“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28) “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
There is, in a lot of ways, a dual manifestation of the kingdom of God. If we believe scripture, we can’t deny it is here. Jesus himself, and his Apostles said it was here. If we are in Christ, we know it is here (Luke 17:21). But to say it is fully and finally here, in its grandest sense, we also know is not true. The reality is, there is still very much wrong with this world. Christ who has put everything in subjection to him, he has. He has defeated death and hell and Satan at the cross. He has left nothing outside of his control. Yet, at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (Hebrews 2:8)
This seems to correspond with the two comings of Christ himself. He first appeared in obscurity and humility, like a lamb, to suffer and die for the vindication of God’s righteousness and the salvation of his people (Rom. 3:23-26). By this means, said Paul, God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14)
He will yet appear a second time in visible power and greatness, like a lion, to deliver the earth from the curse of sin, glorify his people, and establish his sovereign rule forever in the consummated splendor of the new heavens and new earth. Notice Matthew 13:11, Jesus says to his disciples, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of the heaven." Further down in 16–17, "But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it."
You are seeing the fulfillment of things they longed to see. The kingdom has come, but there is a mystery.
That God proposed to bring in his kingdom is, of course, not the mystery. That the kingdom was to come in power and glory was no secret. The mystery is a new disclosure concerning God’s purpose for the establishment of that kingdom; to be more specific, that the kingdom which is to come, has, in point of fact, already entered into the world to work secretly within and among men. “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." (Mark 4:31-32) The mystery of the kingdom is that the kingdom came in Jesus like a mustard seed and not a political takeover. It will some day be a huge and mighty tree. But the mystery is that the kingdom has come into the world without massive on the spot transformation that most expected. But rather slow steady growth through much tribulation and persecution.
Not everyone is recognizing it. It's not what they expected. The kingdom is here, but the way it's here is a mystery. Yet, it's doing something. The people during Jesus’s time were expecting a mighty military leader, a geo-political force. Someone like David to restore them back to their power. Here they were under the domineering hand of Roman rule and someone comes in Isaiah 53 fashion, like a suffering servant to free them from their sins. And they are like, but we don’t need to be freed from our sins, we are sons of Abraham, we need to be freed from Rome. We need to be restored to the power and glory we once had in the land again. They were expecting a messiah. The messiah did come. But he did not come like the world expected him to at all. And to this day, most of the world doesn’t actually know what its real problem is.
That's what the parables of the kingdom are meant to show us. There is an already but not yet to the kingdom, and this is a mystery. At the in-breaking of the kingdom, for those who have ears to hear, Jesus came with good news. That it is possible to be set free from your sins. “If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed”, says John 8:36 The kingdom is here but it is not here yet fully. We are to pray for that and hope for that. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10) One day he will rule perfectly over his people. For now he rules in their hearts and his kingdom can spread into the hearts of others. But one day he will rule in such a way that there will be no more oppression, no more sin. Listen to Jesus tell of these two stages in his own words. These two stages that prophets of old could only see in part but now Jesus tells us about in whole. His first coming and his second. He tells us about this in his own parabolic form. Do you have ears to hear? Listen:
“As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” (Luke 19:11-12)
Jesus came from a far country to inherit a kingdom prepared for him before the foundation of the world. But he must first go away and return. Per se, there must be some purchasing done by him on his part in the agreement he has made with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are now in the in-between time. Jesus has done much. He has laid down the payment at the cross, and now the Holy Spirit is at work in the world, fulfilling his end of the bargain. Working in the hearts of men. Giving people eyes to see and ears to hear, and hardening and turning those over who don’t, to their sin.
For now, there are wheat, and there are tares (Matt. 13:24-30). For now, there are goats and there are sheep (Matt. 25:31-46) For now there are good fish and bad (Matt. 13:47-50)
But one day Jesus will return and there will be a great separating. One day Jesus will return to acquire his purchased possession. One day Jesus will return, and for those who have been swept into the kingdom, there will be a consummation 10,000 x’s sweeter than what they have ever expected. And for those who were opposed to God’s purposes, there will be judgment.
Good news at the in-breaking, with promise of great reward, and full and final judgment at the consummation.
Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him …. ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” (Luke 19:13-14, 26-27) For now we are in the in-between time. And we have a mission and we must strive. Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) And it leads to two brief applications taken from a sermon by John Piper called “Is the Kingdom Present or Future?’, The applications are so good. The applications are so good, I just thought I would use them and give him the credit. One application is an encouragement, the other a warning.
First, the warning: beware of insisting that God demonstrate dimensions of the kingdom now which he has reserved for the consummation. The kingdom now is limited in its scope and effects. And beware of assuming that all who are swept into the power of God's kingdom are the children of the kingdom. The power of the kingdom gathers many (Matthew 7:22) into its net that will be cast out in the end because they loved healing and not holiness; they loved power and not purity; they loved wonders and not the will of God.
And finally the encouragement: the kingdom really has arrived. Unprecedented fulfillments of God's purposes are in the offing. The King has come. The King has dealt with sin once for all in the sacrifice of himself. The King sits at the Father's right hand and reigns now until all his enemies are under his feet. The King's righteousness is now already ours by faith. The King's Spirit is now already dwelling in us. The King's holiness is now already being produced in us. The King's joy and peace have now already been given to us. The King's victory over Satan is now already ours as we use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The King's power to witness is now already available to us. And the King's gifts—the gifts of his Spirit—are now already available for ministry.
And now with a sober awareness of the mystery of the kingdom—present yet future; fulfilled but not consummated—let us go on as a church to seek the kingdom first—to discover all we yet should be for the salvation of lost sinners and the glory of King Jesus!