Already? Not Yet!

When we study Jesus’ understanding of “kingdom” in the Gospels there are two competing themes. In some texts, Jesus seems to say that the Kingdom of God is present in his ministry. For example, Mark describes Jesus preaching that the Kingdom of God is “near” at the very beginning of his ministry (Mark 1:15, Luke 8:1). In Jesus says that if demons are cast out the hand of God, then the kingdom of God has come (Luke 11:20). Jesus also says that the reason he teachings in parables was to reveal the secrets of the Kingdom to his disciples (Luke 8:10)

now laterYet in other texts he seems to say that the Kingdom is has not yet come and that his disciples ought to be prepared for a wait before the Kingdom finally comes. The parables in Matthew 25, for example, indicate that Jesus will go away for a long time before returning.  The Ten Virgins (25:1-12) indicates that the disciple will have to prepare for a long wait before the “wedding banquet” begins, and the parable of the talents (25:14-30) tells the disciples that they will have to give an account for how they use the time before the coming of the king. The parable in Luke 19 is told specifically to defuse the crowd’s expectation that Jesus was about to establish a kingdom in Jerusalem at that moment.

not-yet-gifHow do we account for this apparently conflicting data? One common way is to emphasize either one or the other aspect. C. H. Dodd famously stressed the presence of the kingdom, arguing that the kingdom was “fully realized” in Jesus’ ministry. This means that there is no real future kingdom, the present Church fulfills Jesus’ vision for a kingdom. This means that there is no future restoration of Israel, the promises of the Hebrew prophets are fulfilled in the Church. One potential problem with a fully realized eschatology is that the parables warning of a long delay must be taken as creations of the church to explain the non-return of Jesus.

On the other hand, it is possible to stress only the future aspect of the kingdom. Someone like Schweitzer, for example, thought Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who expected a messianic kingdom promised by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. While Schweitzer thought Jesus was wrong, other streams of theology (such as classic dispensationalism) understands Jesus as teaching a future kingdom, literally fulfilling the promises of the Hebrew Bible, including a restoration of the kingdom to the Jewish people. But a wholly future kingdom does not really do justice to Jesus’ claim that the kingdom is present in his ministry.

A third option is to see Jesus’s ministry as a present kingdom, but a kingdom which does not exhaust the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. This has the advantage of taking Jesus seriously when he says that his miracles are establishing some sort of kingdom, but also the warnings of a lengthy interim between the establishment of the kingdom and the consummation of the kingdom in the (now distant) future.

The catch-phrase “already / not yet” is perhaps so overused that it has lost all rhetorical value, but it remains a fairly good way of understanding the kingdom in the gospels. Some elements of the kingdom expected by the prophets is present in Jesus’ ministry, but others remain unfulfilled until a future time. The point is the present church lives “between the ages,” after the “already” but before the “not yet.” We look back to the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also forward to the future consummation of the ages.

Are there other specific sayings or actions of Jesus where the “already / not yet” may help our understanding of the text?

19 thoughts on “Already? Not Yet!

  1. “Jesus viewed his ministry as establishing God’s rule and kingdom” (Strauss 439). Through the works of Jesus, and His submission to the will of God, Jesus initiated the movement of the Kingdom of God. It was a perfect picture of what the Kingdom of God should look like. His life set the bar for how the Kingdom of God should be lived out for the rest of eternity. In Luke 17:20-37 it gives good insight into the Kingdom debate. The Pharisees ask Jesus about the Kingdom, and Jesus responds by saying it is among them. He then goes on to explain that there is a coming kingdom though, where the sins of the world will be judged.
    Jesus talking to the disciples, Mark 10:7 “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The Kingdom of heaven has come hear.” Jesus commissioned the disciples to bring the same Kingdom that Jesus initiated. Then in Mark 16:15 Jesus says to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” The good news that they were to proclaim was that the Kingdom of God was here. Jesus died and rose again, and the disciples, the apostles, and every person who has believed in the name of Jesus from that point are preparing creation for His return. The true Kingdom of God will return when Jesus comes back, but until that happens it is our job to share the Kingdom of God just as Jesus did.

