The theological concept of “already but not yet” holds that believers are actively taking part in the kingdom of God, although the kingdom will not reach its full expression until sometime in the future. We are “already” in the kingdom, but we do “not yet” see it in its glory. The “already but not yet” theology is related to kingdom theology or inaugurated eschatology.
The “already but not yet” paradigm was developed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos early in the 20th century. In the 1950s George Eldon Ladd, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, argued that there are two meanings to the kingdom of God: 1) God’s authority and right to rule and 2) the realm in which God exercises His authority. The kingdom, then, is described in Scripture both as a realm presently entered and as one entered in the future. Ladd concluded that the kingdom of God is both present and future.
The “already but not yet” theology is popular among the Charismatics, for whom it provides a theological framework for present-day miracles. “Already but not yet” is officially embraced by the Vineyard Church and underpins many of their teachings.
There is a sense in which God’s kingdom is already in force. Hebrews 2:8–9 says, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (ESV). In this passage, we have a “now” (we see Jesus crowned with glory), and we have a “not yet” (not everything has been subjected to Christ). Jesus is the King, but His kingdom is not yet of this world (see John 18:36).
Also, in 1 John 3:2, we read, “Dear friends, 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.” Again, we have a “now” (we are the children of God), and we have a “not yet” (our future state). We are children of the King, but we must wait to see exactly what that entails.
Add to this the facts that Romans 8:30 says we are “glorified” and Ephesians 2:6 says we are seated with Christ “in the heavenly realms” as if these were completed acts. We don’t feel very glorified, most of the time, and our surroundings do not much resemble “heavenly realms.” That’s because the present spiritual reality does not yet match up with the future, physical reality. One day, the two will be in sync.
So, there is a biblical basis for the “already but not yet” system of interpretation. The problem comes when this paradigm is used to justify the prosperity gospel, name-it-claim-it teachings, and other heresies. The idea behind these teachings is that Christ’s kingdom is in full operation and that prayer can make it “break through” into our world. Evangelism is thought to “advance the kingdom.” And people are told they never need be sick or poor because the riches of the kingdom are available to them right now.
The Bible never speaks of “advancing the kingdom,” however. The kingdom will come (Luke 11:2). We must receive the kingdom (Mark 10:15). And the kingdom is currently “not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus’ parables of the kingdom picture it as yeast in dough and a tree growing. In other words, the kingdom is slowly working toward an ultimate fulfillment. It is not sporadically “breaking through” to bring us comfort in this world.
The King Himself offered the kingdom to the Jews of the first century, but they rejected it (Matthew 12:22–28). One day, when Jesus returns, He will establish His kingdom on earth and fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 51:3, “The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” Until then, Jesus is building His church (Matthew 16:18) and using us for the glory of His name.