Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come,” (Matt 6:10). He also taught that the kingdom was within or amongst them (Luke 17:21) and had in fact arrived, as demonstrated by his casting out demons (Matt 12:28). These passages are difficult to reconcile if the kingdom of God is considered solely in terms of a future, geographical entity. Likewise, Scripture speaks of our salvation not only as a future experience (Matt 10:22; Rom 3:30; 5:9) but as a present reality (Rom 5:1; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 3:5) and an ongoing process (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor 1:18; Rom 3:24).
Christ’s work on the cross was all-sufficient. There was nothing lacking. His triumphal cry, “Tetelestai — It is finished!” declared an accomplishment completed, with ongoing effect. There is nothing to be added to complete our salvation, once we submit to his Lordship (Eph 2:3–5). Those in Christ stand justified and are assured of being glorified (Rom 8:30). Nevertheless, the remainder of this life constitutes a period of sanctification and growth in Christ-likeness, although it is a mistake to regard this as “probation,” as if there is doubt that Christ’s death can cover all our sins. The work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian is to enable this growth in holiness (1 Cor 6:11; 1 Thess 5:23). The lifetime we are granted for this may be long or short. It’s not about accumulating merit, but standing firm in the Lord for our allotted lifespan, with his forgiveness at hand to catch us when we fall (1 John 2:1–2). Nothing can pluck us from his hand (John 10:28); we need have no fear of the judgement seat if we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Luke 12:30; Rom 8:33; 1 John 4:18).
We are now God’s children , Christ is our Lord and Saviour and he is our King; he reigns in our lives, and he reigns over the creation at the right hand of the Father, even though that reign is not yet apparent to everyone (Acts 2:34–36). This is the sense of the “Kingdom,” or more correctly, the reign of God, his royal Kingship, power and rule, all that is implied by the Greek word basileia. This reign will of course one day be fully consummated, when Christ returns and makes his Kingship known to all (1 Thess 4:16). This is a much more comprehensive and authentically scriptural view of God’s Kingdom than one which restricts it to a future earthly realm. The Christadelphian Statement of Faith defines the Kingdom of God as an earthly restoration of the kingdom of Israel, established at Christ’s return, centred on a rebuilt Jerusalem and governed by the saints for a thousand years before God finally becomes all in all. This is supported by a literalist interpretation of many Old Testament prophecies, Jesus’ Olivet discourse and Revelation. All well and good; the Bible clearly presents the return of Christ as the consummation of all things, the time of resurrection and judgement and the beginning of his overt reign. But, magnificent as this future consummation is, what do we make of the Kingdom or reign of God in its present reality? On this Christadelphians are traditionally silent, except to deny that the Kingdom of God can be construed as “the church.”
The Kingdom/reign of God, he basileia tou Theo, was the central message of Jesus in his ministry (e.g. Matt 4:23; Luke 4:43; 8:1; Acts 1:3). The Jews recognised that the reign of God was a present reality; of course God is currently ruling over creation; how could he not be? (Psa 103:19; 145:11,13). Matthew’s gospel substitutes “kingdom of heaven” for “kingdom of God,” probably in deference to the Jewish tradition of substituting for the divine name; the inference is the heavenly rather than earthly origin of God’s rule.
Let’s survey what Jesus himself taught about this kingdom/reign.
• The kingdom was at hand, imminent (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9–11)
• The kingdom belongs (present tense) to the poor in spirit and the persecuted, the child-like (Matt 5:3, 10; 18:1–4; 19:14; Mark 10:15; Luke 6:20)
• There will be greater and lesser in the kingdom (Matt 5:19; 11:11)
• A greater righteousness than that of the Scribes and Pharisees is required for entry; some will be rejected (Matt 5:19–20; 7:21; 8:11–12; 13:11; 21:31, 43; 22:2–14; Luke 13:28–30)
• The kingdom is to come, when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10)
• The kingdom is a treasure to be sought (Matt 6:33; 11:11; 13:44–46; Luke 8:10)
• Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom was associated with healing and driving out demons (Matt 9:35; 12:28; Luke 9:2, 11; 11:20
• The kingdom had come among them by the presence and acts of Jesus (Matt 12:28; Luke 10:9–11)
• The kingdom at present has good and bad within, to be discriminated at the last day (Matt 13:24–30; 36–43; 47–50)
• The kingdom is in the process of growing in the world (Matt 13:31–33)
• The kingdom was entrusted by Jesus to the church (Matt 16:18–19)
• The kingdom was manifested in some sense at the transfiguration, revealing the glory of Christ and his saving mission (Matt 16:28–17:5)
• The kingdom is a place of present and future forgiveness, and characterised by love (Matt 18:23–35; Mark 12:34)
• The kingdom is worth sacrificing for (Matt 18:8–9; 19:12, 23; Mark 9:47; Luke 9:62; 18:29–30)
• The kingdom reward comes from the generosity of the King, not from merit (Matt 20:1–16)
• The gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed among all nations, until the end comes (Matt 24:14)
• The kingdom reaches its culmination at Jesus’ return, which is not yet (Matt 25:1–13; 26:29; Luke 19:11–27)
• The kingdom has been prepared for the saints from the foundation of the world (Matt 25:34; Luke 12:32; 22:29–30)
• The kingdom was already in their midst, but could not be seen (Luke 17:20–21)
• In response to a request that he be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom, the penitent thief was promised paradise with Jesus that day (Luke 23:42–43)
• To enter the kingdom, one must be born again (John 3:3–5)
• Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)
John’s gospel doesn’t speak much of the kingdom/reign of God but rather emphasises the life of the kingdom, eternal life (zoe aionios), which is also portrayed as both a present and future possession; it is given now and continues into eternity (John 3:15–16, 36; 5:24; 6:27, 40, 47, 54;10:28; 12:25; 17:2).
