A Mystery Made Sense of Me

A Mystery Made Sense of Me

I eventually wrote a short book to help ordinary Christians understand the exciting and frustrating tension of being simultaneously restless and patient for the future new creation because of our assurance that it is superbly good and securely ours. In my teaching of seminary students, inaugurated eschatology has been a repeated theme. Throughout fourteen years of pastoral ministry, I’ve aimed to help the people of my church understand the story line of the Bible, the cosmic significance of Christ’s work, and the utterly practical implications of a future new creation that’s ours because of what Christ has already accomplished for us.

The Kingdom has come, but society is not uprooted. This is the mystery of the Kingdom.

I was converted at a young age and grew up in church. I heard expositional preaching and cut my teeth on Sunday School flannelgraphs, Vacation Bible School, and “Sword Drills” at Christian summer camp. At the encouragement of my grandmother, I read the Bible cover to cover as a teen. Later, I attended a Christian college, where I minored in Bible. So, by the time I hit my twenties, I knew lots of verses, could give you summaries of Bible books, and was very familiar with the message of salvation.

But never had I heard anything quite like what I encountered in a particular paragraph I read while preparing for ministry.

When Jesus Became Scandalous

I don’t remember how I came to be reading George Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament, and I never read the entire volume, but these sentences (and the chapter of which they’re a part, “The Mystery of the Kingdom”) fired my imagination and permanently altered my understanding of God, the Bible, history, and my own life:

The coming of the Kingdom, as predicted in the Old Testament and in Jewish apocalyptic literature, would bring about the end of the age and inaugurate the Age to Come, disrupting human society by the destruction of the unrighteous. Jesus affirms that in the midst of the present age, while society continues with its intermixture of the good and the bad, before the coming of the Son of Man and the glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of God, the powers of that future age have entered into the world to create “sons of the kingdom,” those who enjoy its power and blessings. The Kingdom has come, but society is not uprooted. This is the mystery of the Kingdom. (94)

Until that moment in my life, I had read the Bible as a more or less static record of God’s revealed truth. I knew many important biblical facts, but had little sense of a larger story line, of a dynamically unfolding plan, of a developing work of salvation through time. Ladd began to put those pieces together, to excite me with a sense of the dynamism and progress of God’s redemptive work.

Before reading that paragraph, I hadn’t ever considered the ways in which Jesus’s ministry might be surprising or scandalous. Sure, it was extraordinary that he performed miracles and challenged the religious leaders. But having grown up hearing about those miracles and confrontations, they were familiar to me. Ladd opened my eyes to the mystery of the kingdom.

Through Ladd’s eyes, I now saw Jesus’s declaration that the kingdom of God had already come (but was not fully consummated) as the scandalous surprise it would have been to Jesus’s contemporaries. To liken the mighty end-time kingdom of God to a tiny, hidden mustard seed? Unthinkable! I had never truly understood the Matthew 13 parables of the dragnet, the mustard seed, or the leaven. Ladd’s teaching of the already–not yet kingdom unlocked them for me. Now 23 years later, I can still remember the excitement and satisfaction of awakened understanding.

Far Bigger Than Me

More than that, the teaching of the inaugurated-but-not-consummated kingdom helped me appreciate more fully the truly epoch-making significance of Jesus’s first coming. His life, death, and resurrection had inaugurated nothing less than a new age.

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