Easter and the resurrection of Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both now, and not yet. How does this work?
The resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new era in the larger scope of human history. Jews during Jesus’s time believed that human history was divided into two parts: (1) the age of the flesh, and (2) the age of the spirit. The age of the fleshed is marked by the reign of sin in the world. “Flesh”, in this sense means “bent towards sinning” (in theology, we call this the “sin nature”). This means that during the age of the flesh, people satiate sinful desires. When “in the flesh” people do not resist or give into self-destructive desires that fly in the face of the ethics of God (see Romans 8). During this age, even though God says adultery is bad, people give into the desire to commit adultery simply because it feels good. During the age of the flesh, destructive sin runs amuck in the world. Rebellion and chaos.
The age of the spirit is just the opposite of the age of the flesh. During the age of the spirit, not only do people not give into their bent towards sinning, but their actual desires change. People don’t just resist the desire to commit adultery, but they no longer have the desire to commit adultery. In the age of the spirit, people’s lives harmonize with God’s moral code to love others more than themselves. This era is called the age of the “spirit” because people believed that the empowerment to resist and change carnal desires would come through the Holy Spirit of God.
Jesus’s resurrection launched the age of the Spirit. St. Paul tells us in the New Testament that the same spirit that brought Jesus back to life is now alive in those who believe transforming them into the image of Christ (Rom. 6). This is what we mean when we say that the Kingdom of God is “now”. It’s “now” in the sense that the reign of Christ is effective in those who love, believe, and obey him. As Jesus taught in the Gospels, the Kingdom of God is slowly growing into its fullness, one believer and one act of obedience at a time (Matt. 13:31–35).
But how is the Kingdom “not yet?” The reality is that even though Christians have victory over temptation by the grace of the Holy Spirit now, we will all still die. While our spirits are “alive in Christ”, our bodies are still enslaved to the “flesh” (i.e., the power of sin). After all, we all still get sick, and again, die.
This means that we live in an age of a co-regency. Both sin and Christ reign, at least while Christ is gradually bringing his enemies under his authority (Heb. 1:13). Christ’s reign over all has yet to come to fruition. As Christians, we still await Christ’s second coming. The Bible teaches that when Christ returns, he will execute judgment and bring his reign, in fullness, to all. This is the “not yet” for which we await.