One of the next books I studied in my quest to learn more about the Kingdom of God was “The Gospel of the Kingdom.” There were some concepts I found especially helpful in this book by George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), an evangelical New Testament scholar and Professor of New Testament exegesis and theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.
The first was the flat nature of Biblical prophecy. To quote Ladd:
“Usually the prophets, as they looked into the future, spoke of coming events without attempting to give the temporal sequence of the several stages of the accomplishment of God’s purpose. Not only is the distant future regarded as a single although complex event but the intermediate future and the distant future are described as though they constituted a single act of God.” (page 36)
An example would be the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus. Quite clearly there are two different prophetic views concerning the Messiah. There is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and then there is the triumphant King of much of the rest of the Old Testament. The Jews missed Jesus as the Messiah because they were looking for the triumphant King. With the benefit we have of time, we know that Jesus has already come as suffering servant and will return to reign in victory in the future.
Now apply this concept to the apparently conflicting Biblical concepts about the Kingdom. Sometimes the Kingdom is portrayed as a present reality, at other times it is our inheritance in the future. The Jew’s were expecting a literal return of the glory of David’s kingdom. Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. Some parables seem to indicate that the Kingdom comes gradually. Others passages imply a sudden and glorious event.
Eldon Ladd describes two ages that are talked about in the Scriptures—this present age and the age to come. For example, in Ephesians 1:21, Paul describes Christ as being “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” As you investigate this idea further, you find that these two ages are separated by the return of Jesus.
The apparent conflicts about the Kingdom can be resolved by looking at whether we are referring to the Kingdom in this age or the age to come.
Again quoting Ladd:
“This is the mystery of the Kingdom, the truth which God now discloses for the first time in redemptive history. God’s Kingdom is to work among men in two different stages. The Kingdom is yet to come in the form prophesied by Daniel when every human sovereignty will be displaced by God’s sovereignty. The world will yet behold the coming of God’s Kingdom with power. But the mystery, the new revelation, is that this very Kingdom of God has now come to work among men but in an utterly unexpected way. It is not now destroying human rule; it is not now abolishing sin from the earth… It has come quietly, unobtrusively, secretly. It can work among men and never be recognized by the crowds. In the spiritual realm, the Kingdom now offers to men the blessings of God’s rule, delivering them from the power of Satan and sin. The Kingdom of God is an offer, a gift which may be accepted or rejected. The Kingdom is now here with persuasion rather than with power.” (page 55)