The Gospel of the Kingdom [The mystery form in Luke 17:21]

A COUNTER TEXT TO THE “FULLY FUTURE KINGDOM”

One text that is especially important to the discussion of a purely future kingdom versus a “mystery form” of the kingdom present today (the currently reigning view), and one that is perhaps used more than any other passage to argue for this view (the “mystery” view), is Luke 17:21. Many have attempted to use this passage as undeniable evidence that the original plan and form of the kingdom has been done away with, and replaced by a purely spiritual reign of Christ in the hearts of all Christians. There are, however, numerous problems with this interpretation.

First, it relies upon a faulty translation. Both the King James Version and the American Standard Version translate this verse, “the kingdom of God is within you.” Almost every other translation, however, translates this phrase, “in your midst,” or “among you.” Remember that at this time Jesus was speaking to unrepentant Pharisees. Surely Jesus could not have been telling the Pharisees that the kingdom was something that existed within their hearts. It is clear that these men wanted to destroy Christ (Matthew 12:14; Mark 3:6). As Darrell Bock puts it, “Jesus is not speaking of some potential within each person’s heart to establish the Kingdom. This reading sounds like the romantic notions of nineteenth century scholars on the Kingdom.”

It seems that Jesus was simply pointing out the Pharisees’ lack of discernment to recognize that the kingdom was being offered to them in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus, as the king, was the representative of the kingdom, and in a very real way, the kingdom is present wherever the king is present. However, this is in a representative sense, and not the way many construe it to mean that the kingdom is fully present wherever God has authority. Because, as mentioned before, the kingdom does not refer to just anywhere that God has authority, but refers specifically to the promised Davidic kingdom. There is no basis in this passage for believing the Kingdom of God resides in one’s heart instead of being a literal world-ruling government.

Second, the mystery view misinterprets Jesus’ comment about observing the coming of the kingdom. When Jesus told the Pharisees that the coming of the kingdom would not be observable, He was not saying that the kingdom was invisible. Rather, Jesus is saying that the coming of the kingdom is not a gradual process, as if watching an object gradually approaching. Rather, it will be instantaneous, like lightning, unexpected. There is nothing in the kingdom itself to indicate the time of its approaching (can we say Mark 13:32?).

Jesus’ immediate explanation clarifies what He means. It is clear from the following verses that Jesus’ intended point was that the kingdom was not going to come gradually, but suddenly:

24 For as the lightning flashes from horizon to horizon and lights up the sky, so the Son of Man will be in His day… 28 It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: People went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building. 29 But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed… 34 I tell you, on that night two will be in one bed: One will be taken and the other will be left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together: One will be taken and the other left.

The context could not be clearer; the emphasis Jesus was stressing was one of suddenness, as opposed to observable, gradual approach. Also, verse twenty-five says, “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” This statement clearly rebuts any argument that Jesus was claiming that the kingdom was fully present. Here, Jesus plainly states that there are certain events that must happen, and even to Him, the king, before the kingdom is established.

This issue of the confusion over the timing of the kingdom is discussed more deeply in two very important posts – the first entitled: “The Promised Messiah and the Confused Disciples,” and its sequel: “The Promise and the Provision [Reflections on the Cross].”

Next time, we’ll discuss the remarkable lack of any definition given for the Kingdom in the New Testament, and the implications of this for our particular discussion!

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About Tweed Tavern

We exist to exhort passionate followers of Christ to think more deeply about their faith, and to challenge deep thinkers to become more passionate followers of Christ. Throughout history, taverns have provided a venue for theological and political debate. Hoping to honor that tradition, welcome to the Tavern!
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