Dear Church Family,
The teachings of Scripture and the living out of our Christian lives in this world may be described as a tension. It is not that the Bible (or our lives) is marked by moderation (a middle ground between two extremes), but rather mediation (a grasping of both extremes simultaneously). This concept (the grasping of both extremes simultaneously) is one that I explore more fully in the “Philosophy of Church Ministry” document which you can find on our church website here.
The Already & Not-yet of the Kingdom of God
For now, I’d like to explore just one of those tensions as it has to do with the kingdom of God and eschatology. This is a theme that has arisen recently in our sermon series in the Gospel according to John. You see, we may speak of the kingdom of God – the rule and reign of Christ – as being already here, but not yet come in its fullness.
On the one hand, the Scriptures teach that the coming of the kingdom of God was inaugurated at Jesus’ first coming. Jesus began His earthly preaching ministry by announcing, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). On the other hand, the Scriptures also teach that the coming of the kingdom of God will be consummated at Jesus’ second coming. In teaching about His second coming and the final day of Judgment, Christ the King will say to His people, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
An Over-realized Eschatology
An over-realized eschatology is simply when one overemphasizes the “already” of the coming of the kingdom of God, to the detriment (or even, eclipsing) of the “not-yet” of the coming of the kingdom. We are given an example of this in John 12 where we find a description of what is commonly referred to as Jesus’ triumphal entry, or Palm Sunday. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, a large crowd of Jews went out to meet Him; they waved palm branches and shouted praises from Psalm 118 to Jesus as the King of Israel (John 12:12-13).
But then, in order to fulfill prophecy and to teach the people what kind of king He really was, Jesus sat on a donkey. Yes, Jesus is the King of Israel and promised Messiah – just and endowed with salvation; but He is not the kind of king that one would expect – humble, and mounted on a donkey (John 12:14-15; Zechariah 9:9). Jesus went on to teach that for Him to be gloried meant that He would die, but that through His death He would bear much fruit (John 12:23-24). And, His disciples (the fruit borne from His death!) would need to learn to hate their lives in this world in order to keep it to life eternal. Just as Christ’s purpose was to go to the cross, His people are called to follow Him in cross-bearing (John 12:25-26).
We examined this over-realized eschatology in our sermon from John 12:12-26. We are tempted toward meliorism and triumphalism, but Christ calls us to a life of self-denial (Matthew 16:24-26).
An Under-realized Eschatology
An under-realized eschatology is simply when one overemphasizes the “not-yet” of the coming of the kingdom of God, to the detriment (or even, eclipsing) of the “already” of the coming of the kingdom. We are given an example of this in John 12, as well, where the Heavenly Father’s voice from heaven is misunderstood and misinterpreted (John 12:27-30), and then Jesus gives an explanation as to the meaning of His impending death:
31 "Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. (John 12:31-33)
John tells us that Jesus made these statements to indicate the kind of death that He would die. And in Jesus’ statements we find at least three “already’s” of the coming of the kingdom of God – things that Christ accomplished in His crucifixion on the cross: (1) Christ has judged this fallen world; (2) Christ has cast out Satan (defeated and bound him); (3) Christ has put an end to particularism (the preaching of Christ crucified goes forth to all the nations, bringing salvation to not only the Jews, but also to the world).
We examined this under-realized eschatology in our sermon from John 12:27-36. We are tempted to live as defeatists and escapists, but Christ calls us to a joyful hope because He has overcome the world, the devil, and the flesh (all authority has been given to Him) such that the gospel and His kingdom may go forth to all the nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
There is a real danger of falling into one of the ditches on either side of the road when it comes to our understanding of the coming of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming and will be consummated at His second coming. Living between these two epiphanies, we are better able to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age when we understand and grasp both of these extremes simultaneously (Titus 2:11-14). As Anthony Hoekema puts it:
Since the great midpoint of history occurred at the time of Christ’s first coming, there is a very real sense in which believers today are living in the new age. The final consummation of the kingdom of God, however, which will include the Second Coming of Christ, the general resurrection, and the renewal of creation, is still in the future. Hence the era in which we now live is characterized by tension – between the midpoint and the end, the present and the future, the already and the not yet. (Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p 306)
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch