A Facebook friend, troubled, I presume, by the ill treatment of those who are here in the U.S. without legal status, who have only come here to have a better life asked me this question, “What would Jesus say about borders?”
Here is my response.
“What would Jesus say about borders?” I suspect from other things that you have said that you wonder whether he might see borders as antithetical to the oneness of humanity and as an expression of selfishness and unloving isolationism and nationalistic arrogance. In the present circumstances, I think that is a very reasonable question. I believe that Jesus addresses all those issues in a variety of ways and that borders, rightly administered, are no hindrance to the righteousness that Jesus would call us to. As a matter of fact, I believe that, particularly due to our present condition, borders are necessary to the fulfillment of God’s intention for mankind on the earth.
There are at least three main questions here. What would Jesus say about the existence of borders at all? What is the purpose of borders? And, what would Jesus say about how we should conduct the business of borders?
As far as I know Jesus didn’t directly address the question of borders, but there are implications in his teachings that can guide us, and then there is the context of his life which points back to the Old Testament for his thought framework, which has quite a bit to say. Additionally, there is the development of these ideas by his earliest followers, particularly his apostles. I take all of this as information on what Jesus would think of borders.
Before beginning let me be clear, there is a huge distinction to be made between whether borders should exist and how the civil governments and people within those jurisdictions should conduct themselves with respect to those borders. If, indeed they should exist, that does not mean that we yet understand their full and proper purpose, or that everything we do with respect to borders is right.
I would like to start at the end of the book, not with Jesus words per se but with a principle that I believe he certainly embraced. Three times in the book of Revelation, reference is made to “every tribe and language and people and nation.” In one scene (Rev 5:9) the redeemed are before the throne of God worshiping him for their salvation. There are those from every “tribe, language, people, and nation” expressing their gratefulness for the great deliverance they have received. Then in the middle of the book (Rev 13:7) the story is told of the earth falling under a malevolent influence that makes war on the redeemed and oppresses all the peoples of the earth of every “tribe, people, language, and nation.” Finally, there is the story of the power of the good news that goes out to, again, “every nation, tribe, language, and people” (Rev 14:6). It seems that, not only in this life are the distinctions acknowledged, they continue into eternity. The idea here is this: God has designed people groups to fill unique rolls in the family of man. There are certain divine purposes fulfilled better by one culture than another. This should make us all humble in dealing with other peoples and respectful of them as peoples in the providence of God. Though, biblically speaking, the gospel has universal application, that does not mean that westernized Christianity is to be superimposed over all cultures. This has been a mistake by a significant portion of western mission work over the last few hundred years.
We see from this that the purpose of mankind is not entirely uniform but is a composite made up of unique contributions from each people group. The very fact that nations are mentioned is an indication that borders are in play. Territories are designated as the places where these divine expressions will emerge which will uniquely give honor to the Creator and Redeemer, bless the others, and contribute to the overall purpose of mankind.
This is stated more explicitly in the writings of Paul. He said, in Act 17:24-28, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 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, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”
Here we see the oneness of humankind and its diversity. This in itself is an expression of the very nature of the Creator who declares himself to be ONE (Deuteronomy 1:6), yet reveals that within himself there is diversity when he says to himself, “Let US make man in OUR image…” (Gen 1:26).
God has designed civil government to serve in the fulfillment of the first commandment to tend the earth which God has placed under man’s care (Romans 13:1-4; Genesis 1:26,27,28). This involves a number of legitimate functions, some of which Jesus acknowledged directly, the most familiar being the payment of legitimate taxes in “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” He also recognized limits on civil authority in the remainder of that statement “… but unto God the things that are God’s.” There are limits on Cesar’s power and there are human responsibilities that no civil authority can usurp.
One of the limits of power has to do with the geography of its jurisdiction, its civil borders. The existence of civil governments implies boundaries, otherwise there would be no way to determine where one government’s power ends and another’s begins. By acknowledging the legitimacy of civil government, Jesus is acknowledging the proper determination of boundaries.
Since Jesus often referred to the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, as his authoritative guide to truth by saying “it is written”. A quick glance of the four Gospels in the New Testament reveals 21 occurrences. In addition to that, he often references the Old Testament narrative in various ways and appeals to the scriptures to establish his teachings and to answer his opponents who have created a whole new set of laws which he rejects. So if Jesus continually refers to the scriptures without ever contradicting them, we can safely say that the opinion we find in the Old Testament is his opinion as well. Not to mention the fact that, as the “word of God,” they are from him as the expression of his own mind who is the original and uncreated “Word of God” (John 1).
What does the Old Testament say about borders? It says, “Do not illegally move a property boundary marker” (Proverbs 22:28). This shows not only the legitimacy of establishing boundaries but to the importance of protecting private property. Jesus also directly affirmed his belief in private property on many occasions. I won’t burden you with a list here, but his acknowledgement of the 8th Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” should be sufficient for these purposes.
In addition, when God gave the land we now know as Israel to Abraham for him and his descendants, he laid out the borders. Jesus would have believed this was a divine appointment and so would have acknowledged the legitimacy of borders. In addition, within Israel, each of the Twelve Israeli tribes had their own designated territory.
We can find other references where Jesus specifically recognized boundaries of cities and territories. Lines that determine the boundaries of the authority and responsibility of governmental entities are a necessity in order to determine whether a government is properly fulfilling its responsibilities or whether it is meddling inappropriately in the affairs of others.
In closing, I’ll go back to where we began, the last book in the Bible in the very last chapter. The scripture speaks, in a number of places (Isaiah 65 and 66, as well as in I Peter 3), of a future where the Heavens and Earth will be remade and will be inhabited by the righteous, those who are righteous by virtue of their creation, the angels, and those who are righteous by virtue of redemption through Christ, redeemed humanity. In that future perfected world, there will be nations. I say this because, in Revelation 22 we read about a kind of tree that will be planted there whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations.” Then we will understand what fully healed nations are like and how they should relate to one another to the blessing of all. I’m looking forward to that day. There will be no border disputes but there will be borders, even if not physical ones. There will be certain functions that some nations will fill that others will not. Until that time comes, in this present fallen world, physical boundaries are needed.