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May 24, 2007

The Kingdom of God -- The Now and Not Yet

Think much about the Kingdom of God? If/when you do, what's your image or definition of it?

Lately, I've been learning more about what the Kingdom of God really is, and its implications for how we live and what we have to look forward to in the future. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm just now clueing in to this important component of Christian faith after decades of Christian growth.

Tom Tarrants of the C.S. Lewis Institute says the Great Commission is far more than a command to evangelize the lost and save souls. While that's the first step in the process, our task is really to teach converts to obey all that He commanded. In other words, our goal is to incarnate the teachings and life Jesus spoke and modeled while he was on earth -- to be his disciples -- and to make disciples of others. A deeper understanding of his teachings, and obedience to them, will help us to more fully comprehend who God is (our Creator and King), who we are in Him (fallen but redeemed), and cause to think and act and be different (co-laborers in the consummation and redemption of His kingdom). We are called to repentance, yes, but we are also called to faith, and through that faith, into obedience. This then is the Gospel -- the Kingdom of God.

The "now and the "not yet" aspect of the Kingdom of God is what I find so intriguing, perplexing and, frankly, challenging as it plays itself out. Randy Newman, author of Questioning Evangelism, says in his chapter on hypocrisy:

Some people say that the kingdom was, in fact, [Jesus'] central message. His teaching built upon the Old Testament theme "The Lord is king," the Scriptures' declaring God's kingship, both of Israel and of all of the earth. . . Although scriptural statements about of the Lord's reigning now, many references also promise a later, fuller reign. . . George Elden Ladd, an influential writer about the kingdom, says of this  twofold description, "This leads to the conclusion that while God is the King, he must also become the King, i.e., he must manifest his kingship in the world of men and nations."

Thus, Jesus announced, "the kingdom of God has come upon you," yet He also told us to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." The kingdom has already come -- and people experience salvation, healing, forgiveness, and power in their daily lives. Yet it is not here in all of its fullness -- some diseases are not healed, some people do not bow the knee to the Lord's anointed, and lions do not lie down with lambs.

. . .The implications of living during what some have called "the time between the times" include a number of disappointments. Some people are delivered from crippling sins whereas others learn to live with that thorn in the flesh. Some believers are miraculously cured of cancer whereas others gracefully enter eternity and claim a new body there. Some political hot spots are cooled off by peace treaties whereas others fester and even erupt in violent war. Our swords have not been turned into plowshares -- yet.

But living in the "already/not yet" kingdom also results in a bittersweet longing for consummation. C. S. Lewis called it "joy" and described it as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction."

That the kingdom is still unfulfilled, that final judgment has not been rendered, that our longing for the consummate kingdom is disappointed; all result in unsatistfied desire. Our dissatisfaction is why we sometimes behave as hypocrites, even while we hate doing so. The eternity that is planted in our hearts finds its initial fulfillment in our Savior's cross, yet it longs for total fulfillment in the very presence of that Savior. The church's being earthbound bothers us because we're desinted for heaven, not for earth. Simply put, then, hypocrites are "in the church" because the church is still on earth, not in heaven.

Want to read up some more on the Kingdom of God? Check out The Kingdom of God by John Bright.

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There was a paper written by a professor at Alliance Community College in Canada that dealt with the "already" and "not yet" aspects of the Kingdom as it pertained to Divine Healing.

I wish I could find the thing, but the basic thesis, IIRC, was that Divine Healing are the "already". As with all "alreadys" they are but a foretaste of the "not yet". They are signposts intended to point us towards Jesus and to empower us to serve Him in the here and now, not parlor tricks to be summoned up by following a particular magic formula.

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