The Great Mistake: Thinking Christ’s Kingdom is Here Now

I run into this often, and I find it really distorts our ability to read the Bible accurately.

Innocently, it is found in the phrase ‘already / not yet’… propagated, I’m sure, from Ladd’s The Presence of the Future.  Often we do this sort of thing for rhetorical reasons, and many do it to promote unity.  I mean, honestly, aren’t we all working together for ‘the kingdom’?  Isn’t it all about kingdom work?

I suppose the answer is ‘yes’; except that none of us seem to know what we mean be the word itself.

First, a little logic.  In Back to Faith (p. 15) I said,

Logic does not exceed the plain statements of Scripture;
however, the Scriptures cannot violate logic. The most
foundational principle in logic is the law of non-contradiction (also
called the law of contradiction).

Carl Henry underscores the importance of the law of non-contradiction:
Divine revelation involves intelligible sequences of information, not an incoherent and self-contradictory
chaos. The fact is that whatever violates the law of contradiction cannot be considered
revelation. The truth of revelation is not a series of unrelated and disconnected propositions like ‘Today I
love my wife.’ ‘The astronauts have returned.’ ‘The salmon are running.’ The God of biblical revelation
is the God of reason, not Ultimate Irrationality; all He does is rational.

Basically something cannot be both true and not true, A and -A, exist and not exist. The reason for this mention of the law of non-contradiction is that it has never applied so well as to the ‘already / not yet’.  The idea is that the kingdom is literally here in some sense, but is yet future in another sense.  Of course, the idea of ‘some sense’ has faded away.  Nowadays we say the kingdom is already and not yet as thought it is as well established as the fact that 1,006,201 angels can sit on the head of a pin (isn’t that right?).

So here’s the lesson in logic:

Both ALREADY and NOT YET are true


(substitute equivalent terms)

both ALREADY and NOT ALREADY are true

In other words, people are saying that the kingdom is Already / Not Already.  Now, no one would say it  out in the open this way…but, in effect, it’s exactly what they’re saying!

The issue is equivocation; different meanings of ‘kingdom’ are in play at first, but then they are treated the same.

The verse most commonly quoted is

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20b-21 NIV

Notice the rest of the verse in context,

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21 NIV

It is the Pharisees Christ is telling ‘the kingdom of God is within you’— who actually believes that the Pharisees possessed (or even belonged to) the kingdom?  Pretty much no one.

Most translations offer it correctly,

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” ESV (Lk 17:20–21)

There in the presence of the King is the kingdom.  In the south we’d say, “If it were a snake it would’ve bit you!”

The kingdom is not within us, we are in it…or will be when it comes.

We belong to the kingdom as children of God, but we are currently aliens (Hebrews 13:14) and serve as ambassadors (2 Cor 5).  We are seeking to populate the kingdom on behalf of the coming king!  The kingdom simply is not here right now.  The earth is ruled by the Prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) who owns the kingdoms of this world (see Luke 4:5).

Our King is coming.

So, finally, there is one last argument often mentioned.  Some define the kingdom as wherever the king rules (so if He rules in your heart, then the kingdom is there).  This seems largely made up and doesn’t match the nature of kings or kingdoms (which actually often have rebellion in them).  The support is primarily from the Lord’s prayer,

10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.  (Mt 6:10)

Notice the sequence is FIRST the kingdom comes, and SECOND His will is done.  The already/not yet advocates misread this passage as saying,

Your will be done,
your kingdom come
on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matt 6:10) ESV

HUH?  In fact, if it is already here, then why pray for the kingdom to come at all?

It really is simple.  The kingdom is not here now…and when you impose that assumption on a verse you are reading all will go awry.  The kingdom is coming and you’ve been sent ahead to proclaim it and gather it’s membership and well represent the king.

