A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Army chaplain who leads a Thursday lunch Bible study I have been attending had just begun a series on Daniel. In reviewing the context of the book, he emphasized that the Israelites had gone into exile in Babylon, which was the first time that they as a nation were separated from the land God had promised them. Men and women who wanted to be faithful to Yahweh had to learn how to serve in two kingdoms, God’s and the world’s. The chaplain reminded us that the church is in the same situation as the Israelites in exile. Christians are members of the Kingdom of God, yet live in the kingdom of this world, run by Satan himself.
Last week, the chaplain was going to be on leave, so he asked me to lead the study. He wanted me to tie in what he had taught about Daniel with what the NT teaches about how we can serve God in our secular jobs.
As I reflected on the idea, I came up with a way to graphically describe how the environments where God’s people were progressed from Genesis through Revelation over several distinct phases and to discuss the impacts on work. At the very least, this study reinforced my observation that the theology of work is influenced by and influences all of the various elements of a systematic theology, such as the attributes of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the Fall, the church, salvation, sanctification, and eschatology.
Let me summarize some of the patterns I identified in my study. I focused on answering the following questions for each of the five major time-periods that the people of God found themselves: Who is in charge? Where are God’s people? Who else is there? Who is missing or coming? What are the implications on work?
Phase 1 – OT Prior to/After the Exile
In this phase prior to and after the exile, God is sovereign over all. He has been from the creation of the world. (The white throne at the top of the circle which looks like a large letter “L” indicates that God is on it.)
Psalm 24:1 states, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” We also know from a number of places in Scripture that Satan has been given temporary rule over the world (as indicated by the black throne). (See Job 1:6-7; John 15:18-23; 1 John 2:15-17.) However, his time is short (Rev. 20:10).
God’s people were in one place, either heading towards or living in the Promised Land. Gentiles were also there, but were seen as God’s enemies.
The work of God the Father is evident, and there are hints of work then and more so in the future by His Son and the Holy Spirit. The foundation for a theology of work is based on the creation or cultural mandate where we read that God created us to be His co-workers (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15).
Phase 2 – OT During the Exile
During this time-frame, God’s people are being disciplined for their rebellion. God is still sovereign, despite the fact that foreign kings rule God’s people. Satan continues to reign.
The majority of God’s people are captive in a foreign land. The Gentiles are still seen as enemies. The prophets speak of a coming Messiah and the work of God’s Holy Spirit.
God’s people find themselves working for Gentile bosses, but like Daniel, they can continue to glorify God.
Phase 3 – Jesus on Earth
Things are radically different in this first NT phase. God the Father is sovereign over all, but there is more. He is physically present in His Son Jesus, who is called Immanuel, God with us. John the Baptist stated at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt. 4:17). Satan still reigns over the world, and makes his evil presence known.
God’s people are identified as those who believe in Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, who are mostly in Jerusalem. Jews and others who do not believe Jesus is Messiah are not His sheep (John 10). Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit will come upon and dwell in those who are His sheep (John 14:16-17; Acts 1:8).
Jesus taught His disciples to render to Caesar and to God the things that belong to them (Matt. 22:15-21). This implies that they can live and work under two kingdoms, serving both God and man.
Phase 4 – The Church Age
In Acts 1, Jesus ascends to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father. Thus begins the church age, where we are now. God is sovereign. Jesus is no longer here physically, but He is Lord and is very much present through the Holy Spirit who indwells each Christ-follower. Satan still roars about as a lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
God’s people, exclusively followers of Jesus, both Jew and Gentile, are now scattered around the world. Non-believers are all around us; the fields white unto harvest. We know that Jesus will come again to judge and to reign.
As the church living in two kingdoms, whatever we do, we are told to submit to our human bosses, working as unto the Lord, not merely for men. We serve the Lord Christ (Col. 3:22-24).
Phase 5 – Consummation (Heaven Comes to Earth)
Without getting into any debates about the sequence of possible eschatological events such as the tribulation, rapture, or millennial kingdom, let me present a simplified version of how this age ends (an amillennial view): Jesus returns to earth, the dead are raised, unbelievers are judged and sent to Hell, and Christians are ushered into a physical heaven on earth. The Gospels seem to paint such a picture. (See Matt. 16:27, 24:30-31, 25:31-46; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 21:27; John 5:28-29.)
In this final phase, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are on the throne. Satan and his worldly kingdom are nowhere to be found. (Hallelujah!) Jesus has returned, seated at God’s right hand.
All of God’s people are in heaven, which is now on earth for eternity (Rev. 21). No one else is there besides Christ-followers. Satan and all unredeemed sinners are out of the picture for eternity.
What are the implications on work? Well, there may be work to do. If so, it will be painless, fruitful, and free from interpersonal conflict since there is no more curse (Rev. 22:3).
Although this may have been a little deeper than most of my studies, I hope that it was helpful to see how the idea of serving in two kingdoms has been with us since the exile, but is only temporary. The Kingdom of God is very much at hand. Let us represent it well in the world.
(For more on this topic, see my article on the eternal value of work that I posted on my blog three years ago, or read chapter 8 of my book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession.)
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.