Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Kingdom of God: Now, Or Later?

The kingdom of God keeps popping up. I don't mean that as a theological claim, but as a report on my work. For instance, when I taught a Sunday school lesson on Mark 2, I wondered about the following:
And he was preaching the word to them. (Mark 2:2b)
What was the word Jesus was preaching to them? In trying to answer that question, I landed on Mark 1:14–15 for my best guess.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
And, so it seemed to go. A question would lead me to the kingdom of God, but, what is the kingdom of God?

Even coming from a tradition with no catechism, you might think I would've learned a standard answer to this question. If I was supposed to, I don't remember it. It's always been an idea that seemed obvious in its implication—that there is life as we know it, and there is something other, called the kingdom of God. But, to say there is something other, and to say what that something other is, are two different things.

The Rule and Reign of God

My church's senior pastor likes to say the kingdom of God is "the rule and reign of God in the hearts of his people." I may be splicing his definition with John Piper's. I don't disagree with this definition, but neither do I find it fully satisfying. (Granted, we'll likely get a fully satisfying definition for the kingdom of God as soon as we get one for the Trinity.) What I find lacking is some acknowledgment that the kingdom of God is not fully a here-and-now thing. It is in some regard a here-and-later thing.

Of course, that's just the older way of thinking—that the kingdom will come on a certain day in the future. Everyone will see it. There will be no denying it.

Ruling and Reigning for God?

On the other end of the spectrum we have the thought that, with the right social policies and what not we can bring the kingdom to fruition as soon as enough of us make it job one. This idea may draw support from passages like Matthew 13:33.
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
The leaven is spreading continually. It's a gradual growth rather than an instant event. The Piper definition accommodates this idea. The kingdom comes gradually as God rules and reigns more and more in the hearts of more and more people. Still, there has to be a future element, right? Remember what Jesus says about the cup.
Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. (Mark 14:25)
That day cannot be this day, can it?

Crossing the River

Of course, the answer is both. The kingdom is already and not yet. Maybe you've heard that one before. We put our hope on the not yet and our hands on the already. We live with the tension. We take it one day at a time.

What About Right Now?

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot—coronavirus, pandemic, quarantine, all that. Where is the kingdom of God now? The leaven analogy speaks to that question. It's growing all the time, even when (especially when?) we don't see it. Each day is one day closer to that day, whether we're sitting down in groups of 50 or hiding in the upper room.


It just occurred to me that the children have already finished the school year—they're home for summerbut not yet completed it—they're still doing work. Ha!

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