The apostles continued to preach the Kingdom (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31) as both a present and a future reality. The kingdom in all its fullness is still to come, and eternal life is a hope and promise (Rom 2:7; 6:22–23; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:2; 1 John 2:25) The kingdom is an inheritance (1 Cor 6:910; 15:50; Eph 5:5; Titus 3:7) but it is also a present experience, because we experience the life of the kingdom now:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13–14)
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5: 11–13)
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1–2).
“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened — not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
(2 Cor 5:4–5).
We are now the children of God. We are justified, we have eternal life, we have assurance of hope, we have the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. Whoever believes in Jesus will never die (John 11:26). This life is in the Son and it becomes our when we are born again.
To emphasise the present or “realised eschatology” to the exclusion of the future, or to deny the importance of the return of Christ would be wrong; but also inadequate is an eschatology that gives no credence at all to the eternal or kingdom aspect of our lives now. God reigns now. He has a kingdom now, that of his dear Son, into which we have been translated (Col 1:13–14) and in whom we enjoy the richness of our adoption.
Christian theologians often speak of the “now and the not yet” when it comes to the kingdom age, salvation and new life in Christ. Our salvation, justification, adoption and sanctification are in one sense a present reality, guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit, the Spirit of Adoption by which we can cry to God as our beloved Papa (Rom 8:14–17). In another sense, the complete fulfilment is yet to come, when Christ returns. There is a work begun which will be brought to completeness (Phil 1:6). Our present justified state will be manifest as a declaration at the judgement seat. Our sanctification will be complete, and we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). Death, which has already lost its sting, will finally be destroyed and we will sin no more (1 Cor 15:54). The present age is an overlapping age, in which the kingdom, the reign of Christ, has been inaugurated but not yet fully realised. When God came to dwell with humankind in the person of his Son, the new age irrupted into the old. A change took place and the world would never be the same again. The “strong man” was bound, the adversary fell like lightning, the slaves were freed (Rom 6:22–23; 8:1–11, 35–39; 2 Cor 4:16–18; 2 Tim 1:9–10).
Jesus proclaimed, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:20–22). Jesus destroyed the works of the devil, triumphed over principalities and powers and the kingdoms of this world, destroyed him who has the power of death and brought life and immortality to life (Heb 2:14–15; 2 Tim 1:10; Col 2:15). He finished his work and took his seat at the right hand of the Father where he now reigns as Lord (Heb 1:3).
The time between the two comings of Christ is an overlapping of two ages, the old age of sin and death and rebellion against God still persists, but its days are, literally, numbered. The new age has dawned, the kingdom has been established but not yet in its fullness; that is still to come. Those in Christ are not of this world, but are even now citizens of the heavenly kingdom to come (Eph 2:19; Phil 3:20–21). In Christ we taste the blessings of that kingdom and the powers of the age to come (Heb 6:4–5). Because of God’s predestination and absolute foreknowledge those whom he called and justified are guaranteed to be glorified, as if it had already happened (Rom 8:30). There is therefore no contradiction in seeing the Kingdom/reign of God as both future and a present reality. It is in our midst now, we live under the King’s reign, yet it is not fully consummated.
Failure to make this connection between our present life as a foretaste of the life to come drives a wedge between the two, reinforcing the erroneous view that the present life is a “probation” with no assurance prior to judgement, to dismiss the Spirit’s guarantee. It is to fail to embrace God’s good gifts now, to deny his present work in us, to walk away from the light and despise the gracious privilege of sonship, to downplay the all-sufficient work of Christ, who even now has granted us the zoe aionios, the life of eternity.
George Eldon Ladd A Theology of the New Testament, rev. edn. Donald E. Hagner, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.