A blog I have been reading took a poll regarding what we believe about the current nature of the Kingdom of God in relation to the church. Two of the choices were:
“It is fully here because of the ministry of Jesus and now the ministry of the Spirit in the world”
“The church is the kingdom so we don’t need to look for another entity”
I didn’t participate in the poll, but if I had to I probably would have picked this one:
“It is already here in its mystery form but will be fully realized at the Eschaton”
Those first two choices that I listed up there are very similar. So imagine my surprise when the writer of the blog came out after the poll had been conducted over a week or so and had this to say:
Well, I respect the 7% who believe the church is the kingdom, but I don’t get it. While I was once among the 74% who believe that the kingdom is now here in its mystery form, I’m now about the 12% who believe that the kingdom is fully here.
What I couldn’t comprehend was someone who was affirming that the kingdom is fully here, but not believing that the church is the kingdom. After all, if the kingdom is fully here because of the ministry of Christ and the Holy Spirit through the church, wouldn’t that mean that the church is the kingdom? Yet this blogger is “not getting” that point of view. This prompted me to write a few comments which I will share here.
Help me out here. How can you say that the kingdom is fully here because of the ministry of Jesus and Holy Spirit (which are being proclaimed through the church) but yet “don’t get” those who say that the church is the kingdom? It seems like an unnecessary distinction to me. If the kingdom is fully here, it is only being manifested in the church. And if it’s fully here, then those who are in the church are in the “fully here” kingdom. Right? I don’t see the difference between choices C and E.
As far as the belief that the kingdom is fully here (which I disagree with), what would you answer to the parable of the wheat and the tares where the righteous do not shine forth in the kingdom until after the end of the age? Or what would you answer to Luke 13:18-30, with the focus on verses 28-29? Or what would you say to Luke 19:11-27, which was told by Christ because many thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear?
It seems as if the full manifestation of the kingdom awaits a future fulfillment, yet the church is living within the light of that kingdom rule now, in advance of its consummation.
After a brief word from the blogger, and I mean VERY brief, I came back with:
I don’t want to turn this into a debate, but, well, nevermind, yes I do.
How can you say the kingdom is fully here if we are not yet in the eternal phase? If we currently possess eternal life, then wouldn’t we be in that eternal phase if the kingdom were fully here?
The kingdom certainly began with Jesus (I actually believe with John the Baptist) but the parable of the wheat and tares shows that there is a time at the end of the age during which the righteous shine forth as the sun IN THE KINGDOM. That’s the “fully developed form” of the kingdom. Unless you are a Preterist believing the end of the age already occurred???
The gathering within the kingdom in Luke 13:28-29 has not yet occurred. The imagery is the prophets being gathered within the walls of the kingdom of God, and the hypocrites being thrown out. They will come from the east, west, north, and south and sit down in the kingdom of God. How can the kingdom be fully here? I don’t see the OT prophets yet raised to life.
I believe the kingdom was in their midst, yet not in its full form. The Bible clearly foretells of a glorious kingdom with a divine ruler sitting a throne judging the earth. Your response does nothing to disprove the fact that Jesus told that parable to show that the arrival of the king after He had received the kingdom would be delayed. (We will not have this man to reign over us.) The time of delay would be characterized by faithfulness in working on behalf of that kingdom which was yet to come in its full form as He came again. Rule over ten cities in my kingdom since you were faithful while I was away.
I sort of understand where you are coming from when you distance yourself from those who equate the kingdom with the church. The passage you cite [Matthew 16:18-19] shows Christ building the church (not the kingdom creating the church) and giving the church authority over the kingdom. Whatever is done while here on earth will have eternal consequences in the kingdom, which is the kingdom of heaven in this instance, or simply, heaven. But I simply cannot fathom your logic in believing that the kingdom is fully here. If the kingdom is fully here, then the church must be the kingdom since we are in that final form. This church that we know now would be all there is to the kingdom.
I’ll be done with this issue for now and go back to reading your very nice blog here. But an explanation would be nice.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13 (Stay busy until Christ gets back, that is.)
So now for the readers of my blog, I’d just like to share where I’m coming from in a bit more depth. The parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13 seems cut and dried to me. The end of the age has not yet come. When it does come there will be a separation of the true believers from those who are intermingled with true believers posing as true believers. This age is characterized by the preaching of the gospel by the church. That’s explained in the parable of the sower (farmer scattering seed), also found in Matthew 13. In the great commission, Jesus gave authority to the church to preach the gospel until the end of the age. When that final separation takes place at the end of the age, the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. That’s the coming of the kingdom here on earth with the righteous glorified within that kingdom. So we cannot have the kingdom in its full form as of yet. The church is still intermingled with tares awaiting that final harvest.
