The Already/Not Yet of the Kingdom
What a moment for the people of Jerusalem! What a statement from Jesus!
This “very large crowd” who greeted Jesus so enthusiastically as He rode in on the back of a young donkey had a very definite idea about why He had come to Jerusalem in the way He did. It was obvious to them – here was their political saviour, a warrior King. They were excited; at last they had someone who might lead a revolution against the Romans.
But it wasn’t to be. Perhaps some in the crowd realised this because Jesus came riding on a donkey – a symbol of peace. Also by going straight to the temple to confront the corruption of prayer, rather than to the Roman fortress to confront the unwanted rulers, Jesus showed that He wasn’t going to be their political leader and warrior king.
The Kingdom Jesus ushers in is not the same as the way the world understands the word “Kingdom”. His kingdom is one of peace and reconciliation, one where there is no worry and total unity. But some things had to happen before this could come about, namely His death on a cross.
Now over the last few weeks I have often spoken about extending God’s Kingdom here through the ministry of fund-raising and our vision and mission. The moment someone makes a commitment to Christ they become part of this Kingdom. So what is this Kingdom, and how should Christians live while on earth? Part of the answer is that we have to learn how to live in this world and in the heavenly Kingdom at the same time. We’re living in an “already but not yet” moment!
The truth is this: Christ has defeated Satan—He’s reigning at the right hand of God currently – yet there remains work to be done before that reign is fully realised. Enemies still exist – chiefly, death. Of course, this isn’t the first time God’s people have been in such a situation. In 1 Chron. 10: 13-14, we see that the kingdom of the first Shepherd-King, David, was inaugurated without being fully consummated.
His predecessor, Saul, was struck down by the Lord and the kingdom was “turned over” to David. Yet, while this main foe was defeated, and David was soon to be anointed King (11:3), it wasn’t until sometime later (chapter 18) that all his enemies were completely conquered, and his kingdom fully realised. So how did Israel live in the already/not yet of David’s kingdom during the time their land was claimed by two competing authorities – David’s and Saul’s?
As they lived this “already, not yet” existence, so do we. Every square inch of the universe, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan. In riding into Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil. Eternal life, the Kingdom of God for all, was brought into the world two thousand years ago! Yet, we’re still waiting for that salvation to be fully realised. As believers we can know and live a full spiritual life now, but we will also still taste physical death, but one day that won’t be. Our salvation will be total – spiritual and physical. All things will be made new. On that day, when the Kingdom is fully realised, Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.
To use Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13:33 & Luke 13:20-21), we’re still waiting for the yeast of the Kingdom to make its way fully through the dough of the world. But make its way it will, and indeed, is. This is the already/not yet tension believers must learn to live in. Salvation is here, salvation is coming. So Christ’s reign has been inaugurated, but it is not consummated.
This is the position God’s people found themselves in when David is anointed King, because Saul’s reign is still in effect. Yet it appears that in responding to the Holy Spirit many people came and pledged their support to David. So to live faithfully in this present age, we need the Holy Spirit. (1 Chron. 12:18ff). Knowledge is important, indeed vital, for we cannot witness without it, but to be effective witnesses we need the power and the anointing of the Spirit. Otherwise we won’t be able to discern between that which is of the world and that which is of God’s age to come.
Secondly, the people lived in unity. In the battles that led to David’s triumph, those who were working toward that end lived in harmony:
All these were fighting men who volunteered to serve in the ranks. They came to Hebron fully determined to make David king over all Israel. All the rest of the Israelites were also of one mind to make David king. (1 Chron. 12:38).
Now, I’m sure there were still differences of opinion within the ranks as to strategy etc., but the point is obvious: they all wanted the same thing, to see the reign of the anointed one of God fully realised. God’s people today are called to no less a mission, and therefore should have no less a unity. This is the already/not yet position believers find themselves in today – Christ’s kingdom is here, but still coming.
Indeed, the surest sign that we have the Spirit is that we’re living in unity. We are a people of Pentecost: we have the spiritual language of understanding. However, sadly Christians are marked more by in-fighting than by evangelising the nations. This tells us how much we’ve taken our eyes off of the main objective: to have Christ’s reign recognised by every tongue, nation, and tribe through gospel-proclamation and acts of mercy.
It appears also that the people of David’s day lived unworried and with understanding. They lived unworried because “there were, plentiful supplies of flour, fig cakes, raisin cakes, wine, oil, oxen and sheep, for there was joy in Israel” (1 Chronicles 12:39-40).
In a sense, the people’s joy is odd. There are still battles to be fought, still enemies who schemed and plotted. Yet, their hope was in the chosen ruler whom God supplied. Why would they be worried by the straggling defenders of a collapsing dynasty?
As Christians we are in the same position – we too are fighting from a position of victory, of abundance. The battle is won: the enemy’s head has been crushed under the bruised foot the Messiah! We should never let the current upheavals and uncertainty of the world lead us to forget that the One who raised Jesus from the dead is with us, fighting our battles, winning our victories. Christians, like Israel of old, should be known as a people of great joy, even during trying times.
Finally, they lived with understanding. Though God was the One who finally brought about David’s total reign, Israel nevertheless played a part in God’s kingdom-project. The sons of Issachar are a perfect example of this. They were known as “men…, who understood the times” (12:32). Their discernment is being commended, for it is really important to understand the times in which we live, and to understand what those times require.
In a day in which information moves at the speed of light, trust in our political institutions is at an all-time low, and the family is disintegrating before our very eyes, the church is desperately in need of more “sons of Issachar”, people who can interpret our culture, as well as interpreting Scripture, so we can better understand the dangers and opportunities of our times.
One greater than David has come: He came riding on a donkey to shouts of acclamation. He conquered His enemies and all things have been placed in subjection to Him. While the principalities and powers of the old order hold on by their fingernails, we as Christians can live confidently in God’s Kingdom because it is both present and future, here and coming, already and not yet. The Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia!
This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God. The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.
Read again the two passages from Scripture: 1 Chronicles 10:1-6, 13-14, and Mark 11:1-11, and let them speak to you afresh in light of God’s Kingdom. As God speaks to you, why not write in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?
The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.
Can I ask you to consider these questions based on this week’s sermon:
- How have you experienced God’s Kingdom in your daily life? Over the last few weeks has your understanding of God’s Kingdom changed?
- Can you think of times when you have experienced God’s Kingdom as “already but not yet”? How did that make you feel?
Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.
As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.
Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will.
St. Ignatius Loyola