  2. Sometimes the kingdom of God is difficult to wrap our minds around when hearing certain perspectives of scripture. Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God in many different events throughout his ministry. The popular view of our modern understanding is already/not yet. Professor Long said, “The catch-phrase “already / not yet” is perhaps so overused that it has lost all rhetorical value”. I agree with this to some extent because it is overused, but if it is understood in the right context and if it is backed up by Jesus’ scripture, I think it is a very good tool in order to truly understand what the kingdom of God is. Jesus reveals information about the kingdom in his many parables, but also throughout his actions in his ministry. For example, Matthew 12:28 says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you”. This is proof that the kingdom of God is already here because Jesus cast out many demons during his healing.

    As I mentioned earlier, Jesus used many parables and sayings in order to reveal the mystery of the kingdom of God. Jesus shows us that the kingdom is coming in the gospel Luke. Luke 19:11-12 says, “As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return”. I think Jesus was saying that the kingdom is coming in the future by referring himself to the nobleman in the parable. In this, Jesus is saying that he is going to heaven and will be gone for a period of time before he returns and reveals the kingdom of God upon us.

  3. The first thing I thought of in relation to the kingdom of God is the Lord’s prayer “thy kingdom come.” The Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 48 explains that God is sovereign over everything. His kingom does not have any limits. It is easy for humans to put a limit to God. God rules over everything. “People are to ‘seek first the kingdom’ by submitting to his sovereign authority” Matthew 6:33 (Strauss 438) The Church is to continue to prepare for the kingdom that is to come, and to do that, the Church preaches the gospel and tells about the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ ministry set the foundation of preaching the gospel and building up a church. His main goal was to teach them about His death on the cross, and that is the main message that we can use to build up God’s church and to prepare for God’s kingdom to come. Matthew 28: 18-20 expresses Jesus’ great commission to his disciples and to His believers.

  4. The Kingdom of God idea may as well be another Trinitarian talk. We can never truly understand what is meant by it and it can just be us trying to explain what we think is meant by it. While they may be good thoughts maybe we are ending up like the people who didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah because He didn’t do what was expected. Whether the kingdom is here or is yet to come we should still be living our lives working for the growth of the Kingdom. We need to live out the salvation we have because as Strauss says, “The church lives simultaneously in both ages, when salvation has been accomplished but not yet consummated” (Strauss 440).
    Even with the knowledge we may never actually know whether it’s here or distant it is talked about a lot. John 18:36 Jesus says his kingdom is from another place. In Luke 17 Jesus says it is neither here nor there.

  5. A huge part of the sayings of Jesus that fit this “already/not yet” model is found in the Beatitudes. What does it mean when Jesus says, for instance, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” or “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5). By saying these things, Jesus could either mean that they will be included in the kingdom of God to come, but then doesn’t that mean that they could lose their salvation or place in the kingdom if they are not persecuted for righteousness or aren’t poor in spirit? Thus, it is better to conclude that Jesus was talking about the present kingdom or life that they will have if they are to be these things. Perhaps Jesus was stating that living His example of life will allow the kingdom of God to be present now, and not just in the future. Yes, the kingdom of God is coming later on, but Christian’s are also called to live in such a way that portrays the kingdom of God right now as well. We’ve been discussing this to some degree in my Ethics class and have come to realize that the kingdom of God spans a much greater time than we are sometimes led to believe. If we only believe that the kingdom is future then we miss living out the kingdom right now and drawing others into the kingdom of God that is to come. Wright conveys that, “if you had asked Bar-Kochba in, say, A.D. 133 whether the kingdom was present or future, he would have said, “Both” (73). That is the most basic answer, the kingdom of God was both a future coming event, but also it is a reality for all of us here and now.

  6. The kingdom of God can often times be difficult to understand when looking at the many different parts of scripture. The “already/not yet” model can help us understand the kingdom of God in some ways. In many verses, there is almost proof that the kingdom of God is “already.” In Matthew 5 it says that, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Also, Luke chapter 17 gives great detail about the kingdom of God. In the passage it explains that the Pharisees had asked when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus simply replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, Here it is, or There it is, because the Kingdom of God is in your midst

  7. The Already/Not yet model is one of those that we here on earth may not fully understand. If we look at Matthew 25:34 it says “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But then again it says in John 18:36 Jesus says that the Kingdom is not of this world. So it is a bit confusing when we do read scriptures, but I think Strauss says it best by saying, “The Church lives simultaneously in both ages, when salvation has been accomplished but not yet consummated” (Strauss 440) because to get to Jesus’ kingdom we must be saved, and in order to do that we must believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. So the way I see it, is that Jesus was the first step in making the kingdom here now, but it is not yet fully accomplished here on earth either.

