The Kingdom of God Is Within You - What Did Jesus Mean When He Said This?
The Kingdom of God Is Within You - What Did Jesus Mean When He Said This? by John Lilley
I recently received an excellent question from a reader about the verse that says "the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). The reader was confused about this verse because as I teach in
this article about the kingdom of God
the term "the kingdom of God" as used in Scripture does not refer to heaven, but to the future physical reign of Christ on earth during the millennium (Rev. 20:5-7) and the New Jerusalem age (Rev. 21-22).
Yet Luke 17:21, the way it is translated in some English Bibles, seems to refer to something nebulous, causing unnecessary confusion about what the kingdom of God really is (or to put it more accurately, will be). Below is my explanation of Luke 17:21. As we will see, when translated accurately, what Jesus meant by the term "the kingdom of God" in Luke 17:21 is exactly the same thing He meant every other time He used that term.
Once Again, We Must Check the Translation!
Luke 17:21 is another one of those Biblical statements where a translation issue has to be clarified before we can understand it correctly. The correct translation is "the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (plural)". In Greek there are two different words for "you", one plural, one singular. In this statement in Luke 17:21 the Greek word "you" is plural. And the word that sometimes gets translated "within" could more accurately be translated "in the midst of".
If we look at the context of the verse and other places in the gospels, it is clear that many of the Israelite people (like the Pharisees) were looking for a sign that the kingdom of God was coming to earth. I explain
that the Israelites were looking for the Messiah to take over the earth militarily and physically rule the world. Today we know that this will not occur until what we now call the millennium (see Rev. 19:11-20:6), but back then Israel was being given a chance to see it happen within their lifetimes if they met certain conditions. (See the article I just linked to for the Scriptural explanation of this.)
Now, the Pharisees in particular were always looking for a sign because they did not have the spiritual perception to see that the Messiah was standing right in front of them. They didn't want to believe He was the Messiah – after all, He threatened their power and expertise, and they had proudly assumed that the Messiah would confirm their expertise and positions rather than challenge them as Jesus did. So more than once they said to Jesus, "Give us a sign that You're the Messiah and that You're going to bring the kingdom of God to earth", as if His amazing healings and miracles weren't enough.
So Jesus said to them, in essence, "Stop looking for a (another) sign – I, the Messiah, am right here in front of your eyes. Look at all the miracles I'm doing – they should be proof enough of who I am. The kingdom of God is already in the midst of you (plural), because the King of the kingdom you’re looking for is standing right in front of you and the power of that kingdom is already being demonstrated in one way with all the healings and miracles I’m doing."
Jesus Confused the Israelites, Even John the Baptist and His Own Disciples, Because He Did Not Meet Their #1 Expectation of the Messiah
“Look at all the miracles I’ve done, which prove who I am” is the same thing Jesus told John the Baptist when John doubted that Jesus was the Messiah (see Luke 7:18-28). John doubted that Jesus was the Messiah for the same reason that the other Israelites had a hard time figuring out whether He was the Messiah or not: Jesus had not yet done the one thing they were all expecting the Messiah to do - take over physical rulership of the world by force.
You see, the Israelites knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah ruling the world with Israel, but they didn’t comprehend that the Messiah was going to preach and require certain behavior of them first. They thought He was going to “just do it” (just take over the world by force and rule over it with them). Therefore they were confused when this Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and did many miracles as proof that He was from God, but then didn’t “just do it”. (In the article I've linked to a couple times, I explain exactly why He didn't "just do it" the way Israel was expecting, but is waiting for the right time to fulfill that aspect of what the Messiah is prophesied to do.)
Not even Jesus' own disciples could figure out why Jesus wouldn't "just do it". Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah (Mt. 16:17), but tried to tell Him, (my paraphrase of Matthew 16:21-22) "You can't die! You're the Messiah! You're supposed to, like, whup the Romans and take over the world!" Jesus had to rebuke him and say, (my paraphrase of Matthew 16:23) "You have your own and Israel's agenda and timetable in mind, and you don't understand God's grander plan."
