Because Jesus personally embodies God’s kingdom, New Testament writers do not mind saying that those who believe in Christ through the gospel even now participate to some extent in kingdom membership and blessings (Rom. 14:17; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:9). Yet the church as institution is not the kingdom. A simplistic identification of the two always results in self-conceit and triumphalism by the church and disillusionment and unbelief by the world.
The church must continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). We live in hope, awaiting entrance into the kingdom’s eternal fullness (2 Pet. 1:11). Then all that can be shaken will have fallen and only God’s immovable kingdom will remain (Heb. 12:26-29). Then God will swallow up death for all time and wipe away tears for ever (Isaiah 25:7-8; Rev. 21:4). Cleansed of all evil, the universe will resonate with the song “Glory to the Righteous One!” (Isaiah 24:16; 2 Peter 3:14.)
The surprising element in all this, from the standpoint of human expectation, is the gap in time between the Already and the Not Yet — the centuries between the Messiah’s suffering and his visible glory, the interval between the kingdom’s past inauguration and its future consummation.
The earliest apostolic preaching summarized the past, present and future aspects of God’s kingdom program in these words: “The things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled [past]. Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord [present]; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things [future] . . . (Acts 3:18-21). So much has occurred already, but so much also remains. We serve God during this interim between the times, our eyes fixed on Jesus who has come and who is coming, waiting expectantly . . . “until.”