  8. “For God’s kingdom to come, means for all people to submit to His authority, so that his will may be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven'” (Strauss, 438). I do not think we will ever able to fully interpret what Jesus meant specifically about the Kingdom of God, but there is a large amount evidence in the Gospel that supports different ideas of it. I like what Cam quoted from Luke 17, ” “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, Here it is, or There it is, because the Kingdom of God is in your midst”. I think that the point is, the Kingdom of God is present and among us…but has not been fully accomplished. Jesus had died for our sins and resurrected, so that has been done, but there is much more to come…the rapture, the day of judgment, and ultimately the defeat of Satan.

  9. In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the “Kingdom of God” coming in a multitude of ways, how to we decipher when it really will come? In Mark 1:15 for instance Jesus states that, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” but then in John 18:36 we see Jesus saying that, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” How do we translate these battling contexts? I believe, in reference to the Kingdom of God, that rather than trying to break down whether or not the Kingdom has arrived or when it will, that it gives us a better idea of Jesus’ mission in the synoptic Gospels. As P. Long states in his article Already? Not Yet? Jesus’ references instead, “remains a fairly good way of understanding the kingdom in the gospels.” Instead of over analyzing the time frame of the Kingdom of God, can we choose instead to grasp the model better for sake of understanding the Gospels?

  10. The Kingdom of God is certainly not a simple topic. Even in the context of the Gospels, the details of the Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus can seem difficult to synthesize into one well-rounded perspective. For example, in Luke 9:27, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, tells them that some of them “will not taste death” before they see the kingdom of God. Considering we are all in pretty much unanimous agreement that Jesus’ disciples all died around 2,000 years ago, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that Jesus must have been referring to a kingdom that was already being initiated during His earthly ministry.

    It is interesting, then, to see that Jesus also refers to the Kingdom of God in a future sense. In Matthew 19, the rich young ruler asks Jesus what he must do to inherit “eternal life.” Jesus answers his question by telling him about how hard it is for the rich to “enter the Kingdom of God.” Jesus seems to use “Kingdom of God” in a sense that parallels the ruler’s understanding of “eternal life,” which would be more of a concept of the future than the present.

    There are many other examples in the Gospels that further illustrate this paradox. To help demonstrate how these two ideas can work together, biblical scholars have coined the phrase, “already / not yet” to describe the present and future aspects of the kingdom. “The kingdom has been inaugurated through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection but awaits consummation in the future” (Strauss, 440). What Jesus initiated during His earthly ministry has yet to be fulfilled, and we as believers have that consummation to look forward to!

  11. Both Strauss and Wright classify and make the different distinctions about the seemingly two types of kingdom that Jesus talks about. However, they do not say much about how they can be used interchangeably, or how they may be perceived that way. The idea of the current kingdom and the coming kingdom is something that not only confuses Christians today but also confused the disciples of the time. Jesus often spoke in parables to the disciples, but they almost never knew what he was talking about or if they thought they did they normally were on the wrong track. Jesus told them that he was going to die and rise from the dead yet they did not understand him. As Professor Long said, Jesus seemed to tell the disciples parables so that they could understand the kingdom now, but the ideas behind the many parables were that the kingdom would not come for a long time. As confusing as this might be, we need to maybe stop analyzing and be content with the information that we do know, which is that Jesus has established in a kingdom in terms of him being King of everything, yet Jesus will come back and establish an earthly kingdom.

  12. What about Luke 17. In verse 20-21 Jesus says that the “coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed… because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Then he goes on in verse 22-24 to described his future coming. He says, speaking of his second coming, “the day will be like lightning… But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” He tells the disciples that days are coming when they will long for the Son of Man to come. It seems to me that Jesus is saying, “the Kingdom of God is here” and also “the Kingdom of God is coming” right one after the other. I like how you put it, that the Kingdom has been established, but has not yet been consummated.

