Mankind has been searching for the ideal form of government for thousands of years. Will that ideal government ever be found? If so, what will it be? Your Bible reveals the encouraging and hope-filled answer!
In the wake of turmoil in the Arab world, many Western scholars and political leaders have assumed the region is on the verge of an "Arab Spring"—a flowering of Western democracy in a region formerly given to tribal and religious allegiances.
Common among these observers is the idea that Western-style liberal democracy is the best form of human government. Many consider liberal democracy not just a form of government, but rather the natural consequence of the intellectual and social evolution of mankind.
Perhaps the most famous of such theorists living today is Dr. Francis Fukuyama, currently a professor of political theory at Stanford University. Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fukuyama published a widely read essay in which he made a memorable statement: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government" ("The End of History," The National Interest, Summer 1989, p. 4).
Was Fukuyama right? Will Western-style liberal democracy be "the final form of human government"? Does the whole world's future look like the European Union and the United States? Many people hope so, but others have reached very different conclusions. So, what does the future really look like, and is it possible to know?
History is a story about the past, but the narrator's point of view makes a big difference in how that story is told. Different narrators, with different worldviews, will include or exclude different facts, based on what they consider relevant and important. For example, a history of Jerusalem will sound very different if presented by an Israeli than if presented by a Palestinian. Context is important.
Political historians will from time to time try to craft a "Universal History" by identifying patterns, trends or principles in the past through which they can extend their historical narrative into the future, making it predictive. This is what Fukuyama did, by observing that concepts of human rights have evolved, leading to political changes that have generally moved in the overall direction of greater political and economic liberty (notwithstanding some violent and bloody conflicts along the way). For instance, the American Revolution ended the rule of a British monarch over British colonies in America, resulting in a new republic—The United States of America. Similarly, other peoples around the world have overthrown colonial or autocratic rulers and replaced them with liberal democracies.
Of course, this has not always been the case. It should not be forgotten that in post-World War I Germany, the National Socialist (Nazi) party came into power through the exercise of democracy. Yet, even in this case, the overall trend saw Germany after World War II becoming a textbook model of democratic government. As with Germany, there have been many stops and starts, but Fukuyama is far from alone among political historians in seeing a long-term historical trend through which country after country moves inexorably toward adopting liberal democracy as the best and final form of government.
But what about other theories of the future? Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, offered a very different narrative of history, presenting a very different view of the future. Marx saw history as a series of clashes by different economic classes seeking material goods. He believed that the poorer working class would rise in revolt against the wealthier capitalist class, pushing back and forth throughout history until a final, perfect condition of society would be reached, which Marx called communism. Marx expected that communism would represent the end of the evolution of human political development. As such, borrowing a phrase from the German philosopher J.W.F. Hegel, (1770–1831), Marx said that communism would represent "the end of history."
Marx's vision of the future was once extremely influential, but now it is widely discredited. Toward the end of the 20th century, as the centrally planned economies of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China began to falter, the Marxist narrative came into disrepute. Was there a flaw in the "communism" these nations practiced? Or could communism simply not compete successfully against capitalist economies, being unable to offer the greater prosperity and freedom that the Western democracies seemed to provide?
As the Soviet Union teetered on the edge of collapse in 1989, political theorist Fukuyama discounted one other historical narrative that was largely unrecognized in the West—the narrative of Islamic jihad. By 1992, however, his view had become more complex. On the one hand, Fukuyama wrote that the "appeal of Islam is potentially universal," yet on the other hand he dismissed the Islamic narrative as having "virtually no appeal outside those areas that were culturally Islamic to begin with" (The End of History and the Last Man, pp. 45–46).
The Islamist ideology that Fukuyama noted but dismissed has turned out to offer a powerful narrative that appeals to many Muslims unhappy with Western values and ideals. In this view of history, the "end of history" will come when a great leader, the Mahdi, will soon rise to reestablish the Caliphate, in which an autocrat, the Caliph, will rule through Sharia law (derived from the Qur'an and the reported sayings of Muhammad).
As a first step toward world domination, Islamists expect the Caliphate to retake the territories that Muslim rulers formerly occupied at the peak of Islam's expansion in the late Middle Ages. Interestingly, this restoration of the Caliphate harmonizes well with biblical prophecy that tells of a coming "king of the South" that will play a key role in end-time events before the return of Jesus Christ (Daniel 11:40).
Several Muslim nations (e.g. Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen) are already governed by some form of Sharia law. Others, such as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, mix Sharia with other systems. Far from being viewed as oppressive, Sharia is seen as a divine alternative to corrupt secular rule. University of Maryland researchers polled Arab nations in 2008 and found that substantial majorities in Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco favored the establishment of the Caliphate—which would mean autocratic Islamist rule! This is a preference that most people in Western democracies struggle to understand. But it is clear that while most Western analysts of the Middle East favor political and economic liberty, many if not most of the Muslims they are studying would prefer to be governed by Islamic law.
Demonstrations for democracy led to the fall of the Tunisian government in December 2010, and since then the "Tunisian Wind" has blown through Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya, producing political unrest and popular demands for democracy. This phenomenon has been called the "Arab Spring." The Western democracies look at these demonstrations through hopeful eyes and foresee Western-style liberal democracies on the horizon for the Middle East.
