Already and Not Yet
The Kingdom of God (Synonymous with the Kingdom of Heaven) was understood by second-temple Jews as “God’s perfect reign in the earth.”
They anticipated an apocalyptic event at the end of history when God would come and purge the world of sin and error and establish his rule forever (Isa. 24:23; Zech. 14:9ff).
This is one of the reasons Jesus’ disciples were so sad and befuddled after he was crucified.
Luke sheds some light on the nature of their disappointment in an account of two disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus the day he resurrected.
Luke 24:17–21: “And he [Jesus] said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.”
In the sense in which they anticipated the Kingdom, it is still future, and will not be fully consummated until the Parousia of Jesus (Matthew 24:37).
However, there is sense in which the Kingdom is already present and was inaugurated during the earthly ministry of Jesus.
For example, Matthew 4:17 records: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” And in Luke 4:21 and Matthew 12:28, Jesus claims the Kingdom had come upon them and was being fulfilled in that very day.
In other words, Jesus was teaching that “God had invaded human history and triumphed over evil, even though the final deliverance will occur only at the end of the age.”
For the past two-thousand-or-so years, believers have lived in a time where the old age and the age to come overlaps. We live at a time when the Kingdom of God is both already and not yet. G.E. Ladd summarizes it this way: The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.
One way we are able to see the Kingdom of God as “already and not yet” is in the tension between the miraculous conversions of people we might never expect to follow Christ alongside the continuing need for grace among believers still needing sin eradicated from their lives through the sanctification of the Spirit—even after years of following Christ.
Another way we see God’s Kingdom is among us but has not yet arrived in its full force is the tension between the church and the world. The church is evidence of the Kingdom’s presence. Those who receive the Kingdom by submitting to Christ’s lordship covenant together in community to live out the Kingdom’s ethos in the midst of the city of man.
But we know the Kingdom has not yet shown up in its fullness because the world, the city of man—the community of the fallen drawn together to live out the adamic ethos—is still here on the earth, growing and cultivating itself for its own glory.
The Mission of the “Already/Not Yet” Age
Christians–and particularly the ones who live in America where the gospel has had influence for centuries–live in a time of incredible opportunity and mission. While sin, sadness, and tragedy surround us like flies trying to spoil the ointment, we have much for which we can be hopeful and encouraged.
We still have much freedom and power to live out the Kingdom’s ethos and spread God’s great emancipation proclamation: King Jesus died for sinners and rose again to defeat sin and death for us. The strong man is bound. The old taskmaster is powerless over those who believe. Follow Jesus and live as freemen.
Yet, in this same season of overlap, the city of man still plans, still builds, and still expands with its adamic ethos—and its adamic proclamation: You are the king of your life! There is no purpose for you in the universe but your own. You have the power to self-evolve into a greatness of your own imagination and definition. But be quick! Eat, drink, and be merry today, for tomorrow you’ll be dust again.
The Kingdom of God and the city of man coexist in the same space with contrary ethoi and conflicting missions. Each advance in the same field, the wheat and weeds growing side by side.
One day the Lord of the harvest will return to the field, personally. He’ll separate the wheat and chaff, rejoicing in the good, and burning up the bad.
But until then, we, like the early church, find ourselves “living in a tension between realization and expectation—between ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’ The age of fulfillment has come; the day of consummation stands yet in the future.”
In which Kingdom do you hang your hat? And how do you see the already/not yet playing out in your life and/or ministry?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
 George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, ed. Donald A. Hagner, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 42.
 ibid, 90.
 ibid, 368.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He helps people cultivate their capacity to perceive and appreciate the good, the true, and the beautiful by sharing rich insights into the arts and humanities, meaningful perspective on faith and culture, and valuable tips on writing and teaching. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.