Vicky McQuarrie is currently a BA student at 'Westminister Theological Centre'. She has worked at Coventry Cathedral and she is currently churchwarden at St Elisabeth's Anglican Church, Reddish. Here she takes a closer look at the term 'Kingdom of God' and considers how Jesus draws our attention to the model of 'loving community' in Luke 17:21:
‘..nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
In this article I shall look at Luke 17:21 and consider the different views of the 'Kingdom of God'. I shall explore why it is Jesus answers in the way he does and what that answer means for us today. We shall start with a very brief overview of the kingdom of God in ancient Judaism before moving on to Jesus' vision of the Kingdom, a deeper look at Luke 17:21 and how this affects us today.
The Kingdom of God
The concept of the ‘Kingdom of God’ comes from early Judaism. This belief took a number of characteristics. Dr Chrys Caragounis lays them out as follows: (1) Yahweh’s eschatological arrival in judgement to condemn Israel’s enemies, (2) To honour and commend Israel and to set up God’s reign through the messianic King of Davidic descent. (3) Daniel’s revelations of the Kingdom in Daniel 7, and (4) the ongoing struggle over the rule of Palestine by the Gentiles which inflamed passions for liberation, long term peace and comfort. We can see from these various ideas on the ‘Kingdom of God’ that there was not one overall complete theory. This may help us to see why the Pharisees question Jesus regarding it, they want to know exactly what his take on it is, and if he is to offer them any insight to which they can respond.
The ‘Kingdom of God’ is mentioned more times in Luke than any other Gospel, 32 times in all. Matthew, by contrast, speaks of the ‘Kingdom of heaven’ and is broader in the descriptions and the statements regarding it that he presents. From the outset of Luke's Gospel the ‘Kingdom of God’ is mentioned (Lk:1:33) when the Angel speaks to Mary at the Annunciation. The 'Kingdom of God' was pivotal to Luke’s Gospel and I suggest Luke’s follow-on narrative - the Acts of the Apostles - goes on to detail how this ‘Kingdom of God’ looks in practice and how it played out in the lives of Jesus’ followers.
Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God
It seems Jesus’ vision lines up with some of the ideas from the Old Testament, but his view goes much further and is more vigorous, powerful and active. Firstly, Jesus knew the ‘Kingdom of God’ was connected to himself as the ‘Son of Man’ (again from Daniel 7) and that only the Divine could bring it about. Secondly, it was not about a specific geographical location. Thirdly, it was present and yet still hidden and lay ahead in time. And fourthly, means of entry to it was not reliant upon Jewish heritage or even association. So while Jesus’ was consistent with Jewish beliefs he developed the view further and revealed the 'Kingdom' to be even more spectacular and inviting than anyone could possibly have imagined before.
This particular verse in question is located within what scholars call the ‘travel narrative’ of Luke. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus’ mind is starting to focus upon the events of the ‘passion narrative’ that are about to play themselves out. From this point on Jesus’ teaching in Luke becomes far more urgent and forward looking. It is possible to read this verse as Jesus being interrupted and giving the Pharisees an answer out of annoyance. What precise tone he said it in we are unsure! Jesus tells the Pharisees, who regarded themselves as sort of ‘watchmen’ for Israel and for God’s activity, that the ‘Kingdom’ is not something they will be able to spot by observing with their physical eyes. This seems an odd thing for Jesus to say because in Luke 10:9, when he sends out the Seventy, he instructs them “cure the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’” It is easy then to think if people are getting healed that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is in fact near and tangible to them, isn’t that what Jesus had said? But here Jesus is saying you cannot observe it in that way. Might this verse in chapter 17 actually unlock the meaning of the earlier verse in chapter 10?
“The Kingdom of God is among you”
Scholars debate what the translation of ‘Entos Hymon Estin’ is offering us a choice of ‘within, among’, or ‘in your midst.’ Anglican Bishop NT Wright suggests the translation most helpful for this verse is ‘The Kingdom of God is within your grasp.’ For me this doesn’t present a problem as such. I think what Jesus is saying lines up with the rest of his teaching in Luke - the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (18:1-8), the Pharisee and the tax collector (18:9-14), welcoming children (18:15-17), the rich ruler (18:18-28), Zaccheus (19:1-9), paying taxes (20:20-26), the widow’s offering (21:1-4), who will be greatest (22:24-28) - all of which are to do with how you go about things in your life. God may indeed choose to heal people you pray for, but if you and the community you are in are not living in the way Jesus encourages us to, then it is not a sign of the ‘Kingdom of God’. The ‘Kingdom of God’ is seen in community, which makes sense if it is not a designated or a physical place. It also makes sense that it is ‘present’ but still connected to ‘the future.’ It fits that no one is excluded from the ‘Kingdom of God’ if it is to be found in those authentic 'Jesus centred’ communities. The Kingdom of God is within communities which are loving, forgiving, kind, self-giving, all inclusive. Following and taking Jesus’ lead will always draw people in from far and wide. I am aware that to forge and to develop this kind of community sounds exhausting, how is it possible? Here, is where I think Carmelite St Therese of Lisieux can help us out. She writes, “I understand and I know from experience that: 'The kingdom of God is within you.' ….Never have I heard Him (Jesus) speak, but I feel that He is within me at each moment; He is guiding and inspiring me with what I must say and do.” If we all play our part in following and trusting Jesus, in what he inspires us to do and how we behave and act, then such a community will develop and grow itself, and before we know it people will be drawn to what we have ‘among, within and in our midst’, namely 'the Kingdom of God'.
 Chrys C. Caragounis, “Kingdom of God,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (1989): 418.  Tom Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (SPCK, 2012), 469.  St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul - the Autobiography of St. Therese, the Little Flower.
Thank You Vicky for this thoughtful and considered analysis of a Scriptural passage. Do you feel that those authentic 'Jesus-centred communities' have been more visible in these recent months and weeks as people continue to respond to the impact of the 'Coronavirus pandemic' on a local and national level??