In Anticipation

Ever since Jesus Christ's first coming, the period of anticipation and preparation for the Kingdom has been in effect. While the Kingdom has not begun yet, it is "present" in the sense that the New Covenant has been ratified, the good news and the promises of the Kingdom are proclaimed, and the power and authority of the Kingdom are seen in a foretaste.

There are a few verses which are often taken to mean that the Kingdom had indeed arrived, but in a different form than that foretold by the Prophets. Perhaps no verse is more frequently used this way than Luke 17:21. It is often thought that the idea of an earthly kingdom was carnal and spiritually immature, and that Jesus was correcting that wrong thinking when he said, "The Kingdom of God is within you." But let's look at where he said that.

Luke 17:
20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
[see NASB]

First of all, the wording in the KJV is an unfortunately poor translation. The words for "within you" can also be translated "among you" or "in your midst" and are rendered as such in several other English versions of the Bible. In this passage Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees who were constantly against everything he was doing, and whom he called children of the Devil. If he meant to say "the kingdom is within you," he would certainly not have said it to the Pharisees. He was actually referring to the fact that the spirit and power of the Kingdom were among them for all to see. He couldn't have been suddenly changing the definition of the Kingdom to an “inward” one, as that would contradict the many Scriptures in which he clearly described the coming of the Kingdom as a literal, future event – including the verses immediately following this passage. Consider this wording, from the NASB.

Luke 17:
20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed;
21 nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."
22 And He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.
23 "They will say to you, 'Look there! Look here!' Do not go away, and do not run after them.
24 "For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.
25 "But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation."
26 "And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man:
27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
28 "It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building;
29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.
30 "It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.
31 "On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back.
32 "Remember Lot's wife.
33 "Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.

Jesus spoke of the coming of the Son of Man in his day to judge the world, in the very same context in which he said the Kingdom of God is among them. Therefore, he could not have been redefining the Kingdom as a "kingdom of the heart" instead of a literal future kingdom, as many have suggested.

Jesus had instructed his disciples to heal the sick, and to say to them, "the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:8-11). He had told them to say that the kingdom was near, as he had declared at the beginning of his ministry. This proclamation of the Kingdom and demonstration of its power by Jesus and his disciples are what he referred to when he said, "the Kingdom of God is in your midst." Though the Pharisees didn't believe it, the King was in their midst and the Kingdom's power was observed.

Another verse that is used to support the idea of a non-literal kingdom having arrived is John 18:36. Jesus tells Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." As seen in What Is the Gospel? when the Kingdom is called "heavenly" it refers to its origin, not its location. Similarly, the Kingdom being "not of this world" refers to the fact that its origin is not of this world but of God. For that reason it will not come to pass by his servants fighting for it. But that does not mean that it will not be a kingdom on earth. Far from redefining the kingdom, He admitted to being a king, and said that to that end he was born. But it would not come to pass by worldly means. "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:7).

In one instance only, when Christ himself cast out demons, he said the Kingdom "is come." The people recognized his power and said, "Is not this the Son of David?" (Matthew 12:23). The Pharisees, on the other hand, thought he did it by the power of the prince of demons (the word "devils" in the KJV is daimonion, or demons). Jesus declared, "...if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you" (Matthew 12:22-28).

We saw in The New Covenant that while the promised outpouring of God's Spirit would occur at the return of Christ, in the meantime individuals could experience a foretaste. In this instance, an individual experienced the defeat of Satan's power, as a foretaste of Kingdom power. The people rightly associated Jesus' power with that of the promised King (the son of David). When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if he was the one that was to come, Jesus' response was, "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached" (Luke 7:20-22).

This was a quote from Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1. The miraculous powers, and the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom to the poor, were the signs Jesus referred to as proof that he was the Messiah. But nobody thought the Kingdom had "come" in the sense of Messiah beginning to reign. John had not asked, "Has the Kingdom come?" He asked, "Are you the one that is to come?" The power of the kingdom was being demonstrated, as proof of who Jesus was, and as a preview of the Kingdom. The King had come, but not the Kingdom yet.

