Scripture in Focus: Luke 17:21
“Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21 KJV
Some Christians see this verse as a statement that the Kingdom of God is a somewhat ethereal thing - a principle at work “in men’s hearts,” but is this really what Christ had in mind in discussing the Kingdom of God?
This scripture is actually a classic example of how carefully looking at context can be so important in understanding what the Bible says. When we read the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke we see that the context is very clear:
“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it” (Luke 17:20-22).
Notice three things about this expanded context. First, Jesus was talking directly to the Pharisees – individuals he said were like “whited sepulchers that … on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). It is clear from this context that Jesus would not have said the kingdom of God was within those hypocritical religious leaders of that day.
Second, notice that the phrase “within you” as it appears in the King James Version is more properly translated “in your midst” (as we see in the NIV, ESV, Holman and most other modern translations). Jesus was standing “in the midst” of the group of people with whom he was talking when he made this statement and he – and he alone – at that time represented the Kingdom of God.
Finally, we see that Jesus was, in fact, referring to himself in that he directly told his disciples that they would soon long to see him, but would not be able. He then continued to describe the events of his future return and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God (Luke 17:24-30).
So, rather than being an ethereal principle “within the hearts of men,” Jesus explained that the Kingdom of God was tied directly to him: that it was even then among mankind (see also Matthew 4:17), and that he would eventually return as King to rule the expanded kingdom as a tangible reality. That is why the New Testament speaks of us entering the Kingdom of Heaven (2 Peter 1:11) rather than it entering us.
God does place His Spirit within us (1 Corinthians 3:16, etc.), of course, and we can pray that God will let the rule of His Kingdom be established over our lives, but that is not the same as the idea that God's Kingdom exists merely “within” us.