Let’s just get right to it: Jesus taught His followers to pray for the Kingdom to come…and also He said it had come (Mt.12:28//Lu.11:20). This is one of those things that gives Bible college freshmen a theology headache. (The cure is the same as for an ice cream headache: take it slow, and you’ll be fine.)
There’s a mountain of passages that describe the future Kingdom. These passages are often used to demonstrate that the Kingdom is still future (which it is) and therefore argue on that basis that it can’t be present.
The problem is, if we believe that “The Kingdom is future” means the Kingdom cannot be present, then somebody needs to tell Jesus.
If Jesus didn’t misspeak, then we have no choice but to reckon with the facts revealed to us in Scripture: at the moment Jesus said that, the Kingdom was future, and also in some sense present. We all read Isaiah, and nothing could be plainer than that the lion is not yet laying down with the lamb…and yet, Jesus said what He said.
And once we’re *there*, arguing for the future-ness of the Kingdom is not sufficient to establish that it can’t be present now. You might be able to argue that on other grounds, but just establishing that there’s a Kingdom in the future ain’t gonna do it.
Some folks will want to argue that the NT hardly speaks of the Kingdom outside the gospels, so how important a category can it really be? It’s a good question–but there’s a pretty compelling answer.
The answer has to do with where the Kingdom does come up in conversation. All over the Gospels, of course, which lays a strong foundation. But what about the rest of the New Testament?
- The very last verse of Acts summarizes Paul’s preaching ministry in Rome thus: “Then Paul dwelt two hole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” If that were the only other place the Kingdom appeared in the NT, that’s enough to make a pretty decent case for its continuing relevance. But there’s more…
- Luke also summarizes Paul’s preaching in a similar way in Acts 19:8, and Pihlip’s preaching to the Samaritans in Acts 8:12.
- Paul himself describes his own preaching to the (mixed Jew-Gentile) Ephesian church as being about the Kingdom of God in Acts 20:25.
- In addition, the Kingdom of God is sprinkled through the epistles as a present reality in some very interesting ways (Rom. 14:17, 1 Cor. 4:20, Col. 4:11).
So it appears as if, throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Kingdom is treated as a present reality. This bothers some folks, because how can it be future if it’s already here? Where’s the logic in that? And besides, if we’re already in the Kingdom, Jesus doesn’t seem to be ruling very well…
I get it, but we’re Christians. We worship the Triune God who is, in His own being, the only possible resolution to the problem of the one and the many. We do some interesting things with logic at times, and this is one of those times. We’re up against some very plain biblical statements, and the thing to do is #BelieveAllScripture, as the kids might say.
So how does this work? If we become obedient, perhaps we’ll find out–but that’s the subject for next week’s post.