Since Jesus was giving Israel a chance to see the kingdom of God come to earth in their lifetimes (which, had Israel met the criteria, would've happened shortly after His death, as I explain in the article I've linked to twice above), Jesus' very presence on earth and His miracles were a precursor to the kingdom, a foretaste of it, a demonstration of its power.
In Luke 17:21 Jesus was simply pointing this out by saying, “The kingdom of God is already in your midst in a sense, and if you had the eyes to see it you’d recognize it, because I’m here! I’m the King of the kingdom you’re looking for! Yes, the kingdom will come and I will rule over the whole earth in the future, but how can you Israelites rule with Me when that happens if you don’t even accept Me and recognize Me for who I am? Stop asking for more signs to try to figure out whether the kingdom of God is about to come. Instead, tune in your spiritual perception (as Peter did, see Matt. 16:17) and recognize that I’m the Messiah. Don’t just wait for what you know the Messiah will eventually do in the natural – use your spiritual senses now to sense that the King/Messiah of the coming kingdom is already in your midst.”
"Your Kingdom Come, On Earth..."
At first glance, the fact that Jesus said, “Don’t look here or there for the kingdom” may seem to imply that the kingdom would not be a physical thing, but some type of nebulous thing instead. The problem with that idea is that Jesus and His disciples continually referred to the kingdom as something that would occur in physical reality – Jesus physically ruling over the earth with Israel. See Acts 1:6-7 and Matthew 20:20-23 for example. (And don’t be confused by John 18:36 where Jesus said the kingdom is not “of” this world; the rest of the verse makes it clear that, just as with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven”, the word “of” means “from”, meaning that heaven is the source of the kingdom, but not the location of it. Again, see the article I’ve linked to several times in this article for more information.)
When Jesus said, “Don’t look over here or over there for the kingdom” He was simply restating His point: “The kingdom is right here in front of you, it is already in the midst of you, because I’m standing right here, and I’m going to be the King of the kingdom you’re looking for!” Interpreting Luke 17:21 any other way would make it appear as if Jesus was a self-contradictory schizophrenic who couldn’t make up His mind whether the kingdom of God was supposed to happen in physical reality in the future or not. Obviously Jesus was not a self-contradictory schizophrenic; rather, when He used the terms “the kingdom of God”, “the kingdom of heaven”, “the kingdom”, and “eonian life” (life pertaining to an age or ages) He was consistently referring to His future earthly reign during the millennium and the New Jerusalem age.
With verses like Luke 17:21 we have to be very careful to understand Jesus through the lens of His other references to the kingdom rather than through the lens of the false modern Catholic-inherited idea that “it’s all about going to heaven and hanging out there forever” (which is easily disproven by Rev. 19:11-19, 20:5-7, and 21:1-2). Dear friends, the future of humanity is on earth.
Why else would Jesus tell His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?
Phrases like “the kingdom of heaven” and “My kingdom is not of/from this world” are explained perfectly by the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus clearly tells us that the kingdom will be on earth. “Your kingdom come” (from its source, heaven) “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Some people are confused by Jesus' statement in John 18:36, "Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my officers had struggled that I might not be delivered up to Jews; but now my kingdom is not from hence.' Some translations accurately translate this last phrase, "now my kingdom is not of this origin". The key word in this verse is "NOW". Jesus said that His kingdom was not of earthly origin and would not be produced by physical force AT THAT PARTICULAR TIME IN HISTORY. (When Jesus said "now" it was 2000 years ago, obviously.) Jesus knew that it wasn't time back then for the kingdom to come to earth by physical force. He knew that time would come in the future (see Rev. 19:11-20:6).
The Bible could not be any clearer that the kingdom of God will be on earth. Once again, the only thing that causes confusion is pagan ideas about conscious death with an accompanying unbalanced obsession with heaven that Christianity inherited from Catholicism. (The truth is we will only be in heaven for a short time after the rapture before we return to earth to rule with Jesus - see Rev. 19:11-20:5). Once we get those false pagan/Catholic-inherited ideas out of our heads and simply let Scripture interpret Scripture, it is easy to see that Jesus’ statements about the kingdom of God in Luke 17:21 and John 18:36 are perfectly consistent with all His other references to it as His physical reign over the earth in the future.
