The Apostle Paul didn’t know anything about suicide bombers. But he did know something about hatred and hostility between irreconcilable people groups. And, more importantly, he knew something about the Kingdom of Christ.
Evangelical thought on the Middle East crisis is linked inextricably to evangelical thought on the Kingdom of God. Some evangelicals believe peace in the Middle East is a hopeless endeavor, until Jesus sets foot on the Mount of Olives. Other evangelicals believe peace in the Middle East can be hammered out in the West Wing of the White House. Both groups are partially right, but both groups are missing a crucial element of the biblical vision of Kingdom peace–the church.
It is difficult for contemporary Christians to grasp just how real the Jew/Gentile division was in the first-century congregations. This was about more than some rancorous business meetings. Instead, the issue was the gospel itself. Gentiles were more than just an ethnic category–they were the heirs of Esau, the enemies of the people of God. In the midst of all this turmoil, the apostle Paul declared that the gospel meant the creation of a new humanity in Christ. The church, he concluded, was a model of the coming Kingdom that embraced both Jew and Gentile, reconciled to God and to each other through the last-days triumph of their common Messiah (Eph 2:11-21). Paul went so far as to declare that the peace within the congregation of Christ served as a herald to the cosmic powers that God has enthroned Jesus as the indisputable King of the entire created order (Eph 2:8-11).
Paul saw the big picture of humanity at war with itself, and with its Creator. He also saw the small picture of local congregations modeling the peace of the coming Kingdom. And he saw that these two foci were linked together. The church doesn’t just pray for peace and justice; it is to demonstrate it within its own walls.
Evangelical Christians should pray for the coming of our Messiah, who will decisively beat all swords into plowshares (Isa 2:4). But we should also pray for Kingdom congregations that declare the truth of the gospel with their very existence. As America’s inner cities simmer still with racial tension, let’s pray and work for churches in which white, black, and Latino Christians worship Christ and love their brothers–together.
And as the Middle East grows more and more incendiary, let’s pray for political peace. But let’s also pray for churches in which Jewish and Palestinian Christians pray to the same Messiah, and manifest the love and unity of the Spirit–together.
The United Nations might not notice congregations like that. But Scripture promises us that the spirit world cannot ignore the message of such Kingdom-focused churches–the message that Jesus is Lord.