Published 4th January 2019
By John Aldworth


Luke 17:20-25: And when He was demanded of the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or lo there! For behold the kingdom of God is within you.

And He said unto the disciples, The days will come when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and ye shall not see it. And they shall say unto you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth to the other part under heaven; so also shall the Son of Man be in his day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected of this generation. 


It is widely believed by many today that the kingdom of God (courtesy of the ‘Holy Spirit’) already indwells them. And the scriptural proof often cited for this is the phrase, ‘For behold the kingdom of God is within you’ found in Luke 17:20.

However, I beg leave to suggest that the idea that right now the kingdom of God as such is present in power and authority in each believer is based on a misunderstanding. While it is true that Christ indwells the believer by faith, his kingdom, as He Himself repeatedly said, is yet to come. Indeed in the passage quoted above it is the only point on Jesus and the Pharisees agree – that the kingdom of God was yet to come.

And in our day, nearly 2,000 years later, the Lord’s kingdom, in which He will rule over earth from heaven and hold total sway in human hearts is still yet to come[1]. However, rather than ‘wait’ for it, as Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:41) did and ‘look’ for it as we later believers have been told to do by the Apostle Paul[2], many today prefer to believe it has already come, at least in part.

For example, in its promotional television videos a large Auckland, New Zealand, church invites each person who joins it to be ‘a kingdom builder’. Such ‘Kingdom Now’ theology holds that God is now using people, movements and churches to ‘build the kingdom’. In its extreme form this view holds that Jesus will only return when militant believers have already conquered the world on his behalf and thus brought in the kingdom for Him.

In their take on it Pentecostals believe that the kingdom is already present, in that most, if not all, of God’s blessings, past present and future, can be experienced now through ongoing ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost’, not recognising that this outpouring of God’s Spirit was a one-time only experience for Jews and Gentiles in the Acts period Church of God, and, along with its associated spiritual gifts, ceased at the end of that Pentecostal dispensation[3]. Yet today John Wimber’s Vineyard movement still asserts that God's kingdom came through Jesus and continues to come today through the Holy Spirit.

Despite 1st Chronicles 29:11 and the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6: 13 declaring that ‘thine is the kingdom, O Lord’, meaning that the Lord Jehovah is the one and only rightful ruler of heaven and earth, the Roman Catholic Church holds that it itself takes his place as the kingdom of God on earth with the pope ruling on Christ’s behalf. What’s more, nearly all other major churches and Christian organisations believe they are a continuation of the apostolic ‘early church’, and thus of the kingdom, even though the Bible clearly teaches that the Church of God along with the kingdom supernatural gifts ceased at the end of the Book of Acts.

Furthermore Fuller Seminary theologian George Eldon Ladd held that because of an ‘overlap’ between the ‘this age’ and the ‘age to come’ kingdom power could be ‘tasted’ now. This led to the Vineyard Movement founded by John Wimber asserting that God's kingdom came through Jesus and continues to come through the Holy Spirit accompanied by ‘signs and wonders’. Sadly, accounts of the latter proved on examination to be greatly exaggerated.

So, today, despite being taught by the Lord Himself to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’, most Christians seem to believe the kingdom has already arrived in some form or other. So much so one popular song says, ‘We, your church, enforce your will on earth’. Really? I must have been asleep when that enforcement happened. Nevertheless many truly believe they are ‘extending’ the kingdom through evangelising, missionary work and social action.

Now, certainly the gospel should be preached and the saved invited to tell others. It is also true that Christ is building his church, laying the foundation for his kingdom to come by saving those who believe. But ‘save’ in this sense means saving the saved for another day when He will deploy them as servants in his kingdom in the world to come[4]. Meantime they will die and await resurrection. Importantly, the kingdom is the Lord’s. It is his power and glory that will bring it about, not the puny efforts of men to build a substitute for it on earth. The kingdom should also be seen as God’s gift to mankind. Thus Jesus told the faithful few who followed Him on earth:

                Fear not little flock; it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.[5]

This gift of the kingdom was given in part in the Acts period when, as the Apostle Peter records, Jewish believers in Jesus ‘tasted the powers of the world to come’[6]. It was then suspended when God brought in a new dispensation, that of grace and the mystery. Today no such ‘powers’ are experienced because salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by ‘works’, even if those works supposedly aim to build the kingdom[7].

