The King has come! But as we pointed out in the last post, there is neither the command to withdraw from the world, nor the command to pick up a sword and fight. Jesus makes clear that the Kingdom, though already inaugurated, must first commence spiritually before the final return of Jesus–the ushering in of that eternal theocracy (a time where His enemies are finally banished, and kingdom citizens will occupy the new creation). But once again, during this current stage of spiritual commencement we are not a theocracy, but instead a pilgrim people who wait for our land. Once again, we need to hear these vital words from our King:
. . . If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. (John 18:36, ESV)
To speak about this current stage of Kingdom-commencement, then, is to think about the mission of the church. And the first thing to understand is that we will make a total mess of things if we get don’t this right. Nay, we have made a mess already. Even the quickest survey of church history from the time of Christendom through the Reformation will show this. How far could we possibly stray from the Master’s commission? The medieval crusades, as but one illustration of this, should send shivers down our spine.
How could those events ever have happened? The answer is this: they confused a time of theocracy with a time of pilgrimage. As Michael Horton says:
[during this period] “In both the medieval Christian and Muslim versions, the basic assumption is the same . . . the kingdom of God is a geopolitical empire, a revival of the old-covenant theocracy . . . It is interesting to look through their calls to war . . . they both invoke Passages from Joshua for “holy war”.
Once again, if we get this theology wrong, we make a mess of mission – history plays out as the plumb-line of theology. So, as we move forward in our survey of the New Testament, I want to reinforce the correct theology of the epistles, showing that the apostles offer a consistent message on the issue. In anticipation of this, however, here’s the big idea stated up-front:
Christ is Lord over both the kingdom of grace and the kingdoms of this age, but in saving grace (through Word and sacrament) and in common grace (through government and culture). The church is neither to rule over secular kingdoms nor to separate from them, but to live in Babylon in the active expectation of Christ’s return. (Horton)