One doesn’t have to read very far in the Gospels to run across the central theme of the Kingdom of God. Not only is the Kingdom front and center, but it is also directly linked with the message and preaching of the Gospel itself. Mark documents the inception of Jesus’ ministry with these provocative words: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14-5). Recognizing that this post is a little on the long side, I want to discuss three aspects of “coming” or presence of the Kingdom: 1) the distant, consummate Kingdom, 2) the then-present Kingdom, and 3) the then-immediately-anticipated Kingdom. Clear as mud? Good. Let’s make some mud pie. First, and by far the most popular, would be the distant, consummate Kingdom. One aspect of the Kingdom was that it was a distant reality, distant from the Apostles, from their time. (Turns out that this aspect is the same for us today, just not quite so far off.) This distant aspect of the Kingdom is, I think, prayed for by Jesus: “Thy Kingdom come.” It is also revealed in the two-age structure of NT eschatology:
”And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection’” (Lk 20:34-6). The terminology of “this age” contrasted with “that age” or “the age to come” is common in the NT. Jesus calls the age to come “the Regeneration.” The Regeneration is when rewards for service rendered in this life are given along with the inheriting of eternal life (Mt 19:28-9). While we now share in the power of the Regeneration or the age to come (Heb 6:5), the fullness of that age to come is… well, to come. It is not here yet. It is the distant Kingdom, the age of the fullness and consummation of the Kingdom. As I say, this aspect of the Kingdom is well-known, so I won’t spend more time on it.
Less well-known would be the then-present aspect of the Kingdom. This aspect of the Kingdom can be clearly identified in Mark’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus said that the time was fulfilled and that the Kingdom of God was at hand. More specifically, Jesus taught that the Kingdom was then currently present: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28). The tense of the verbs looks like this: “If I am [presently] casting out demons… then the Kingdom of God came [aorist - simple past] upon you.” The point is that if Jesus was presently exorcising demons by the power of the Spirit, then the Kingdom was already a present reality. What I’m calling the “then-present” aspect of the Kingdom should be understood as in and around (in, with and under?!) the person of Jesus himself, as the emphatic first person pronoun in Mt 12:28 would seem to indicate. This is why Jesus can say that the Kingdom of God was “in your midst” (Lk 17:21). The Kingdom is securely tied to the King; where he is the Kingdom is. Thus, in his earthly ministry, the Kingdom was present among those around him, who witnessed the Man and his ministry. This aspect I am calling the then-present aspect of the Kingdom, which is clearly distinct from the distant, consummate aspect discussed above. There is, however, at least one more aspect of the Kingdom that needs to be considered. This third aspect is very little noticed, partially because it tends to wreak havoc with certain schools of eschatological thought. Not naming names or pointing fingers, I shall, protecting the innocent, move right along.
This third aspect of the Kingdom I am call the “then-immediately-anticipated Kingdom,” or TIAK for short. The TIAK aspect is quite distinct from the first two aspects, for it is neither too far distant nor then-present. Rather, it was immediately anticipated (hence the catchy TIAK). This immediate anticipation is found throughout the NT, but let’s start our consideration of it with one simple saying from Jesus. Here it is from they Synoptics:
- Mt 16:28 – “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
- Mk 9:1 – “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
- Lk 9:27 – “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
Allow me to test the reader’s patience by reminding him that what Jesus is speaking of here cannot be the then-present aspect, for it is anticipated. Neither can it be the distant, consummate aspect of the Kingdom, for everyone standing there have been pushing up daisies for many moons now, and that aspect of the Kingdom has not yet occurred.
So, what is Jesus talking about, here? Some will answer that Jesus is referring to his Transfiguration, which immediately followed. While I agree that the Transfiguration was a foretaste of the consummate glory of redeemed humanity, I cannot agree that the Transfiguration is the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom shortly to be anticipated. Why? Because the Transfiguration occurred less than a week after Jesus spoke those words. If we are to do justice to Jesus’ words: “some standing here will not taste death,” we have to look for their fulfillment within the general lifetime of those men, but not that very same week.
What would, then, qualify as seeing the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom and with power? Certainly Jesus’ death would not qualify, as that is rightly seen as part of his “humiliation.” How about his resurrection, would that qualify? His ascension? His heavenly enthronement at the right hand of the Father? The pouring our of his Spirit and gifts upon his church? The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70? Without arguing my case, I would merely assert that ALL of these things are in view. It is this complex of events that signify the exaltation of the Son of Man, a significant new phase in the development of (and one of numerous “comings” of) the Kingdom. I would also hasten to add that this TIAK understanding makes sense of all the imminent talk and the “this generation” terminology in the NT, which has been such a difficulty to so many well-meaning Christians, even as it has provided a field day for Christ-hating atheists.
This post, unfortunately long though it is, is by no means the final word, even on these three aspects of the coming of the Kingdom. It should, however, at least provide a beginning that is faithful to what the Scripture says about the Kingdom.