The bottom line is that this reference to the kingdom of God by Jesus in Luke 17:21, when we translate and understand it correctly, matches up perfectly with every other reference by Jesus to the kingdom of God as a physical kingdom on earth in the future (for example Acts 1:6-7). Jesus and His twelve disciples did not use the term “the kingdom of God” to refer to refer to heaven itself (where God lives). Rather, the term "the kingdom of God" is used by Christ, His disciples, and elsewhere in Scripture synonymously/interchangeably with the terms “the kingdom of heaven” (which refers to the source of the kingdom, not its location), “the kingdom”, “eonian life” (life pertaining to an age or ages), and "the ages of the ages" (the greatest two ages of the ages of human history) to refer to the future earthly reign of Jesus Christ during the millennium and the New Jerusalem age.
Some of you sharp Bible students may wonder about Colossians 1:13. Years after Israel failed to meet the conditions to see the kingdom come to earth in that generation (2,000 years ago - again, see the article I've linked to a couple of times and link to again below), the apostle Paul came along and declared in Colossians 1:13 that God "rescues us out of the jurisdiction of darkness, and transports us into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Concordant Version). In most Bible translations the verbs in this statement appear in the past tense in English, making it sound like it has already happened; but the Concordant Version, the most accurate, translates the Greek verb tenses more accurately and thus we see that Paul is not necessarily saying it has already happened.
Because the verb tense used in Colossians 1:13 is not past tense, we could quibble over exactly what Paul is saying about the kingdom of God here. One could argue that Paul is trying to say that this transference of kingdoms has already happened in a sense (that we are under Christ's Lordship and thus now part of His kingdom in a sense, even though He has not yet returned to rule over the whole world), but one could also argue that Paul is merely pointing out the fact that in the future God will transfer us from the present rule of darkness in this age into the earthly kingdom of God when Jesus returns to rule the world just as the rest of Scripture describes.
But whatever Paul meant in Colossians 1:13, it does not change the primary way the term "the kingdom of God" is used in Scripture and particularly by Jesus and His disciples in the Gospels: to refer to the future earthly reign of Jesus Christ on earth. Certainly every time Jesus or His twelve disciples used the terms "the kingdom", "the kingdom of God", "the kingdom of heaven", "eonian life", etc., during and shortly after Jesus' earthly ministry to Israel, they were always referring to the future earthly reign of the Messiah on earth (not going to heaven or some nebulous idea of nicer/better circumstances now as many modern Christians seem to think). And elsewhere in the New Testament, the terms "eonian life" and "the ages of the ages" are also used along with "the kingdom of God" to refer to this same thing: Jesus' future earthly reign during the millennium and the New Jerusalem age.
It’s important to understand that Jesus' use of the term "the kingdom of God" in Luke 17:21 matches up perfectly with all the other times He used the term (to refer to His future earthly reign), because an accurate understanding of what “the kingdom of God” is (or, more accurately, will be) removes a tremendous amount of confusion in the minds of Christians about God’s long term goals and plans for humanity.
For more information on this vital subject I suggest you read
this article about the kingdom of God
(to which I’ve referred several times)
as well as my article
Depart From Me! Who Exactly Will Jesus Say This To?
in addition to my book
Hell Is a Mistranslation – God’s Ultimate Plan For Humanity Revealed In the Accurately Translated Bible.
The Kingdom of God Is Within You - What Does This Statement by Jesus Mean? Copyright 2012 John Lilley
What the Kingdom of God Really Is, and Why Understanding It Correctly Is So Important
Depart From Me! WHO Exactly Will Jesus Say This To?
The Bible Does Not Teach Eternal Punishment
Return From The Kingdom of God Is Within You to Hell Articles Section