What does Jesus mean in Luke 17:21?

What does Jesus mean in Luke 17:21?                                                     By Jack Kettler

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

“Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21 ESV)

What does within or in the midst of you mean? First, it will have to be determined what the kingdom of God is.

The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology says regarding the kingdom of God:
“The kingdom comes through the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel in all the world. It is both the reign and the realm of God for, although in the present age the locus of the kingdom in the world is diffuse, it is defined by the presence of Jesus at the right hand of the Father. It is both present and future until its consummation at Jesus’ return. It is also at least one possible theme by which biblical theology can be integrated. It is the focus of both creation and redemption: God’s plan of redemption is to bring in a new creation. The entire biblical story, despite its great diversity of forms and foci, is consistent in its emphasis on the reign of God over his people in the environment he creates for them.” (1)

 A classic commentator, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Luke 17:21 is representative:  “Lo here! or, Lo there!” When an earthly prince visits different parts of his territories, he does it with pomp. His movements attract observation, and become the common topic of conversation. The inquiry is, where is he? Which way will he go? And it is a matter of important “news” to be able to say where he is. Jesus says that the Messiah would not come in that manner. It would not be with such pomp and public attention. It would be silent, obscure, and attracting comparatively little notice. Or the passage may have reference to the custom of the “pretended” Messiahs, who appeared in this manner. They said that in this place or in that, in this mountain or that desert, they would show signs that would convince the people that they were the Messiah. Compare the notes at Acts 5:36-37.

Is within you – This is capable of two interpretations.

1. The reign of God is “in the heart.” It does not come with pomp and splendor, like the reign of temporal kings, merely to control the external “actions” and strike the senses of people with awe, but it reigns in the heart by the law of God; it sets up its dominion over the passions, and brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2. It may mean the new dispensation is “even now among you.” The Messiah has come. John has ushered in the kingdom of God, and you are not to expect the appearance of the Messiah with great pomp and splendor, for he is now among you. Most critics at present incline to this latter interpretation. The ancient versions chiefly follow the former.” (2)

 A contemporary exposition on the Kingdom Of God by O. Palmer Robertson:  “The kingdom associated with the coming of Jesus is intimately connected with the promised kingdom of the old covenant that God made with Israel. In the beginning of his gospel, Luke indicates that the Lord would give Jesus “the throne of his father David,” and that his rule over the house of Jacob (Israel) would never end (Luke 1:32-33). Clearly Jesus’ kingdom would have continuity with the covenants of old.

The kingdom of God as presented in Luke’s gospel would be realized progressively. The coming rule of the Messiah had been prophesied earlier, but it actually began only after the ministry of John the Baptist. It was only after the time of John that the good news of the kingdom was being preached (Luke 16:16). Furthermore, the least in the kingdom of God was to be viewed as greater than John (7:28). Jesus declared that he had come to proclaim the good news of the presence of the kingdom (4:43; 8:1). He passed on to his disciples the same privilege of announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God (9:2, 60; 10:9, 11). If the question arose as to whether the kingdom was only “near” or actually had come, Jesus made the point quite explicitly: “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21 NASB). The presence of Jesus establishes the present reality of the kingdom of god. IF the king has come, the kingdom must be present.

At the same time, the kingdom in an important sense had not yet come. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2), which implied that the kingdom remained to be fully realized. As he approached the end of his ministry, Jesus taught his disciples about the signs that would mark the coming of the kingdom (21:31). He would not eat or drink with his disciples again until the kingdom had come (22:16, 18), which implies that the full realization of the kingdom of God is still in the future.

The kingdom that Jesus brought should not be understood as belonging exclusively to the ethnic descendants of Israel. Although this point is not stressed in Luke’s gospel, it is nonetheless a part of Jesus’’ teaching. While the people of Israel had the privilege of witnessing the ministry of Jesus, many of them would be thrown out of the kingdom of God. At the same time, “people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29; cf. Matt. 8:8-12). This teaching about the universal scope of the kingdom fits right into the programmatic realization of the kingdom as reported in the book of Acts.

So the message of Jesus about the kingdom of God as recorded in Luke’s gospel helps to explain the experience of Christ’s rule as reported in the book of Acts. This kingdom would represent the realization of the covenant promises given to the patriarchs in general and David in particular. It would come into its fullness in stages. Eventually it would encompass the Gentile nations spread all across the earth.

Luke’s gospel also anticipates the distinctiveness of God’s kingdom in Acts by emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus. Because the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, the “holy one” born of her would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). John characterized Jesus’ ministry as a baptizing in the Holy Spirit, and so Jesus began his ministry by being baptized in the Spirit himself (3:16, 22). Only Luke indicates that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” as he was led into the wilderness to be tested as the second Israel, and only he notes that Jesus returned triumphantly after his temptation “in the power of the Spirit” (4:1, 14). Only Luke records Jesus’ opening sermon in Nazareth, where he claimed to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy by having the Spirit of the Lord upon him (4:18). Only Luke states that Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit: (10:21). Only Luke records Jesus’ announcement that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who asked him (11:13.)

Luke’s distinctive emphasis on the working of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus provides a natural basis for understanding the central role of the Spirit in the messianic kingdom as it comes to light in the book of Acts. If Jesus was made holy by the Spirit, his people will become holy by the same Spirit. If he was baptized in the Spirit at the beginning of his ministry, then they may expect to have the same experience. If he was led by the Spirit, preached in the Spirit, and ministered in the power of the Spirit, then would not the citizens of his kingdom experience similar manifestations of the Spirit? OF course, the uniqueness of Christ must be maintained. But since he had experienced these manifestations of the Spirit, the citizens of his kingdom could also expect to participate in the workings of the Spirit.” (3)

 Palmer continues:     “The term kingdom occurs only six times in Acts after the initial question of the disciples. But the distribution of these references is significant. At each critical moment in the narrative, reference is made to the coming of the kingdom: when the power of the gospel is displayed in Samaria (Acts 8:12), when Paul provides an explanation for the suffering of believers at the end of his first missionary journey (Acts 14:22), during the three months and the additional two years of his ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 10; 20:25), and after he finally arrives in Rome (Acts 28:23, 31). At each of these new stages in the advancement of the gospel, reference is made to the presence of the kingdom of God.” (4)

 In closing:

 The reader is encouraged to look again at Barnes’ notes on Luke 17:21, where it is said concerning the kingdom of God, “Is within you – This is capable of two interpretations.” Both of Barnes’s examples are plausible, whether in the regenerate heart or a new dispensation with the advent of the Messiah’s reign. Moreover, it is possible that both interpretations are accurate. There is no inherent conflict in affirming both.     “The kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal sovereign God over all creatures and things (Psalms 103:19; Daniel 4:3). The kingdom of God is also the designation for the sphere of salvation entered into at the new birth (John 3:5-7).” – Monergism web site

 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

 “To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)

 Notes:

 1.      Graeme Goldsworthy, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Downers Grove, Illinois,   IVP Academic), p. 620.

2.      Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Luke, Vol. p. 916.

3.      O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), pp. 123-125.

4.      O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), p. 137.   Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Other books by Mr. Kettler @ http://www.JackKettler.com

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