By kingdom theology I refer to an approach to the primary message and mission of Jesus as enacted, inaugurated eschatology. The simplest way to summarize it is through this diagram:
- M&M stands for the mission and message of Jesus
- R stands for the resurrection
- The fire icon on the P represents Pentecost
The world into which Jesus came preaching the kingdom had expectations that had grown through the centuries. These expectations were based on the coming of the kingdom in the Exodus event, the conquest of the Promised Land and the Davidic Monarchy. They were further shaped by the loss of the kingdom in the exile and the prophetic promises of Isaiah and Daniel in particular. A day would come when God would again intervene for Israel, in a final, overwhelming moment, which would terminate history as we know it and begin life at a totally new level in the messianic age, or the age to come. The Day of Judgment would be the event that would terminate this age (the end) and usher in the coming age. From the prophetic language regarding this “end”, we derive the word “eschatology” (Greek eschatos means “end”). The prophets spoke of the Day of the Lord, the last days, or that day.
Jesus came announcing that such a day had dawned with his arrival. Yet the way he announced and taught the kingdom had a sense of mystery. He spoke of it as being:
- delayed, and
The only way we can bring all of this together is to understand that something mysterious, unexpected (especially to the prophets of Israel) and miraculous occurred in Jesus and in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. The power of the future age broke through, from the future, into the present, setting up an altogether new dimension. Before this age has finally ended, the future age has already begun. The result is an “already” and “not yet” dimension, where the coming of the kingdom in Jesus and Pentecost is “already”, but in the final sense, the coming of the kingdom is “not yet”. The mysterious breakthrough of the kingdom was particularly manifest in the ministry of Jesus as he announced it, taught about it, and demonstrated it and in the cross, resurrection and ascension, and the outpouring of Pentecost. All these are demonstrations of the future breaking into the present.
Between the coming of the kingdom in Jesus (“already”) and the final coming of the kingdom in Jesus (“not yet”—at his Second Coming) is the time we now live in as Christians, and as the church in the world. Around us is a world that lives in one dimension, in this present age, while we experience Jesus and the life in the Spirit in a new dimension, the life of the coming age or eternal life lived now.
From this definition of the nature of the kingdom, we have developed a set of initial implications:
- The end has come in Jesus, therefore Jesus is God.
- The last days begin with Jesus and Pentecost and continue until the very end, so the whole period, from the first to the Second Coming, is the “last days”.
- The veil torn when Jesus died shows that the separation of the present age and age to come has been transcended. Therefore, the powers and presence of the future age are continually available. We live in a dimension where it is always near, present, delayed and future.
- Every part or aspect of the kingdom is potentially available every time it breaks through.
- Church history bears witness to the increasing in-breaking of the kingdom as we approach the end of the end. Every revival is a fresh in-breaking of the kingdom.
- This is the framework for understanding world missions.
- This is the framework for understanding the Christian life, in the “already” and “not yet”, making us “already—not yet” people.
- This is the framework for understanding healing, why it occurs, yet does not always occur.
- This is the framework for understanding the witness of the church in the world and the confrontation between human injustice and divine justice, or the social implications of the gospel.
- This is the framework for understanding Christian stewardship of the environment.
These implications have direct consequences for three theologies that are inevitably displaced whenever kingdom theology is clearly articulated, namely cessationism, dispensationalism, and restorationism.