Misunderstanding the Kingdom

What is the Kingdom of God? “The Kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:21, KJV) so most Christians would reply. Most take this to mean that when we become Christians, the Kingdom of God is inside of us, in our hearts and minds, and it is similar to being saved.

The KJV is not incorrect to translate the Greek word as “within” on account of the normal usage of the word. But meaning is decided first and foremost by context.

20 One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.  21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 7, NLT)

The Pharisees ask the question on “when” the kingdom of God would come. Jesus’ reply cannot be that the Kingdom of God is already within the Pharisees! Those who insist on “within you” as the correct translation don’t realize how hard a time they have explaining why Jesus says the Pharisees have the kingdom of God within them.

Jesus’ reply has two main parts, the first is a direct answer to the “when” question of the Pharisees.  He says that the Kingdom of God is not observable as they may expect. It is another way of saying what is affirmed elsewhere, that we will not know when the kingdom of God will come. Then he follows with the enigmatic statement, “the kingdom of God is within you” (KJV) or “the Kingdom of God is already among you” (NLT).

The question of the Pharisees assumes the kingdom to be in the future. And Jesus agrees with that assumption but also insists that the coming of the kingdom is not observable.

After answering the “when” question Jesus addresses the “where” question, which was not asked. “You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”  To this Jesus also adds, 23 People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them.” In short, Jesus is saying, if you are looking for the Kingdom of God (or the Son of Man), don’t look for it here and there.  The Kingdom of God is located right here, among you. Jesus is referring to himself!

This is completely consistent with other passages of Scripture that tell us the key to the coming of the Kingdom lies in the coming of the King. Without the King, there is no Kingdom. While the Kingdom has a future element, which Jesus acknowledges, it has a here and now aspect the Pharisees fail to recognize.

In effect, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “The Kingdom of God is not ‘here’ or ‘there’, it is right here in your midst, standing here among you. The King has come, so the Kingdom has come. There will be a future revelation of the Kingdom at a time you cannot observe.  But what you can and ought to know is that the Kingdom of God is right here in your midst.”

Let me show you why it is so inadequate to understand the Kingdom of God as something within / inside you. And I will limit myself to a selection from Matthew’s Gospel alone.  Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God that just cannot mean it is some spiritual possession inside us. The Kingdom of God is like the four types of soil encountered by the sower, referring to four types of people. The Kingdom of God is like wheat and weeds sown in the same field, and eventually the weeds will be burned away, referring to two types of people. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or yeast which grows from small beginnings into something huge, or something that affects all mankind. (Matthew 13) The Kingdom of God is like the tenants who killed the son of the landlord (Matthew 21:33-46).The Kingdom of God is like a feast to which people are invited (Matthew 22:1-14).

There are scores of passages that describe the Kingdom of God as something that is external to us. The imprecise reading of Luke 17:21 in the KJV is not an issue in itself.  The issue is that we use the imprecise reading and ignore the myriad references where the meaning is clear.

If we want to understand the meaning of the Kingdom of God, we need to allow all the occurrences to speak to us and not just one verse. And if we understand that one verse incorrectly, we are doomed to miss the point.

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