The Kingdom of God: Now or Later, What, and for Whom?

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.

Kingdom-of-God

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!

Jesus:
“…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)”]

For Whom?

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.

Musical Interlude

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.

Further reading

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:

4 ways to avoid being a ‘Gospel infomercial’

dont-be-gospel-infomercial

All too often sharing our faith as Christians — if we even do it all — becomes a script that we recite. We do our best to remember to list all the features of what Jesus did on The Cross, before attempting to close the deal of eternal life for just one easy payment of ‘accept Jesus into your heart’.

We reduce evangelism to a ‘Gospel infomercial’.

Infomercials can of course succeed, but the problem is when they do it typically comes when the cost isn’t counted ahead of time. In short, Items received from an infomercial are purchased in haste, quickly forgotten about, and oftentimes discarded all together.

Unfortunately, the same can be true for someone who makes a profession of faith after a high-pressure gospel presentation. That is if they even stick around long enough to hear it. What happens more often is our listener “changes the channel” before the conversation even gets started.

We can do better, and we must. People’s lives depend on it.

So what should we do?

So what should we do? Encourage people to attend a church service that caters to their music and coffee tastes, and then let the pastor do the “high pressure sell”? Of course not!

Don’t get me wrong — being plugged into a local church should be part of our Christian journey, as we should never walk the road of life alone — we are to bear each others burdens as the ‘body of Christ’. But all of us are called to do our best to move others toward a saving faith — not just the “paid professionals” (aka, pastors).

I realize even that word has negative connotations. Say the word “evangelism” and people run for cover. Then most Christians, out of a desire to live peacefully with their neighbors, don’t even try to do it. I’m speaking about myself as much as anyone.

However, there is a better way. We must strive to build authentic relationships.

Oh, so this is just another blog about “relationship evangelism”? No, not really. It’s more than just pretending to be someone’s friend only to “drop the Jesus bomb” on them.

Here are 4 ways to build authentic relationships and avoid being a ‘Gospel infomercial’ —

1) Learn people’s stories
2) Hear from God to know how to help
3) Offer “all we’ve got”
4) Don’t sell Jesus short

First, I’m still learning how to best incorporate these rhythms into my own life, so by no means do I proclaim to have the “magic formula” of personal evangelism. What follows is simply a rough idea of what I’m attempting to live out with my family each day.

1) Learn people’s stories

In a highly individualistic culture, it is becoming harder and harder to build authentic relationships with people. This is especially true when we put our personal needs first, and close our eyes to the community around us. So, as Christians, our first action shouldn’t be to tell people what they need ‘infomercial style’, it should be to hear what they need by taking time to listen to them.

This is perhaps the hardest thing for me to do because I’m always talking. But if we focus on letting others do the talking, we might actually be able to hear what they need. Which brings me to point #2…

2) Hear from God on how to help

Most of us don’t have a lot of spare anything, let alone time and money. But more often than not people cross our paths that have more pressing needs than our own.

If we take time to hear from God, and prayerfully ask him each day where we can meet others needs, he will show us where and then provide a way.

3) Offer all we’ve got!

Sooner or later, if you genuinely live out numbers 1 and 2, people will want “all you’ve got”! And if you actually have it in the first place, offering it to others won’t be a problem. Remember, it’s not ours in the first place.

What am I talking about? The fullness of life that comes with living a life truly changed by Jesus Christ. So when people say, “hey, I want the peace and security that you seem to have”, you can say, “well, here you go — it’s Jesus!”

Now people likely wont come right out and say those things, but you get the picture. We must demonstrate a transformed life that people actually find worth imitating, because we can’t lead someone to a place that we haven’t been ourselves.

4) Don’t sell Jesus short

We, as Christians, cannot and should not take credit for anything. The more often we give the glory to where glory is due — to God — then the more we make Him known to others.

However, in our desire to make God known through authentic relationships, we can’t compromise on who He is. There is eternal power in the name of Jesus, but only in the Jesus who didn’t compromise who He claimed to be.

So learn people’s stories, but also learn the Scriptures. Know exactly who Jesus said he was, what he came to do, and how it was accomplished. If you sell Jesus short, then you’re just selling a bill of goods — kind of like those infomercials.

 

Video Bible Study – Luke 10 – Good Samaritan

In an effort to get used to hearing myself speak and teach, I’ve decided to start recording short video Bible studies. Here is my first attempt to do one uncut, and keep at approximately 5 minutes.

We all know we should be like the Good Samaritan described by Jesus in Luke Chapter 10:30-36, but is he representative of someone greater? And who are we truly in the story?

The Beatitudes, and the tension of today’s Christian

Biblical justice seeks righteousness, often times at the expense of what we determine is fair in a democratic society governed by man. Only through God’s mercy are we justified and made righteous before Him.

Contrarily, democratic justice seeks fairness, often times at the expense of the Biblical righteousness God commands of us. Only through man-made laws are we able to live ‘justly’ with one another.

beatitudes-words

How is today’s Christian to handle this tension and be both God-honoring and perceived as people-loving?

Specifically, when it comes to such a divisive and hot-button topic as same-gender relationships (and their desire to marry), how do we advocate for Biblical justice in lieu of democratic fairness in a secular society? Should we?

Furthermore, as I have written before, to be a counter-cultural Christian one must rely on Jesus’ teaching in The Beatitudes in order to be both salt and light – both preservatives of righteousness (salt), while letting our good deeds shine (light) in order to point people towards our Savior.

Let’s review a few of The Beatitudes, Jesus’ very words recorded for us in Matthew 5.

“Blessed are…

…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)
…the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
…the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
…the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
…those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)”

The tension I mentioned above is seen clearly in the alternating character qualities outlined in these verses. In one breath Jesus says we are to be merciful, and in the next pure in heart. He says we are to be peacemakers, but will also be persecuted for righteousness. Jesus, in his providence, foreknew the tension that would face today’s Christians even as he taught the listeners of his day.

I wholeheartedly believe Jesus makes clear Christians cannot compromise on Biblical righteousness as they seek communion with a holy God. To make concessions and publicly affirm today’s societal norms that go against God’s timeless holiness would put a wedge between us and Our creator.

But by the same measure, does it lack mercy to publicly advocate the unequal treatment of one group over another by using God’s righteousness as a standard for people that don’t even follow Him?

Love without truth is poisonous to our souls. But truth without love is poisonous to The Gospel.


Love without truth is poisonous to our souls. But truth without love is poisonous to The Gospel.
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Today’s Christian must strike a balance. This balance can only be determined by seeking closer communion with God — the ultimate judge — through humble prayer and selfless obedience. It is only then that we will be able to remove the plank from our eye, and allow the holy spirit to clear out the blinding specks of dust from the eyes of others.