In part 1 of this series I set out an exposition of Genesis 10-11. In part 2, we will look at the question of ethnic and racial diversity through the lens of biblical theology.
Now let’s consider how the rest of Scripture develops the table of nations. The apostle Paul clearly indicates that the dispersion of the nations was God’s plan all along. “And he made from one man, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).
God’ sovereign plan from the beginning was to fill the earth with human creatures — image bearers who would obey him by multiplying and filling the earth and by following the creation mandate in order to reflect the creator’s glory. Even after the fall, his purpose was that human creatures spread all over the globe and glorify his name — but of course now that would have to come through the redemption provided by Christ, the one who fulfills God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:3).
This is made plain in Matthew 28:18–20, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” Go into all the nations. Scripture is abundantly clear on this:
Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
Luke 24:46, “Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning in Jerusalem.”
Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in all Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So this great story of Scripture — the story the Bible tells that no one else is going to — tells us that God’s plan from the beginning was the dispersion of peoples. His judgment sowed confusion among those peoples because of their sin. And yet, Christ’s response was to say to his own, you are to go to all the nations. Repentance and the forgiveness of sins are to be declared in his name to all the nations. That task is complexified by the confusion of languages. But in the gospel, while we may not have the same language or the same ethnic heritage but we will have the same Christ. This is the glory of the gospel. God dispersed the nations into confusion. But Christ dispersed his disciples to save the nations. Out of these many nations God is making one new humanity. The real issue is not how people look but what people believe or more appropriate, in who they believe. The Table and the Tower ultimately point us to the necessity of thecross and the power of the gospel.
But the Bible does not even end there. In Revelation 5 we find yet another Table of the Nations.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:1-10).
Again in Revelation 21 the nations appear:
“And I saw no temple in the city for its temple was the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. And its gates will never be shut by day and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations.”
Thus, we have two tables and a tower. That second table — the marriage supper of the Lamb — tells us the end of the story and the glory of the story. The narrative of the gospel upends and refutes the stories offered by the world. Diversity is not an accident; it is a divine purpose. Diversity is not a problem; it is a divine gift. It does not reflect evolutionary development and social evolution; it reflects the imago Dei and the Genesis mandate to fill the earth.
Sin explains confusion and difficulty in communication. Sin explains hatred and animosity, racism and ethnocentricity. Seen in the light of the gospel, racial and ethnic differences are not accidental. They reflect the perfect plan of a perfect God. And they are not overcome by the gospel — they are glorified by the gospel. The community of the New Covenant looks like this people preparing for this second table, the table of the Lamb. The New Covenant community lives not by avoiding diversity of ethnicities, but by embracing and celebrating it. The New Covenant community lives looking forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb when men and women from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation will gather around the table of the king.
Today there are issues of justice and systemic wrong. This is why the church has often been wrong on these issues. The gospel needs to be preached to the church even before the church preaches the gospel to the world. We are the stewards of the only story that saves, the only story that leads to the healing of the nations and the gathering of a new humanity in Christ. The gospel is the only story that offers real hope and the only story that celebrates what the world fears. Principalities and powers offer many plans but no real hope. The gospel offers a hope that celebrates the breaking down of ethnic barriers and celebrates the sound of the gospel in different languages and tongues.
We look forward to that day when the table of the Lord will be set and all the nations will live in light of the father and of the Lamb. We have come from a table of nations and a tower of Babel to a covenant with Abraham and a new covenant in blood to a table set in honor of a Lamb. Diversity is not an accident or a problem — it’s a sign of God’s providence and promise. If the church gets this wrong, it’s not just getting race and ethnic difference wrong. It’s getting the gospel wrong. We cannot obey the Great Commission without celebrating the glory of the new humanity that only Christ can create — a new humanity that takes us from the table of the nations to the table of the Lamb.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series based upon my Spring Convocation address at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “The Table of Nations, the Tower of Babel, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: Ethnic Diversity and the Radical Vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” delivered Tuesday, February 3, 2015.
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