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  Subject: Luke 17:21 "The Kingdom of God is within You"
 
 
 

Question:
 

Is the Kingdom of God within the Hearts of Men?

 

By: Jim Josephsen

 

 

 “Neither shall they say, Lo here or lo there! For behold the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21

 

                                                                                                           

It is commonly believed among mainstream Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, that Jesus Christ taught His disciples the kingdom of God is within the hearts of men. Rather than being an actual physical Kingdom on earth, with a King, and citizens and Laws; with governmental structure and various positions of authority, most Christians think Jesus was speaking of an internal spiritual feeling, a heavenly-oriented desire, a sense of doing good and acting charitably, which would reside within the hearts of those who confess Christ. 

 

Notice the following commentaries.

 

The kingdom of God is within you. This may either mean, ‘inside of you’ meaning that it is of an internal and spiritual character, as opposed to their outside view of it: so the best expositors among the fathers understood it; and so, of the moderns, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Campbell, Olshausen. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown - A Commentary; Volume III; Page 300.

 

He says, ‘The kingdom of God comes not with observation. Neither do they say, ‘Look here or Look there! For behold the Kingdom of God is within you.’ Now, who will not interpret these words ‘within you’ to mean in your hand, within your power? That is, if you hear and do the commandments of God. Tertullian

 

That person is already in the kingdom of heaven who lives according to virtues. Accordingly, the saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” refers to the deeds and disposition – not to a certain time. Christ who is all virtue has come. For these reason, He says the kingdom of God is within His disciples – not here or there. Origen

 

Common among many Christians, especially evangelicals, is the doctrine that the kingdom of God is being experienced, here, now, in the hearts of men of goodwill; within the hearts of men and women who love the Lord, who go to church, who have accepted the Lord Jesus and confess him as savior. It is taught, as a belief that the kingdom of God is in all of those who have been saved, born again, or said any other way; “in Jesus.”

 

Those who confess Jesus, have the kingdom of God in their hearts – so it is believed.

 

Christians claim; the kingdom of God is now in the hearts of the believers.

 

But is that what Jesus Christ taught?

 

Did Jesus tell His disciples these words ‘within you’ mean in your hand, within your power?

 

Did Jesus tell His disciples, the kingdom of God is within you; within your hearts?

 

Was Christ even speaking to His disciples, when He spoke these words?

 

Who was Christ’s audience; just who specifically was Jesus Christ speaking to when He uttered these words?

 

Knowing who it was to whom Christ spoke, will reveal what Christ did not mean and what He did mean, when He spoke the words, the kingdom of God is within you.

 

The answer is very obvious and clear. Notice Luke 17:20.  And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said ….

 

 Who was Christ speaking to?

 

Christ was speaking to the Pharisees; not His disciples.

 

With that fact clearly established, think logically for a moment. Would Jesus Christ actually say to the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was within them?

 

The Pharisees were probably the furthest from the kingdom of God. Certainly their hearts were not fixed on the kingdom of God; their attitudes were not right with God.

 

The Pharisees cared little for Christ and His brand of doctrine. The Pharisees led the way in troubling and challenging Christ. The Pharisees’ desire was to promote and preserve themselves and their physical office and their prominence in the eyes of man (cf. Luke 16:15).  The kingdom of God was not within the hearts of the Pharisees.

 

Consider the following. Jesus Christ called the Pharisees “hypocrites, fool, blind guides, serpentsMatthew 23:13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 33.

 

Christ clearly said, But woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).

 

Would Christ tell these Pharisees, the kingdom of God is within you?

 

Let’s continue. The Pharisees were hypocritical - Luke 12:1. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

 

 The Pharisees were a stumbling block to those who would believe in Christ – John 12:42.

 

 Time and again, as read throughout the New Testament gospels, we read of the many negative and condemnatory words Christ spoke against the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day.

 

Notice one final rebuke from Jesus Christ to the Pharisees. Matthew 21:43-46. Jesus said unto them, Did you never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone [speaking of Himself – cf. 1 Peter 2] shall be broken: but on whom it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priest and the Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. And they sought to lay hands on him ….

