The Kingdom of God

 

Donald S.K. Palmer

 


 

So urgent was the necessity for all to hear, and so passionate was the stirring in the heart of Jesus, that he could say during his ministry, 'I must preach . . . the kingdom of God . . . because that is why l was sent' (Luke 4:43). And so he did-as did his followers later (Matt. 10:1-11:1; Mark 6:7-30; Luke 9:1-10a). The evangelists record here at the outset for us four essential elements of the kingdom ministry which we see recurring throughout Jesus' life: they are teaching (Matt. 4:23); proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:39; Luke 4:44) healing diseases and sicknesses (Matt. 4:23-24); exorcism of demons (Mark 1:39). These aspects are significant as signs which testify to the presence of the kingdom.

Jesus did not just teach the fact (though gloriously true) that the kingdom of God was present, but virtually alongside this he taught constantly that the consummation of the Old Testament promise (which is in the process of fulfillment) will occur only in the age to come (the eschaton). This has posed a major theological problem, especially in this century, for biblical scholars: how can the kingdom be future yet also present?

All of the eschatological systems that have sprung up have an element of truth in them. However, a further term has more recently been recognized and I believe it most closely reflects the dualistic structure of Jesus' teaching: 'inaugurated eschatology'. This term implies that the great inbreaking of the kingdom has taken place, yet it does not rule out a further eschatological development in the future. This view allows for the fact that God is now King (having inaugurated his kingdom through the work of his Son) and yet God must become King (that is, through the ultimate consummation of his kingdom). 'Jesus' message is that in his own person and mission, God has invaded human history and has triumphed over evil, even though the final deliverance will occur only at the end of the age.'

Behind Jesus' teaching therefore, there lies a 'dualistic structure'––the present: now; the future: not yet. However, there also exists a recognized 'dualistic terminology'. The prophets had seen a dualistic structure in the 'present order' and 'new order'. It was during the intertestamental period, however, that the distinctly technical terminology arose: 'this age' and 'the age to come'. This is reflected in the following statements used by Jesus in his teachings: 'He shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age . . . and in the age to come, eternal life' (Mark 10:30); 'the sons of this age' (Luke 16:8 NASV); 'the consummation of the age' (Matt. 24:3; 28:20).

Therefore we have seen that there is a twofold emphasis in Jesus' teachings: the now and the not yet of the kingdom. The age of fulfillment is not just near; it is actually present. Nevertheless there still remains an apocalyptic consummation. The key to discerning the solution of this theological tension is to be found in the dynamic meaning of the phrase 'kingdom of God'...

 

...Understood therefore in its dynamic sense, the kingdom of God can be a present reality which has come uniquely in the Christ-event as well as a future more perfect realization of that reign. This twofold aspect is the 'secret of the kingdom' (Matt. 13:11; Micah 4:11; Luke 8:10 RSV). The kingdom has not come in its fullness as was commonly expected in the time of Jesus. It has only come in part. This tension between the 'now' and the 'not yet' is the key to understanding the teaching of Jesus, as well as the later Pauline and Johannine interpretations of the Christ-event...

 


"The Kingdom of God" Donald S.K. Palmer. Evangelical Press, 16/18 High Street, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, AL6 9EZ England. 1986. Pages 42-44, 46.