I lived in the Eastern Equatorial mountains of South Sudan for many years, among the Lopit people, an unreached people group. My first six months were spent living among the people, learning their culture and language. The mission team was diverse, representing missionaries from five countries: Australia, America, Germany, Kenya, and me from South Africa. A bit like all the different colorful threads woven together into one tapestry. We were all passionate about Jesus and about bringing his Gospel to the Lopit people. Yet, we had different biblical worldviews that influenced what we believed and how we would achieve our missionary objectives. What I didn’t realize then, was that the subject of eschatology was usually avoided for fear of being divisive. When the topic was finally spoken about, most of my colleagues would say that eschatology concerns the afterlife, when we die; it is sufficient for us to simply believe in Jesus and grow in relationship with him. “We don’t need to discuss eschatology, because it brings conflict,” they said. Looking back now, I disagree. Patrick Mitchel (2019, 224) says it best, “gone are the days of eschatology being tacked on to the end of systems of Christian doctrine, equated with little more than the narrow concerns of personal destiny after death.”
Michael Horton (2011, 906) also says that eschatology is not only about a concluding theological topic, but it is in fact vital for understanding the Christian faith and its practice. Karl Barth describes it as a person’s eternal future, not simply a new beginning after death but rather a life that has already been redeemed through God’s saving judgment in Christ (see Mitchel 2019, 229) I have come to discover that knowing who Jesus is as our King and to know His Kingdom in the context of our understanding of eschatology affects the outworking of our faith and ministry.
The Kingdom of God
Graeme Goldsworthy (1981, 53) defines the kingdom of God as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” Anthony Hoekema (1994, 45) provides a more comprehensive definition when he states that the kingdom of God is, “the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of his people from sin and demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.” God’s kingdom is present: It has already come through the person of Jesus Christ (Matt 21:4–10). God’s kingdom is also future: It anticipates Christ’s second coming (Luke 21:29–32, 22:14–16). His kingdom is also eternal (Dan 6:35) and is the eschatological goal of history (Zech 14:9).
The Kingdom is linked with the Coming of Christ
God’s kingdom entered our world when God sent his Son to us. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). In this verse, Luke uses the Greek word entos, which means “among you, in your midst.” This would imply that Jesus, the King, had arrived and was already in their midst. Luke summarizes the ministry of Jesus as follows: “he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). The basic premise of Jesus’s mission and the central theme of his preaching was not the hope of the kingdom’s coming at some predictable date in the future, but rather that in his person the kingdom present in great power among men and women. Glass and Hammon (2016, 172–173) explain that the whole Bible is missional and, as such, it is vital for the church to understand its role as the latter-day people of God. We are warned that, as believers and members of a local church, we should not be chasing after every sign, but should rather recognize that the kingdom of God came in the person of Jesus Christ and that he is presently “in our midst” (Luke 17:21).
How does this impact the way we do ministry as Christians today? We firstly need to understand the difference between “realized eschatology” and “inaugurated eschatology.” “Realized eschatology” states that history and eschatology was realized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; his Kingdom has been fully established now rather than in the future (Walvoord 2008). “Inaugurated eschatology” holds that the kingdom of God began at the first coming of Jesus Christ and will be fully consummated at his second coming, this is the “now, not yet” concept of eschatology (Schrock 2017). Your view in this regard can influence your Gospel message and ministry, which will be discussed in part 2, “The Tapestry of God’s Kingdom.”
Short Bio: Catherine Falconer completed her masters in theology at the South African Theological Seminary(SATS) in 2019. She was a missionary in various parts of Africa for more than ten years. She served in Sierra Leone with Mercy Ships and later with African Inland Mission for more than 6 years in South Sudan, in a tribal Lopit village in the mountains. During that time she studied her Bth with SATS. She has particular interests in missions and eschatology. Catherine is married to Robert and they have 2 boys named Ezekiel aged 5 and Gabriel aged 3.
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