Mark D. Roberts: When is the Kingdom of God Coming? Then? Now? Neither? Both?
... In two recent posts, I cited examples of Jesus’ speaking of the kingdom of God as either future or present. In a few instances, however, he indicated that the kingdom has both present and future dimensions. Take this parable for example:
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32)
Jesus invites us to look at the mustard seed from two perspectives. In the present – and it is really present – it is small and insignificant. In the future, however, the mustard seed will be great and notable. Similarly, God’s reign has truly come on earth in the ministry of Jesus. When blind eyes are opened, when deaf ears hear, when demons are cast out, when the hungry are fed, when sinners are forgiven, the kingdom of God is truly present on earth. Yet it’s relatively small, and won’t reach its full, glorious extent until later.
Many New Testament scholars today realize that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom as both present and future. You can find a refreshingly concise statement of this perspective in the now classic little book by G. E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom. Scholars who hold together both dimensions of the reign of God sometimes speak of it as “already and not yet.” The kingdom is already present in the ministry of Jesus and it is not yet fully present. If you read through the Gospels with this thought in mind, much begins to make sense. The sayings of Jesus and his actions demonstrate both the real presence and the future glory of the kingdom of God. ...