The True and Only Theocracy
W. H. Chellis
At the beginning the 21st Century, the word theocracy has come into vogue. Critics of Americaâ€™s so-called â€œreligious rightâ€ have raised alarms that the Bush administration has a secret agenda to replace Americaâ€™s constitutional republic with a theocratic regime. Of course, the Bush administration has no agenda to move America toward theocracy and the pluralistic â€œreligious rightâ€ has no pretension toward such a divisive goal. Rather, in American political parlance, theocracy (which means a state ruled by God) is a boogieman meant to scare off the unwitting from trying to live consistently between the pew and the voting booth.
Yet, since Old Covenant Israel truly was a theocracy, it is necessary to consider the relationship between National Confessionalism and the theocratic ideal. Does National Confessionalism long for an American theocracy? If you think that the answer is yes, think again. National Confessionalism recognizes that the place of the Israelite theocracy in the history of redemption was unique and that no nation can ever again claim such an exalted privilege.
Two tales of eschatological hope
What a life! No doubt that Adam had it goodâ€¦a good job, a pretty wife, communion with God, one is tempted to ask, â€œwho could ask for moreâ€? Yet, according to the promises of God, Adam did look forward to freedom from his probationary status and the uncomfortable threat, â€œfor in the day that you eat of it you shall surely dieâ€ (Gen. 2:17). Adam had an eschatological hope. Reformed theologians refer to Adamâ€™s pre-fall relationship with God as a covenant of works. Within this pre-fall covenant, Adam was promised consummation blessing in response to his own perfect obedience. Adamâ€™s hope was the promise of the law, â€œdo this and you shall live.â€ In other words, the perfection of mankindâ€™s relationship with God required Adam, as federal head over the race, to execute perfect obedience to God (see Rom. 5:12-21).
As a sacramental sign of the relationship, God granted Adam enjoyment of a Sabbath rest. Adam was called upon to toil in imitation of His God while looking forward to rest from his labors (Gen. 2:1-3). The Sabbath day is always a sign of hope. As it was for Adam, so it would be for Israel, and so it is for Godâ€™s people yet today.
Like Adam, Israel dwelt in the intimate presence of God while looking forward to the blessings of consummation bliss. Further, Israel related to God by way of a covenant intimately associated with the threats of Godâ€™s holy law. For Adam, Godâ€™s law was written on his heart and was symbolically represented by the command forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). For Israel, Godâ€™s law was written on tables of stone and was symbolically represented by the command, â€œyou shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD (Lev. 18:5).â€
Israel, tainted by the effects of sin, stood before God on the basis of redeeming grace. Salvation for fallen sinners is always on the basis of the gratuitous mercy of God in Jesus Christ.[i] Thus, it is necessary to note that Israelâ€™s covenant with God, although an administration of the one covenant of grace, was not wholly gracious. For Israel, the corporate son of God, an unfulfilled covenant of works could not be ignored. The covenantal requirements for consummation blessing required a son who would accomplish His Fatherâ€™s will. As a type of the servant (Ps. 136:22; Isaiah 41:8; 44:1; 45:4) and son (Hosea 11:1) of God, Israel bore the promises of the law, â€œdo this and liveâ€. These legal promises applied to Israel on a typological rather than a saving level (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5). As such, Israel was a type of Jesus Christ (the true servant-Son) and of the consummated Kingdom that the second Adam would merit for His people by His obedience and death.
The Israelite Theocracy
To understand Israelâ€™s setting as a type of the Kingdom, it is necessary to say a word about the eschatological nature of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, anticipated by the Old Testament and established through the work of Jesus Christ, is the absolute, dynamic, and sovereign reign of God over a consummated New Heavens and New Earth. Israel, redeemed from the bondage of Egypt, was delivered into the land of promise. In the land, God established Israel as a holy theocracy by dwelling with His people just as He once dwelt with Adam in the Garden. Thus, Israel typified Godâ€™s intimate presence in the ultimate theocracy of the consummated Kingdom of Heaven.
To His holy nation God gave a holy law. The law allowed Israel to live out its holy calling of moral sanctity and cultic purity. The Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, or the Old Covenant, uniquely confounded the threatening curse of a broken law with the anticipatory promises of gospel deliverance. The haunting refrain of unfulfilled promise is summarized by Leviticus 18:5, â€œYou shall therefore keep my statutes and walk in them: if a person does them, he shall live be them.â€ Paul would vividly remind the Galatians, â€œfor all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, â€˜For the law is not of faith, rather the one who does them shall live be themâ€™ (Gal. 3:12).â€
The true and only theocracy
What a life! No doubt that Israel had it good… a good land, a just law, and the special royal presence of the living and true God dwelling in her midst made Israel the envy of the nations. One is tempted to ask, â€œwho could ask for moreâ€? Yet, according to the promises of God, Israel looked forward to freedom from its probationary status and the uncomfortable threat, â€œcursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10).â€ The prophet Jeremiah proclaims:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of the Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers when I took them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke [the Old or Mosaic covenant] (Jeremiah 31:31).
Although the Old Covenant was good, it had a major flaw. Like Godâ€™s covenant with Adam, the Old Covenant could be (and was) broken.
Thus Israel, like Adam, had an eschatological hope. That hope was realized in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the true Son of God (Mark 1:1), the perfect Servant of God (Matt. 12:18), and the faithful Israel (Matt. 4:1-11) in whom â€œthe lawâ€ found its absolute fulfillment (Rom. 10:4).
In victory, Jesus Christ gathers to Himself a people to be a true theocracy. This nation is especially honored to submit to Jesus Christ as Her King and lawgiver. A holy nation, the New Covenant theocracy is privileged to acknowledge the constant covenantal presence of God. This nation, the first fruits of the new creation and a present experience of the Kingdom of God, is no longer tied to one geo-political entity. Rather, it is an international assembly inviting all nations to participate in her splendor. The theocracy of the new covenant is the Church of Jesus Christ. She is Christâ€™s holy nation and the fullness of our present participation in the Kingdom of God.
[i] The Westminster Confession of Faith refers to the Old Covenant established with Moses an administration of one covenant of grace. â€œThis covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospelâ€¦ (WCF, Chapter 7:5).