The phrase “the kingdom of God” expresses a vision that is central to God’s sending his Son to reconcile for our sins. The phrase describes a new world order in which we fulfill God’s purpose.
It is a challenging spiritual concept to grasp, one that confused the disciples and continues to stump Christians today. Adding to this promise of living in God’s kingdom is Luke’s inspiring statement that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). Jesus’ teachings about God within us contrasted sharply with the extensive body of rules to follow in the Jewish Torah. In the first century after Jesus' death, Luke and Paul wrote to the early church, attempting to explain the meaning of the kingdom of God is with you.
The Gospel of Luke refers to the “kingdom of God” 32 times, more often than in the other three Gospels. Matthew uses the term “kingdom” 53 times but writes of the “kingdom of God” only four times, the same number of mentions as in Mark’s Gospel. John’s Gospel has only two mentions of the kingdom of God and one mention of a “kingdom” in John 18:36: Jesus answered, my kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is not the time of my kingdom. The words of John 18:36 illustrate the challenge of understanding Jesus’ use of the word “kingdom” and the phrase “kingdom of God”—and the concept that the kingdom of God is within us.
Luke—a close friend and ally of Paul (who wrote “Only Luke is with me” in 2 Timothy 4:11), a medical doctor, and most likely a Gentile and wealthy Roman official—recorded Jesus’ ministry on earth for Gentiles and the world in the first century A.D. New Christians and skeptics needed to understand God’s purpose, how God would establish his kingdom through His son Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Modern Christians need clarification of the kingdom of God as well. James Dunn, a British New Testament professor and scholar, asks in an essay from 2011, “Was Jesus talking about an historical kingdom, a political kingdom, one based beyond physical spatial realities, or one at the end of history?” This article will attempt to answer these questions, based on Scripture.
What Is the Meaning of “the Kingdom of God Is within You“?
A kingdom suggests riches untold, material wealth, and a ruler over it all. Luke, being of high social status and comfortable financially, could write on the topic of a kingdom. The word kingdom also suggests a domain, a place where a leader rules.
Jews were disappointed in Jesus as a messiah; He was not what they had anticipated for centuries. Jesus continually made statements that shook up the law-quoting teaching of the Jewish Pharisees, but He did not overthrow the Roman government that was oppressing Jewish people, just as the Egyptians had oppressed Jews in their earlier history. Jesus’ ministry—and his use of the phrase “the kingdom of God is within you”—was and is all about relationships, kindness, and attention to individuals.
A Supper House ministry in my city illustrates the kingdom of God in action. In a recent Supper House newsletter article, a displaced, homeless woman visits Supper House and finds the kingdom of God operating. As the article says, “When she entered Supper House, she found a ‘community of hearts’ who were also willing to pray for her. Food, conversation, caring and prayer—all a part of Supper House. How blessed we are to serve in this ministry!! This is faith in action…a hint of how the Kingdom of God is supposed to be?”
God’s kingdom is wherever his believers exist and live their faith by giving to others. The Holy Spirit teaches us God’s way and how to accomplish His purposes on earth. When teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus included the words “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13).
What Is the Context of Luke 17:21?
The middle section of the Gospel of Luke has many parables, stories Jesus used to explain His kingdom on earth. Some of Jesus’ parables clearly point out the vanity of status and riches and emphasize God’s mercy.
· The Great Banquet, in which a host invites people living off the street when higher status guests are too busy to attend (Luke 14:15-24).
- The Lilies of the Field, when Jesus teaches his followers not to worry about material things because God will richly provide (Luke 12:27-24).
Another parable Jesus told his followers points out the difference between acquiring material possessions and acquiring Godly wisdom. The Rich Fool parable in Luke 12:15-21 has a man concerned with where to store his vast supplies of grain. Jesus reveals the rich man’s vanity.
“Then He said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
A bigger house, a flashier car, more elaborate “stuff”—the parable of The Rich Fool easily translates into a modern culture obsessed with gathering material objects rather than spiritual growth.
The heart of people in Jesus’ parables matters more than their status or outward appearance. This was always true, from the days when God led the prophet, Samuel, in choosing the first king of Israel (I Samuel 16:7). God sees our hearts, deep inside us, and so His kingdom is within us. “True riches” are spiritual in nature, not material, according to all the parables in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 16:11). These parables lead directly to the summary statement that “the kingdom of God is within you” in Luke 17:21. And God within you directs your loving, charitable actions.
The social context of Luke 17:21 is Jesus being challenged to explain himself by the Jewish Pharisees. Jesus proposes belonging to the kingdom of God is more important than following Jewish laws to a tea.
What Are the Characteristics of God's Kingdom?
Robert Stein, in his 1994 essay, The method and message of Jesus’ teachings, states that the term kingdom or basileia, in Latin, refers to a “reign.” He claims there are times in the Gospels of Jesus when the word kingdom could refer to a territory or realm, but mainly the phrase “kingdom of God” speaks directly to the reign of God. Stein also states that “Jesus never defined exactly what he meant by the kingdom of God or heaven, as He assumed his listeners would understand.”
Jewish Pharisees expected the kingdom of God to consist of people keeping the Torah perfectly. The huge body of writing in Jewish law supported this idea. The Pharisees' view conflicted with some of Jesus’ ministry. For example, the Pharisees disapproved of Jesus’ healing people on the Sabbath, a day of rest according to The 10 Commandments. Yet Jesus also said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Traditional Jewish people also expected a kingdom of God that was political in nature and would fulfill the promise of God to restore the Israelites’ land and culture and defeat all their enemies. Jesus’ healing ministry discouraged political and personal conflict and was a showcase for the actual kingdom of God.
In Jesus' brief explanation of God's kingdom, He first establishes His divinity before the Pharisees questioning His actions. The kingdom of God is within you, from Luke 21:17, translates to mean His kingdom is among you—present in the acts and words of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus brought God’s kingdom to His followers. Many followers were skeptical; they were unable to recognize God’s sent a messiah in Jesus. Mary the mother of Jesus recognized the kingdom of God was coming with her baby’s birth. In Mary’s song after Gabriel’s announcement to her, she sings the words “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:52). Mary sang about the new world order that her Son would bring: the poor and disenfranchised will be victorious. It is the same world described by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Revelation of John, in addition, describes a new world where there are no more problems: “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV). Revelation 21:1-4 tells us about a new, perfect heaven and earth that will replace our broken world. This new world will be the future kingdom of God.
What Does 'the Kingdom Is within You' Look like if the Kingdom Is Here but Not Yet?
Luke refers to Jesus as the way into the Kingdom. Before Jesus died on the cross, our sins separated us from God’s presence; God cannot abide with darkness because He is light. Jesus brought light into the world. Jesus paves the way for our salvation, as expressed in Mark 1:14-15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” When we repent and believe, we become joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This means we are sons and daughters of the King, full participants in God’s great work, and God’s kingdom is fully present in us. We spread his reign on earth. As John wrote, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign” (Revelation 11:17).
God uses us to bring light to the world as we share our gifts in the here and now. In teaching, feeding, and listening to each other we expand the kingdom of God, his reign on earth. Meanwhile, we await the ultimate kingdom of God. Our royal home lies in the future: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). A blessed, Christlike life now and in a future world describes the kingdom of God.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you” (Luke 12:31).
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Betty Dunn hopes her articles in Crosswalk.com help you hold hands with God, a theme in her self-published novel Medusa. A former high school English teacher and editor, she is working on new writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets, and family. Check out her blog at Betty Dunn and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com
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