  13. Like everything God does, His timing is not ours. I have found in my life, as I’m sure everyone else has as well, that much of what we do in life is experienced through a process, not in an instant. The longer the process, the more we appreciate the result. That is how I am concluding the Kingdom of God is from what I have been reading in Jesus’ teachings and in what Strauss says in Chapter 16. Strauss explains that at the time Jesus taught on the Kingdom of God the Jews would have been expecting the Messiah to come and destroy Satan forever. This is true and Jesus did not dispute this would happen. But He brought the Kingdom in a much different way. He did defeat Satan on the cross “already.” In an act that cannot be reversed He conquered death once and for all. And yet He will still conquer it and swallow it up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). One way that I understand it is by thinking of John 17:3 — “And this is eternal life; that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” To live eternally is to know God, a process which we can begin now because of Jesus, yet it cannot be fully accomplished yet.

  14. As you well know, Phillip, but many Christians have little or no concept of, the Kingdom of God is a major biblical theme, way beyond concern with or attention to individual “salvation” and other themes historically elevated.

    Further, and you’ve been attending some to this, we absolutely cannot legitimately take “spiritual truths” in abstraction from the Gospels/Acts while leaving aside (basically ignoring) the real-world situation and concerns of Jesus’ audience and Jesus himself… and ALSO those present WHEN the gospels were written about 4-6 decades later (vastly changed circumstances, as I’ll remind folks).

    Acts 1 makes clear what we’d otherwise infer from the Gospels: The disciples were critically concerned, after Jesus’ death, about the implications for the “restoration of the kingdom” to Israel (minimally meaning return to national sovereignty vs. Rome, but much more also).

    Now what virtually all biblical scholarship ignored until almost 1800 was the very social-political-economic situation in which Jesus ministered. There are a variety of (mostly-related) reasons for this. And they pick up the tendency from the Gospels themselves. That tendency is to leave aside sensitive, potentially dangerous “political” issues (in a broader encompassing-society sense than we tend to think of that, with more separate gov’t and religion).

    Israel was occupied by a somewhat lenient yet oppressive and brutal foreign power, during Jesus’ lifetime and more tightly so during and after the writing of the Gospels/Acts. The “more tightly” resulted from the massive, culturally, religiously and in every way “world changing” war of 66-70 C.E. (technically to 73, with Masada).

    Israel was not nearly as seemingly calm and stable during Jesus’ time as the Gospels tend to reflect (with small vignettes into the starker reality). So without getting too lengthy, key points: Just what was envisioned by Jesus’ followers and what was intended (via Heb. prophets, etc.) in the nature of “The Kingdom” was not clear to THEM. There were varying visions of it, just as there were varying conceptions of the Messiah (even dual messiahs in at least one key group). Important: Is it now impossible for any of us, no matter how well educated, to know which of the mostly God-fearing, God-seeking, law-keeping sincere Jews of the time had the “right” vision of Messiah? Which, if any, were a “faithful remnant”? (Remembering that most of the “messianic” prophesies applied to Jesus in the Gospels are quite general or, when specific, appear to have Jesus’ story created or re-written “to” them quite clearly, including where he was born, his genealogy, his supposed way-preparation by John, etc.)

    Coming back toward starting-point: So the “this changes everything” situation just prior to the writing of the Gospels, particularly seen in Mark, no doubt the closest to the disastrous pivot, is the loss of the war (stumbled toward during Jesus’ time and begun fully in 66), with the absolute destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

    With a yet-unstable situation (witnessed by a “final” revolt 62 years later – Bar Kochba) and obvious need to adjust apocalyptic “Kingdom of God” expectations, we see various permutations from Mark through the other gospels and Acts. (The earlier imminent-return concept being reflected in Paul’s “genuine” letters, all prior to the war.) Mark, perhaps written in the very raw year of 70, if not soon thereafter, seems to reflect a continuing hope that the war itself signals the eschaton. Less so on through to John and to Acts (I believe written 95 or after, on “good authority”). Acts’ “already” is the sending of the Holy Spirit, who had not prior been “poured out on” all humanity (cf. “Luke’s” citation of Joel 2, I believe). And, of course, “Luke” has Jesus give the totally indefinite answer to the Apostles’ query about the timing of the (fully realized) Kingdom, of “no one knows” except the Father.

