Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Already and not yet

One of the key things for Christians to know about the Kingdom of God is that it is both already among us and not yet as visible and dominant as it will be.

This dichotomy was perhaps never more obvious than when Jesus stood up to read at the synagogue in Nazareth one day. Given the scroll of Isaiah, he opened it and read these words (from Chapter 61:1-2):
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19, RSV)
Jesus then added:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21b, RSV)

Imagine the scene: the Messiah they had awaited for 400 years, standing right there, but most hearers only able to recognize Jesus as their carpenter’s son, asking: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22b, RSV)
Indeed, they found it so hard to accept Jesus as Messiah that they soon tried to toss him off a nearby cliff for blasphemy.

I found myself thinking about this “already and not yet” aspect of the Kingdom of God last Monday evening. I’d had cataract surgery that morning, and still had a bandage over my eye until the next morning. My eye had already been fixed, but I couldn’t know that for sure until the bandage was removed the next morning.

As Christians, we believe Jesus was and is the promised Messiah, and that his Kingdom is already breaking into our world. At the same time, we believe more and better is to come as the Kingdom fully arrives. We trust that the key event in that process, Jesus death and resurrection has already happened, leaving us only to await the removal of the bandages from our eyes so we can see clearly, rather than (as Paul put it) “through a glass, darkly.” (1 Co 13:12a KJV)

A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped by as I was first thinking about this, and helped me choose the passage above to describe how the Kingdom is already and not yet. They are also a useful reminder that everyone who has tried to predict the Kingdom’s full arrival has been wrong. Personally, I’m happy with Jesus’ words on the subject:  “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Mt 24:36 RSV) Suffice it to say we each see God soon enough.