After John was put into prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near.”
— Mark 1:14-15
John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. This verse marks a shift in the ages. The old age, the age of anticipation, when the prophets declared that there would come a day when God would establish his kingdom and justice would run down like water, righteousness like a mighty stream. When the ruler of all Creation would finally, fully intervene and wipe every tear, right every wrong. John was the last of these mighty prophets from the old age, the age of anticipation. He has been locked up in prison and Jesus has begun his ministry, ushering in a new age with him, the era of God’s victory, the establishment of God’s kingdom, when God’s people would no longer have to say “hold on, God is coming” but could instead say, “I will not be afraid. God is here.”
But there is a strange tension in this declaration of Jesus.
“The time has come” he says.
“The kingdom of God is near.”
Is it here? Or is it just closer than it was?
There is a tension in the tenses of this declaration in all the gospel accounts. And through the centuries followers of Jesus have been tempted to break the tension in one way or the other — to resolve that either God’s kingdom is a paradise we go to when we die, or that God’s kingdom is available, all the time, right now - the only barrier is the amount of faith we can muster up when we pray.
We in the Vineyard believe we are invited to resist the urge to break the tension, and instead live in it, in a living, breathing, active conversation with the Spirit of God. The theology behind the tension has been called the Now and the Not Yet. We are encouraged to reach for the now - the healing power of God’s kingdom, but also to acknowledge the not yet — the reality that sometimes prayers seemingly go unanswered, that the pain in this world is real and many times not easily resolved. But to acknowledge suffering with an awareness that God is present, even in the pain, as we continue to reach for God’s Spirit.
Because God’s kingdom is not a place. It’s a YES.