 

In this rebuke, Christ categorically stated; the kingdom of God shall be taken from you.

 

With that statement said, along with all the other rebukes handed to the Pharisees, why would Jesus Christ even begin to say to the Pharisees, the kingdom of God is within you?

 

The kingdom of God, with all the ramifications, requirements and elements, both spiritual and physical was furthest from the hearts of the Pharisees.

 

To summarize the characteristics of the Pharisees, consider the following: The Pharisees were the most influential of the Jewish sects at the time of Christ. Though holding orthodox doctrines, their zeal for the Mosaic Law led them to a degenerate, though strict, outward observance of both the law and their equally authoritative (in their own eyes) interpretations of it. They knew the scriptures (Matthew 23:2), tithed (Luke 18:12), fasted (Matthew 9:14) and prayed (Mark 12:40); but they were also hypocritical (Matthew 23:15), self-righteous (Luke 18:9) and the foremost persecutors of the Lord. “Ryrie Study Bible – Matthew 3:7.

 

 Consequently, the kingdom of God could not have been within their hearts, or their minds. The Pharisees, those to whom Christ was speaking (Luke 17:20), those to whom this comment was addressed, could not have had the kingdom of God within them.

 

Does not come with observation

 

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation Luke 17:20.

 

Christ’s response was the kingdom of God does not come with observation or with an outward showing.

 

The meaning of this statement can only be understood once we understand what Christ meant when He stated, the kingdom of God is within you.

 

Historically, we know the Jews (and Samaritans) were awaiting a Messiah (the individual who would be God’s anointed, ordained King – who would come through the tribe of Judah, the seed of David), who would come to restore the House of Judah/Israel back to the powerful kingdom and self-governed nation it once was, just as the Old Testament prophecies proclaimed.

 

Consider John 1:41: He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, we have found the Messiah, which being interpreted, the Christ.

 

John 4:25: The woman said unto him, I know that Messias cometh which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.

 

Luke 24:21: But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: …

 

Acts 1:6: When they therefore were come together they asked of him saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?

 

It was clearly understood that when the Messiah came, it would be for the purpose of setting up the established rule and government of God, through the nation of Israel and the Jews, here on earth – exactly as the prophets declared.

 

What is considered the Messianic Kingdom, the Davidic Kingdom, and the Millennial Kingdom are all one in the same. It is the Kingdom of God, to rule on earth, because God, the Lord Jesus Christ will be its King and ruler, ruling from His throne in Jerusalem. Israel’s kingdom will be God’s kingdom, because God will rule on earth.

 

The Pharisees, just like the citizenry, were expecting that the kingdom of God would come by way of a noticeable revolution or political uprising; through God’s miraculous intervention; much like the time of the Exodus.

 

But Christ said, No!

 

Rather Christ said the kingdom is already in front of your eyes and you don’t recognize the one who is its King. In essence, the blindness and hard-heartedness of the Pharisees was keeping them from seeing that Christ, the very Son of God, was in front of them. The kingdom of God is right here as I am the representative of God here on earth. I am the Messiah.

 

Notice Luke 22:66-71: And as soon as it was day, the elders and the chief priests and the scribes came together and led him into their council, saying, art thou the Christ? Tell us. And he said to them, if I tell you, ye will not believe me: And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go. Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the throne of the power of God. Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them, ye say that I am. And they said what need we any further witnesses? For we ourselves have heard of his own mouth.

 

            Notice Mark’s narration of the dialogue; Mark 14:61-62. But he held his peace and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, art thou the Christ, the son of the Blessed? And Jesus said I am: and ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.

 

            The leaders of the Jewish religion knew the scriptures and knew of the coming of the Messiah.  They understood the promises of God; that He would bring back honor and prestige, distinction and strength to the kingdom of Israel. That kingdom would be ruled by God’s select, anointed King. (Little did they understand that that King would be the very God of Israel, Himself, who would at His first coming, come as a man).

