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Tuesday
Dec042012

Theological Term of the Week

already/not yet
Jesus’s teaching that the kingdom of God was already here in his own life and ministry, but will not be fully here until his second coming; the belief that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but is not yet consummated.

  • From scripture:
  • “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28 ESV)

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. [33] And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. [34] Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:31-34 ESV)

  • From D. A. Carson in Common Errors in Understanding the Kingdom:
  • On the one hand, Jesus tells certain parables of the kingdom in order to get across that the expected ‘big bang’ is not yet. For instance (if I may use the formula much loved by the rabbis when they told their parables, and used by Jesus himself), it is the case with the kingdom as with the soils: there is varying receptivity to the word that is sown, and varying degrees of fruitfulness. The kingdom did not come in instantaneous and utterly effective division. It came slowly, with varying responses. Elsewhere we are told that this side of Jesus’s resurrection and exaltation, all authority in heaven and on earth is his: in other words, Jesus Christ reigns, even though we do not see everything and everyone cheerfully submitted to him.

    To use the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus must reign until he has destroyed all his enemies, the last of those enemies being death itself. So all of the Father’s royal authority is now mediated through Christ: he reigns, even though his reign must be contested until the last enemy is destroyed. All of these images and passages (and there are many more) conjure up a picture of a kingdom already here, already operating, already inaugurated, still contested.

    On the other hand, the seer John foresees a time when ‘[t]he kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever’ (Revelation 11.15), when the hosts of darkness face crushing defeat (Revelation 19.11-21); Paul announces a time when every knee will bow (Philippians 2.10-11). Many passages picture believers ‘inheriting’ the kingdom at the end.

    There are pastoral implications to this running tension between the ‘already’-reigning kingdom and the ‘not yet’ kingdom. It has been plausibly argued that Corinthian believers were tempted by an over-realised eschatology: already they think of themselves as kings beginning their reign (1 Corinthians 4.8), and thus they have overlooked the call to suffer exemplified by the apostles themselves. By contrast, it appears that some Thessalonians, insufficiently grateful for the gospel blessings they had already received, and eagerly anticipating the coming of the future kingdom which they thought to be right around the corner, could stint on mundane responsibilities, don ascension robes, sit on a hill in California and sing Advent songs. There are negative repercussions to getting the balance of Scripture wrong. 

Learn more:
  1. John Piper: Is the Kingdom Present or Future?
  2. Sam Storms: The Kingdom of God: Already, but Not Yet Part 1, Part 2.
  3. Tom Schreiner: The Now and the Not Yet (audio)

Related term:

Filed under Last Things

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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