Kingdom of Heaven Part 1 – Already/Not Yet

KingdomCome_large

For those who may not know, I have known my wife since we were young teenagers. I met her when I was 12 and have enjoyed a lifetime of getting to know her better. One of the cool things about her life was that she was born in Saudi Arabia; this meant that she was born with dual citizenship. When she turned 18 she was notified that she had to choose between the two nationalities because Saudi Arabia, unlike some nations, does not allow for dual citizenship. Thankfully she chose U.S. citizenship because it would have been a real long distance relationship if she did!

I was reminded of this event when I began years ago to study the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven deeply after my years in graduate school/seminary. I had read the phrase used in the Bible many times in my life but had never truly invested in understanding that phrase, the idea behind it, and its great importance in the Bible. What I plan to do over the next few weeks is to unpack what I have learned in these last few years of study and help you and I to grasp what this phrase meant to the writers of the Bible in their time and how we can apply it over 2,000 years later.

Why is this phrase important? Besides the fact that it (and its semantic phrase Kingdom of God) appears in the Bible 94 times with the majority of its usage coming from Jesus’ own words, it is tied up in very important ways to our understanding our future destiny and how we should live on the Earth today. To save time I will use the phrase ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ even if the the verses we look at say Kingdom of God because the context shows us that the two are synonymous and are even used interchangeably by Jesus and the other writers of the New Testament.

So, what is the Kingdom of Heaven exactly? According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, the Kingdom of Heaven/God contains numerous interpretations from past, present, and future situations (which we will tackle over time). To try and summarize these ideas, along with other Bible dictionary definitions, I will define the Kingdom of Heaven as the authoritative rule of God in Heaven and on Earth through the bringing of his dominion through His people, the Church, until He reigns over all creation. We, as the Church, have been given the task of bringing God’s kingdom from Heaven to Earth through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Why does this even matter? If God will have His will accomplished in time why do we need to even bother with it? The reason is simple and difficult at the same time; God chooses to use people to accomplish His purposes. Not always (but most often) God chooses to use us to show Himself and His love to the world and thereby bring the Kingdom. Sure, God could just show up on the scene Himself (and one day He promised He would) but for now God is choosing to allow us to be His ambassadors to prepare the way for His coming.

Since this is so important, we need to take some time to unpack this as briefly as possible. I am writing in as much generality as possible because entire books have been written about this topic. I am writing about it here because I feel that if we fail understand the importance of the Kingdom then we will fail to do our jobs as servants of the King. To illustrate this point I’ll refer to a parable Jesus told his followers:

 

[44] You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.

[45] “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. [46] If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. [47] I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. [48] But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ [49] and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? [50] The master will return unannounced and unexpected, [51] and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25: 44-51 NLT)

 

What Jesus is communicating to his followers is that one day He, the master, will return and inspect the work of His servants (aka Christians). When He looks over our work He will reward those who have done well and He will punish those who have not. The implication (though not explicitly stated) is that those who claim to serve the master but don’t really do so will be sent to Hell. The context of this passage along with many others Jesus and the Apostles wrote confirms that a person can claim to be a follower of Christ but not really be His follower. This is the context of this passage. We will all stand in judgment before the King and will be held responsible for what we have done with the time, talents, and treasures He has entrusted to us.

This is why we must take our responsibility of bringing the Kingdom seriously. To do this, we must first wrap our minds around the Biblical idea of already/not yet. When we have that we can more fully know what the Kingdom is and our part in bringing it from Heaven to Earth. The ideology of the Kingdom can be broken down into four parts: heavenly, past, present, and future. These can get really complicated so I will try to keep it simple in the next few posts. But for now, we will jump feet first into the idea behind the already/not yet.

 

What that means:

When I use the phrase already/not yet it means that the Bible quite often teaches about things that have some fulfillment in our current time and have some things that still have to come about. For example, when we place total trust in Jesus we are saved from our sins and made right with God once again. It is an immediate transaction. We see this taught clearly in Romans when Paul says:

 

[23] For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. [24] Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (Romans 3:23-24 NLT)

 

This salvation happens immediately when we place our trust in Jesus. We receive the Holy Spirit the moment we do this. Look at what Paul wrote to the church community in Ephesus:

 

[13] And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. [14] The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (Ephesians 1:13-14 NLT)

 

Yet, the Bible also teaches that salvation is a process that will continue until we are perfected when we stand before God after death:

 

[18] The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NLT)

 

[15] Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. [16] To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NLT)

 

Notice how Paul uses the phrase “are being saved”; this connotes that salvation is something that has not yet happened. Yet, Paul also wrote in his other writings that salvation is immediate. How do we reconcile this? We do so by using the already/not yet ideology. Salvation is a once and for all time event for those who place their trust in Christ. We do not need to receive salvation over and over again (any Youth Pastor has seen students feel this need every year at youth camp). But, we also are going through a process where we become more and more like Christ as we live our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We see this idea of already/not yet in other important areas of Christian thought: the transformation of our earthly bodies into heavenly-spiritual ones (cf. – 1 Cor. 15 and 2 Cor. 5), the ruling presence of the Church (cf. – Romans 8 and Ephesians 2), the development of the Believer into being like Christ (Philippians 1), and the fulfillment of all prophesy (Revelation 21 & 22 in comparison to 2 Cor. 1:20). All of these and more could be studied in-depth but just a quick glance over them shows that there are many things that the Bible teaches have already taken place and yet still have to be completed.

What does this have to do with me today? How does the already/not yet ideology help me live my life better as a follower of Christ? When it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven we can often get upset that Jesus has not yet come back and that the world we see is in such sadness and despair. We can see this daily in our news media by the way people on this planet treat each other. We so desperately want to see God’s rule over everything that will bring all of the world into His perfection.

Yet, Jesus said that the Kingdom had already come. Look at what He said in response to the question asked by the religious leaders of his day:

 

[20] One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. [21] You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)

 

So we can see the the Kingdom of Heaven is still on its way but it is also already here. It is among us through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives inside of us. And we, as the Church, get to be partners with God as we live lives that bring Him honor through the things we say, think, and do. We get to bring the Kingdom from Heaven to Earth every day of our lives until Jesus returns. How cool is that?

As I close this entry I want to give you some homework. I want you to begin to ask yourself every day what you can do to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to be here on Earth. How can you treat people today that will impact eternity? How can you spend your time, talents, and treasures in such a way that people would know that we are different and that God lives inside of us? When we do this we will see the already/not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven every single day.

I hope you will also join me in praying daily like Jesus taught his disciples to do:

 

[9]Pray like this:

Our Father in heaven,

   may your name be kept holy.

[10] May your Kingdom come soon.

May your will be done on earth,

   as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-13 NLT)

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