Ironically, while Jesus told his disciples to ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God’, today many churches and Christians claim to be building it through social work. The notion that man, not God, could inaugurate the kingdom began with the philosophers Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl who believed that the kingdom of God referred to a world of ideal human relations and thus envisaged a perfect Christian society people could bring about by themselves. According to Wikipaedia their view helped bring about the secularisation of Jesus’ kingdom teaching and led to the development of liberal theology in the 1930s, and the Social Gospel movement everywhere since.

Now here are some salient facts that make clear that Luke 17:20 cannot be taken to mean that the kingdom of God was neither within the Pharisees Jesus spoke to nearly 2,000 years ago, nor is in anybody today:

  • The whole passage (Luke 17:20-37) is all about the future coming of the kingdom of God which the Lord described as ‘one of the days of the Son of Man’ (vss. 22 and 24). The terms ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘day of the Son of Man’ refer to the same event which is later denoted as ‘the Day of Christ’ by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:8, Phil. 1:10, 2:16). There is not a word about it having already come and thus being experienced in the present.
  • If the kingdom of God really was ‘within’ the Pharisees nearly 2,000 years ago, as an isolated reading of Jesus’s words implies, then how does one explain their rage and hatred of Him, their implacable resolve to kill Him? If that is the outcome of having the kingdom of God within you then I would prefer to not have it in me. There has to be another explanation, and later we will see there is.
  • Jesus bluntly told the Pharisees that ‘the kingdom of God cometh not with observation’; that is it won’t come by the observing of times, feasts, ceremonies and seasons. In fact there is nothing man can do to bring it about. Nor will there be any signs to precede its coming, as he explained to his disciples (vss. 23-24).
  • The kingdom would come, He said, just as suddenly as the Flood swept away the people eating, drinking and marrying in Noah’s day. They were oblivious to the coming judgement ‘until the day that Noah entered the ark and the Flood came’. Likewise in the days of Lot they ate, drank, bought and sold, planted and built until the day Lot went out of Sodom. Even so the coming of the kingdom of God will happen in a day and without warning. Suddenly, the Son of Man will be revealed to everyone on earth as the great King and Saviour that He is. The sky will light up with his presence and day and night the heavens right around the earth will be ablaze with his glory. Just as God and the prophets said would be[8].
  • Then and only then will the kingdom of God be revealed within the heart of each person. In that day, which is the ‘world to come’, whenever a person looks up he will see the Lord’s glory in the sky; whenever he looks within himself he will find Christ the King ruling and guiding there.
  • Proof that is what Christ meant when He said, ‘The kingdom of God is within you’ is found in the very same verse, Luke 17:21:

Neither shall they say, Lo here, or, lo there! For (then they will be saying), Behold the kingdom of God is within you. 

