When Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God he tells his followers two things. He teaches about the kingdom’s character, and he speaks of the kingdom’s presence. In fact, the arrival of the kingdom is one of his most consistent declarations. “The time has come; the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). He sends the twelve apostles to spread the word that “the kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 10:7), and he teaches us to pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven (Luke 11:2). Jesus taught that the kingdom is here and now. Even his actions, the miracles in particular, demonstrate that the kingdom is breaking into the present.
The arrival of the kingdom is at the heart of the Gospel. This is the good news. The kingdom has arrived. Our emphasis on conversion subtly communicates that the kingdom is unavailable until we die, but Jesus taught that the kingdom is active and accessible now. It is true that we wait in hope to experience the full realization of the kingdom, but it is not true that it is wholly absent from our current experiences.
We do wait for the full manifestation of the kingdom in the future, but that does not mean the kingdom is wholly absent here and now. The kingdom is available but not yet in its fullness. Many refer to the kingdom as “already, but not yet.”
We wait in hopeful anticipation for the full realization of the kingdom, a day when evil will be defeated, when there will be no more tears, no more death, no more pain. (Revelation 21:4) But there is also a present reality to the kingdom. The presence of God dwells and works within us so that we might take on the character of Christ, and with Christ’s character we are able to live and act according to God’s will. And isn’t that the kingdom, the place where God’s will is done?
Unfortunately the presence of the kingdom is neglected far too often, and this matter is critical. What we believe about the kingdom, determines how we approach life. If we define the Gospel as what one must do to be received into heaven, there is no basis for discipleship. If, on the other hand, we understand that the heart of the gospel is God’s kingdom breaking into the present, discipleship becomes the means of cultivating the kingdom’s presence in our lives and in the world. Conversion is not the end, but a beginning, the birth into a new life. Acts of love, like caring for the poor and oppressed, become the natural overflow of the transformed life in the kingdom. If we don’t get this, we assume eternal life begins after death and salvation has no impact on our everyday lives.
The kingdom of God is present and available now, this moment. Not when you get everything together, not when you die and go to heaven, but now, today. The purpose of Christianity, the reason Jesus came, is NOT the puffy white clouds, winged babies with harps idea of heaven that we tend to have today. The goal of Christianity, your goal if you call yourself a Christian, is to participate in the abundant life of the kingdom of God today.