Recently, I wrote a brief description of “The gospel of Jesus”. I’m pretty pleased with that blog post, perhaps because I managed to write something brief about something significant. Consider this post a follow-up.
“What is the Kingdom?” is an important question. Jesus answers it in a series of stories that all begin with the words, “The Kingdom is like…” And of course, he answes it in his deeds, where he shows what the Kingdom is like. Ultimately, he shows it on the Cross, revealing that the Kingdom is pretty much dying to this world for the sake of others. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said. But it certainly is for this world.
One of many surprising aspects of the Kingdom is how Jesus talks about it in the present tense. He is not looking to the future saying, “The Kingdom will come someday.” What he says—and what John the Baptist said as well—is, “The Kingdom is here.”
Not “the Kingdom will be here” (future).
But “the Kingdom is here” (now).
Even more interesting, he said this 2,000 years ago (past).
The reality of the Kingdom is already here, Jesus claims, and so are most of the benefits, among them “eternal life” (John 6:47) and “not dying” (John 11:26). The healing of the sick and the setting-free of the possessed is already here, too, shown through his own ministry. The Kingdom was truly inaugurated at calvary. (For more on this, read this.)
But how can it be here already?
I mean: Look around!
The world is evidently dominated by evil powers! Even if we wish to be good Kingdom Citizens, we hardly manage to, because as citizens in this world, we’re inevitably part of systems that take advantage of the earth, of the poor, of us. And yes, believers in Jesus do indeed get sick and old, and eventually they die (just like everybody else).
And the Bible does acknowledge that reality. The devil isn’t dead, says the writers of the epistles. The powers of evil are still at work and must be taken seriously. Persecution is real, too, and it calls for patience and perseverance. Following Jesus in this age is described like “carrying crosses”, that is, taking part in his suffering. This is not something I imagine us doing on the other side of death; rather, this is what it’s like to be a believer in this present “dark” age.
So the Kingdom is here, and it’s not here. It’s now, and it’s later. Some might say this is a downright contradiction or a paradox. Another way to look at it is to call it a “tension”. This is the tension we live in as citizens of the Kingdom—the tension between the “already” and the “not yet”, which is the way some theologians have put it. The Kingdom has come already, but not yet.
It’s helpful to know what Jews thought about the end. At the time of Jesus, they expected a sudden event to break history into two part. This event would be the end of the old age, and simultaneously the beginning of the new. This distinction between the “old age” and the “age to come” is evident in the New Testament, as well (Mark 10:30; Matt 12:32; Eph 1:21).
But with Jesus, our understanding of the end has changed slightly. With Jesus, the Age to Come seems to overlap with the Present Age. In other words, both ages are present realities. Jesus brought the future. But the old world is still here, of course.
How do we deal with this? By living in anticipation of what is to come. By proclaiming that everything belongs to Jesus, and therefore it’s about to be restored. The counterfeit kingdoms—Babylon, so to speak—has fallen. This is where “doing good” comes into the picture. We’re actively claiming back the world to its true Lord by rescuing it from the evil powers. We’re also telling people what Christianity means, what Jesus was and is doing, and how we see ourselves as participants of that mission.
The Kingdom really is here (already).
Even if it doesn’t entirely look like it (not yet).
Later, I’ll write more on how anticipation might work.