John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
The kingdom of God is probably the most important theme in the New Testament and arguably the least understood. If I had to sum up the kingdom in only one sentence, here is how I would do it:
The reign of God came to earth in the person of Jesus and has continued to grow and expand as the Spirit of God works in our hearts to make dead men live again, but the kingdom won’t fully arrive until Jesus returns to reign on the earth–in the flesh–to see both his creatures and creation perfected and his will done on earth as it is in heaven.
In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come. Through Jesus, the kingdom of God is coming still. This is what Christians mean when we talk about the already/not yet. It means that we’ve already begun to see the kingdom of God coming to earth: first in Jesus, then in the disciples, and now in the church.
But this is a spiritual kingdom. And we must have spiritual eyes to see it. This is what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
For a long time I thought that meant that unless you are a Christian, you will not go to heaven. But that isn’t really what Jesus is saying. He is telling Nicodemus that unless you have been made alive by the Spirit–unless you’ve experienced the new birth–you can’t even see what God is doing in the world. If your heart is dead because of sin, you can’t see the work of the Spirit. You can’t discern the way that God is moving in his people.
This is what Jesus’ earthly ministry was all about: telling us that the kingdom was now here and showing us what it is like.
The fruits of the Spirit are not just character traits. They are firstfruits. They are signs of the life that is to come. People marked by peace, patience, joy, kindness, forbearance, mercy, love, self-control, holiness, and righteousness, those are kingdom people. Such words describe the kind of people that will experience the fulness of the kingdom when Jesus returns. No one will perfectly exemplify any of these things in this life, but as the Spirit works in our hearts, we are conformed into the image of Christ and become more like the kingdom people are meant to be.
There is a reason that Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Because in a very real sense, his kingdom is nothing like this world. His kingdom is perfect; our world is fallen. His kingdom is spiritual; our world is carnal. But this doesn’t mean that our future looks like some kind of ethereal, ghost-like state. No. Not even close. Instead, God’s plan from the beginning was that his spiritual kingdom would one day be united to his physical creation. And this is described beautifully in one of the last scenes in the Bible.
Revelation 21 captures the final portion of the vision Jesus gave to John. In that passage, we see the union of heaven and earth–the spiritual kingdom in all its fulness meeting a renewed physical creation. And not only is this a beautiful scene, but it overflows with meaning. Because we know that are future is bound up with the coming of God’s kingdom, we know that is where our hope lies. All of the pain and brokenness of this life, will one day pass away. For every person whose heart is right now trusting in Jesus to save them, the coming of God’s kingdom is their certain hope. And it changes everything.
John came announcing that the kingdom of God it at hand. It is. The kingdom is here, and still on its way. One day, it will be fully here. One day, we will witness the union of heaven and earth, and will live with Jesus in this new creation–FOREVER. And we will see Jesus, in the flesh, sitting on his throne, reigning over his perfect kingdom.
So when we join John the Baptist in announcing the kingdom’s arrival, this is what we mean.