I love the whimsical sobriquets of erstwhile baseball legends. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Luke “Fumblefoot” Appling, “Eyechart” Gwasdz, “Piano Legs” Hickman, Squatty, Fatty, Lippy, the “Hebrew Hammer” Braun, and of course, the Bambino. One character was far more original and colorful than his nickname. Lefty Gomez, the Yankee southpaw in the 1930s was renowned for his quirky antics, especially eccentric reasons for calling a time-out.
He once called a time-out in a World Series game to watch a plane fly overhead. On a subsequent occasion, when a thick fog settled on the field, Lefty called a time-out to retrieve his box of matches. He then held the lit match up as if to help the other players see better. Once he was pitching a tense game, the bases were loaded, and the game hinged on his pitch. Unsurprisingly he called for a time-out and beckoned the catcher to come to the mound. The catcher was delighted, assuming they were going to discuss a strategy for this important pitch. But Lefty, in all seriousness, asked him if he had any hunting dogs he wanted to sell. The flustered teammate burst out, “Why are you asking me about dogs while the bases are loaded?” Lefty explained, “A friend of mine knows you hunt, and he asked me to find out if you had any dogs for sale. I promised I’d ask you the next time I thought of it. And I just thought of it!”
Though the unpredictable timing of Lefty Gomez must have been a source of frustration for his teammates, as this vignette reveals, that to Lefty a promise was a promise.
Many Christians are irked by the lack of specificity in God’s promises to bring about His kingdom. The when, where, and how of the kingdom of God is a hotbed of friendly debate (and at times in history, violent Crusades) between Bible students of all stripes. But there is one aspect of God’s promises we should all agree on and take comfort in: the certainty of their fulfillment.
The question of when the kingdom of God will come has always been a matter of pressing curiosity for the people of God. In Luke 17, when the Pharisees asked Jesus about the timing of the kingdom, he replied
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21).
The Pharisees were missing the big E on the eye chart: the King was standing in spitting distance of them, His subjects were accompanying Him, and the offer to acquire heavenly citizenship was open to them, right then and there.
Some have taken this statement to mean that the Jewish expectation for a physical, political, geographic reign of the Messiah on earth had been obviated by the new spiritual kingdom which Jesus constantly preached. Though it is true that the first coming of Christ saw the inauguration of only the spiritual aspects of the kingdom, that does not mean the plethora of prophecies promising a physical kingdom should now be forgotten or spiritualized.
To fulfill a promise in a different way than it was promised is to break that promise. Say I promised my 4-year-old daughter that I would treat her to a milkshake date with daddy for her birthday, and she longed for that for weeks. But between the time of the promise and her birthday she had been naughty (this is hypothetical—my kids are never disobedient;). Then, on the day of her birthday, I tell her that since she was naughty she can’t have the ice-cream anymore. She would be just in accusing me of breaking my promise, since my promise was unconditional. But, since I am a man of my word, I decide to keep my promise and punish her. So, I offer her brother what he likes to do—play catch in the garden. He takes me up on it and we have a fun time playing catch. We even invite her to join us. Let me ask you: have I kept my promise to my daughter?
God promised David that his descendant would rule a physical, literal, political, geographically located kingdom (2 Sam 7:8-16).
In what sense can we say God is faithful to keep His promise if His idea of fulfillment is only a spiritual reign in the hearts of Gentiles? The Gentiles had no part in the promise for David’s throne. It’s fine for God to give the Gentiles salvation, make them a kingdom of priests, and give them whatever spiritual blessings He wants…as long as He also keeps his promise to David’s house that the Son of David will rule the world in peace and righteousness, from Jerusalem, in the land Promised to Abraham (Gen 15).
Psalm 89 makes it clear that God considered this promise to David unconditional; i.e. no matter how disobedient Israel was, this Covenant could never be altered.
Ps 89:29 I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. 30 If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, 31 if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, 32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, 33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. 34 I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. 35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David.
A solution is the “already/not yet” understanding. There is a sense in which the kingdom of God has already come. It has come in a spiritual sense. Jesus is the King, Christians are His subjects. But there is another aspect of the kingdom that is “not yet” here. That reign is the physical kingdom promised to David. That is why we still pray “May Thy kingdom come, may Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Discussing the timing is a fun and sometimes frustrating exercise; but we all need to start with the understanding that timing aside, to God a promise is a promise.