There have been two themes in Luke 13-18: What is the kingdom of God and who belongs to the kingdom of God? In Luke 17:20-37, the gospel author continues instructing about the kingdom. The Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. John the Baptizer had been proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus has also been repeatedly teaching the nearness of the coming of the kingdom of God. Luke has emphasized this truth in a number of places throughout this gospel.
But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:27 ESV)
Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:8–12 ESV)
But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20 ESV)
Since the kingdom of God is near, the Pharisees want to know when this kingdom would come. Jesus answers this question in two sections, first to the Pharisees and second to his disciples.
The Nature of the Kingdom (17:20-21)
The rabbis taught that there would be great heavenly signs to signal the arrival of the kingdom. They desired to make calculations for the coming of the kingdom based upon various events that they saw (cf. Luke 12:54-56). In the Jewish way of thinking, if Pilate was still governing Judea, then the kingdom had not come. If the glorious temple of Ezekiel 40-48 had not been constructed, then the kingdom had not come. If the pagans were not defeated or flocking to Zion, then the kingdom had not come. They were looking for various signs. They were looking for upheavals and revolts. Jesus counters this thinking by teaching the Pharisees that the kingdom was not coming with signs that could be observed. They were always asking for signs from heaven (cf. Luke 11:16). There would not be signs like this upon which people could make calculations. In fact, the scriptures point to the suddenness of the kingdom’s arrival. But that is not the point right here. Jesus wants the Pharisees to grasp that the kingdom is not coming in the way they think it would come.
Jesus teaches something very startling. Jesus says that you are not going to say that the kingdom is here or there because the kingdom of God is in their midst. The KJV, NKJV, and NIV 1984 reads “the kingdom of God is within you.” This is a plausible reading of the Greek, but is rightly rejected by most translations because Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. Jesus was not telling the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was within them. Jesus has been spending his time in these chapters revealing that the Pharisees are not in the kingdom. The Samaritans, the sinners, and tax collectors were entering, but the Pharisees and religious leaders were not. Rather, the kingdom of God was in their midst. I want us to think about the impact of what Jesus is saying. Who was in their midst? Jesus was in their midst, the King of Israel. Recall what Jesus said in Luke 11:20. If Jesus casts out demons by the power of God, then the kingdom of God had come upon them. Jesus had been casting out demons. What is Jesus’ point? The kingdom was already working in their very midst. The reign of God had already broken into the world through Jesus’ ministry. To see the kingdom, look at Jesus and what he offers. As we have seen in these last five chapters in Luke, the kingdom of God is made up of people who have responded to Jesus and share in the benefits he has to offer. The kingdom of God was within their grasp if they would recognize that Jesus is the King of this kingdom. The kingdom was arriving and the king was in their very presence. There was no need to look around all over the place for the kingdom. The kingdom is seen in Jesus.
To be continued…