Here are a couple of final suggestions—

1.  At least ask each time you read a verse, please decide if it is referring to the future kingdom or a present one.

2.  Try reading Matthew with ‘future’ placed before ‘kingdom’…WOW will that particular book of the Bible make sense!

Just to nail it down, here are two irrefutable passages about the future of the kingdom:

3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Ascension
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:3–7) ESV

21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:21–22) ESV

God bless,

Fred Lybrand

P.S.  Ever noticed that the kingdom is only mentioned in a mere 3 verses in the Gospel of John?

9 thoughts on “The Great Mistake: Thinking Christ’s Kingdom is Here Now”

  1. Great timing, this is an issue I am trying to sort out. Obviously the gospels present the kingdom as a future event much of the time. However, are there some instances of the kingdom which are mentioned that refer to another type of kingdom? One that we have access to now?

    I heard someone recently define the kingdom as “the effective range of God’s will.” When we are being obedient and walking with God, we are participating in His kingdom. Not the literal future millenial kingdom, but a present kingdom.

    I’m trying to see if both of these ideas are compatible with each other or if this is a fallacy.



    1. Hey, glad the timing is good!

      The generic definition about ‘God’s will’ is simply made up. I say that because it didn’t arise out of study so much as need.

      By that definition The Universe = God’s Kingdom. It is the sort of thing that sounds good, but it is also the kind of thing that turns out to be useless. You know, where exactly does God not rule? If He doesn’t rule in your heart then are you not in the kingdom (implications for the gospel of grace?)?

      We use a definition from one spot and apply it everywhere. In theology they sometimes refer to this as an illegitimate totality transfer (one definition applied to every occurrence).

      The future kingdom is easily a treasure in a field…something of value to seek and possess. The point is it’s value.

      Matt 6:33…Seek first His kingdom, etc… Why would anyone seek what they already have? Seek first salvation? Seek first forgiveness? Seek first being adopted into the family of God?

      This way of thinking is fundamentally the Roman Catholic idea of saved-but-keep-working-to-be-finally-saved (kind of an already / not yet).



  2. Good job, Fred. However, as you know, they argue from a lot of other passages as well (Mt. 13) and the “finger of God,” etc. But the already/not idea yet a bit too sophisticated for a Galilean fisherman in the first century.

  3. Jody,

    Yes…you are right. They do argue from a lot of places (and often we do too), but it doesn’t change the fact that they are really equivocating without being clear on their terms. We do it when we say salvation is past, present, and future. Well, it preaches, but it comes close to misleading at times! 🙂

    Broadly they call it the the ‘tension’ of the already / not yet; but, again, this is flawed.

    If they called it the tension of the “now” and the “then”…or…the tension of the “present” and the “future”, then things would clear up.

    In what sense is the kingdom present? In what sense is the kingdom future? Are they really the same kingdoms? These questions lead one to make a clear distinction; that we are talking about different (though related) things.

    Of course, your point is great! Where these guys (or even God) really thinking about the sophistication of the nuance of an ‘already / not already’?


  4. So if there is a present kingdom in some sense, then the problem would actually not be seeing the kingdom as present tense, but understanding which instances are referring to present And which are referring to future. Matthew 13 was one passage I almost brought up in my original post. The treasure in the field: is the treasure referring to the knowledge of a future millenial kingdom, and that is what is supposed to fill us with joy?

    1. Oops! I responded to some of this in the previous post of yours.

      I do think that knowing about and seeking the future kingdom is both a joy and an organizing principle for our lives.

      It parallels the power of Hebrews 13:14 where we understand our position as aliens here…having a citizenship in heaven. This was the orientation of those in the ‘hall of faith’ as well…

      …and, what is it worth? I know one thing is for sure— I am not suffering under the fears of Obamacare!



      P.S. The word present presence can be used in different senses too. I believe the kingdom is present but not present :-)… but I’m not equivocation since I mean different things.

      The UK is present (exists in time concurrent with this moment)
      The UK is not present (it isn’t here in the hill country of Texas)

      There is (now) a kingdom (Col 3:13)
      That kingdom is not here on earth

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