In his article, The Kingdom of God: Present or Future, Anthony Buzzard writes:

The references to the Kingdom as in some sense present in the ministry of Christ must be treated as special cases, and not be allowed to obscure the far greater emphasis on the Kingdom as future. A parallel may be seen in the non-literal resurrection referred to by Paul (Eph. 2:6). This has already happened in the life of the believer at conversion, but it must never be allowed to overshadow or replace the future objective resurrection of the dead in Christ (see II Tim. 2:18). That future resurrection is for all the biblical writers the great historical event marking the end of the present age, and ushering in the Age of Messiah.

Firstly, on a single occasion, Christ is quoted as saying that the Kingdom of God has come upon those from whom a demon is exorcised (Matt. 12:28, Luke 11:20). The Kingdom of Satan had then been defeated in respect of each individual who was thus freed from the shackles of the demonic influence. This is very different in its scope from the universal victory of the Kingdom at the end of the age, though it is certainly, of course, an anticipation of the final triumph. It should be noted, however, that the same phrase "come upon" is found in I Thess. 2:16, where it appears to mean that those on whom the wrath "has come" are destined for the future wrath of God. They are candidates for the future vengeance of God, what Paul in the same letter calls "the wrath to come" (I Thess. 1:10). Similarly, to say that the Kingdom has "come upon" an individual may simply mean that when the demon is removed from him he becomes a candidate for the future Kingdom.

Confirmation that this is the right understanding is provided by Moulton and Milligan in their Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, p. 331. Evidence from the papyri proves that the parallel statement in I Cor. 10:11, "upon whom the ends of the ages are come" means "who are heirs of the revenues of the ages." To say that the Kingdom of God has "come upon" someone may thus indicate that he is heir to the future Kingdom.

This seeming discrepancy between the announcement of the Kingdom and the fact that it did not appear is, as mentioned, one of the major reasons for the Jews' rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Similarly, the long delay since the announcement of the Kingdom has caused some to question the validity of that announcement. But it is not necessary to redefine the Kingdom in order to solve these discrepancies. The new light revealed concerning the Mysteries of the Kingdom and the New Covenant provides the solution.  

In this preliminary phase, the kingdom is "present" in a preparatory phase for a time, prior to its establishment, and certain aspects are previewed. During this time, the King is identified, and the news of the New Covenant which he made available is proclaimed. Those individuals who are heirs of the inheritance experience a foretaste of Kingdom power as they grow and receive training and preparation for their roles in ruling with Jesus the Messiah.  In addition, God’s dealings with man, which were formerly focused on Israel, have shifted to the Church.  The early, general signs that Jesus spoke of in his Olivet Discourse have begun, and will continue, but the end is not yet.  This is why we are said to be in The Last Days.  It is in this proleptic sense that any reference to a present kingdom must be understood.

A few verses speak of the kingdom as if it were present, but they are in this sense of the preparation process having begun. One such verse is Matthew 23:13, where Jesus accuses the Pharisees of "shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men" and not going in themselves or letting "them that are entering to go in." But we saw in another article how entering into the Kingdom was equivalent to entering into life in the age to come. The context speaks of the future results of the actions we take in this life. He that humbles himself shall be exalted, and vice-versa. Clearly "them that are entering" must refer to them who are in the process of preparing to enter the Kingdom.

Most of the verses where the phrase "entering the Kingdom" occurs are talking about what qualifies or doesn't qualify a person to enter into the Kingdom. One of the qualifying factors is that flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom (I Corinthians 15:50). Paul goes on in that context to describe how we shall be changed and put on immortality, something that he says will happen in the future. So when the Bible occasionally speaks of entering into the Kingdom or being in it in the present, clearly it cannot be talking about entering it now except proleptically, that is, in anticipation.

We read in Colossians 1:13 that we have been "translated into the Kingdom of His dear Son." However, the verse before that says that we are "meet to be partakers of the inheritance" and later the same epistle states that "of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance" (Colossians 3:24). We have become heirs, but the inheritance is still future. This is similar to the above-mentioned reference in Ephesians 2:6 to being raised and seated in the heavenlies now, although we have not yet been literally resurrected. As we saw before, Hebrews 6:4-5 tells us that those who are enlightened "have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world [aion, age] to come."

