The Study of Last Things

Learning about the Future to Live Better Today

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17

Not Already, Not Yet.

It all began, as do so many compromises, with a dialogue. Many theologians and politicians love dialogue. It sounds so noble, so even-handed, so fair, so right. But as often happens in a dialogue, one side sacrifices some aspect of its core values and agrees with the opposing point of view. But strangely enough, the compromise seems only to head in one direction.

Politicians call this dialogue business "bipartisanship." Again, it sound very noble, and oh, so right. But when it comes right down to it, one political party has sacrificed some of its core principles, and the other party has not. Oh, it will temporarily sacrifice some meaningless tidbit, but in the end, one political party has lost the battle, and the other has won.

Here is the way it happens. The Democratic party screams at the Republican party to exercise bipartisanship. The members of the Republican party, not wishing to be labeled as "bigots" or "partisans," begin to see how much they can secretly sacrifice without arousing the ire of their constituents. So "bipartisanship" typically looks like this. From the Democratic party's point of view, Republicans sacrifice their core values to vote with the Democratic party. Amazingly, "establishment" Republicans have an almost identical view of "bipartisanship." "Establishment" Republicans clandestinely define "bipartisanship" as a time when Republicans sacrifice core principles and vote along with the Democrats.

That happens more often than you think. On December 18, 2015, the Republican controlled House of Representatives, guided by newly-elected House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, easily passed (316-113) an omnibus tax-and-spend bill for 2016 that will cost tax-payers $1.1-plus trillion. What was former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's verdict? "They (the Republicans) really gave away the store."
House Speaker Paul Ryan

Columnist Cal Thomas accused the Republicans of surrendering to the "dark side." According to Thomas,

A giddy Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said: "If you would have told me this year that we'd be standing here celebrating the passage of an omnibus bill with no poison pill riders at higher (spending) levels above sequester than even the president requested, I wouldn't have believed it. But here we are. This bill is a great victory for the principles Democrats stand for."

So there you have it. For Republicans, supposedly a conservative party, "bipartisanship" means "giving away the store."

So what, you ask, does this have to do with theology? A great deal. Back in the late 1970's and early 1980's Dispensationalists were dialoguing with Covenant Theologians on the nature of Christ 's kingdom. Prior to that time Dispensationalists had been adamant that Christ is not now reigning as King. That would not happen, they said, until the Messiah's Second Coming to earth. Covenant theologians, Amillennialists that they are, have always insisted that references to a thousand-year reign in Revelation 20:1-7 are metaphorical. In fact, they have held, Christ is reigning right now. In their view we are presently in the (non-literal) Millennium.

So in their dialogue with Amillennialists, Dispensationalists made a huge concession. They conceded that Jesus, in fact, is presently sitting on the throne of Israeli King David up in heaven. (How that could possibly happen when David only reigned upon earth, and never up in heaven, they never successfully explain.) They tried to retain some dignity by saying that, nevertheless, Jesus will come back to earth, where He will  reign for a thousand years. Furthermore, they said, there is still a distinction to be made between Israel and the Church, although that distinction, in my estimation, grew more tenuous. These Neo Dispensationalists gave themselves a new name. They called themselves "Progressive Dispensationalists." But in my view, they gave away the store. They sacrificed core Dispensational principles in order to be able to claim "bipartisanship" – or, perhaps bragging rights to being willing to "dialogue."

Progressive Dispensationalists (PD) have coopted a mantra that explains their position. It is "already, but not yet." By that they mean there is a sense in which Christ is now reigning, and another sense in which He will not fully reign until He returns to earth. But PD's did not coin the mantra. They borrowed it from the late George Eldon Ladd, formerly a Post-Tribulation Premillennialist who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary. Ladd, in turn borrowed the mantra from Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos, a staunch proponent of Reformed theology and eschatology. The phrase, "already, but not yet" is also used to describe "Inaugurated Eschatology."

I have several problems with "already, but not yet."

(1) It blurs the distinction between God as King and Christ as King. God has always been King (Psa. 10:16; 22:28; 29:10; 44:4; 45:6; 47:2; 95:3; 145:1). Since Jesus, as an eternal member of the Godhead, cannot be separated from God the Father, there is a sense in which the Second Person of the Godhead has always reigned and continues to reign. But that is not the point of Jesus becoming the Messiah. God's reign as King has been, for the most part, "Hands Off." (There have been, of course, several exceptions. One was His destruction of the entire world through a catastrophic flood [Gen. 6:1-8:22]. Another was His confounding of the once "unilanguage" of the earth's inhabitants [Gen. 11:1-9].) But Jesus' reign as Messianic King will definitely be "Hands On." He will break the nations "with a rod of iron" and "shatter them like earthenware" (Psalm 2:8-9). Though Jesus is God, and God is the eternal King, in no sense can it be maintained with any credulity that Jesus is presently ruling the nations with a rod of iron and shattering them like clay pottery in the process.

(2) It ignores Jesus' relationship to David. David never reigned as king over Israel up in heaven, but only here upon earth. How can Jesus in any sense be said to sit on David's throne up in heaven when David never sat on a throne up in heaven? David was king over Israel upon earth the land of Israel.

