Daily Meditations

“Reign” or “Realm”? (Part II)

There is ongoing tension between what has been accomplished and what is still to be done, between the “already” and the “not yet.” The “end time” is already present; the Kingdom is in our midst in the person and work of the Son of God. Yet its fulfillment lies in the future, when the Lord’s reign will summon all people to a final judgment, and lead the “righteous” into that eternal Realm in which God is “all in all.”

This perspective, offered by Jesus, invites us to return to a vision of the basileia that for the most part we have lost. If we think at all about “the Kingdom of God,” it is usually in terms of “realm” rather than “reign.” God is in his heaven, and our life unfolds in its familiar secular domain from day to day. In a liturgical service, in moments of intense prayer, or in accompanying a dying loved-one, we can sense God’s presence with us. But this does little to place the whole of our life in the biblical perspective of movement that characterizes the reign or saving action of God within the world, a movement that calls forth an active response on our part. The very purpose of our life is to enter into that divinely orchestrated movement. With the apostle Paul, we are called to assume the rigorous training of an athlete, to “strain forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13). As the desert fathers so often stressed, Christian life is not a static condition; it is and should be a passionate and breath-taking adventure.

The basileia as the reign of God, therefore, is a continuing dynamic, a work in progress. It is still approaching. It indeed drew near in the person of Christ. Yet we, with the risen Lord, are still engaged in a struggle against demonic power. There is still death and destruction in the world. There still exists innocent suffering. This can only be adequately explained by understanding that while Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished everything necessary to make possible the world’s salvation, we continue, from generation to generation and from moment to moment, to wage spiritual warfare against our tendencies toward sin and its consequences. In fact, the entire creation, St Paul tells us, is “groaning in travail,” awaiting what is yet to come, awaiting “revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19).

The work of redemption is complete, fulfilled by Christ’s victory over death, which grants us freedom from the consequences of our sin and mortality. Yet the struggle continues, to be completed only with his Second Coming in glory. The reign of God, like our personal struggle, is a continuing reality in our life, leading us progressively toward the transcendent realm we speak of as the Kingdom. From now until our own death in the flesh, our spiritual struggle will continue. From now until the end of the world, when Christ comes in glory, the cosmos itself will experience the tension between the reign of God and the ongoing corrupting influences of evil, of the Evil One. Only at the very end will Death and Hades be thrown “into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:13-14). Only then will there come an end to innocent suffering, together with fulfillment of the innate longing for God that lies in the secret heart of every human being.

We need, then, to abandon the popular static notion of the Kingdom as “up there,” situated in a realm above and beyond all that makes up our daily life. We need to hear in Jesus’ initial words in the Gospel of Mark a call to behold and bear witness to the reality of God’s reigning presence in our midst, in the here and now.

“The Kingdom is among you!” Jesus declares in Luke 17:21. The meaning of his words may well be that the Kingdom is within us. In either case, the basileia tou theou is present with us now as God’s reign. Even now it is actively working on our behalf to lead us out of death and corruption, to defeat the lingering presence and destructive works of Satan, and to guide us toward the glory of God’s eternal Kingdom and the joy of everlasting life.

~Adapted from the Very Rev. John Breck, Life in Christ, Orthodox Church in America (oca.org)