 

            Notice the language, the words spoken to Mary, as the angel Gabriel announced to her that the child she shall bear would be no ordinary child.

 

            And behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:31-33).

 

Christ came to the earth as a man, born of woman; God in the flesh (Emmanuel Matthew 1:23), being the Father’s anointed. Yet His works and teaching were not what the Pharisees expected. The Pharisees, along with the citizenry of Judah, were awaiting a revolution, a revolt and the kingdom to be restored like in the days of the Maccabees or under Nehemiah and Ezra. The kingdom of Israel was to be restored to greater glory than the first; so spoke the prophets.

 

The peoples of Judah did not expect what Jesus accomplished at His first coming; being sacrificed for the sins of the world.  He shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

 

At His first coming, Jesus Christ fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah 52:13–53:12. The religious leaders of Christ’s day could not accept that fact. They were expecting a King, not a lamb; a Messiah, not one esteemed as despised, stricken, and smitten from God! They were expecting someone who would agree with their interpretation of the Word of God; not someone who would tell them they were not right with God.

 

The word within mistranslated.

 

To understand what Christ meant when He spoke to the Pharisees (and remember he was not talking to His disciples), we simply need to understand the meaning of the words Christ spoke, as they were recorded and written into the book of Luke.

 

Luke wrote the book of Luke in the Greek language (as the English language was not established yet). The English word within as we read in many of the English Bibles is translated from the Greek word entos (See Strong’s 1787.) This Greek word is better translated “among” or “in the midst of.” By implication, “within” the proximity or present position of; like saying within reach.

 

Notice the Nestle-Aland text – nor will they say, Lo here it is or there, for behold the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

 

Notice the Interlinear Bible – the Kingdom of God is in your midst.

 

The Greek word entos has more to do with a location or physical presence. Entos does not refer to that which is in an object or person. Entos does not refer to something dwelling in one’s mind or heart or within one’s seat of reasoning.

 

Within. Better, in the midst of. Meyer acutely remarks that “you refers to the Pharisees, in whose heart nothing certainly found a place less than did the ethical kingdom of God.” Moreover, Jesus is not speaking of the inwardness of the kingdom but its presence. “The whole language of the kingdom of God being within men, rather than men being within the kingdom, is modern” Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Volume 1 Synoptic Gospels, Page 401

 

Consider the following scriptures (and there are others); all of which have to do or deal with the reasoning, the mind, the conscience, the conscious heart of man. These scriptures all use the English word within; notice the context.

 

Matthew 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves

Matthew 9:3 And behold certain of the scribes said within themselves …

Matthew 9:21 And she said within herself …

Mark 7:21 For from within, out of the heart of men proceeds evil …

Luke 7:49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves …

Luke 24:32 And they said one to another, did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us…

Romans 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves…

 

From these scriptures we read the English word within. Each word within is translated from one of two Greek words; either the Greek word en or the Greek word esothen

 

Both of these two Greek words express the concept of inside of or inwardly. They express the concept of being in a person or object. Neither of these two words expresses the concept of being close to, or being within the location of, or being within or around the proximity of a person or object.

 

When Luke wrote of Christ’s comments, which Christ spoke to the Pharisees, Luke did not use either word: en or esothen.  Luke did not express a concept of the kingdom of God being within the hearts, thoughts or minds of the Pharisees. Luke used a word that expressed the idea or concept of being in the presence or proximity of – expressing the idea of physical location.

 

The subject of the heart (being in the heart) is never considered; and Christ never would have even suggested that the kingdom of God is within the hearts of the men He was speaking to.

 

The concern which Christ addressed (because that was the original question - Luke 17:20) was observation; something physical and observable.

 

Christ was asked, “When will the kingdom of God come.” Christ’s response had everything to do with what their eyes would see.

 

He told the Pharisees, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you, in front of you; within your sight.

 

            At His first coming, Christ came in the flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:14), as the Messiah, the representative of God’s kingdom on earth.

 

Clearly, He was in the midst of His people.  He was in the midst of the Pharisees. He was within their sight!

 
 

 

 
 
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