Kingdom Visionaries (7)
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4.17
Then and there
Undoubtedly, Jesus had the clearest vision of Kingdom of God of all the Kingdom visionaries we’ve seen or will see. We’ve already observed that Jesus regarded the Kingdom as of the highest priority for His followers. We are to “seek first” the Kingdom, not as the first in a series, but the first in everything we do.
What Jesus accomplished during His earthly sojourn was but a foretaste of what He would do following His resurrection and, ultimately, His return in glory. The full and final unfolding of the Kingdom of God waits the day of Christ’s return. That stage of the Kingdom begins with the gathering of all God’s elect – those who are asleep and those who yet remain (Matt. 24.29-31; 13.36-43). Then, together with Him, His chosen people will return to overthrown the last remaining enemies of God and, in a new heavens and new earth, to dwell in His Kingdom forever (Rev. 19.6-21; 1 Thess. 4.13-17).
In the Kingdom which is coming Jesus’ followers will reside with Him in His Father’s house, in dwellings specially prepared for them by Jesus (Jn. 14.1-3). There they will share in the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, for they will see Jesus as He is and will be like Him (Jn. 17.20-24; 1 Jn. 3.2).
The Kingdom which is “then and there” will be without sorrow, pain, mourning, or sin (Rev. 21.3, 4). He Who is making all things new will abundantly provide for His citizens then – living water without payment (v. 6) and the indescribable joy and pleasure of being in the presence of God without obstruction or interruption (v. 7; cf. Ps. 16.11). The saints of God will dine with their King and rule with Him in perfect righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Lk. 22.28, 29).
In the new heavens and new earth the citizens of Christ’s coming Kingdom will realize their full potential and God’s original design for world of beauty, goodness, and truth will be gloriously brought to pass.
This is the Kingdom and city to come, to which all are journeying who have been redeemed of the Lord (Ps. 84). It is a place of unutterable beauty, bounty, and brilliance (Rev. 21, 22), and it is the hope of all who follow Jesus in this life.
Jesus saw this hope spread out before Him throughout the course of His earthly ministry. By focusing on it and never losing sight of the Kingdom to come, Jesus was able to run His race, despising the Cross and the shame, to sit down at the right hand of the Majesty on High (Heb. 12.1, 2; Ps. 22). This is the same hope toward which we press as His followers.
Here and now
But the Kingdom of God, as Jesus envisioned it, was not simply for then and there. His preaching and teaching lead us to understand that the Kingdom is also very much a “here and now” reality.
We see this in the way that Jesus declared the Kingdom of God to be “at hand” or “near” or even “in your midst.” Jesus made it clear that the long-awaited reign of God had come to earth in the Person of its Heir-apparent. In His preaching and miracles Jesus heralded the new day which the prophets had foreseen, and He called on all who heard Him to make themselves ready through repentance and new birth to enter this new reality which had come to earth with Him.
By casting out demons Jesus particularly showed that the centuries-long reign of the father of lies had come to an end. He had come to bind the strong man and now, with the bringing-near of His own reign, Jesus had begun plundering the devil’s holdings in order to fill up His own Kingdom according to the wisdom and power of God (Matt. 12.22-29).
Jesus insisted that some of those who listened to His preaching would not taste death before they had seen the Kingdom of God coming among them (Lk. 9.27). The idea that the Kingdom of God is merely a “then and there” phenomenon, something postponed for after His return, is not consistent with what Jesus taught or the expectations He held out for His followers concerning their own lifetimes.
So, while we look forward to a full and glorious manifestation of the Kingdom, and of our place in it, in the new heavens and new earth, now, in the present, we must seek to lay hold on that Kingdom as our highest priority in life. For the Kingdom is both “here and now” as well as “then and there.”
All who understand this will exert themselves to the fullest to realize as fully as possible the benefits of the reign of King Jesus in their daily lives.
More and more
Which means that those who serve King Jesus must strive and struggle and seek every day to gain more and more of what is theirs in the Kingdom of God. This idea is implicit in every parable of Jesus concerning the Kingdom. We may possess it, like a pearl of great price or a treasure buried in a field. The Kingdom grows and bears fruit, attracting others and gaining power. We must lay hold on it with violence, forcing our way ever more deeply and richly into the reign of Jesus Christ and His glory (Matt. 11.12; Lk. 16.16).
We shall have more to say about this aspect of the Kingdom of God as Jesus saw and taught it in our next installment, when we consider Jesus’ vision of the progress of the Kingdom as He set it before His disciples in some of His most compelling parables.
Jesus’ vision of the proximity of the Kingdom, therefore, was a threefold vision: The Kingdom is yet to come in all its fullness; nevertheless, it is unfolding in our midst even now, and thus every follower of Jesus Christ must make it his primary concern to seek and attain to more and more of the Kingdom of God every day of his life.
Then and there, here and now, more and more: This is how we must think about the Kingdom of God and our involvement in it.
- Why must we not be content with a vision of the Kingdom of God as something that is yet to come following the return of Jesus Christ? Yet why must we keep this vision of the Kingdom in mind at all times?
- Celtic Christians evidenced an ability to live the “then and there” of their Kingdom lives in the “here and now” of their earthly experience. Would you say that this is a good way of describing your own discipleship? Why or why not?
- How would you counsel a new believer to make “more and more” of the Kingdom his or her daily pursuit? How do you do this yourself?
T. M. Moore