By Steven Bancarz| In Luke 17:20-21, it reads “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” (KJV).
This verse has become somewhat famous within the New Age movement and is often used to support the idea that we are intrinsically connected to God in a spiritual way, and all we have to do is tap into our inner selves where the Kingdom of God already dwells. It’s something intrinsically within, not without.
But is this really what Jesus is trying to communicate here? That the Kingdom of God is a dormant state of being waiting to be realized by us through self-discovery? Was Jesus condoning pantheism here?
As it turns out, not only is this a false interpretation of this verse, but most English translations don’t even say the Kingdom of God is within you. Let’s look at a few major reasons why we know that Jesus as not meaning this in a mystical sense.
1. This is a false interpretation of this verse
This verse simply means that God’s Kingdom on earth will not be seen as some physical buildings or a specific geographical location (at least not until after the second coming), it’s established within the hearts and spirits of those who are born again in His Son.
When you actively believe on Jesus Christ, His Spirit bears itself inside you. So His Kingdom is here now in terms of Christians being the vessels for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is how God’s Kingdom is manifesting itself in the world right now. So God’s Kingdom will be seen manifested on earth in the hearts of believers via the Holy Spirit.
There are many, many verses in the New Testament that deal with the indwelling of the Spirit of God within the born-again believer in Christ:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” – Romans 8:11
2. Jesus called the Pharisees children of Satan, which means he never intended to say it was already within everyone
This verse cannot mean that God’s Kingdom is something within everyone, because the people who Jesus said this to he specifically called the children of Satan. The Pharisees, whom he said this to, he also called blind guides (Matt 23:16), fools (Matt 23:17), full of dead man’s bones, and all uncleaness (Matt 23:27), serpents, a generation of vibers (Matt 22:33), hypocrites (Luke 11:44).
He asked them how they could escape the damnation of Hell (Matt 22:33). He even says that their Father is the devil (John 8:44). So Jesus clearly is not saying the Kingdom of God is within the same people whom he called spiritually blind children of Satan who will be damned to Hell. He constantly rebuked the Pharisees, and they constantly tried to persecute, trap, and kill him.
Interpreting this verse to mean the Kingdom of God is already within each person wouldn’t make sense because Jesus made it very clear that the Kingdom of God was not within the Pharisees, the ones whom he said this to.
3. The entire Bible is premised on the idea that the Kingdom of God is not already within us
The entire gospel story and the entire New Testament is premised on the idea that it’s NOT within everybody. At least, not until we are saved through faith. That’s one of the reasons Christ died, is so that we can be reconciled back to God from whom we are separated, through the atoning blood of Jesus which we have applied to us through faith (2 Cor 5:18).
Outside of faith in Christ the Bible says we are children of wrath (Eph 2:3), and enemies of God (Rom 5:10). This may be offensive to some people, but proper exegesis warrants us to also consider that it calls us children of the devil (1 John 3:10) who are alienated from God (Col 1:21) before we became saved through faith. Outside of salvation through faith in the work Jesus did on the cross, we are living under the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:3, Eph 2:2).
And this is because we are in sin and have rejected God’s offer of salvation. Not only is the Kingdom of God not within unbelievers, unbelievers are said to belong to the enemy of God. This is what an honest exegesis of scripture demands we believe about the human condition. The Bible does not say that the Kingdom of God is within everyone, it says the opposite and tells us that we are separated from God (Isaiah 59:2) until we believe on the Lord.
This may be a hard pill to swallow for some readers, but this is what the Bible has to say about the idea that God is something we all have dormant within us independent of faith in Jesus.
So Jesus is clearly not saying it’s within everybody already if the New Testament and the entire Bible is premised on the idea that humankind is separated from God. Thankfully, we can easily be saved by grace through faith and trusting with our hearts on the death and Resurrection of the Lord. This is the good news, that we really can enter into Heaven, and Heaven into us.
4. Jesus may have never said this. There are better translations
Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, it is sometimes helpful to go back to the Greek as a reference to see what the verses mean in their original language. The word for “within” in Greek is “entos”.
But entos doesn’t just mean “within”, it can also mean “among”, or “In the midst of”. So while this verse can be translated to, “The Kingdom of God is within you”, it can also also be translated to “The Kingdom of God is among you” or “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you”, which would of course be Jesus referring to Himself and the establishment of His Kingdom which starts with him and his ministry.
In fact, the majority of english translations don’t even say “The Kingdom of God is within you”. Here is a list of translations that don’t say “within you”:
ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT, RSV, CEB, CJB, CEV, ERV, AMP, HCSB, ISV, LEB, DARBY, LEB, MSG, MOUNCE, NABRE, NET, NIRV, NRSVA, NRSVACE, NRSVCE, RSVCE, TLV, VOICE 27 total).
Some of these translations, such as the ESV and NASB, are arguably the very best translations we have today. So just as well as someone could say “Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you”, one could say that he didn’t say that, and they’d be just as correct (if not, more correct) if we are going to go with what most Bibles and literary scholars say about this verse.
So right off the bat, the mystic has to cherry-pick from the minority of Bible to translations to interpret this verse in a way that happens to contradict the rest of the New Testament.
We could look at another 3 major points, ranging from warnings against different Gospels by the apostles themselves, and the obvious fact that Jesus was a Jewish monotheist who claimed to be sent by Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. But I think these reasons are enough to help provide a more clear understanding of what Jesus really meant.
Here is a more robust study on this verse and the reason why this is not a reference to mysticism or pantheism:
So while it may seem appealing or attractive to interpret Jesus in a mystical sense, the truth is that Jesus was a Jew who claimed his Father was the God of the Old Testament, and everything he taught, said, and did is opposed to mysticism.
As a matter of just basic history and proper exegesis of these ancient texts, it is far from justified to claim that Jesus intended to say that God was already inside us waiting to be known. God is certainly waiting to be known by us, but like Jesus says, nobody comes to the Father unless it is through believing on him.