Some verses refer to the concept of the Kingdom of God, with no reference to time. These include things like seeking first the Kingdom of God, who is greatest in the Kingdom, being fit for the Kingdom, and phrases such as "of such is the Kingdom," "the Kingdom is not meat and drink," "the Kingdom is not in word but in power." These verses tell us things about the Kingdom in general, but do not say anything about whether it is present or future.

We examined several parables in Matthew 13 that taught the nature of the interim period of preparation before the Kingdom was to be established. Two other parables in that chapter should be considered.

Matthew 13:
31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
[see NASB]

The other parables spoke of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the children of the Kingdom, during the interim period. These two parables, when taken out of their context, could be seen as meaning that the Kingdom had come, but was not seen and yet would grow to eventually dominate the world. This cannot be the case, however, since we are told in many places in the Bible that the return of Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom will be a cataclysmic event that would usher in the new age. It will be sudden and take the unprepared by surprise, as in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-29). Thus it cannot be what the mustard seed and the leaven, with their gradual growth and influence, are referring to.

What aspect of the Kingdom of God is currently comparable to something presently small yet gradually gaining influence? Not the actual reign of Christ, but the Gospel message about that coming reign, the call to repentance in light of it, and the influence that Gospel has on our lives. The individual growth we experience in preparation for ruling in that coming kingdom is an ongoing process that begins in this life with the belief in the Gospel and acceptance of the New Covenant. It may appear small and insignificant, but we shall see how the Gospel message can have a life-changing effect when we look at The New Birth and Holy Spirit. The next two parables in Matthew 13 – the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price (verses 44-46) – are similarly about the value of the coming Kingdom, but not speaking of its having come.

It would not be wise to allow a few verses that speak of the Kingdom as present in this sense to cloud the clear understanding of the Kingdom of God from the vast majority of Scriptures. This can be seen by comparing the Scriptures and considering the small handful which speak of the Kingdom as present in some sense in light of the overall definition of the Kingdom of God. On the Gathering Data page, I have presented all the occurrences of Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven, and it can be seen that the vast majority of references are referring to the literal, future reign of Messiah on earth. By comparison, only a few verses speak of any kind of present reality, and it is in the sense of a period of preparation, anticipation, or a preview of what is to come, as illustrated by the parables.

The Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (Vol. I, pp. 530, 531) says the following about the eschatological (referring to the end times) sense of the Kingdom of God in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The same can be said for the whole New Testament.

There is nothing in the synoptics antagonistic to the eschatological view of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not present in any sense not reconcilable with the fact that it is also and mainly future. [...] Jesus did not dissociate Himself from the traditional view that the end would come in the form of a catastrophic transformation, culminating in the Advent of Messiah Himself, who would come from heaven. He seems everywhere to set His seal to this view. [...] He steadfastly contemplated a final wonder of destruction and reconstruction which would be the perfect establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Similarly, the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (p. 425) has this to say:

In this regard the concept of the kingdom of God is parallel with the Johannine concept of eternal life and the Pauline concept of salvation. Precisely as those who put their faith in the atoning work of Christ are said to possess eternal life, to be in Christ or to be saved, in spite of the fact that eternal life or salvation are essentially eschatological concepts, so also believers may be said to have entered into the kingdom of God despite the fact that the kingdom of God, like eternal life and salvation, can be properly experienced only at the end of time.

Certainly the best way to understand what Jesus and the New Testament writers meant by "Kingdom of God" is to understand the Old Testament Foundation on which they based their preaching and teaching. While the actual phrase "Kingdom of God" is not found in the Old Testament, there are numerous passages that speak of various aspects of it. John the Baptist and Jesus called it the Kingdom of God as a brief way of encapsulating all of the prophecies of the Age to Come. And as has been pointed out, you cant understand what they were talking about without understanding the vast amount of information given in the Old Testament. With that foundation, the New Testament becomes clearer, particularly in light of the New Covenant. As heirs of the coming Kingdom, individuals have a token or foretaste of the inheritance to come. The Kingdom of God is now anticipated and proclaimed, and will one day be a reality. It is no longer necessary to try to force a different definition onto the term that was the heart of Jesus' preaching and teaching.

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Mark Clarke