It is no wonder dispensationalists keep missing the Rapture dates they set and the Antichrist figures they propose: they cannot even recognize the most obvious elements of Christ’s teaching. They teach that Christ’s kingdom is yet future and that we have been waiting for it for 2000 years (though always declaring: “It is imminent!”)
But when does the New Testament see the coming of the kingdom?
Christ is introduced to Israel and the world through the ministry of John Baptist, who was prophesied in the Old Testament to be Messiah’s forerunner (Isa 40:3; Matt 3:3). John prepares the way for him by preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). Jesus picks up this theme in Mark 1:14–15:
And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”
I will note three crucial aspects of this declaration.
First, Christ declares “the time” has arrived. What is “the time” to which he refers? It surely refers to the prophetically anticipated time, the time of the coming of David’s greater Son to establish his kingdom, for he immediately adds: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” After all, the Father sends Christ into the world in “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10), to initiate the “favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:16–21). This time is “the acceptable time,” “the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). It is the very day righteous men and angels in the old covenant long desired to see (Matt 13:17; Luke 2:28–30; 10:24; John 8:56; Heb 11:13, 39–40; 2 Pet 1:10–11).
Second, Christ declares that the time “is fulfilled.” He does not say “the time may be fulfilled — if you will receive the promise.” Rather he forthrightly declares that the God-ordained time is fulfilled. Because of this Paul can later call this “the now time” (2 Cor 6:2; cf. Rom 3:21–26; Eph 3:10; 2 Tim 1:9–10). Though John and Jesus announce that the time is fulfilled, Jerusalem does not recognize the coming of “the time” (Luke 19:44; cf. Matt 23:37).
Third, Christ declares that since “the time is fulfilled,” therefore “the kingdom of God is at hand.” That is, because the God-ordained time is now fulfilled, the kingdom of God is finally right at hand. The coming of the kingdom does not await some distantly future return of Christ. During his first coming, at the very opening of his ministry, Jesus preaches that “the kingdom of God is at hand.”
The kingdom’s early new covenant revelation, then, declares its nearness in time, not its potential nearness, and certainly not its distance. Consequently, Jesus promises that some of his hearers would live to see the kingdom’s acting in great power in history: “There are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Thus, not only is his kingdom present in his ministry, but some of his disciples will live long enough actually to see its exhibition in power. This exhibition would not be immediately, for some of his disciples would die first. Yet this must occur within the lifetimes of others, for “some” standing there would witness it. This apparently refers to the dramatic A.D. 70 destruction of the temple and the removal of the Old Testament worship system (cf. Heb 8:13; 12:25–28). This occurs as a direct result of Jesus’ prophecies (John 4:21–23; Matt 21:33–46; 22:1–7; 23:31–34:34).