The Transitory Glory of the Nations
World History was a course required of all the students when I first went to a local college some years ago. It was necessary for us to learn the early history of Europe, Asia, Africa, as well as the New World of North and South America. Dates, names, and events filled my mind as I continued through the two semesters that were essential for graduation. The course emphasized that war literally filled the pages of earth history. Significantly, very few years saw the absence of national, ethnic, tribal, and religious conflict.
Throughout the worlds history, mankind has pridefully aspired to greatness and sought to overpower neighboring states and nations in order to accomplish this universal goal. Envy has fueled this drive to ascendancy and been an underlying cause of many worldly conflicts, with one nation seeking the lands of their neighborslands that would yield rich minerals, better locations, milder climates, added fortified cities, and more desirable trade routes.
This theme of history is not merely reflected in secular textbooks, but it is illustrated and explained even more fully by the God of history. Yes, the Bible has been called His story for it reveals how God works His own plan through human history, from the time of the creation to the time of its culmination.
But it is not only the story of Gods workings in history, it also is a record of how fallen men have carried on their lives and how Satan, the enemy of our soul, has been the sinister inspirer of global rebellion and disaster. You see, Satan has great power on earth to work behind the scenes to accomplish his evil work. I am reminded of the words of Satan as he endeavored to tempt the Lord Jesus into compromise: He [Satan] . . . showed Him [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish (Luke 4:5-6).
In one sense, it is true that the earth is the LORDS and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it (Psalm 24:1; cf. 1 Cor. 10:26). The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all it contains, You have founded them (Psalm 89:11). Therefore, it is vital that we see God as Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign over the nations on earth. He is infinitely higher than the nations and rules over them: All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless (Isaiah 40:17).
But, in another sense and equally true, Satan controls the earthly kingdoms for he has become the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). The world in general follows the way of Satan, the evil one, and serves this enemy of our soul. This influence of spiritual deception and control is reflected throughout history.
As I consider the facts that we covered in the secular world history course that I took, I am reminded of one principle observed again and again. It was a lesson that Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan Babylonian king, learned. God brought down this earthly ruler from his throne for a period of time for a specific purpose. This is the principle found throughout world history:
. . . The living may know
That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind,
And bestows it on whom He wishes
And sets over it the lowliest of men.
(Daniel 4:17; cf. 4:25,32,34-35; 5:18,21).
God does rule in the kingdoms of menthe earthly nationsand works through them to bring about His own purposes for the world. However, earthly domain and glory belongs to Satan, the spiritual enemy of God, the worlds Lord and Creator. Although many either deny or overlook this spiritual warfare, it is clearly written on every page of history. This is the conflict of the ages and it operates, unseen, in the present age as it did in earlier eons.
Consider the scope of world history and notice how God works and Satan also works in the nations on earth. Begin four millennia ago. The greatest kingdom on earth was Egypt. When Abraham briefly visited this land at that time, the pyramids rose from the sand and proclaimed an advanced civilization. This great nation had an advanced culture, one that surpassed what had been known earlier on the earth. The earthly temples and other buildings draw tourists in our own day. However, when God chose to deliver His people, Israel, from the cruel Egyptian bondage, about 1440 BC, He humiliated both Pharaoh and his vast domain. The Egyptian ruler and his army were overthrown by God when Moses led his people to freedom. As Daniel, the prophet of God, stated: It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings (Daniel 2:21).
Continue to march through history with me. Forty years after Moses, in the fifteenth century BC, God conquered the seven small nations in the land of Canaan by means of Joshua and the people of Israel. In a few hundred years, by 1000 BC, Israel dominated that part of the earth, from the Euphrates River to Egypt, through the reigns of the illustrious kings, David and Solomon.
Three hundred years after this, the vast Assyrian empire spread out across the Mesopotamian area, and even conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Sargon and Sennacherib ruled supreme and thought that their kingdom would continue. The Assyrian capital, Nineveh, was surrounded by high and wide walls that defied any aspiring foreign enemy.
Ironically, not long after this, by 600 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon brought the mighty nation of Assyria to its knees in utter defeat. This prideful Babylonian king even conquered the land of Judah. In 606, 597, and 586 BC this pagan monarch deported the Jews to Babylon and even destroyed the Jewish temple that had been raised by Solomon more than three centuries earlier. Like is predecessors, Nebuchadnezzar thought that his kingdom would continue on and on into the distant future.
However, by 539 BC, the Medo-Persia coalition conquered the Babylonians and this led to their domination of the Mesopotamian area, including the land of Israel. But this world empire did not last. By about 330 BC, Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon, conquered the vast Persian kingdom while on his march east. He extended the Greek culture with the Greek language from Greece to India and as far south as Egypt. The learning of Greece permeated the entire eastern Mediterranean area and this influence lasted for hundreds of years.
In the second century BC, the Romans began to reach out from their Italian roots. They extended east, eventually conquering Israel in 63 BC. By the first and second centuries before Christ, Rome ruled the entire Mediterranean area, as far west as Spain, as far north as Britain and Germany, as far east as Parthia, and as far south as Africa. They built a vast system of roads, dominated all opposition, established the renowned Pax Romana, and promoted the strict Roman legal system. It seemed like Rome would continue for a millennium. However, by the fifth century, Rome itself fell to the barbarians. The Roman Empire came to an end.
Since that time, other nations and peoples have sought to conquer their neighbors and extend their domination on earth. The Roman Catholic Church established the religeo-political Holy Roman Empire that dominated Europe for hundreds of years through the Middle Ages. The religion of Islam, following the command of Muhammad, from the eighth century to the present time, has conquered one nation after another, from Western Africa to Indonesia and the Philippines, and eventually intends to dominate the world. Atheistic Communism arose a century ago and expected one day to hold sway over the entire earth. The diabolical Hitler also arose with the purpose of extending his Third Reich around the world based upon his evolutionary theory of a super race.
The story of the earth is the story of nations at war as they seek to dominate each other with physical force. Satans domain has been felt throughout history. God has not been absent in all of this for He still reigns, unseen by human eye. The God who made the world and all things in it . . . is Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 17:24). Scripture says, He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (v. 26). God still is sovereign over the nations of the world!
The glory of Greece, the grandeur of Rome, and the riches of modern nations will one day come to an end. The aspirations of modern kings, presidents and potentates, and the designs of contemporary nations and peoples will eventually be destroyed. In His own predetermined time and according to His sovereign will, the Lord God will bring all of this to its end. But the rule of God and the Kingdom of our Lord will last forever.
Incredible and ironic though it seems, an angel of God appeared to a humble, lowly, poor virgin named Miriam in a tiny Galilean village named Nazareth, announcing that she would be the mother of a son whose name would be called Jesus. The angel declared, He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and His kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:31-33). This was to be in fulfillment of Daniels prophecy of six centuries earlier: In the days of those [Roman] kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed . . . it will crush and put an end to all these [earthly] kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever (Daniel 2:44).
Although it seems like the earth is out of control, that sin reigns supreme, and that Satan dominates all mankind, it is encouraging to realize the truth of Scripture, a truth that will one day be fulfilled: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).