Friday, February 24, 2006

The "Already," the "Not Yet," and the Transformation of Culture

John the Baptist promised that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). But grandiose predictions such as this tend to suffer when the supposed "King" displays an appalling lack of ambition, and then, to top it off, gets executed. It's safe to say that at this point the whole "kingdom venture" was called into question (Matt. 11:1-19). So what's the deal, is the kingdom here or not?

It is here that the phrases "already" and "not yet" must be introduced into the discussion. In some sense the kingdom has been inaugurated, but in another, the promise is still outstanding. The question for us is, "Where is the kingdom's power, and what does it look like?"

Or to stay on topic: Where is the "transformation" of culture that we desire?

Well, let's look to Christ and see if we can answer these questions. Did Jesus receive his promised crown, or didn't he? According to the biblical testimony, the answer is yes (John 12:13; 18:36; Rom. 1:4; I Tim. 1:17). But the Scripture is also quite clear that our Lord's kingdom is not earthly but heavenly (John 18:36). Throughout his earthly ministry he was subject to all of the limitations of life in this age: He had a physical body, he endured temptation, and he suffered in the flesh.

Here's the rub: As followers of Jesus, we have to endure the same things he endured.

This means that, like Jesus our Forerunner, we must patiently wait for the resurrection and manifestation of the kingdom's fullness and power (Rev. 1:9). Like Jesus, we must be content "for a litle while... to suffer various trials" (I Pet. 1:6). Like Jesus, we must be sown in weakness before we are raised in power (I Cor. 15:43).

In a word, we must carry our crosses, just as Jesus carried his.

The kingdom's power is hidden in this age, being glimpsed by such foolish means as the preached Word, the waters of baptism, the bread and the cup, and the indwelling Spirit whose presense secures our final glorification.

This means that it will not be until the day when "the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" that our ultimate hope will be realized (II Pet. 3:12-13; Rev. 11:15).

As the Jewish theocracy foreshadowed, the two kingdoms of this present age will become one in the age to come, and righteousness will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.

This is a properly-realized, amillennial eschatology. This is true transformationism. And this is something worth waiting for.