    This tells me “Luke”, probably representing a now-Pauline-dominated theology of the “center of gravity” of loosely affiliated churches, has become uncertain as to whether or not the Roman war was “birth pangs” of the eschaton about to be birthed. He/they may also have seen the Kingdom not only as blessing Gentile nations, but including at least individual Gentiles (following “The Way”), as “Luke” definitely supports the universalizing begun by Paul. It was more obviously now the future, given the Jerusalem headquarters of “The Church” was no more… and we loose all trace of the original Apostles/disciples and their direct “descendants” sometime BEFORE the war. Acts seems to purposely cut off before both Paul’s (and Peter’s) death and before any discussion of the war would be virtually required (tho written at least 20 if not 30 or more years later).

    My guess is that the situation was just too risky (with little up-side) for “Luke” or any gospel-writer to directly discuss the war… who participated (did it include any of the Apostles – maybe at least “Simon the Zealot” [not Peter] or other “Jewish-Christians”)? Did Jesus-followers purposely and maybe luckily escape before the final massacre and taking of thousands of prisoners? The legend of a flight to Pella seems pretty dubious… so we really don’t know. But no doubt small congregations either survived outside Jerusalem, esp. toward or in Galilee, or were soon re-constituted afterward.

    But now the serious and deep split between Jews and Christians had begun to rapidly widen and feelings intensify. (War, destruction, and massive disruption has a way of doing that kind of thing, doesn’t it?) Simultaneously, people had to begin re-thinking numerous things: the biblical promises of Israels’ blessing, sovereignty, under God’s rule (“theocracy” was apparently coined by first-century Jewish rebel commander turned historian, Josephus), the “signs” of the end of the age, etc.

    Christians have continued to re-interpret the signs as pertinent to their own time, just as did most of the writers of the NT. And so the true nature of the Kingdom remains murky in the NT, as does the true nature of Jesus’ posture toward Roman rule… the Gospels/Acts give us confusing (and confused, I’d say) data, growing out of varying perspectives and “the fog of war” (and the discontent and agitation leading up to it), the subjective nature of all history-writing (including the Bible), etc.

    • Thanks once again for a highly detailed response! You said early on, “Christians have little or no concept of, the Kingdom of God is a major biblical theme” – very true and I think you could substitute a;most anything for Kingdom of God and the sentence is still true!

      My snark aside, you are right that the bulk of church history obscured the idea of Kingdom by ignoring or allegorizing the OT. As a premillenialist, I see that as a loss of the truth of the kingdom from the earliest days of the church (historic premil) until it was “rediscovered” after the reformation. Unfortunately, a proper idea of kingdom was hijacked by less-than-scholarly elements in pop-religion, simply obscuring it again.

      You are well aware I am a proponent of proper context, especially historical and social. I think people like Richard Horsely are doing biblical scholars a service by applying social science models to First Century Palestine, studying how an oppressed people often respond with apocalyptic visions of God’s soon return to rescue them from their enemy, etc. I am about 2/3s finished with Dale Allison’s Constructing Jesus, I am very pleased with his presentation of an apocalyptic Jesus.

      Jesus was so much more radical that even people who write books about radical Jesus realize.

      • Thanks, Phillip. Now, as I look again, I’m not sure how I meant to construct that sentence… basic idea being that we can’t effectively put ourselves back in ancient Jewish shoes and say what was clear, or should have been clear to them about a coming messiah.

        I know I used to think that the Jews of Jesus’ time were merely “stiff-necked” or otherwise ungodly and rejected the man who they should have seen clearly was God’s messiah. I had no idea how fervently a great many of them wanted to follow God’s Word as they understood it. I don’t recall that a seminary education (in a very conservative school, albeit) even led me to question that or see things in a more realistic and complex way (the way reality usually is). Now, it was “a while ago” – 1976.

        But upon earlier graduating from Biola Univ., where I began Greek and had lots of Bible/theology, and then Talbot (M.Div.), I had only the most rudimentary sense that Christianity began as a sect of Judaism, and what that implied. (I wonder if the quickest way for people to get an education re. this, and do some other good on the side, would be for churches to “require”–not literally, of course–everyone to visit synagogues several times, and dialog with several Jews and at least a couple rabbis…. Of course Jews also tend to have almost no knowledge of Jesus, really, nor of the NT or Christian origins… so people would learn on both sides… and hopefully not the wrong things! :0)

Leave a Reply