Western leaders are optimistic about democracy spreading to the Middle East, and will bankroll it if they can. At a G8 meeting last May, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain plans to commit GB£110 million to help the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East succeed. "There is a real case for saying if you can secure greater democracy and freedom in countries like Egypt and Tunisia," the Prime Minister said, "that is good for us back at home… That will mean less extremism, it will mean more peace and prosperity, it will mean there will not be the pressure on immigration that may otherwise face our country… I want a very simple and clear message to come out of this summit, and that is that the most powerful nations on earth have come together and are saying to those in the Middle East and North Africa who want greater democracy, greater freedom, greater civil rights, we are on your side." At that same meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama committed the United States to an aid package that could total US$4 billion.
But the West may be surprised at how the peoples of the Middle East vote when they are given the opportunity. The "Arab Spring" may turn into the "Islamist Winter." Historians and theorists like Fukuyama see the history of the last century as a grand battle between totalitarianism (in both its socialist and fascist forms) and democracy—a battle they believe democracy has won. But there are others who see the coming century as a battle between Western values and Islamic values. Islamists agree, and their narrative of the next century is dramatically at odds with what many Western political theorists expect.
History can be seen as a nearly infinite collection of human interactions, conversations and conflicts—both great and small. Therefore, historians must make choices among events to create a narrative of the past. The inclusion or exclusion of a single fact can greatly change how we perceive a historical event.
So, who is right? Whose perspective can be trusted?
Reality is the world as God sees it. So, has God provided His true and accurate narrative of world events? There is one book that gives a unique understanding of a 7,000-year period of history, during which God is working out His plan for humanity!
That 7,000-year book is the Bible. Though composed by writer after writer, century after century, the Bible maintains one consistent narrative and one point of view—that of the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." It begins in the book of Genesis, recounts 6,000 years of human misrule over planet Earth, then reveals the good news of Jesus Christ's thousand-year rule on the Earth, followed by a time of final judgment. Though the Bible does give some information about the time before Adam and the time after the final judgment of humanity, its historical narrative is mostly about a 7,000-year "week" of thousand-year "days." This concept was well known to Christ's first followers. Consider these words of the Apostle Peter, written in a Millennial context: "But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8).
Although the biblical narrative explains that the final thousand-year period will be a "Millennium" under the benevolent rule of Jesus Christ, human history limits us in determining exactly when that final "day" of the 7,000-year week will begin. We can look at a few biblical milestones and compare them to lists of Israelite kings, but because of some uncertainties (such as how the kings' accession years are recorded) we can only fix the start of the Millennium to within a general time frame God wants us to be aware of (Mark 13:28). "But of that day and hour no one knows" (Mark 13:32). Only He knows the precise timing.
Human history is vast, but the "7,000-year book" contains the past and future history we need to know to understand God's plan for humanity. It records the important conversations, instructs us in the right way of life, and contains the future history—the prophecy—that we need to know. The Bible lets us understand the past, present and future in the context of a completed narrative of history. And those with "eyes to see and ears to hear" can see its consistent purpose. It is a narrative told by God.
Historically, both the ancient Jews and the first-century Christian Church understood from Scripture that human civilization would consist of 6,000 years of human rule, followed by a thousand-year period under the rule of the Messiah (the "Anointed One" or, in Greek, Christos). Among the historians who mention this doctrine in the early Christian era are Irenaeus, Ketina, Lactantius, Victorinus, Hippolytus, Justin Martyr and Methodius. It is also found prominently in the writings of the Sanhedrin of Jesus' day.
Scripture makes this clear. We read: "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4–6).
Most of today's professing Christians dismiss this 7,000-year narrative of history altogether, or allegorize it in order to fit better with their own beliefs about humanity's history and future. But, between God's narrative and man's, which do you expect will win out?
Long ago, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob challenged mankind to foretell what will happen in the future, and His challenge still stands! "Remember this, and show yourselves men; recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:8–10).
It is clear that human predictions of the future are greatly affected by the events we think are relevant to our view of the past. But we do not need to rely on our own guesses—God has given us a completed narrative of past and future history! We just need to place world events into it correctly.
Most people, however, reject what God reveals and assume that they can be informed solely by the world around them. Those who do not "retain God in their knowledge" (Romans 1:28) will of course respond differently than those who are willing to let God's word—His own narrative—inform them about their past and their future. Scripture acknowledges that there are spiritual matters that can only be discerned spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:14). God reveals that the world is in darkness, but God's word illuminates it for us—if we are willing to see. Whose narrative of history do you trust? Fukuyama's? The Islamists'? Some other?
The Bible offers us God's own narrative that presents us with the actual "final form of government." Today's Christians, taking part in that government, will be "kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:10). That reign will be under the overall rule of Jesus Christ, the King of kings. "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6–7).
This "end of history" will be just the beginning! Until then, we should follow Jesus Christ's instructions in Matthew 6:10, where He told His followers always to pray, "Your kingdom come!"