(3) It sometimes assumes Jesus began His reign during His earthly ministry, when, in fact He did not. I have heard someone who openly admits to being a PD argue that Jesus' began His reign as King during His earthly ministry. To prove his point he cited Matt. 4:17 to demonstrate that Jesus taught His Kingdom had come. But that is not what Jesus said. He said that the kingdom of the heavens had drawn near. Matthew quotes Jesus as using the Perfect tense of the verb eggdzō (1448), which means to "approach" or to "draw near." It certainly does not mean "to arrive" (Matt. 21:1). Had Jesus meant that, Matthew would have used the much more common verb proserchomai (4334), "to come to." The truth of the matter is that, once the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees accused Jesus of performing miracles by the power of Satan (Matt. 12:22-29), Jesus began to conceal His teaching about the kingdom of the heavens so that only those who believed in Him could understand (Matt. 13:10-17).

(4) It fails to recognize the fact that Jesus Himself taught that His kingdom would not begin any time soon (Luke 19:11-27).

(5) It fails to recognize that Jesus informed His disciples after His resurrection that His reign over Israel was not now. After Jesus' disciples had been taught by Him for forty days about the kingdom of God after His resurrection (Acts 1:1-3), they were still under the impression that Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus did not state that they were mistaken in the facts, but only premature in the timing (Acts 1:7). It would not be now, for the timing was God's business, not His. Meanwhile, He had an assignment for them. They were to be His witnesses, recruiting people for His yet future kingdom (Acts 1:8).

(6) It fails to take into account the current stance of the people of Israel. If there is any sense in which Jesus is now reigning as King, why on earth are the people of Israel totally oblivious of that fact? David was a king over the nation of Israel, wasn't he? And if Jesus is sitting on David's throne, He is King over Israel, isn't He? Why are they oblivious of His reign and even inimical to the possibility of His being their Messiah? That will happen, won't it? Does the prophet not say it will happen (Zech. 12:10-13:1)?

(7) It fails to take into account that the OT uniformly declares Jesus' reign as Son of David will result in a resounding, global triumph over His own enemies and the enemies of Israel (Psalm 2:4-9). Jesus will reign from Mount Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, and there will be nothing that the Arabs, the United Nations, the European Community, the President of the United States, or even irreligious Israelis will be able to do to stop Him.

(8) It fails to take into account that Messiah is still sitting at His Father's right hand, awaiting His kingdom. In other words, the very psalm which predicts the Messiah's victory over His enemies instructs the Messiah to sit at the right hand of the Father until He makes Messiah's enemies a footstool for His feet (Psalm 110:1-3, 5-7).

(9) It fails to take into account Jesus' present ministry. It fails to recognize that Jesus' present ministry, according to a significant portion of the Book of Hebrews, is the ministry of Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17, 21), not King after the order of David.

(10) It fails to recognize that its proponents have made a fatal concession to its Amillennial opponents. Proponents of PD look upon themselves as having made a fantastic compromise in which they did not sacrifice essentials but gained an important objective – gaining the respect of Amillennialists and adherents of Covenant Theology. But in my opinion, they are like members of the Republican party crying "Victory!" after the passage of the omnibus tax-and-spend bill of Dec. 18, 2015. They might claim victory, but the Democrats know better. The Republicans gave away the store. And that, I believe is what Amillennialists think about those who espouse PD – they gave away the store. I remember talking to a theologian who (in a former life) had been a Dispensationalist. But he gave up on Dispensationalism, and, in his view, the compromise of Dispensationalists with Amillennialism and Covenant Theology was the demise of Dispensationalism. While I disagree with that theologian that Dispensationalism is over and done with, I believe he was perceptive. Dispensationalism, in scholarly circles, has lost and is losing momentum, not gaining it.

(11) One final thing. If Jesus is presently reigning as Son of David, He is doing a very poor job. Evil is rampant across the globe. The violent espousers of the religion of Islam appear to be making serious inroads everywhere. Christians are being martyred. It doesn't look to me as though Jesus is conquering evil in the terms predicted in either the OT (Isa. 2:1-4; 9:1-7; 11:1-10; 19:16-25; 60:1-22; 61:1-11; 62:1-12; 63:1-6; 65:17-25; 66:10-24; Ezek. 37:1-28; 38:1-23; 39:1-29; 40:1-48:35; Zech. 12:1-13:1; 14:1-21; Micah 4:1-13) or the NT (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; 2:8; Rev. 19:11-21).

Conclusion: I conclude, therefore, that there is not any sense in which Jesus has begun His reign as Son of David. He has always, as a member of the Godhead, been King, but that is not the meaning of "Messianic King." The Messiah, as King, was meant to rule the earth, not rule up in heaven. It was never about ruling up in heaven, but always about ruling here upon earth over the nation of Israel, and over the entire world from Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

So we conclude that a Biblically correct mantra is "Not Already, Not Yet." We repudiate "Inaugurated Eschatology," which is merely a scholarly sounding stratagem for not taking prophetic texts literally. Jesus served primarily, during His time here upon earth, as Messianic Prophet. Presently He is serving primarily as Messianic Priest after the order of Melchizedek. It is in that sense that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to make intercession for those who have availed themselves of His High Priestly ministry (Heb. 7:25). At the right hand of the Father, in addition to serving diligently as High Priest, He is awaiting the time when His enemies will be made a footstool for His feet. That will not happen until Jesus returns in power and great glory to destroy His enemies and to judge the survivors of the Tribulation (Matt. 25:31-46), and to establish His global kingdom (Zech. 14:9).

For further study, see "Has Christ's Kingdom Begun?"

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

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First Published December 26, 2015

Last Updated July 5, 2021