In yesterday’s post, I examined several sayings of Jesus that suggest the kingdom of God is coming in the future. Today, I want to consider sayings that emphasize the presence of the kingdom now.
The Present Kingdom
If Jesus had only spoken of the reign of God in a future tense, our task would be simple. Unfortunately for those of us who like things neat and tidy, Jesus also spoke of the presence of the kingdom. Here are some examples:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).
Though one could argue that “has come near” isn’t exactly the same as “is here,” the sense of Greek is that the “coming near” of the kingdom has already begun to happen in some significant way. If I said to you, “The tornado has come near,” you wouldn’t wait around before getting into a storm cellar. You’d understand that it was very close by, almost here.
Here’s something else Jesus said about the present kingdom:
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Matt 12:28).
In response to those who accused Jesus of casting out demons with satanic power, he pointed to the true source of his authority: the Spirit of God. The exorcisms of Jesus are not merely evidence of his compassion for demonized people, they are also evidence that the kingdom of God is already present. The Greek of Matthew 12:28 actually uses a past tense verb (aorist), emphasizing that the kingdom of God has already approached.Jesus also said:
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Jesus is not saying to the Pharisees that the kingdom is in their hearts, but that it is in their midst. Where Jesus is doing the work of God, there is God’s kingdom.
In a previous post I discussed this passage. A perceptive reader challenged my translation of “is among you,” wondering why other translations prefer “is within you.” “The kingdom of God is within you” is found, for example, in the KJV and the NIV. My response is, first, to point to the fact that Jesus was not saying to the Pharisees that the kingdom of God is in their hearts. Rather, the kingdom was among them because they were in the presence of Jesus himself. Moreover, most recent translations prefer “is among you” or something similar: “is among you” (NRSV, HCSB), “is in the midst of you” (ESV), “is already among you” (NLT 2, Message, CEB), “in your midst” (TNIV, NIV 2011). Of course it’s possible that all of the translators could be wrong. But at least you see that my translation is not too idiosyncratic.
In certain quarters of Christendom the presence of the kingdom has been a popular theme. Whereas conservative Christians have tended to embrace the future kingdom, more liberal Christians have generally preferred the present kingdom. (There are exceptions on both sides of this rule, of course.) If God’s reign is here, then so is God’s justice and peace, at least in principle. The task of the believer is not to wait around for some dramatic act of God in the future, but to live out God’s kingdom now by promoting divine justice in the world today. Many Christians talk about “making the kingdom come” or “building the kingdom” through their efforts.
If you were to read through all four Gospels, you’d find more evidence for the future and for the present kingdom. This presents us with a riddle. Which did Jesus proclaim? I’ll attempt to solve this riddle in my next post.