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
NOT YET = NOT ALREADY
(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.”
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
P.S. Ever noticed that the kingdom is only mentioned in a mere 3 verses in the Gospel of John?