75. The Kingdom in Your Midst (Luke 17:20-25)

Audio (15:25)
Gospel Parallels §§183-184

James J. Tissot, detail of  'The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, detail of  'The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

I'm in a quandary. The passage Luke 17:20-37 really must be considered together. When we separate the pieces, we run the risk of missing the point and "not seeing the forest for the trees." However, the passage has too many details to be studied in one lesson. The compromise is that each lesson we'll read the entire passage, and then focus our attention in this lesson on 17:20-25 and in next lesson on 17:26-37, remembering to consider all the pieces in light of the whole. Okay?

One other comment. Evangelical Christians have a way of fighting over their various cherished views of the End Times. (See Appendix 2G. Introduction to Eschatology.) We need to agree to learn from one another but not be dogmatic in the way we present our views. We're here to understand what our Lord Jesus teaches, not what you or I or expert prophecy Guru So-and-So teaches. Let's not try to make everything fit some systematic eschatology at this point. Later maybe. For now, let's catch what Jesus is saying to us.

Jesus' teaching has now turned to the coming of the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees ask "when" the kingdom will come (17:20). Jesus explains to his disciples "how" it will come (17:22-35). And finally Jesus touches on "where" it will come. Jesus' teaching isn't full and detailed here. How we wish he would have spelled it all out for us from A to Z. But he didn't.

I know there are great systems of eschatology.714 And we're strongly tempted to look at Jesus' words and try to wedge them into an overall eschatological chronology. (How's that for big words?) But that wasn't what Jesus expected his disciples to do. He wanted to teach them about the nature of his coming here, not the timing. So let's hang loose on our chronologies for the next couple of lessons and concentrate on the lessons about the Kingdom that our Master wants to teach us.

"20  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, 21  nor will people say, "Here it is," or "There it is," because the kingdom of God is within you.'

22  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. 23  Men will tell you, "There he is!" or "Here he is!" Do not go running off after them. 24  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. 25  But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.'" (Luke 17:20-25, NIV)

When Will the Kingdom Come? (Luke 17:20a)

Jesus begins his teaching with a question from the Pharisees.

"Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come...." (17:20a)

Why would the Pharisees ask this? What did they believe about the Kingdom? We have no documents from Jesus' day that tell us what the Pharisees believed about the end times. We know, however, that a Pharisee named Sadoq was involved in the founding of the Zealot party, apparently from an older wing of the Pharisees.715 Judas the Galilean, a leader of the Zealots, was considered by some the messianic heir-apparent. The Pharisees seem to be involved in the ferment of messianic expectancy that made the first century a volatile place for Roman rulers to keep under control. The Pharisees are quizzing Jesus, trying to find out his own expectation, perhaps prodding him to see if he'll claim to be the messiah. They ask "when" the Kingdom of God will come.

The Kingdom Is Not a Visible One (Luke 17:20b-21a)

Like many of Jesus' responses to the Pharisees' trick questions, Jesus doesn't answer them directly. Basically, he says that they are asking the wrong question because they don't understand the nature of the Kingdom.

"Jesus replied, 'The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, "Here it is," or "There it is"....'" (17:20-21a)

The word translated "careful observation" (NIV) is Greek paratēresis, "the act of watching or keeping an eye on something closely, observation." In other words, "God's Reign is not coming in such a way that its rise can be observed."716

No doubt the Pharisees are looking for a political kingdom that will overthrow the Romans and bring back the glory days of the Davidic kingdom. Jesus says that you won't be able to see it arise in that way.