That parable of the nobleman found in Luke 19:11-27 also seems cut and dried to me. The nobleman goes away to receive His kingdom to return at a later time. During His absence while some reject His authority to reign, some are given resources of the kingdom to labor on His behalf while He is away. Those who labor on behalf of the kingdom during His absence will be given authority within the kingdom when He comes again to reign at which time He slays those who rejected His right to rule during His absence. The church consists of those who labor on behalf of the kingdom while Jesus is away. When Jesus returns, He will put down those who have rejected His authority at which time the kingdom will come in its full form. Those who have labored much will receive much authority within the kingdom of God when it is established in its full form.
This passage in Luke 13:18-30 has me thinking, though. Here is a passage that is worthy of significant study if we are studying the nature of the kingdom of God. If you notice, there is a natural break in the passage which is reflected below. Yet we must remember that Luke moreso than Matthew or Mark, arranges his gospel thematically. He chooses which subjects go together and it’s not necessarily in chronological order. So the two sections both deal with the kingdom of God and are therefore related. Read the passage.
18 Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." 20 And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." 22 And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
23 Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ 26 then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27 But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last."
Luke notably takes two of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven from Matthew 13, inserts them here in Jesus’ travels, then follows up with Jesus’ answer to a direct question about salvation. Jesus defines the nature of the kingdom both present and future; then answers a question which pertains to the relationship of those present to the future nature of the kingdom.
Present nature of the kingdom~
The present nature of the kingdom is small in comparison to the work that must be done. It is like a very small seed which none would place their hope in for any type of salvation. Yet after the seed has accomplished its work, many seek refuge in its branches. It is like a very small lump of leaven which is hidden within the meal that it will completely leaven. It is hidden from view, yet it is at work in a powerful way. The very nature of the meal will change due to this little lump of leaven. So in the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the church, the kingdom of God is in the minority. It seems insignificant to the world in general. It is almost hidden from view at times. Yet this same kingdom work is destined to change the entire world which will look toward it (Jesus) for salvation one day.
Future nature of the kingdom~
The future of the kingdom is destined to overshadow the entire world. While at present it seems insignificant, there is nothing that the present work of the kingdom will not affect. It will completely transform all of creation. The kingdom will come in its fullness, yet it will take time.
This prompts a question from one of Jesus hearers. Lord, are there few who are saved? This man placed a precise question concerning the nature of salvation in relation to the kingdom of God. Will everyone experience that salvation since the nature of the kingdom is destined to be all encompassing? Or will there only be a few who are saved since very few are repenting at your preaching?
Here Jesus tells another type of parable. He compares the kingdom of God to a great house which is open to all, but at some point, the door shuts. When that happens, many who had not entered the great house but stayed on the outside are locked out from ever entering. The master of the house had come out to mingle with those on the outside previous to the shutting of the door. Those on the outside knew who he was, had eaten with him, and even listened to his teachings. Yet they are not known by the master of the house. It is obvious that the door to enter had previously been open for these people to come in and have true fellowship with the master of the house, yet they had stayed on the outside.
Then Jesus ends this section talking about the final form of the kingdom of God. Many will come from the east, west, north, and south and sit down in the kingdom of God. This great house that Jesus had been speaking of is another way to describe the kingdom of God. Those in Jesus day had the opportunity to enter by repenting at His preaching. He was bestowing a great privilege on them by personally coming out from the kingdom to mingle with them, inviting them in. One day in the future, all the OT prophets including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be seen within the kingdom, while the hypocrites would be thrown out. So the main point here is that those who currently were not within the kingdom during the ministry of Jesus would not be included in the kingdom in the future simply because the transformation of the kingdom takes place. They were on the outside in Jesus day, and they will be thrown out into outer darkness when the kingdom comes in its fullness.
I will end this post by stating, again, that the kingdom is not yet here in its full form, or its final form. Yet we have the opportunity to repent and enter the kingdom by faith. We can live as if Jesus is King of kings and LORD of Lords now, before His glorious rule. Anything we do on behalf of the kingdom will have eternal results. The kingdom is destined to change the world, yea even all creation. As we plod along in our seemingly insignificant work which sometimes goes completely unnoticed, remember that we are literally changing the world by working for the kingdom. Remember the voice of the nobleman who will say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little in this age. Now rule in my kingdom over much.”
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. At some point I’d like to explore Matthew 16:18-19 a bit more concerning the relationship of the church to the kingdom.