In the last few articles, we have been exploring Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God. As we have, we stumbled upon a strange and paradoxical truth: God is time-complicated, and consequently, our experience of his kingdom is also time-complicated. Bizarre as this assertion is, we are forced to wrestle with it if we want to understand Jesus' primary focus of his ministry - which seems important to me.
As we wrestle with this, it's worth taking some time to reflect on the role that paradox has in the Christian faith. Because we are always working to walk with (and to the extent we can, understand) a God that transcends his creation, at times we are forced to grapple with paradoxical realities as we try and articulate what we can about God. Probably the most iconic of these paradoxes is the one described by the Trinity. When we ask the question, "what is God's personal presence like?" it turns out the best answer we can come up with is sort-of-like-three-people-but-also-not-really-and-kind-of-like-one-person. God's personal presence doesn't work like anything else in creation and as we work to grapple to make sense of it, we find ourselves grasping at metaphors that quickly break down.
When we run into paradoxes like this, it is easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of the paradox and try and solve them as if they are some kind of a puzzle to figure out. How can God's presence be both threefold and singular? To get caught up in the how of the paradox is to miss the point: the point is that God doesn't fit in any categories that his creation can contain. The best we can do is accept that the how is never going to make sense (because God is transcendent), and accept the paradox for what it is. Then ask what it means for our walk of faith. It turns out that if we accept the Trinity as how God is, regardless of how much sense it makes to us, and we then move on to ask the question, "what does it look like to relate to a three-in-one God?" there is tremendous fruit to be gained by that line of inquiry. (This is the question we wrestle with in the Triune Gospel article series).
As we continue forwards in this article series, we are going to take the same approach with the time-complexity paradox we have been wrestling with. We are going to take it as a given and move forwards as if it is true. What does it mean for our faith that the kingdom of God does not fit in any singular tense, but rather occupies all of them simultaneously? How do we live in light of a kingdom that has come, and yet it is coming, and yet it will come one day? Put a little more strongly to emphasize the paradox, how do we live in light of a kingdom that has fully come already, and yet it is fully coming right now, and yet it will only fully come in the future? What does it look like to live with that reality? We will wrestle with this question in this and the next few articles.
The Kingdom Has Fully Come
One look at the world around us and it is fairly easy to see that this world is still very much in process. There is violence, injustice, hatred, selfishness, lust, greed, (and the list goes on) present in ubiquitous ways. It is clear that the kingdom is still coming into our world. We see all of this and our hearts cry out and ask that every enemy would indeed be made a footstool under Jesus' feet (Hebrews 10:12-13). We are waiting for the realization of Jesus' authority on this earth, and in the process our hearts and spirits groan (Romans 8:22-23).
As you and I only experience life in a time-simple reality, it is easy to reason backwards from this observation and come to the conclusion that the kingdom of God has not fully come. Sure, the kingdom is here, but it is not all the way here yet. How could it be if it is obvious the kingdom still needs to come? It may not be obvious, but this is reasoning against the paradox we have been grappling with. This is applying time-simple logic: that if something is still yet to come, it is only partially complete.
This may seem self-evident and logically watertight, but in this instance it is incorrect. Paradoxically, the very same kingdom that is yet to come has also already fully come. That statement may seem self-contradictory, but so does every paradox. What if we just pressed pause on the fact that our world is in process and considered what Scripture records separate from our current observations about the world? What we find is that the Bible does argue that the kingdom has fully come.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus asserts that all authority in heaven and on earth has already been given to him. He's not waiting for something further, his kingship has already been established over all authorities in every realm.
In Colossians 1:19-20, Paul argues that in Jesus, God has already reconciled all things in earth and heaven to himself. He echos the same thread in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, and also in Romans 5:10. These passages in themselves are actually fascinating time-complicated passages: because we have already been reconciled, we are urged to be reconciled. Our present reconciliation is founded upon the reconciliation that has already happened.
