Already But Not Yet

My friend, Rich Hansen, who pastors a church in Chicago, has just published a book called Paradox Lost.  In one of the chapters, he describes how the church he grew up in paid little attention to the Kingdom of God.  For some reason, a lot of American churches haven’t paid a lot of attention to the teachings in the Bible about the Kingdom of God, but it was the main thing Jesus talked about when he walked on earth.  The Kingdom of God is mentioned 122 times in the four gospels including 99 times from Jesus’ own lips.  In the Gospel of Mark, the very first words that Jesus speaks are about the Kingdom of God: ”The Kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)  The good news that Jesus brings into our world is about the Kingdom of God.

Rich writes in his book that the Jewish people had been expecting the Kingdom of God for a very long time, just as the Old Testament prophets had predicted.  All creation started off very good (Genesis 1:31).  But God’s good creation came under the brutal tyranny of Satan.  Now Jesus is leading a counterattack, recapturing the territory Satan has held.  Whenever Jesus heals someone, the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever he casts out a demon, the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever Jesus reaches out to love people no one else loves – like lepers or tax collectors or prostitutes or sinners – the Kingdom of God has come.  Whenever truth and justice defeat injustice, the Kingdom of God has come.  Person by person, piece by piece, Jesus is reclaiming the territory that has been under the dominion of Satan.

Rich points out that the reframing nature of Jesus’ parables presses home the paradoxical, unexpected nature of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom will not arrive in overpowering might, as the Jews expected, but is already quietly at work, as insignificant to human eyes as a mustard seed or bit of yeast in some dough.  Jesus’ kingdom looks embarrassingly small and weak against powerful world systems that seem to have the upper hand in every quarter.  Yet he tells us it will expand to penetrate every corner of God’s creation.  As the nineteenth-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Rich reminds us that other parables continue the beat of the Kingdom’s mystery.  The Kingdom of God will not be joyously received everywhere, as the Jews expected.  As we learn in the parable of the sower, it will never take root in some lives, it will be superficially received in others, and it will be choked out in still others (Matthew 13:1-9).  One of the hardest truths for Jesus’ audience, and for many of us today, to swallow is how many people ultimately reject the Kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).  Also contrary to Jewish expectation, the Kingdom will not vanquish evil all at once, but comingles with an evil world, like wheat and weeds growing together until the final judgment (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

New Testament scholar George Ladd has written: “The new truth, now given to men by revelation in the person and mission of Jesus, is that the Kingdom that is to come finally in apocalyptic power, as foreseen in Daniel, has in fact entered into the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men.”  Hence the classic phrase describing the Kingdom of God:  “already but not yet”.  It is already here, but it is not yet reaching its fullness until Jesus returns.  The future has already invaded the present, but not yet completely.

This is the tension that we live in today.  This is the challenge that we face.  How do we live in a world as people who have already been changed by God, but who have not yet been completely changed by God?  How do we live in a world that is in the process of being changed by God, but which has not yet been completely changed by God?  How can we be used by God to help advance His love and truth, to a world and to people who don’t always want to hear it?  It can be hard to live in a world with so many problems, but it can also be meaningful and rewarding to know that what we do matters, what we do counts, and what we do is important.  Every little thing that we do has the potential to make a difference in the world.  Even the smallest of words and the tiniest of actions can lodge in a person’s heart or mind and cause them to re-think what they believe and how they act.  Life can be hard, but life can be good at the same time.  Our labor is not in vain.  God can multiply what we do in ways we may not realize.  Life can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time.  This is the paradox of living between the now and the not yet.

 

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