In the last article in this Kingdom of God series, we explored what it means that The Kingdom Has Come. If you're just jumping in now, at this point in this article series we are exploring the specifics of the time-complicated way God and his kingdom relates to our reality. Paradoxically, we have to learn to live in a complex relationship with God's kingdom; it has already come, and yet it also will come (in the future). It is easy to hang on to one or the other of these (seemingly contradictory) facets, but somehow we need to hang on to both of them.
The Kingdom Will Fully Come
Most readers of the Bible are no strangers to the idea that God's kingdom will come in fullness in the future. The great Scriptural hopes of the world to come that matches God's design in many ways still feel far away. Peace is prophesied (Micah 4:3-4, Isaiah 11:9), and yet we still have war. Abundance is to come (Amos 9:13-14, Ezekiel 34:26-27), and yet we still have lack. Even nature itself will change in character (Isaiah 11:6, Isaiah 35:6-7). There is a long way from this picture of the world and the way it is now.
In the midst of the tension between that picture and the way our world looks in our day, it can be easy to see only the gap between what is and what could be and miss what this is meant to teach us. This picture really is going to happen to the world. This is the end of the plan, and God will see it all the way through. This is the trajectory that Jesus has put creation on, and there is no chance of it not happening in due course.
I think this is one of the tensions that anyone who is a charismatic believer would do well to meditate upon. Sometimes because we believe that God is present and active in the now, we can shift our focus to be almost fully on our current reality and see the guaranteed future in a less concrete way. It can be about what God does or doesn't do in my day/week/lifetime, and we can lose our emphasis that the kingdom will fully come.
This places every present situation in a different light, because the eventual outcome is assured. If we aren't willing to take a long enough view though, we will miss that. The fact is, everyone who is in Jesus is going to get completely healed - just not maybe before they change clothes first. Nevertheless, the outcome is sure: full healing is going to happen. There is no sickness, no pain, no death in eternity. It simply isn't there, which means that we know the eventual outcome, and I think we would do well to reflect on that eventual outcome enough that it feels as real to us as the present struggles are. The question is not "will this person be healed?" - the question is "how early in their eternal story will the healing arrive?" (I speak of course for those who are followers of Jesus.)
Because the kingdom will fully come, the end of all such issues is fixed. The struggles of this time are every bit real, but they are fundamentally transitory. There will actually be a time when things are fully right, when God's will is uninterrupted in our lives and where things are they are meant to be. This will actually happen and it will be our experience. I may not be there yet, but there is nothing that can stop God from bringing us to the reality. Nothing can derail that process, nothing can swerve it into a ditch. It is going to be. The story does end with reality becoming what it is supposed to be (Revelation 21:1-4).
As I reflect on this truth, I find myself postured in hope. This is the great gift of the fact that the kingdom will come; I have the most logically grounded hope that could ever be. It's not a "maybe good things will happen anyways" kind of hope, it is a "there is no other way things could eventually be" kind of hope. There is no other end of the road, so regardless of how jumbled the process to get there is, we know the end, and the end is good.
It is an incredible gift to know the fundamental character of the end of all things. There is an unsettledness that it speaks powerfully to and results in a peace that wraps its way over our souls as we come to rest. Yes, things are broken now, but they will not always be. There is a new kind of the world that is coming, and I will live in it joyfully. The ache we feel in our hearts is for something: it does point to something real, and through Jesus, something that is guaranteed to be the texture of our eternity. This is a truth that is powerful enough to inscribe itself on our emotional process in powerful ways.
What does this Mean for Now?
The fact that the kingdom will come postures us in an unshakable hope, but it is not a hope detached from our today; it is a hope that is woven together with our today.
One of the oft under-taught themes in the Scriptures is that the end of all things is not fully discontinuous with our reality today. To be clear, there is a degree of discontinuity - there is a new heaven and a new earth, for the first one does pass away (again, Revelation 21:1), but there is also a continuity as well. The message of the Scriptures is that the kingdom as it comes fully then is shaped by our lives now.
This is what Paul speaks of when he talks of what is burned up and what carries through into eternity (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). There are things that are discontinuous - wood, hay, and stubble, which will be consumed on the great Day. Reality then will not contain the things that reality now does. Yet at the same time, there are also things that will carry through: gold, silver, and precious stones. Paul writes that these things will be revealed by the fire rather than consumed by it. While there are some things that are lost, there are also things that are not - things that are built now that will still be here then. We see this same theme unpacked in the chapters of Revelation where Jesus gives instructions to the churches: what they do in the here and now shapes what their reality will be for all eternity.
I'm not sure how typical my experience has been, but this is a theme that in the last few years I've found my understanding was far less dialed into than the Scriptures discuss. I would have agreed with the idea that there is somehow something that carries across (perhaps the rewards for our actions?), but my expectation was that 99.5% of the now will be obliterated and eternity to come will be almost entirely different in every way than our now. The further I've dug in, the more I see there is a lot more continuity there than I had first seen.
This is typified by the tip of the spear as it comes to the kingdom coming, Jesus. Jesus is the one who has gone ahead of us into the fullness of the kingdom. He is the one who has already experienced the final resurrection of the dead and as such now typifies the character of the Age to Come in its fullness. (This is why Paul argues that Jesus' resurrection proves that there is an end-time resurrection as he does in 1 Corinthians 15:12-13). And here is the fascinating thing to me: Jesus' resurrection body is made of his crucified body. To be clear, it's not the same as his crucified body; it is substantially different in some dramatic ways, but it is also substantially the same in some dramatic ways. His disciples still recognize him (when he wants them to - Luke 24:31), he still has the holes in his hands and side (Luke 24:40).
It's not that Jesus' new body bears no overlap with his previous body, but rather that his previous body was filled and swallowed up by life and in that transformed - and so it will be with us as well (2 Corinthians 5:4). The relationship between us then and us now is not one of complete reset: instead us then is what grows when us now is sown (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
What all this reveals is that not only do we walk with a great hope for what is to come, but also a wonder that the glories to come are being sown in our present life now. We are presently shaping eternity. The texture of its life is fixed, but in a mysterious way its shape is still being ironed out through our lives. God has granted to us a role in architecting what is ahead. What we build now with gold, silver, and precious stones does become part of the fabric of the great City that is to Come (Revelation 21:18-19). And that means that our great hope is not a hope that is antithetical to our now, but rather deeply and meaningfully connected to it. We aren't just looking to then as an escape from our now, but we are looking to then as the reaping of all that is sown now.
And all of this brings us to the subject of our next article in this conversation: the Kingdom that Is Coming. Stay tuned for that one next.