by the fall of the Bastille in 1789. We can predict that wherever there is gross injustice and oppression on a vast scale the Messiah is likely to intervene in wrath and overturn the situation. But, as in the case of Moab and Ammon (Transjordan), we know that may not be the end of the story (Romans 11:25-26).
Paul points out that the Jewish nation had a special calling to be a
blessing for all nations (as in
Genesis 12:3), and it was judged
for its relationship to God. Their fault was "being ignorant of the righteousness
that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own" (Romans 10:1-3).
That suggests that self-righteousness is a very serious fault in a nation.
It also means that what is taught and not allowed to be taught to our children
in school is of great concern to the Son of God.