The Kingdom of God is within You (Luke 17:21b)

"... because the kingdom of God is within you." (17:21b)

The adverb translated "within" is Greek entos, "inside, within, within the limits of" or "among you, in your midst."717

This is a difficult phrase. Jesus' audience here are Pharisees, not true disciples. Different meanings have been suggested.718 Here are the two most popular:

  1. The kingdom is essentially God's Reign in the individual soul. This interpretation appeals to people in this psychological and individualistic age. Though the adverb entos can fit this meaning, this interpretation falters at two points: (1) This teaching is not found elsewhere in the Gospels; it is different than Jesus' other teachings on the nature of the Kingdom. And (2) we have no indication that the Pharisees were the sort of people that Jesus would say this about. Elsewhere in the Gospels they are characterized as legalistic and outward in their observance of the Law, rather than concerned with the inward, subjective holiness that Jesus stressed.719
  2. The kingdom is "among you," that is, it is present in the Person and ministry of Jesus.720

I think the second interpretation is closer to what Jesus meant -- that the Kingdom was present among them in the Presence and Person of Jesus. That the Kingdom had already begun as Jesus teaches, gathers disciples, and exercises God's authority here on earth. Of course, the Kingdom is present within us by Jesus' Spirit -- that is true, and the Epistles develop the idea of the indwelling Spirit. But since Jesus doesn't teach this anywhere else in the Gospels, I think he intended this saying to be understood in the sense of the Kingdom being "among" or "in the midst" of the Pharisees in his own Person.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus is saying, is not only a future reality. The Kingdom is present now and will be fully revealed in the future. We see this tension throughout the Bible -- "now" and "not yet".

False Christs Will Come (Luke 17:22-23)

"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.'" (17:22-23)

The first question is, what does Jesus mean by "one of the days of the Son of Man"? Does he predict that his disciples will look back longingly to their days together walking the roads of Galilee? Or is he speaking of the day of his return in glory? Or something else?721 I think the answer is clarified in 17:24 where Jesus says, "For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning...." Jesus is saying that his disciples will long for his future coming in glory. The Day of the Son of Man is identical to the Day of the Lord.

Then Jesus says, "... but you will not see it." They long to see Jesus' return but will not. I don't think Jesus is telling the disciples they won't see his return -- he told them to be ready because they didn't know the day and hour. Rather this phrase goes with the next. In their eagerness to see the coming of the Son of Man they will go running off to verify one report or another. That's not the way to see the Son of Man, Jesus tells us.

Matthew's parallel to this passage specifies that people will be lured by false christs and false prophets doing great signs and miracles (Matthew 24:24). We aren't to run after this person or that who is acclaimed as the messiah -- even if they can do miracles. We had a few of those in the twentieth century -- Father Divine (1876-1965), Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012), David Koresh (1959-1993), and others. Historically, it seems that every generation has had its claimants to being the messiah.

The Son of Man Will Come Like Lightning (Luke 17:24)

Why couldn't one of these people be the messiah? Because when Jesus returns everyone will see him.

"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." (17:24)

The word translated lightning is Greek astrapē, "lightning" and the word translated "flashes" is the verbal form of this root, astraptō, "to flash, gleam."722 A closely-related word astron means "star, constellation," which has found its way into the English language with such words as "astronomy." The third word translated "lights up" (NIV) or "shineth" (KJV) is Greek lampō, "to emit rays of light, shine, flash, gleam."723

Lightning can be seen at great distance and lights up a huge area. Since it often starts thousands of feet above the earth, the normal horizon caused by the earth's curvature doesn't limit its view nearly as much as if it took place at ground level. Jesus says it "lights up the sky from one end to the other" (17:24b). In the Book of Revelation, we read:

"Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him." (Revelation 1:7)

When Jesus comes he won't appear to just a few or in secret. He will be visible to all -- believer and unbeliever alike. Don't go running off when you hear reports of a messiah-sighting, Jesus instructs us.

Suffering and Rejection Come First (Luke 17:25)

"But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." (17:25)

In the final verse in this passage, the word translated "suffer" is Greek paschō, "suffer, endure, undergo."724 The word translated "be rejected" is Greek apodokimazō, "reject' (after scrutiny), declare useless, to regard as unworthy/unfit and therefore to be rejected."725

My mind immediately recalls a passage from Isaiah 53 that speaks about the Suffering Servant, who turns out to be none other than the Redeemer, the Messiah.

"He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3)

While the Old Testament Septuagint uses different Greek words than Luke's Gospel, the idea is very similar.

