Theology 101

Kingdom Reflection: Living in the Already, Not Yet

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“The future has invaded the present. The Kingdom of God which is yet to come in power and glory had already come in a secret and hidden form to work among men and within them.”

-George Eldon Ladd

Isn’t this kingdom quote from George Ladd similar to the story we read on the opening pages of the book of Matthew? The future has invaded the present in the form of a small baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager – an unusual place to find the master and creator of the universe. Yet this baby, with fire in his eyes, would change everything.

Thirty years later, in Mark 1:14-15 (KJV) we hear Jesus say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

With Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, the Kingdom of God has been established in this world, but it is not yet fully here. This is what theologians mean with they use the term “already, not yet.”

Between the Times

Some say we are living in a time “between the times” where the old age of sin and death and the new age of life and salvation are overlapping. The old age is defeated and will pass away, while the second has been inaugurated and will one day be fulfilled.

While the full realization of the Kingdom awaits Christ’s second advent, we should not minimize what is happening in this current age between the two advents, nor the role we are called to play in this season of “already, not yet.”

Today, we are witnessing the age to come breaking into this present age. Therefore, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, Christians live in tension: we struggle with the pain of this broken world, yet we rejoice with hope in the promise of God that through Christ all things are being made new.

We, like the creation, as Romans 8:18-25 (KJV) tells us, groan in expectation of the return of our King to finish the work he has begun. Yet we also labor in the fields of his Kingdom in this present age because God advances his Kingdom through the work of his people.

Salt & Light

We are called to live in this dark and decaying world as salt and light. This is transformative work not because we do it, but because God blesses the obedience of his people.

As believers, we should neither withdraw into seclusion from the world, nor become indistinguishable from it. Rather, we are to work for the shalom (peace) of the city as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us in Jeremiah 29:7 (KJV). Recognizing that whatever we do, no matter how mundane, whether in our families, our vocations, our churches, or our communities, has eternal consequences and adds to the growing Kingdom.

Our friends over at The Gospel Coalition write in their confessional statement:

The Kingdom of God is an invasive power that plunders Satan’s dark kingdom and regenerates and renovates through repentance and faith the lives of individuals rescued from that kingdom. It therefore inevitably establishes a new community of human life together under God. 

Redemption of Creation

We need to continue to remind ourselves, the Kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation. No matter how awful things get, the reality of the first advent secures the promise of the second.

Theologian Herman Bavinck paints this beautiful picture in his massive work Reformed Dogmatics:

Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the bondage to decay.

In his book God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom, Graham Cole describes the realization of God’s reconciling project as, “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule living God’s way enjoying shalom in God’s holy and loving presence to God’s glory.”

This week as we celebrate the first advent, let us do so always remembering that we work in the “already” with our hope securely fixed on the glorious image of the “not yet.”

Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Dec. 21, 2012.

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