Inaugurated eschatology could be understood as the beginning of the end. You and I should be waiting for the coming of Jesus and the fulfillment of the kingdom promises in the book of Revelation. However, we also enjoy all the privileges of Kingdom citizenship now because we are in relationship with the King Jesus. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20–21) The now and not-yet kingdom is a reality of the loyal followers of Jesus. What does that mean?
The concept of the now and not-yet kingdom, known as inaugurated eschatology, emerged primarily through the work of New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd. Ladd taught at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1950 to 1980 and wrote several influential books on biblical eschatology, including “The Gospel of the Kingdom” and “The Presence of the Future.” Some not-so-light reading for you Bible nerds out there.
Ladd’s development of inaugurated eschatology was a response to the prevailing theological perspectives of his time. He sought to reconcile the tension between the already-present and not-yet-fulfilled aspects of the Kingdom of God found in the New Testament. He argued that Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God through His ministry, death, and resurrection. He emphasized that the coming of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and the arrival of the promised age to come.
Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God also in the New Testament. “Now, after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15) In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah, stating that the prophecy of the Messiah’s ministry and redemption is being fulfilled in their hearing. More on that next time.
Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He was open with all that the kingdom of God was among them. “Now, after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15) By applying this passage to Himself, Jesus indicated that the Kingdom of God had begun with His ministry, thus inaugurating the kingdom through His mission and gospel ministry to all creation.
In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah, stating that the prophecy of the Messiah’s ministry and redemption is being fulfilled in their hearing. This was such a radical proclamation that they sought to kill Jesus on the spot. Jesus the GOD-MAN has inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth, the God of creation in the flesh. (See John 1:1-3; John 1:14ff)
Peter also quotes the prophecy of Joel on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-17), showing that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit signifies the beginning of the last days and a clear inauguration of the Kingdom of God. Peter demonstrates that Jesus’ ministry inaugurated (began) the Kingdom of God, bringing its blessings and realities into the present age for us to enjoy in the present and future. While the kingdom is already present in some ways, its full realization is yet to come when Jesus returns and establishes His eternal reign.
The writer of Hebrews also says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2) The question for us is, are we citizens of His Kingdom or outsiders looking in?
Are we looking unto Jesus? I hope so, for in Jesus, the promises of God are “Yes and Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The King is coming at any moment! When Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God would come, He answered the Pharisee’s question directly. Jesus points out that the Kingdom of God is already present among them, but it does not come in a visible, observable manner. It is a spiritual reality that Jesus brings through His presence and work. “Now when He [Jesus] was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Jesus also clarifies that casting out demons by the power of the Spirit demonstrates the presence of the Kingdom of God among them. It signifies that God’s rule is breaking into the world. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28)
New Testament scholar George Ladd also concluded that we could see from scripture that the kingdom was not a fully realized, earthly political kingdom as the disciples of Jesus were hoping for. Still, a spiritual reality breaks into the present age through the work and ministry of Jesus. Now the same ministry of the kingdom continues in and through the loyal followers of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 1:8; 2:1ff)
According to Ladd, the “already” aspect of inaugurated eschatology refers to the present experience of the kingdom’s blessings and realities through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the transformative work of Christ in the lives of believers.
However, inaugurated eschatology also acknowledges that while believers experience the kingdom’s blessings now, there is still brokenness, suffering, and injustice in the world. The final fulfillment of God’s plan will occur when Jesus returns, there is a final judgment, and God establishes the new heavens and new earth, where His Kingdom will be fully realized.