Lessons for Disciples

If you've read the Bible all your life, you might take these things for granted. But let's look afresh at the lessons about his Kingdom and his coming that Jesus teaches us in this passage:

The Kingdom is present in Jesus himself. It isn't merely coming in the future, it is present now in Jesus. It will be fully revealed in the future, but don't discount the power of the Kingdom present now. For you theologian types this is called "realized eschatology."

  • We can expect false messiahs and false prophets to appear. We are not to believe them.
  • When Jesus returns to this earth he will come with lightning swiftness and be seen by everyone. There'll be no mistake about what happened.
  • While Jesus is the glorious coming Son of Man (Daniel 7:13), he will first be rejected and suffer. This must have been the hardest for the disciples to understand. A condemned and executed messiah? For the disciples this is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

What does this mean to you and me? Is this just more fodder for constructing an a End Times calendar? No. Jesus wants to establish and steady us so we aren't easily moved by what people say -- either rejecting Jesus as the Messiah or running off after every claimant. We are to be patient, and not let the seeming defeats of Christ and Christianity move us from our expectation of his glorious return. We must stay awake and be ready, for he will surely come -- at a time we do not expect. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

(In the next lesson we'll examine the rest of this passage -- Luke 17:26-37)


Heavenly Father, sometimes Jesus' return can seem pretty remote to me. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the struggles of the present. Give me a healthy expectation and hope in Jesus' coming. Help me to so orient my life that my values center on being ready for his coming, not just reacting to the stresses of my environment. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"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." (Luke 17:20b-21)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

Let's be gentle with each other as we answer these questions. We don't have to force each other to agree with our views.

  1. How could the Kingdom be in or in the midst of the Pharisees? (17:20-21)
  2. How do we know for certain that the real messiah won't be the subject of messiah-sightings in the next decade or two? (17:22-23)
  3. According to 17:24, will Jesus' coming be secret or public?
  4. Why was it so difficult for the disciples to comprehend that Jesus had to suffer?
  5. There's been a lot of speculation in our own day about the coming of Christ. Witness the huge mainstream popularity of Tim LeHay's "Left Behind" series. What are the problems this creates for disciples? What are the strengths this offers disciples?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[714] "Eschatology" means a study of the end times. See my article, "Introduction to Eschatology" in Appendix 2.

[715] Rudolf Meyer, pharisaios, TDNT 9:27. He cites Josephus, Antiquities 18, 4ff.

[716] Paratēresis, BDAG 771-772.

[717] Entos, BDAG 340.

[718] Some scholars have suggested the meaning to be that the kingdom is "within your reach," that is, attainable if you go the right way about it. Marshall, Luke, p. 655, notes that this view was supported by a study by C.H. Roberts of the usage in the papyri, meaning, "in the hands of, in the control of, within the power of," hence meaning here "within your reach" or "within your grasp." But another interpretation of the papyri usage is possible. H. Riesenfeld and A. Wikgren suggest that the meaning in the papyri is rather, "in the house of," that is, "in your domain, among you." Marshall, Luke, p. 655, sees this as making good sense, so "Jesus is speaking of the presence of the kingdom of God among men, possibly as something within their grasp if they will only take hold of it."

[719] See NIV, KJV, Green, Luke, p. 630, fn. 54; Ladd, Theology of the NT, p. 121; Barclay, p. 220, sees both interpretation #1 and #2 as possible.

[720] So Moffatt; RSV; Henry Alford, Greek NT, 1:609, "(already) among you"; Morris, Luke, p. 359; Green, Luke, p. 630; BDAG 340-41 sees this as patterned after Isaiah 45:14, with entos in the sense of "'among you, in your midst,' either now or suddenly in the near future."

[721] Marshall, Luke, p. 658 gives six possible interpretations, but sees the future day that the Son of Man comes as "the least unsatisfactory."

[722] Astrapē, BDAG 146.

[723] Lampō, BDAG 585-586.

[724] Paschō, BDAG 785-786.

[725] Apodokimazō, BDAG 110.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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