OUT OF CONTEXT: The Kingdom is NOT Within You (Luke 17:21)

Yep. You heard me. The Kingdom of Heaven is NOT within you.

“What? What do you mean? It says it right here: Luke 17:21– “the kingdom of God is within you.” It says it that way in the King James AND the NIV, so it must be true. Right?”

I’ve heard preachers and teachers, Christians, non-Christians, mystics, skeptics, seekers, and even good Hindus note these words of Jesus. Their point is always somewhere in the spectrum of Jesus is “in your heart,” or “the Spirit of God is in your heart (or inside you),” all the way over to “we all” have the kingdom– or some version of Christ-consciousness– “within” us.

FAIL.

So what’s the deal? How is this out of context? Let’s look at the whole passage:

Luke 17: 20-37 (NIV)
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”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. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”

Context problem 1: Jesus is talking to Pharisees about “when” (*ahem*, not where) is the “coming” of the kingdom.  Note that the Pharisees were Jewish religious and theological leaders who had a very clear opinion of what the “kingdom of God” (the malkuth shamayim) would and should be. Jesus was not teaching his followers about God reigning in their individual hearts. He was NOT teaching a crowd about A) tuning in to their “inner-spirituality,” B) where the Spirit would dwell after his resurrection, or C) that people should one day “ask Me [Jesus] into their hearts” to be saved.

Context problem 2: After answering the Pharisees, Jesus then turns to his disciples (verse 22) and starts talking a lot about His return. Day of the Lord stuff. End of the world type stuff. Not nicey-nicey “kingdom within” stuff.

Context problem 3 (did you know there were so many?): Here’s the biggie. The “YOU” in “within YOU” is PLURAL (in the Greek). More than one. Lots of folks. Yeah, PLURAL. Translate “within All Y’all.” So what was Jesus saying then?

In my humble opinion [and this IS my blog :-)], Jesus probably meant one of two things:

  • The kingdom of God is among you, i.e. The kingdom is not coming here or there; it is among you, all around you, in between you, breaking into the Now and changing the lives of tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners and leaving behind the likes of you Pharisees. (Note: some versions translate “among you” or “in your midst” or at least footnote this as an alternate reading.) OR…
  • The kingdom of God is among you, i.e. I AM the kingdom. I am standing right here among you and you’re missing it! (Cf. NLT which says “For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”) He then immediately turns to his followers and begins talking about “the Son of man,” which as we all know was Jesus’ fave way to talk aboput Himself. Hmmm. Perhaps a quick check in with Origen and his idea of Jesus as the autobasileia would be constructive.

Is it true that God’s Spirit comes to dwell in each of “individually” us when we believe? Is it true that we want God to reign inside of us? Yes and yes! But this passage doesn’t say either of those things.

Lord, gives us eyes to see your kingdom!

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2 Comments

Filed under OUT OF CONTEXT, Scripture, Theology

2 responses to “OUT OF CONTEXT: The Kingdom is NOT Within You (Luke 17:21)

  1. Brian Lanich

    Interesting points made. How about ratcheting up the ante’ a little? Could Jesus have been saying, as he had said on other occasions, that when the people are God are together, there the Kingdom exists? ala Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

    The Kingdom cannot exist apart from the King. The balance of Jesus’ teaching, to the disciples, would bear this out. “Don’t go after the others, band together until I physically return and I’ll be with you when you gather.”

    I enjoyed this Blog Post.

    • Great thoughts here Brian. No question that the Kingdom is inseparable from the presence of the King. It would be an interesting study to tease out this thought throughout the gospels. Love your statement “band together until I physically return and I’ll be with you when you gather.” Thx for reading!

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