As John finishes the heavenly vision in Revelation 5:8-14, we see a picture of what the true church looks like. It is full of people from every people, tribe, nation, and tongue.
Yet, as we live in this sin-filled world, we are accosted with the truth that things like racism exist in the church. What are we to do with this? Here are a few reminders from the whole of Scripture.
1. God made all mankind in his image.
The Bible says clearly that God made everything, including us humans (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 24:1-2). We're not here by chance, but because God created us. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made humans in his own image, both male and female. There's only one human race created by God.
Paul also said that God made all the different nations from one man, placing them around the world with their own times and places (Acts 17:26-28). This was so we could find God, and he’s, actually, close to all of us. Our lives aren't accidents; God planned every part, even where and when we'd live. The Lord is behind every person and nation's creation, guiding us to seek him.
2. All are sinners by birth and choice.
God made all people in his image. This is something we all have in common. But there's another thing we all share: we're all people who have sinned against him.
Paul tells us: "Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God's glory" (Romans 3:23). Because of what happened with Adam and Eve, all of us carry the guilt of the first sin. The tough truth is that "for all in Adam die" (1 Corinthians 15:22).
It's not just the first, original sin that marks us, but we all have a deep problem with doing what God told us not to do. We're naturally, willingly, and habitually sinful. And this affects every part of our lives.
So, thinking one race is better than others is foolish. It is sin. Every person, family, group, and nation are touched by sin.
We do sin against God and against each other in many ways. Racism is one of those ways we show our sinfulness. Even though we're all sinners, we should treat others better than ourselves. Sadly, we do the opposite – we look down on others, especially if they're different.
The truth is, we're guilty of sin and headed for trouble unless we accept God's saving kindness in the risen Jesus Christ.
3. Any form of racism is sinful.
I believe this is something we can agree on without arguing. But I want to make it even clearer.
Racism is a God-dishonoring, sinful thing. It grieves the triune God, disrespects people who are made in the image of God, and hurts individuals, groups, and even whole countries with sinful words, thoughts, and actions.
Racism, to put it another way, is an assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the gospel call is universal. Christ shed his blood to redeem a people from every tribe, tongue, people, & nation. It is a great work! Christ shuts the mouth of every racist, ethnic boast by taking for himself a people from every ethnic group (Col. 3:11; Rev. 5:9) and then “killing the hostility” through the blood of his cross (Eph. 2:16).
Jesus says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Racism goes against this rule. Jesus also tells us to love God and love our neighbor just like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Racism doesn't treat your neighbor as equal or show them love. James wrote, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). James talks about rich folks being unfair to poor folks, but it works for being fair between different groups, too.
Thus, racism is slap in our Lord’s face. It dishonors our Lord and grieves him. It's against how God wants us to treat others made in his image.
4. All those in truly in Jesus Christ are now made one despite differences.
When Jesus was here, the world had two groups: Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles). This wasn't just about being God's special people for the Jews. They didn't like each other and had fights. But Jesus, with his own blood on the cross, made peace. Paul wrote, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
The blood of Jesus made a new group of people – the church. When we're baptized as Christians, we join this new group. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This doesn't mean we forget our background or don't care. It means our background isn't the most important thing.
Paul tells the Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28). Jews, Gentiles, and others become one because of Jesus' blood.
5. The church is God’s “Plan A” for the world.
After the global flood in Noah's time, God told people to procreate and spread out. But they didn't listen and started building a tower to get to the sky. God stopped them by making them talk in different ways. That's why there are lots of different groups of people all over the world.
At Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11), different nations came to Jerusalem. While there, they heard Jesus' followers talking about the gospel in their own languages. In one sense, then, the church is like a fix for the Tower of Babel mess. People from everywhere come together in Jesus.
This is why we believe that no one— by virtue of their skin color, ethnic heritage, language, or nationality—is untouchable to God. That makes them touchable to us, too. This is why God gave us the Great Commission – to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20)
Racism is a fight in our hearts, but we can beat it by God’s grace and Spirit. But we can't beat it just using regular tools. So, just fighting with ideas, laws, or rights won't work. Only through the gospel of Jesus can we truly combat this. This is why the church is important. The church doesn't change the world just by being religious. It's like Jesus' body, making a real difference as it really lives out his commands to his glory. In Colossians 3:11, Paul wrote, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
6. Racism will end at the coming of Christ.
We must always remember that Christ was slain and purchased with his blood men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). So, here on earth, gathered worship with other Christians on the Lord’s day gives us a taste of heaven as we worship as one body, with one voice, side-by-side, with every tribe, tongue, and nation.
But racism will stop when all the saved nations come together to worship Jesus (Rev. 7:9-10). Friends, because this vision of Rev. 7 WILL be fulfilled, we can hope without wavering and love without measuring. The more I meditate on the every-nation, every-people-group Bride of Christ filling the New Jerusalem (Rev. 7:9-17), the more I adore Jesus and abhor every notion or expression of prejudice, racism, nationalism, tribalism that I have ever felt and indulged.
The bottom-line: There is no hope for real lasting unity in the midst of diversity except around the throne and at the feet of Jesus.
So, some terrible, sinful things (like racism) in this broken world won't change completely until Jesus comes back. This side of heaven, racism will still cause problems in how people treat each other.
And we must remember: No government, school, money, religion, or group can completely stop racism. Only when Jesus comes back will things be really be set right as they should be.
But let's stay hopeful. Even though everything won't be perfect until Jesus returns, we seek to honor God in such things. The church has an important job to do and a special chance to bring godly, Gospel-centered changes. If we follow Jesus, we should shine his light in the darkness of racism and this will show God's greatness to the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
“A claim of racial superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity—every single human being–in his own image. It is a rejection of God’s glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God’s judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities. Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ–the great good news of God’s saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God’s purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ. You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible” (Source: Article, August 13, 2017 – Letter from Berlin: The lessons of history and the heresy of racial superiority).