“Already but not yet” – this phrase is familiar to any student of apocalyptic, prophetic, and eschatological literature. This phrase is often used in discussions of two enormous topics: the Kingdom of Heaven and Salvation. The Kingdom of Heaven can be referred to using spatial, temporal, and revelatory language. The Kingdom of Heaven is among us; it has already begun; it has been revealed. One can also say that the Kingdom of Heaven exists in the heavenly realms as the principalities and powers are cast down; it is going forward towards its culmination; it will be revealed when we see Jesus “face to face”, as St. John puts it.
The Kingdom needs to be understood in the context of a duality: on the one hand is the Kingdom of Light, on the other the Kingdom of Darkness. The Kingdom of Darkness was defeated at the Cross: it is a kingdom “on the run”. Our age of transition reveals a kingdom that is still opposing God – it persecutes God’s Elect – but its days are numbered. The powers of that kingdom are being placed beneath Christ’s feet (Ps. 110). He is seated at the right hand of the Power, our Heavenly Father, who created all things. Christ in His resurrection is the pledge that we too will be transformed as He is; indeed, St. Paul speaks of us as already seated on thrones in heaven as He is (Eph. 2:6), and St. John takes up this language in Rev. 4 and 20.
Discussion of politics and “the way things should be” in our Christian lives should be conducted in the knowledge that God has made His people the Assembly of His council. Believers have become “holy ones” (qedoshim > agioi > sancti), like the angels in heaven, and St. Paul reveals that believers have been entrusted with authority by God to judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3), which they will take up at the apocalypsis of Jesus Christ. How does this picture of believers as rulers with Christ square with St. Paul’s admonition to obey human rulers (Rom. 13:5), and his command (1 Tim. 2:2) to pray for the well-being of political leaders?
“Already but not yet” is relevant here. God’s word is final, and believers may petetion Him to use His authority and power to change a situation – such prayers are scattered throughout Scripture. But God has also ordained that we are to be transformed into the likeness of His Son, which refers to our character as well as to the resurrection body. The character of Jesus is beautifully described in Phil. 2:5-11, most likely one of the Church’s earliest hymns, where Christ’s humility is emphasized. So that our character may become like His, we undergo “discipline” here, as God’s sons (and daughters). Perfection (or completion) is the end result, to be revealed when Christ is. As St. John puts it, “now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3, NIV)