~ The Now and Future of the Kingdom ~
Quoting out of context can generate problems. A part of the truth, standing alone, can change the meaning of the whole truth. But the context can be so large that time and space requires only part of it to be presented. Other times a long context could drown the focus of the essence to be understood and digested.
The Book of Hebrews is a superb example of out of context quotes: Chapter 1 has seven, chapter 2 has four, and most of the other chapters have one or two. The quotes, however, are connected in a marvelous way to present a fresh meaning from the tapestry of Scripture.
I had to do a similar thing to help me understand some things that didn’t make sense on the surface of thought. For example, Hebrews 1:13 (NIV) states: “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?” The writer is referring to Christ, the quote taken from Psalm 110. But haven’t you wondered about the “until” part? Where will Christ “sit” once the enemies are under His feet? And isn’t Revelation clear about the destruction of the enemies of Christ?
1 Corinthians 15:25-26 (NIV) also states, “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Verse 28 reveals a profound insight into mystery: “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
Paul’s context is Christian judgement when he quotes Isaiah 45:23: “ ‘As surely as I live’, says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God’” (Romans 14:11). One must read Isaiah in context to see if the “every knee” and “every tongue” includes Christ’s enemies. If so, does that suggest even His enemies shall be redeemed?
To help link these observations, let’s look at an “out of context” statement about the Kingdom of God, since there are just so many of them. Jesus declared (to the Pharisees, no less, but addressed to all listening): “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20b-21, NIV).
In Scripture, the kingdom is spoken about both as a present state and as a future outcome. In the passage from Luke above, and in John 14:23 where Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him,” the tense is in the here and now. Indeed, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit now, as Paul asserts, not having to wait until the end of time for that gift.
Satan will be rendered powerless and all of God’s pronouncements are certain to be fulfilled. The kingdom of God will be established. This will happen whether or not we pray for it. So for what are we praying when we say, as instructed by Christ, “May your kingdom come”? For what are we praying when we say, “May your will be done on earth as in heaven”? We pray, “Holy be your name.” Is His name not holy already?
The rest of “The Lord’s Prayer” is about us: “Give us our daily bread…forgive our sins…keep us from temptation…deliver us from evil.” Perhaps the first part is also about us: May we keep your name holy…May your kingdom manifest in us…May your will be done in and by us.” As James writes, it doesn’t do much good to pass by a hungry or poorly clothed person and pray God’s will be done for him to be helped, when you are the one in the position to make God’s will happen. The “good Samaritan” was the neighbor to the injured man Christ calls us to be. God’s will was done because the Samaritan did it.
The kingdom of God is accessible only in Christ, who promises to dwell within us in love, along with the Father (John 14:23). Therefore, in us, Christ then sits with the Father and reigns until His enemies are underfoot and not running around. His enemies are whatever resides in our corruptible, mortal natures “that must put on incorruptibility and immortality,” whatever keeps us from being “completely formed into His image.” That’s why death must be “the last enemy to be destroyed.” Then Christ’s reign can end because we can reign with Him and “God may be all in all” in us.
The wisdom of God is layers deep. What happens on the grand scale is a visible image of what happens to each of our souls. The exodus, desert wanderings and entrance into the promised land is not only the history of the Hebrew people, it is also the story of our personal life journeys. The Red Sea parts in our lives and the walls of Jericho crumble down in our paths as we implement the faith Jesus said would move mountains. The seduction, disobedience and shame in God’s presence of Adam and Eve happens over and over in us. Abel’s blood still cries out from every part of our earth as his murder by his brother is repeated thousands of times every day and people still mockingly ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We still ask, “And who is my neighbor?” We haven’t learned that much over the past few thousand years.
Christ bore the sins of the world. He also bore my own, and yours. Grace is bestowed upon us as a community, but also as individuals. We are one body in Christ, yet we are also individuals in Him.
So we may wonder at the statement of Ephesians 2:6 (NIV): “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” This is not a future state to come. It is written in the past tense. But is that our experience now, here on earth?
It can be if we believe the kingdom is within us, that the Father and Son dwells in our hearts now, and Christ is, at this very moment, making His (and our) enemies His footstool. But it can’t be if we insist on being the lord of ourselves, if we don’t offer ourselves “as living sacrifices,” if we don’t forsake our lives to His reign, denying ourselves, crucifying ourselves with Him so that we can be resurrected with Him. The power of the resurrection is ours today, not just for the “end of the age.”
Isn’t this what Psalm 24 is about? “Who may ascent the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?…Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in. Who is he, this King of Glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of Glory” (v.3,9-10, NIV). What are these gates, if not the doors to our hearts at which Jesus stands and knocks?
Many of us like truth and wisdom to be black and white with clear dividing lines. Our God, however, did not create a black and white world. Even at the most profound depths of the oceans where light never reaches, sea life is resplendent with exquisite colors. (Evolutionary theory cannot explain why life would evolve useless color in a perpetually dark world.) God loves to reflect His work in glorious spectrums of infinite hues and colors, and so with sounds, tastes, smells and textures. Can we expect wisdom and God’s revelations in the Scripture to be any less resplendent and multifaceted?
We look forward to when the Church, the Kingdom, is fully established everywhere. We can be, however, so awed, so comforted, so overwhelmed in grace knowing we are seated with Christ right now in the heavenly realm within us, and He and the Father, in the Holy Spirit, is at work in us right now making the enemies His footstool, allowing us to happily gaze at death and ask with the psalmist, “So where is your sting?” Our full submission to the reign of Christ in His Kingdom within us will hasten His work of our sanctification. God said we must be holy for He is holy. O God, holy be your name, in us. May your kingdom come in us as we await its fullness at the end of time.
The “Kingdom of God is within you” as individuals, “in your midst” as a community of faith (“wherever two or three are gathered”), and “God has [already] raised us up with Christ and seated us with him” in that kingdom. We can explain this away or argue Christ wasn’t talking about this happening to us (in us) on earth. Or we can prayerfully take Him at His word (He is the Word) and pray, “May your name be kept holy in us now, may your kingdom come within us now, may your will be done within us now, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Click here for the sequel, More on the Now and Future of the Kingdom
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © March 22, 2003
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