When we read the gospels we come across some interesting and challenging statements from Jesus. One of them is found in the following passage.
20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20–21 (NKJV)
Over the centuries many have sought to find a hidden meaning in the dual ideas of the kingdom not coming with observation and being within us. So a couple of points. The first is that Jesus is saying it isn’t about looking for signs. The second is that the word ‘within’ refers to being among, with or in the midst. Thus, Jesus seems to be saying ‘the kingdom is already here but you are not aware of it.’ This is where context comes in as Jesus then goes on to talk about His second coming and the signs that will precede and encompass His return. This is one of those occasions where if I were among the disciples I would have wanted one of those private conversations afterward where I got Jesus to explain what He was actually talking about!
In light of that a little cultural context is helpful as even Jesus inner circle didn’t get this and still hadn’t after Jesus resurrection and just prior to His ascension. Look at what Luke records.
4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:4–8 (NKJV)
In verse 6 they essentially asked the same question that the Pharisees had asked in Luke 17. In essence, “That’s nice Jesus but when do we get to rule and reign over everything as Israel?” Leading up to Jesus earthly ministry was the expectation of a conquering messiah who would restore power to Israel and rule over their enemies, the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. I won’t go over it in detail but even John the Baptist expected this as evidenced by his question to Jesus from prison (Luke 7:18-23). Even John was expecting that his forerunner ministry would usher in the cultural messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of Jesus hearers in the culture of the day we would have likely been equally confused. They didn’t see two things. The first was that the messiah was coming not just for Israel but for all (Luke 4:18-19) and that the messiah they were awaiting was inaugurating something much greater than the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. Jesus brought the kingdom with Him but the evidence of it was the release of power to heal hearts, restore broken lives and unveil reality. All of this would lead to the spreading of His kingdom in hearts and lives across the earth leading up to His eventual return as conquering King, the King of all creation! So, our looking won’t being the kingdom. Our recognizing when it is moving in our midst will however allow us to participate in and further it. Let’s do that.