  • In other words when Christ is revealed as King in his kingdom, nobody will say, ‘Look here, see there!’ to point to the reality of the kingdom’s presence. For the kingdom will be everywhere and in every heart. Believe it or not even the Bible will be understood by all[9]. So much so the people will say: ‘Look. The kingdom of God is within you’. Clearly it wasn’t in the hearts and minds of the Pharisees Jesus spoke to, for as the Apostle Paul wrote: ‘… the kingdom of God is not meat (food) and drink; but ‘righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’.[10] Peace? The Pharisees’ hearts were full of hatred. Furthermore, it should be noted, that the ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost’ Paul spoke of was not the experience of anybody, even believers, at the time Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, for the Holy Ghost was ‘not yet given’[11]. In the interim joy came from being with Jesus and believing what He said.
  • Failure to see that even now the coming of the kingdom of God is still future has prompted attempts to re-interpret Jesus’s words making them something that happened then and there to the Pharisees when He spoke to them. For example, the King James Bible footnote suggests the words ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you’ should be re-stated to say ‘in your midst’. Others have suggested it should read ‘the kingdom of God is among you’, and indeed it one sense it was, in that the King was present with them. However, his presence was only temporary and the context of Luke 17:20-37 establishes beyond all doubt that Christ was talking about a future event, and that He was at pains to make his disciples understand that.
  • In fact, so far in the future was the kingdom’s advent and the revelation of the Son of Man that it is clear Christ talking about the time when his faithful disciples will be resurrected when He speaks of ‘… those which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead’. Remember, Jesus said it was the Father’s will ‘that every one that seeth the Son and believeth on Him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day’.[12] He did not say they would go to heaven.
  • The kingdom as a present experience was only seen in the miracles of Jesus’s three and a half year earthly ministry with a further ‘taste’ of it during the Acts period. At the close of Acts the miracles, supernatural gifts and powerful public workings of the Holy Ghost came to an end.[13] The dispensation of the grace of God and the mystery came in[14] and signs and wonders went out. As to the coming of the kingdom of God, the Apostle Paul’s message to grace-saved believers was not that they could experience it in this life but that they should be…

… looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ[15].

Why? Because it is at his appearing that the risen glorified Lord will bring in his kingdom and ‘judge the quick and the dead’[16]. Entry into the kingdom of God then is hinged upon acceptance of Christ and trust in Him in this present life with the benefits of kingdom living to follow after death and resurrection[17].

Jesus promised his disciples they would see Him revealed in his glory and the kingdom brought in and ultimately restored to Israel. But this will take place thousands of years after their death. Therefore the disciples would have to be resurrected to ‘enter the kingdom’. And so will most believers. For us who will die soon there is no other way but resurrection. So, when the Lord told the Sadducees and Pharisees ‘the harlots and publicans go into the kingdom before you’, He did not mean they entered into the fullness of it there and then. Rather, by believing Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man they had booked their entry ticket (resurrection) into the world to come.

Fact is, it was only to such believing  disciples that Christ revealed ‘the mystery of the kingdom’[18], which was and is that, although it had been proclaimed as ‘at hand’, upon Israel’s rejection of their rightful king its advent was postponed into the far future. Nevertheless, the disciples, were told they would be there to take part in it and the apostles that, under Christ, they would rule over Israel[19]..

Confirmation of this is that on three occasions the Lord promised He would raise up believers ‘at the last day’, meaning the Day of the Son of Man (otherwise known as ‘the Day of Christ’). As already noted, He promised the apostles when the Son of Man was revealed in his kingdom they would sit on 12 thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

To sum up, the kingdom of God is not ‘within’ anybody today, except as the blessed hope that soon Christ Himself will appear to inaugurate it[20]. It was not ‘within’ the Pharisees in Jesus’ time on earth, and it is not being brought about by conversion, social work or bettering society today. Sadly, the false belief that on one hand that the kingdom is manifested in the heart by the Spirit today and on the other that mankind can bring it about by social improvement is blinding believers to the one truth that is their ‘blessed hope’.  That hope is that when Christ appears ‘at his kingdom’ He will judge those worthy to be resurrected to join Him in that world to come.

[1] 2 Timothy 4:1, Philippians 2:10-11

[2] Titus 2:13

[3] 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, Acts 28:28

[4] Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30

[5] Luke 12:32

[6] Hebrews 2:5

[7] Ephesians 2:8-9

[8] Numbers 14:21, Psalm 19:2, Habakkuk 2:14

[9] Psalm 33:15, Psalm 19: 1-4, Isaiah 40:5, 29:18

[10] Romans 14:17

[11] John 7:39

[12] John 6:39, 40.

[13] Acts 28: 28 

[14] Ephesians 3:1-4

[15] Titus 2:13

[16] 2 Timothy 4:1

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:22

[18] Mark 4:11

[19] Matthew 19:28

[20] Titus 2:13