Our Master Yahshua, the Messiah, made a clear distinction between the nations of this world and His kingdom.
For all these things the nations eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:32-33)
The nations or Gentiles spoken of here are the people who don't know God (as it is translated in the New Century Version), even though many of them are religious or conscientious, striving to obey their consciences and do what is right. Others in the nations ignore their consciences, living without any moral restraint to govern their actions.
The nations are those who eagerly seek food, clothing, and shelter, but those who "seek first His kingdom" are a distinct people. These people are the church, the community or edah in Hebrew, the people of God:
Their community will be established before me... (Jeremiah 30:20, NIV)
"At that time," declares the Lord, "I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be My people." (Jeremiah 31:1)
[Christ] gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession... (Titus 2:14)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
The people of the kingdom dwell as communities in the midst of the nations, as a distinct people with a distinct purpose and a distinct way of life.
The people of the nations, not the people of the kingdom, fight revolutions and wars. Many honorable men of the nations have gone to war to defend their inalienable rights of conscience when oppressors who did not respect those rights threatened them. Wars are fought for the preservation of the nations, and those who participate in them are the people of the nations. A good example of this was the Revolutionary War between England and the colonies in America.
We do not condemn people of the nations for such actions any more than we would condemn them for earning their food, clothing, and shelter by the sweat of their brow.1 That is the way the nations have been commanded to live in this age under the curse of the Fall.2 But the word of God does condemn any group for taking up arms if they claim to be God's people and not of the nations. This "claiming to see" is what condemns them:
And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind." Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see', your sin remains." (John 9:39-41)
The first century church would not participate in war. It was unthinkable for them to assume the role of a soldier in battle (or a magistrate, politician, statesman, or policeman for that matter). They would have to renounce their sacred covenant to follow their Master. The churches of Christianity during the first two or three centuries refused military service also, as they continued to follow some of the traditions of the first church. This put them at odds with the Greco-Roman world, but our Master's word had disqualified this way of life for disciples.3
There can be no confusion of the church with the world, or the church loses its salt and light and can no longer be a demonstration to the world of the coming age.
As the early church's love waned, it began to undergo strange mutations, to the point of being unrecognizable as the church of Acts 2:42-45. The life that once was a vibrant demonstration of the love and unity the Master prayed for4 was now becoming the folk religion of western civilization known as Christianity. It became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, replacing the true church and becoming part of the world.
Rather than restore the church to its original foundation, the Reformation simply spread this folk religion to all parts of the Western world in a different garb. During this period a host of national or territorial churches developed which gained favor with the political states and actively supported them in their wars. Both Catholic and Protestant churches have done this. The present-day conflicts that divide both Ireland and the former Yugoslavia show that the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches are still deeply involved in the affairs of this world.
From the Revolutionary War down to the Persian Gulf War, Christians have filled the ranks of America's armies. They would not dodge the draft; they made the best soldiers, with loyalty and great zeal to protect their "Christian nation," in spite of John 18:36, James 4:4, and John 17:14-16. The love for the world is so intense in Christians that they risk their lives and even kill other Christians to protect their own country. In World War II, American Lutherans dropped bombs on Lutheran churches in Germany, destroying their fellow Christians. We don't have to wonder why John 18:36 (below) applies to His kingdom, and not Lutherans or Protestants or Catholics, since they have a history of engaging in war against each other instead of proving to be His disciples by their love for one another.5
Our Master confirmed what we are saying here when He established once and for all that His servants would never fight for any cause, or in any way defend themselves by physical force:
My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)
His servants will never use the weapons of the world to bring about His kingdom.