Luke 17:20-21 – The Kingdom of God
"In your midst?" or "Within you?"
The question of the nature of the Kingdom is a vital question, needless to say. Some say the kingdom is not yet established. Some say that the kingdom will not come until we die. Some identify the kingdom as a geographically defined entity, in the fashion of the Old Covenant Kingdom of David.
In Luke 17 Jesus seems to say something vitally important about the nature of that kingdom, and yet, his statements continue to perplex commentators to this day. In the following examination of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17, guest author Jim Nicolosi shares with us some excellent thoughts on what Jesus said. The implications of Luke 17- when properly understood– are profound, and thrilling! We appreciate Jim Nicolosi’s excellent work, and wanted to share it with our readers. We have slightly edited Jim’s article for our purposes, but, all changes were approved by him.
Consider the following scripture versions:
Luke 17:20-21 (KJV) – 20 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. 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (KJV)
Luke 17:20-21 (NASB) – 20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say,’ Look, here it is!’ or,’ There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst. " NASB
The KJV uses the term "within you". The NASB uses the term "in your midst." Some Bible translations use the interpretation "in your midst" in Luke 17:21 while other version translate it as "within you". A number of commentaries and various 21st century thinkers support the Luke 17:20-21 interpretation "in you midst" in lieu of "within you". The reason given by the commentaries and various 21st century thinkers is that Jesus is making this statement to the Pharisees and they reason that the kingdom could not possibly be found within these individuals (the Pharisees) as the Pharisees were rejecting Jesus and were not believers in Him. I do not disagree with this line of reasoning. Some of the commentaries and various 21st century thinkers simply say that Jesus was telling the Pharisees that He was standing in their midst. I think this misses the mark. The Luke 17:21 verse bears additional scrutiny.
Of note is that the Greek word in Luke 17:21 translated "midst" in the NASB and other versions is "entos" (Strong’s NT: 1787). The word "entos" is used two times in the NT. In addition to Luke 17:21, it is used in Matthew 23:26.
Matthew 23:26 – Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within (entos) the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. KJV
Matt 23:25 – "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside (entos) they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. NASB
Upon initial inspection, the term "entos" in Matthew 23:26 (KJV) provides a completely different meaning that the one used in Luke 17:20. Specifically, in Matthew 23:26, "entos" is used to designate a location (within or inside the cup and platter). It is contrasted with another location (outside of them) in the same biblical verse. The meaning is rather straight forward. Jesus was saying both the inside and outside of the cup and platter should be clean. Jesus was making a rhetorical statement. His statement here in Matthew 23:26 was not a cleanliness commentary on dishware but rather a cleanliness commentary on hearts of the Pharisees. They looked clean on the outside from all outward appearances. However, Jesus knew the inside was another matter.
As the meaning of "entos" as used in Matthew 23:26 is fairly straight forward, I would argue that it should be used in a similar fashion in Luke 17:21 (i.e. the kingdom of God is within you) as translated in the KJV version, since it is the only other time that "entos" is used in the NT.
The issue of the audience of the Pharisees that Jesus is speaking to is rather easily addressed. As demonstrated in Matthew 23:26, I would argue that Jesus is making a rhetorical statement to the Pharisees. He was harkening back to the intimate relationship that existed between God and man (Adam) prior to the fall. He was not saying to the Pharisees specifically that the kingdom of God was within them personally as demonstrated by their behavior documented throughout the NT (with the exception of Joseph of Aramithea and Nicodemus). Jesus was commenting on the nature of the kingdom– i.e. it is an inner, spiritual kingdom, not a geo-politico kingdom like they were expecting. He was not saying that the kingdom was, at that moment, in the heart of the Pharisees. They were expecting one kind of kingdom, Jesus was speaking of another kind of kingdom. They looked on the external; Jesus was predicting the internal.
Another, and more compelling, reason for the translation to be "within you" rather than "in your midst" is a simple examination of the word "midst". There is a Greek word "mesos"" (Strong’s NT: 3319) that is routinely translated "midst" which is used 62 times in the NT. Luke himself used "mesos"" fourteen times in writing his gospel (~25% of the total usage in the NT). I would have to assume that if he intended us to translate Luke 17:21 as "in the midst" as opposed to "within you", he would have used "mesos"" rather than "entos" as he already demonstrated that he was communicating "midst" in his gospel by using "mesos"".
I would propose that his intended meaning was the same as that of Mathew 23:26. You cannot separate Luke 17:20 from Luke 17:21. In Luke 17:20, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation." It was not going to be a physical event but rather a spiritual event. Remember, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that a time was coming when believers would worship "in spirit and in truth." I b
elieve this ties very nicely with what Jesus said in Luke 17:21. It is my personal understanding that the Parousia of Jesus re-established the full and open (spiritual) relationship with the Father that had been lost through Adam.
Thus, Luke 17 does not affirm that the kingdom was in the hearts of the recalcitrant Pharisees. It does affirm the nature of the kingdom, and it does prove that the full establishment of that kingdom would be in the first century. There are other reasons why Luke 17:21 should be translated "within you" rather than "in your midst" but these are sufficient for this case.
NT: 1787 (used twice in NT) – entos (en-tos’); from NT:1722; inside (adverb or noun): KJV – within.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. KJV
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. KJV
NT: 3319 (used 62 times in NT) – mesos (mes’-os); from NT:3326; middle (as an adjective or [neuter] noun): KJV – among, before them, between, forth, mid [-day, -night], midst, way.
"Mesos" used 14 times in Luke
Luke 22:55 (2)
(Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)