What do I mean by the kingdom of God?
When I say ‘kingdom of God’ I am referring to a tangible reality outlined in the Bible that is available to Christians once they profess faith in Christ. The results of the kingdom in this life include — but are not limited to — the changes that come with being rejuvenated by the Spirit of Christ (ie, being ‘made new’), the ability to overcome sins that have a grip on our lives, the conversion of non-believers into followers of Jesus through no other means than the proclamation of the word of God, and the ability to pray bold prayers and have them answered in the here and now.
The kingdom of God is also experienced as a preview of a renewed society here on earth where our streets and land are healed through acts of justice and mercy. In short, the kingdom of God is hope on earth.
But more importantly, the kingdom of God is NOT some type of man-made utopia, political rule, or a perfect world that will happen through our efforts.
Why am I writing about this?
I process things I learn by writing down my thoughts on the subject at hand. This past week I just completed an online class called ‘Theology of the Kingdom’ through the Vineyard Institute. I realize they have a particular view on the kingdom of God that would predispose me to interpret Scripture to support their view. However, what I’ll attempt to show below is the Vineyard view is, for the most part, the predominant view in non-Catholic Christianity.
When is the kingdom of God expected to occur? Or has it already?
I share the view that the kingdom of God already began when Jesus came the first time — so we are able to experience some of the benefits and life-changing power of it now — but the true glory of this kingdom will not be fully realized until the end of this age when Jesus comes again.
This view first became known in theological circles by the term ‘inaugurated eschatology‘.
So how did the kingdom begin with Jesus’ first visit to earth, why, and what are the implications?
How and Why?
The how and why can be answered together. My philosophical take is that once you truly grasp the realization that the Creator of this universe came from His heavenly realm outside of time, and broke into the time and age in which we live — in the person of Jesus Christ — how could our world have not been impacted by it? Said another way, if you uphold the incarnation, death, and subsequent resurrection of Jesus — the fact that He defied death because he IS GOD — then how can there not be implications in our present age?!
But don’t take my word for it. Accept that the kingdom of God is a present reality because Jesus said so!
“…the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe…” [biblegateway passage=”Mark 1:15″ display=” (Mark 1:15)”]
“…the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” [biblegateway passage=”Luke 17:20-21″ display=”(Luke 17:20-21)”]
“…the kingdom of God has come upon you.” [biblegateway passage=”Mt 12:28″ display=”(Mt 12:28)”]
What are the Implications?
So if one concedes the kingdom of God is at least a partially present reality, what are some of the implications?
Well, for the kingdom of God to have begun with Jesus, one must also acknowledge that we are in what the Bible calls the “last days” — which began after Jesus’ resurrection (and specifically on the day of Pentecost when The Church was given the Holy Spirit). This is the “eschatalogical” part of inaugurated eschatology (‘eschatology’ is defined as ‘the study of the end times’).
The Apostle Peter gave some examples —
“…And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;” [biblegateway passage=”Acts 2:17″ display=”(Acts 2:16-17)”]
The Apostle Paul agreed that the ‘end of the ages’ (ie, ‘last days’) had come–
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” [biblegateway passage=”1 Cor 10:11″ display=”(1 Cor. 10:11)”]
…and he told us to desire the Spiritual Gifts–
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” [biblegateway passage=”1 Cor 14:1″ display=”(1 Cor 14:1)”]
…but he also warned things wouldn’t always be smooth sailing–
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” [biblegateway passage=”2 Tim 3:1″ display=”(2 Tim 3:1)”]
In case it’s not obvious, the kingdom of God is for everyone whose life has been renewed by Christ. Everyone gets to play!
Jesus clearly encourages us in this regard —
“…whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these…” [biblegateway passage=”John 14:12″ display=”(John 14:12)”]
However, as I will mention in outlining an opposing view below, not all Christians believe the promises of the kingdom are for The Church, nor do they see it as a present reality.
What about the ‘Not Yet’?
But the broken world in which we live is not all there is — the full coming of the kingdom is still in the future! The mystery of the kingdom is that even though we have a taste of it in the here and now — by way of answered prayers, miraculous healings, and changed lives through the power of the Holy Spirit — the reality is that not everyone is healed, prayers seemingly go unanswered, and not everyone’s life is changed.
Only when the kingdom comes in it’s fullness will there be no more pain, nor sickness, nor death. Oh, how we long for that day!
Who shares the ‘Already, but Not yet’ view?
While there are various disagreements on the implications of the kingdom of God — specifically with some of the spiritual gifts — many well-respected pastors and theologians agree the kingdom has indeed come already (but is not yet fully realized).
First, well-known Reformed pastor John Piper portrays this view in this wonderful Biblical exposition, as does Southern Baptist, Russell D. Moore in this video (jump to 5:00 mark), and for good measure I’ll throw in Mark Driscoll, as well. Furthermore, pastor and theologian Sam Storms gives this great explanation of the ‘Already, but Not Yet’ view.
Again, most importantly, as you can read in depth with Piper’s exposition linked above– so did Jesus and the Apostles!
The main opposition
The predominant opposing American evangelical perspective is the Dispensational Premillenial view (DP). Christians who hold to the DP view see the kingdom of God as something that will not even begin until a 1,000 year literal reign of Jesus Christ on earth that is interpreted to take place after his 2nd Coming. The pretribulational rapture is also closely linked to this view because DP proponents largely see this world as something we need to be rescued from, because no benefits of the kingdom will be realized until Jesus returns.
Furthermore, in what’s been labeled “spiritual apartheid” by dissenters of the DP view, Classic Dispensationalists see the Nation of Israel as having special and distinct promises of this kingdom of God that are not afforded to the Christian Church. Here is a really good historical breakdown, also by Sam Storms, on the Dispensational Premillenial view — and specifically how proponents drive a wedge between promises afforded to Christians versus those they see as only for the Nation of Israel.
Finally, here is a brief list of other denominational variations on the kingdom of God — including how the Catholics see things.
You may be singing about the ‘already, but not yet’ view and not even realize it. In this video, Rend Collective sings about the kingdom of God becoming a present reality.
If you’re like me, when one article gets your wheels turning, you want to read more on the subject. Here’s some further reading that has helped me form my conclusions:
- An official Vineyard USA document on ‘The Theology and Practice of the Kingdom of God’.
- Vineyard pastor Luke Geraty’s thoughts on the subject in relation to Classic Dispensationalism, as well as one specifically on Inaugurated Eschatalogy.
- And another article on the ‘Already/Not Yet’ aspects of the kingdom with a more evenhanded (ie, less-biased) approach