This is part 3 of a 6-part series by Gary Deddo on the important yet often misunderstood, topic of the kingdom of God. For additional articles in this series, click on the corresponding number: 1, 2, 4, 5, 6.
So far in this series, we’ve looked at how Jesus is central to the kingdom of God and how the kingdom is now present. Now we’ll see how this reality is a source of great hope for those who believe. Note Paul’s words of encouragement in the book of Romans:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…. for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:18, 20-21, 24-25).
Later, John wrote this:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
The message regarding the kingdom is essentially one of hope—hope for ourselves and for all of God’s creation. The pain, suffering and horrors that we experience in this present evil age are, thankfully, coming to an end. Evil has no future in the kingdom of God (Revelation 21:4).
Jesus Christ himself is not only the first word but also the last word. Or as we say in the vernacular: he has the last word. Therefore, we need not worry about where things will ultimately end up. We know. We can count on it. God will put everything right, and all those willing to humbly receive it will know it and experience it one day. It is, as we say, “a done deal.” The new heaven and new earth are coming with Jesus Christ as its resurrected Creator, Lord and Savior. God’s original purposes will be consummated. The glory of God will fill the whole earth with his light, life, love and utter goodness.
And we will be vindicated—proven right and not fools—for having counted on and lived by that hope. We can benefit now, in part, by living in the hope of Christ’s victory over every evil and in his power to renew all things. Acting out of hope in the sure coming of the fullness of the kingdom will affect our daily lives, our personal and our social ethics. It will affect how we go through trials, temptations, suffering, and even our being persecuted for our hope in the living God.
Having hope will propel us to want others to join in and gain from that hope, a hope that does not depend on us, but on God’s own working. And so the gospel of Jesus is not only a message about Jesus, but proclaims who he is and all he has accomplished—and that must include the hope in the consummation of his reign, his kingdom, his ultimate purposes coming to fruition. A full gospel must include notice of his sure return and the consummation of his kingdom.
Hope, but not predictability
However, such hope in the coming kingdom does not mean that we can predict the pathway to that sure and complete end. The ways that God now interacts with this age that is still passing away are largely unpredictable. That is because God is far wiser than we are. When and what God chooses to do out of his great compassion, takes into account—well, everything in all time and space. We cannot possibly comprehend that. God could not explain it to us even if he wanted to. But it’s also true that we don’t need any more explanation than what has been demonstrated in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. He remains the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
God continues to act today exactly according to the character revealed in Jesus. One day, in retrospect, we will see this clearly. All that God does will be incorporated into and consistent with what we hear and see in the earthly life of Jesus. We’ll look back and say, “Ah, yes, I now see how, when the Triune God did x, y, and z, that was just like him! It has the fingerprints of Jesus all over it. I should have known. I should have guessed. I should have suspected. That’s just like Jesus; it all leads from death to resurrection and ascension.”
Even in the earthly life of Jesus, what he would do and say was not predictable to those around him. The disciples had a difficult time keeping up with Jesus. Though we have the benefit of hindsight, the reign of Jesus is still being worked out, and so our hindsight doesn’t give us (and we don’t need to have) foresight that yields predictability. We can be sure, however, that God will be true to his nature, to his character as the triune God of holy love.
It also might be good to note that evil is unpredictable, unreliable, capricious, random and arbitrary. That, in part, is what makes evil, evil. So our experience in this age that is passing away will have some of that same character insofar as evil has some continuing effect. But God is counteracting and out-maneuvering the chaos and capricious conniving of evil—making it, in the end, serve his purposes—a sort of “forced labor.” For God allows only that which can be redeemed, for in the end it will come under Christ’s rule and reign with the establishment of a new heaven and earth by his death-defying resurrection power.
Our hope is in the nature and character of God, in his good purposes, not in being able to predict how and when God will act. It is Christ’s own redeeming victory that provides those who believe and hope in the coming kingdom with patience, longsuffering and endurance, all with peace. The end is not up for grabs and is not up to us. It is secured for us in Christ and so, in this present age that is passing away, we need not be anxious about anything. Yes, we will sometimes grieve, but not without hope. Yes, we will sometimes suffer, but with a trusting hope that our sovereign God oversees all, and allows nothing that he cannot fully redeem, and indeed, in principle, has already redeemed in Christ’s person and work. Every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
The kingdom is God’s gift and God’s accomplishment
A reading of the New Testament along with the Old Testament, which leads up to it, makes clear that the kingdom of God is God’s possession, God’s gift, God’s achievement—not ours! Abraham sought a city “whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). It belongs in the first place to the eternal Son of God, incarnate. Jesus identifies it as “my kingdom” (John 18:36). He announces it as his work—his accomplishment. He brings it; he sustains it. When he returns, he will bring the full extent of his saving work to completion. How could it be otherwise, when he is the King and his work gives the kingdom its essence, its meaning, its reality?
The kingdom is God’s achievement and it is God’s gift to mankind. A gift, by its very nature, can only be received—not earned or established by the receiver. So, what is our “part”? Even to put it that way is a bit dangerous. We have no “part” in making it real, in actualizing the kingdom of God. But we do receive it, enter into it and begin to experience some of the benefits of Christ’s reign even now as we live in the hope of its consummation. However, the New Testament never speaks of us “building” or “creating” or “making” the kingdom. Unfortunately, such language has caught on in some Christian circles. Such misunderstanding is disturbingly misleading. The kingdom of God is not our project. We are not helping God, bit by bit, realize his ideal kingdom. We are not somehow actualizing God’s hope—making his dream come true!
While telling people that “God is depending on us” may get people to “do stuff for God,” such motivation tends to be short-lived, and often leads to burnout or disillusionment. But the most damaging and dangerous aspect of representing Christ and his kingdom this way is that it completely inverts God’s relationship with us. God then becomes dependent on us. The hidden assumption is that God cannot, then, be more faithful than we are. We somehow become the main actors in realizing God’s ideal. God simply makes his kingdom possible and then assists us in making it real, as best he can, limited by our efforts. There is no real sovereignty or grace of God in this distorted scheme. It can only devolve into a “works righteousness” orientation that fuels pride or collapses into disappointment or perhaps even abandonment of the Christian faith.
The kingdom of God must never be presented as a human project or achievement, no matter what kind of sincere motivation or ethical conviction might move someone to do so. Such a misguided approach seriously distorts the nature of our relationship with God and misrepresents the extent of Christ’s finished work. For if God cannot be more faithful than we are, then there really is no saving grace. We must not fall back into a form of self-salvation, for in that, there is no hope.