Over the last few hundred years, Christians have debated the nature and timing of the kingdom of God. Some argued that Jesus was a failed prophet since the kingdom did not come as he expected. Others argued that the kingdom was delayed due to Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Still others found ways to understand the kingdom apart from either extreme.
From an historical angle, the debate is fascinating since it did not seem to greatly disturb earlier Christians. For example, John Scotus Eriugena (9th ce.) maintained the presence of the kingdom now yet with its full manifestation appearing at a later time.
I think we can be even more precise than John Eriugena since Scripture speaks on this matter. The kingdom of God in its political and geographical reach lies in the future after the second coming, while the presence of the kingdom exists in the people of God because they are in Jesus.
Millennial theology largely relies on John’s writings, especially Revelation 20. For this reason, we should start with John. According to the apostle, Jesus “made us a kingdom” (ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν; Rev 1:6). This “made us” signifies a past realities that we now experience.
In order to clarify exactly what this means, John specifies that Christians are partners in the kingdom “in Jesus” (ἐν Ἰησοῦ,; Rev 1:9). As king, being in him, we are the kingdom of God on earth. The “in” here demonstrates that the kingdom of God is here in Christ whose body we are. This agrees with Jesus’s proclamation to the religion leaders in Luke: “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21).
In place and power
Yet the kingdom of God in Christ whose body we are has not yet attained its place and power, its geographical and political fullness. Hence, John explains that the geographical and political aspects of the kingdom only come into their fullness at the second coming (Rev 20).
For a book that many see as primarily about the future, it strikes me as fascinating that John defines the kingdom in the present in the church so clearly.
This body-of-Christ-kingdom has deep scriptural precedent. Daniel had already prophesied about it. One of the peculiar emphases in Daniel 7 is that the Son of Man does not receive the kingdom alone. Rather, the text emphasizes that the saints receive the kingdom (Dan 7:18) because the Son of Man does (Dan 7:14).
Put another way, since the Son of Man receives the kingdom, the saints receive the kingdom. Interestingly, Revelation 1 portrays Jesus very clearly as the Son of Man in Daniel 7. So it makes sense that John would follow the scriptural pattern of Daniel 7. In him, explains the apostle, we are the kingdom of God. As Revelation 1:9 says, “in Jesus” God made us a kingdom (cf. Rev 1:6).
According to Daniel 7:18, the saints will receive the kingdom “forever, forever and ever.” That’s three forevers in Aramaic. Such an emphasis for such an important truth. The kingdom of God is not merely present possession—it is an eternal reward.
Note: the kingdom of God can be defined as the king himself, king Jesus. We are his people, his body, and so co-rulers. We will, as Paul says, judge the angels. Yet the full expression of the kingdom in all its magnificence will come when Jesus returns to judge the quick and the dead.
We will have it “forever, forever, and ever”—we will have Christ for all time when we see God face-to-face in that beatific vision to which we all strive.
In conclusion, the kingdom is present in Jesus whose body we are. So in the current age, people in Jesus are the kingdom of God. Jesus is the king of the kingdom whose body we are, and so we are the kingdom now.
Yet the kingdom also lies in the future when its geographical and political power comes into force. It is already here in Jesus but not yet fully realized.
Bob VanWingerden says
the kingdom is ours forever (3x) yet the future kingdom of millenialist has a geographic and political aspect that cannot last for even one forever. If the kingdom is in Jesus it is as immutable as he is.
Excellent post Wyatt. Another case of the “now AND not yet” principle often used to differentiate spiritual compared to physical or heavenly compared to earthly meanings. In this case the kingdom is now reigning in Heaven and in His Church but will also reign in the future on the newly restored earth.
Perhaps amillennialists and premillennialists can come closer together with this present and future meaning of the kingdom.