In John 19:28-30, Jesus, hanging on the cross utters the famous words, "it is finished". In the original language, this is actually a fascinating three-fold repetition of the Greek work "teleo" which means to finish/complete. (Jesus, knowing all was now finished, said to fulfill Scripture...it is finished). John's emphasis here is clear: everything is done. There is nothing left to do, Scripture has been fulfilled.
In 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Paul argues that because Jesus has been raised from the dead, we know there is a resurrection for all of us. His logic is this: Jesus has gone ahead of us into the fullness of the age to come, and his resurrection demonstrates that resurrection is a component of the age to come (and hence we can expect it coming as well). Paul's logic reveals the way that the early believers understood the crucifixion and the resurrection: they were the end of time coming upon Jesus. (This is explored in my recent article about the War in Ukraine). The point is this: Jesus has fully enacted the end of time. He is the person who has gone before into the end, and therefore the end has fully come. Jesus is both the beginning of the new world, and the end of all things in himself (Revelation 22:13).
In Colossians 2:13-15, Paul argues that Jesus has already forgiven us, and in that has already disarmed the powers and triumphed over them. This is most likely a reference to a Roman triumph, a ceremony in which a conquering general returned to Rome with the bounty of his victory and with his captives in chains. This is also referenced in Ephesians 4:8 - the implication being clear: Jesus has already overthrown every enemy and has had a victory lap in heaven. Jesus has already defeated Satan and his minions completely.
In 2 Timothy 1:8-10, Paul writes that Jesus has already abolished death and brought life and immortality. This echoes the words of Revelation 1:18 where Jesus says that he already has the keys of death and Hades. Yes, there is an extent to which death is yet to be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26), it is also said that death has already been defeated.
This is not an occasional theme in the New Testament: the full and complete victory of Jesus and the manner in which the kingdom has fully come with Jesus is a subject of frequent meditation. The Kingdom has fully come.
Where this Leads Us
Accepting the paradoxical nature of the time-complexity of the kingdom means that we must fully accept each facet of the kingdom as 100% true, even though we see a sense of tension between how they can all be simultaneously true (much like the Trinity). Let us take that as something that is true and ask where it takes us. What does it mean to believe the kingdom has fully come? What does that trigger in our faith?
Where this leads me is to a posture of worship. When I reflect on Jesus' complete and total victory, the way that he has broken every power that exists and now has complete authority over all things in creation, I find my soul lifted to worship. I find myself caught up in the praise of heaven that we find in the book of Revelation. In this glimpse of heaven we see that the activity of heaven itself revolves around praise of the Lord for his majesty and his victory. Revelation 5:9-10 highlights the crux of the worship: Jesus is worthy, for he was slain and he has ransomed people for God from every tribe and nation, and he has made us a kingdom of priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth.
I cannot meditate on that and not find myself drawn into this flow of worship. In Jesus, God has moved in our world. In Jesus, God's kingship has come. In Jesus, God's kingship in this created order has come. God is now King here, and it is because of what Jesus has done. Jesus has overthrown every enemy, Jesus has ended history and introduced the rule of God. Humanity has been reconciled to God and the story has already ended. God has been victorious and it has all been finished. (I again acknowledge the paradoxical other side of all of these statements, but the paradox is that both sides are true, not that one side makes the other not true)
Truly our God is great and glorious. Truly Jesus has been victorious and is rightly crowned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As we focus on this, we find many of our Christian instructions - things like "set our minds on things above, not things on the earth" as Paul directs in Colossians 3:1-2 becomes our natural response. Reflecting on the kingdom that has come orients our lives rightly towards living in our present reality and the kingdom that is coming right now (more on that in a few articles). This is why it is so important that we work through this paradox rightly and celebrate that the kingdom has indeed fully come.
Alright, that's enough for this article. In the next one we'll explore how the kingdom will fully come! For now, let's ground ourselves in this reality and what it means to live in light of it.