In the last few articles of this Kingdom of God article series we have been exploring various facets of the time-complexity of God's kingdom as it intersects our world. The time-complicated nature of God results in a time-complicated experience of the kingdom, which means that paradoxically our experience of God's inbreaking rule is simultaneously fully past, present, and future tense. This perspective is mind-bending, but it also clicks quite a bit of scripture into a new clarity.
To catch back up on where we've been, two articles back we talked about the past tense aspect of God's kingdom: the kingdom of God has come. Jesus has been victorious and God's world has invaded ours. This past tense aspect leads us to a posture of worship. Truly Jesus has already become King.
Last article we talked about the future tense aspect of God's kingdom: the kingdom of God will come. This postures us with a great sense of hope. There is no part of our world that will not be fully shaped by the action of God's inbreaking rule: the end of all things is guaranteed to be fully redemptive and good. The brokenness we know in this world is transitory, and wholeness lies ahead. This also informs our understanding of our present activity: because the kingdom will come, our choices now help shape the reality that is to come.
With the past and future tenses spoken to, in this article we address the final tense: the present tense.
The Kingdom is Coming
The kingdom presently coming is a profoundly meaningful assertion. If the kingdom is presently coming (and it is), that means that in our present moment, God's reality is encroaching on our reality. God's world (John 18:36) is postured to intersect ours, disrupting the nature of our world and injecting its life and fullness into this world. It is the moment of a collision: two worlds smashing into each other, one redefining the other.
The moment of collision is one of eschatological effect. It is not simply the change of something within our world back to what it was designed to be; it is the arrival of eternity itself, a different kind of world, into this one. Rather than the end of all things happening in one time-simple event, eternity arrives over and over and over, bombarding this world with instance after instance of the kingship of Jesus being established. The kingdom coming presently means that every moment in history is another example of Jesus being made king. Our present tense is not just the past tense victory of Jesus being worked out, it is in a sense an entirely new instance of the same kingship of Jesus being established. Jesus has not just been made King, Jesus is the one who is being freshly crowned king every moment. The victory of God is not only celebrated every moment of history (as is fitting with the kingdom in past tense), and anticipated in every moment in history (as is fitting with the kingdom in future tense), it is also established in every moment in history.
Put another way, the God's victory in Jesus in this world is too large to fit in any one moment or circumstance: it only can fit in time by being continually established in all moments. God's inbreaking rule is constantly attested to by history itself as God's kingdom is never without a witness of its inbreaking activity. Paradoxically though, all of these moments of inbreaking rule aren't a set of disconnected acts by God, rather they are one and the same act that is playing its way out through history in this very strange way (when viewed by us humans at least).
All of this means that we as people of the kingdom can be a people of constant expectation. Every moment in history serves this purpose: to be a fresh example of the eternal victory of Jesus (I believe this is part of why Paul calls God, "Lord of the Ages" - 1 Timothy 1:17). Our present moment is one of perpetual eternal significance. God's kingdom has drawn near to our world and each and every situation we encounter is one in which the effect of heaven may come crashing into earth (Matthew 6:10). We live our lives continually poised on the edge of eternity stepping into our day as Jesus' kingship is freshly established over the works of the enemy (1 John 3:8).
It's All of One Piece
This eschatological expectation is driven home for me by this one nuanced, but incredibly important point: because we are talking about a time-complicated kingdom, there is no dividing between these tenses of the kingdom. We cannot make a meaningful statement that separates the kingdom that has come, the kingdom that is presently coming, and the kingdom that will come, because they are all constituted of one and the same time complex event. To your and my experience these look like distinct and separate things - some that have already happened and some that will happen (as well as some that is happening right now). To process these tenses of the kingdom this way is to misunderstand the paradox at work here. There is only one kingdom event at work here - it just doesn't fit in any one time or tense.
As a brief aside - this type of higher-dimensional-thing-trying-to-squeeze-into-our-world plays its way out in a number of distinct ways in this thing called faith. I step through the logic of it in this article about cultural diversity, but we really have the same dynamic happening here. The "higher dimensional hockey puck" of God's kingdom is trying to squeeze into the lower dimensional planes of time and tense.
What this means is that whatever degree of confidence that we have in the kingdom that has come or the kingdom that will come is inseparable from the degree of expectation we should carry into the kingdom coming right now. If the kingdom ever has been (as it was when Jesus walked the earth), or ever will be (like when he returns again), that is the same kingdom that is coming right now. There is no pulling them apart: they are one and the same event.
This means that if whatever kingdom we see in the past or the future is the same kingdom that we see in the present. They may look like distinct events and distinct tenses to us, but because they different things but different aspects of one higher-dimensional thing, we can understand the kingdom now through the lens of the kingdom then (either then-past, or then-future).
This introduces a time-sheering logic to our understanding of the kingdom and it's activities. If the kingdom did break in with Jesus and result in healing (Matthew 4:23), salvation (Luke 1:68-69), deliverance (Matthew 12:28), and more, then we know that same kingdom is the one that is breaking in right now and doing those things. Whatever the kingdom created as it broke into this world through Jesus then is what the same kingdom will create as it breaks into this world now.
Note the logic here is somewhat distinct from a different logic that I often see applied to the kingdom: one that contrasts event vs process. Sometimes this is how the already/not-yet tension is understood: that God is redeeming through a process over time rather than an event (the Day of the Lord). The world in process is an implication of the logic I am applying here (probably more on that in a future article), but I don't believe that redemption-through-process is the crux of kingdom theology: rather I believe the time-complex nature of God and his kingdom is.
This may seem like splitting hairs, but in my opinion the distinction is quite important. If I understand kingdom theology as redemption-through-process, that leaves me with a number of practical questions I don't have clear handles on: what does that process look like? How do I know how this step of the process looks (or doesn't look) like other steps? Why does God choose process over event anyways: isn't that just kind of cruel? How does that process call for my participation?
All of these are incredibly important questions, and its easy for the lack of clear starting points to wrestle with these questions to move people towards a disbelieving and passive stance on the present moment. More and more of the kingdom gets pushed to the past or the future, and it feels less connected to the present. The aspect that is connected to the present feels more mysterious and less accessible. God feels more arbitrary and my participation less relevant or important.
Each of these questions is given an handle when we understand kingdom theology as our time-complicated God's kingly activity squeezing itself into our tenses in the time-complicated way we are exploring here. We understand the kingdom is coming now with the same texture and character that it did with Jesus, because it is the same event happening now as it was then. As such, the kingdom event beckons for our participation, just as it did with Jesus. Redemption as process leaves you room for understanding the kingdom in a way that doesn't call us to direct action; time-complexity doesn't.
The continuity between the kingdom that has been with the kingdom that is and kingdom that will be positions us in a way where we must believe the kingdom is meaningfully present and beckoning for our partnership. It conscripts us into the ongoing story - the very same one that Jesus started and will conclude - in a way that makes our contribution inseparable from his. It calibrates our expectation of the kingdom that is presently available to something that cannot drift in a way that presses expectation towards the past and future and away from the now.
The kingdom is coming. In fact, if the kingdom ever has come and the kingdom ever will come, then that same kingdom is coming right now. That kingdom is calling us: welcoming our participation as we join the great eternal narrative of our time-complicated God and the way his kingship is being established in our world. What will you do about it today?