Friday, June 20, 2014

The Dimensions of the Kingdom of God

The phrase "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" is a difficult one to define. This is because the Bible never quite provides a definition, certainly not a comprehensive one, and because the phrase is multivalent. So one needs to see how the terminology is used in differing contexts to build up an understanding of this thick theological phraseology. And since it is such an important phrase and reality—indeed one might argue that it is the supreme reality of time and eternity—we ought to labor to understand it, even if the Bible never gives a definition of it, but rather speaks of it somewhat enigmatically and allusively.

I want to submit, however difficult it is to define "the kingdom of God," that the phraseology, considered comprehensively, has already and not-yet aspects that both work out in two different, even if overlapping, dimensions. Those two dimensions have to do with God's saving reign in the church and—no less importantly, yet less frequently acknowledged—with God's reign over the world generally. For the first dimension, see texts like Rom. 14:17, or Col. 1:13. For the second, see, for example, Matt. 28:18.

Now that reign of God—both in the church and in the world generally—is mediated through the risen King Jesus in the present age. In the one dimension, that of the church, there is an already-and-not-yet element to it. The church is transformed, and so God's reign in grace is manifested there wondrously, though without full transformation. Full transformation of God's people awaits Jesus' return and the eschaton. Likewise, in the other dimension, that of God's rule through Christ over the whole world, there is also only partial transformation now. Full transformation of the world generally also awaits the eschaton when the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

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