I’ll always remember two of the most incredible moments of my life. The days that my wife and I discovered she was pregnant with our two boys were breath-taking experiences. With our firstborn, I was sitting in the bedroom of our first apartment; and with our second-born, I was sitting in the master bedroom of our current house.
In both instances, my wife decided to sneak away into the bathroom to take a pregnancy test without telling me. And in both instances she exited the bathroom to surprise me with that infamous blue plus-sign. Tears of joy flowed, and the same life-altering thought that struck me the first time—”Wow, I’m a father!”—also struck me the second time, “Wow, I’m a father … again!”
Indeed, in those very moments, though there were still many months of pregnancy and growth ahead of us, I was already a father. And although my newborn sons were yet to be seen in their fullness, the amazing process of human life and fatherhood had already been inaugurated.
These joyous events gave way to a newfound focus in our lives. For both pregnancies, the next nine months were shaped by preparation and excitement as we waited for our beautiful baby boys to be revealed. All other concerns took a backseat as our priorities naturally shifted.
As I think back on these precious memories, I cannot help but find them analogous to the Gospel age we presently live in. The age of the Great Commission must be shaped by preparation and excitement for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he comes in power and glory to consummate all things.
But how can the church effectively keep such laser-like focus?
One way is by recognizing that a truly biblical eschatology (the doctrine of last things) is not primarily concerned with a short period of time at the end of this age. Rather, the biblical writers, and indeed Jesus himself, repeatedly and consistently taught an inaugurated eschatology (sometimes called “the already and the not yet”). So, what does this have to do with discipleship and the Great Commission?
Here are three reasons inaugurated eschatology empowers missional living:
#1 – JESUS BROUGHT THE KINGDOM.
One view that has gained popularity in America over the past century says that Christ’s kingdom is distinctly future.
While many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ hold such a view, this perspective sadly overlooks the present reality and power of the kingdom. With brevity, the opening chapter of Mark portrays Jesus replaying the early journey of Israel by first passing through the waters of baptism (as the Israelites passed through the waters in the Exodus) and then by wandering in the wilderness for forty days (as the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years).
However, unlike the Israelites, Jesus overcame Satan’s temptation perfectly, proving himself to be the long-awaited king. On the heels of these events, Jesus declared, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). In the words of Herman Ridderbos, “In Jesus’ person and coming, the kingdom has become a present reality.”
Although not yet here in its consummate form, these inaugural events show that Christ’s kingdom has indeed already broken into this world. This means that the Great Commission is not a call to invite people into a future kingdom, as if the church is a group of party planners for an upcoming event that hasn’t started yet.
Rather, we are ambassadors sent to proclaim a present worldwide kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20) whose king is already reigning (Eph. 1:20-21). And we are to make disciples in every nation who will submit to the lordship of Jesus by the grace of God, through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
#2 – JESUS BOUND THE STRONGMAN.
Among the miracles Jesus repeatedly performed was casting out demons. Matthew depicts such an occasion, in which the Pharisees accuse him of working through the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. In response, Jesus says:
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. – Matthew 12:25-29
Additionally, when Jesus sent out the 72 in Luke 10, he instructed them to heal the sick and tell them that,
The kingdom of God has come near to you. When they returned to Jesus they were ecstatic, and said to him: Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. – Luke 10:17-19
What empowering words for us during this present Gospel age! God used to allow “all the nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16), but at Christ’s first advent ̶ in the breaking through of his kingdom and in the cataclysmic event of the cross ̶ Jesus restrained Satan from deceiving the nations any longer (Rev. 20:1-3), disarmed the evil powers at work (Col. 2:15), and commissioned his saints to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), because “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him]” (Matt. 28:18).
There is literally nothing that Satan can do to stop the Great Commission from being accomplished, and nothing he can do to stop Jesus from building his church (Matt. 16:18)!
According to Geerhardus Vos,
“The kingdom of God is a kingdom of conquest … The foes [Jesus] thought of as about to be conquered were Satan, sin, and deat h… In the dislodgment of Satan, the kingdom of God comes and exerts its inherent power of conquest … The powers which will revolutionize heaven and earth are already in motion. While with reference to Satan and his kingdom this power is a disruptive and subduing force, it is towards the members of [Christ’s] kingdom a life-giving and life-liberating activity.”
True enough (as I once heard a preacher point out), just as Al Capone still ran the streets of Chicago while in prison, Satan is still incredibly active and powerful in this present evil age, “prowl[ing] around like a lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But his power has been severely curtailed for the sake of the growth of the Gospel and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom on earth.
The lion of this world is on a leash because the Lion of Judah has conquered him! And as new covenant saints we’ve been empowered to “resist him” (1 Peter 5:9) by the resurrection power that raised Christ bodily and raised us spiritually, “seat[ing] us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Even if we are martyred on our mission, the Gospel will continue to grow, Christ’s kingdom will continue to expand worldwide, and we will enter into truer life than we’ve ever known–as we begin our next phase of reigning with Christ in glory (Rev. 20:4) until he finally restores and unites all things in himself (Eph. 1:10).
#3 – JESUS IS BRINGING THE ESCHATON BY MEANS OF GOSPEL GROWTH.
In the book of Acts, Luke writes to Theophilus that when the resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples, he spent forty days with them, “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). At the end of his time with them, the disciples asked him a question, which, like so many times before, showed their short-sightedness. They asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
Embedded in their question is also a locational assumption; namely, that the consummate kingdom would be physically located in Israel, even though Jesus had previously said that the kingdom of God will not be seen in a physical place (Luke 17:20-21), and that his heirs to the kingdom would inherit the whole world, not merely Israel (Matt. 5:5).
Thus, Jesus answers both their question (regarding timing) and their assumption (regarding location):
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8
Jesus didn’t want his disciples to concern themselves with timing, and he wanted them to see that the means by which God’s kingdom will come in its fullness is through the Spirit-empowered growth of the Gospel.
As Tim Keller points out,
“In Acts 1:6–8, Jesus repairs their faulty vision of what he is going to do in the world. They were looking for a political campaign, and he tells them about the nature of the kingdom, which will spread through his disciples as they become his witnesses and ambassadors. The vision is that through our words we will bring people under the kingship of Christ, which will heal and repair all things.”
As the gospel goes forth, the kingdom will expand through all the earth, and the Great Commission will one day be fulfilled. This is the mission to which we’ve been called. As we faithfully pursue missional living and go forth to make disciples of all nations, we are given a gift: the opportunity to be part of the restoration of all things in Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah in his letter to the Romans by saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news” (Rom .10:15). Later he adds, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20).
What a glorious task! What a worthy endeavor! What an empowering promise!
Imagine if all Christians in all places spoke these truths to themselves on a daily basis. How might our decisions look different if we lived as though a present-day kingdom has power in the now, as well as the not yet? How might our missions be emboldened if we truly believed that the enemy has been restrained? How accelerated would our evangelism become if we grabbed hold of the fact that gospel growth is the vehicle en route to the end of sin and death?
Just as the inauguration of human life and parenthood at the moment of conception lead to a newfound focus and a shift in priorities until the birth of a beautiful new baby, inaugurated eschatology and all its implications should empower the church for missional living and discipleship as we await the second coming of Christ.
Indeed, all of creation is groaning with birth pains in eager anticipation of the final appearing of Jesus, when we can fully and finally proclaim that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).