In Matt. 6, Jesus instructed his disciples (and, through them, us, as well) to pray that his kingdom would come. Jesus is our king; he has a kingdom, but the kingdom is in flux. In one way, it has come, but in another, it has not. His rule and reign have been long established, yet we know so little of what this means.
I used to dismiss the paradox of the kingdom by thinking that it was all in the future. Whatever it was that God was planning had something to do with the Jewish nation and something called the "millennium." But that never felt quite right. Jesus seemed to be teaching his followers that the kingdom is all encompassing -- it is "within you," it is coming, it is "not of this world," it "fills the whole earth."
Generally defined, the kingdom of God denotes the rule and reign of Christ over all things. His rule is his authority; what keeps us on the straight and narrow, as it were. It provides our guidelines for living, writes the laws of nature, and speaks through the voice of natural law. The reign of Christ is the overall atmosphere of leadership and relationship that we find when we are (or will be) brought into the reality of the kingdom. It is the spirit of living a fulfilled life in peace, holiness and justice. As Christians, aka kingdom-citizens, we have been called to experience the governance of God in three ways: the kingdom within, the kingdom that comes, and the kingdom that will be.
First, the kingdom within is our experience of salvation from sin that comes by grace through faith in Christ. Jesus, when pressed by the Pharisees to explain the nature of his kingdom, said, "...the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21) He told Nicodemus one-on-one that "...no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3) This kingdom is necessitated by need, founded on faith and forged by a love so powerful that it nailed Christ to the cross, only to resurrect him from the grave. When we, as aliens, are given access into this inner kingdom, we receive a birth certificate sealed in blood, our citizenship papers, which will one day grant us entrance into heaven itself. It all begins in the heart. It starts now in our physical being, where our eternal soul abides. The kingdom within is the territory of pilgrimage, for all is not what it shall be, so we must walk by faith, overcoming obstacles as we go. In Eph.3:16 and 17,Paul prayed that the Spirit of God would strengthen us in our "inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Jesus must establish his rule and reign in our hearts, and we must allow him to do what is best for us.
Second, the kingdom that comes is the life and love of God being lived out in the world through the church. Jesus said that as the church is being built as his kingdom in the world, the gates of hell, that kingdom of darkness and evil, will not overcome it. There may be war between Christ's righteous kingdom and the forces of sin, but the church will go out into the world in every age and in every place as conquerors. Jesus said, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come." (Matt. 24:14) The first priority of the church is to preach the message of salvation, to bring the kingdom of God into individual lives. Next, believers must be instructed in the fundamentals and practice of the faith. And the church must stand for truth against all the evil forces that are trying to tear it down. In many ways, the activities of the church pursue an unseen end -- as the Christmas carol reminds us: "for hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men." But she is called to be faithful to Christ in every dark hour. The deeds of justice and righteousness done here will remain forever.
Finally, the kingdom that will be is the restoration of all things in Christ. We commonly think that this kingdom will be in heaven or just heaven itself. But it is far more than that. It is what will be when Christ makes everything new, and this includes all energy, matter, time, space, our physical bodies, as well as what is "now" heaven. All things will be united or fused into one great, eternal reality. This reality will be, of course, quite different from the reality we now experience, in either the physical or the spiritual sense. It will be greater, bigger, truer and far more beautiful than anything we can ever know or experience in this life, for it will find its source in the infinite love of God.
The apostle John wrote, "...now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1John 3:2) He perfectly captures the "now and not yet" tension inherent in the kingdom of God. Even though we have received the love of God in all its fullness, we are not fit to enter heaven's door. We must be remade in order to enter in. And that fact gives us our greatest clue as to what heaven will be like. It is a never-ending remaking, restoration and redemption of all things, and when the kingdom finally comes, we will be called by God to participate in that great work of reconciliation. We will be given, one by one, all of the incomplete stories of this life, and with Jesus by our side, we will write the happy endings, as the kingdom, forever, comes.