Turn on your TV and tune to just about any televangelist and you will hear teaching about the kingdom of God. Most will say that it has yet to come; they tell us that Christ must come for his people (this is called the rapture) and then after seven years of tribulation, Christ will return with his saints to establish his 1,000 year reign. There are various shades of this doctrine, but for the most part, this is the doctrine in an overview. It was not too long ago that the Left Behind series was very popular. This was a series of books whose authors were promoters of this doctrine.
While a bit sensational, all this doctrine amounts to is good fiction. No where does Scripture talk about the “rapture” and the theological hoops these men have to jump through to arrive at their conclusions are numerous and unnecessary. In fact, when you examine the words of Jesus and what he said about the kingdom, he claimed that it was not thousands of years into the future, but “near” or “at hand.” That was the message he preached (Matt 4.17, cf. v.23): “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In addition, on more than one occasion, Jesus said the kingdom had come (see Luke 11.20; 16.16; 17.21).
And so with a message of the nearness of the kingdom and even advocating that the kingdom was upon the people who heard him, it is no wonder the Pharisees were confused. When they thought of the kingdom, they thought along the same lines as the televangelists do – namely, that this would be a physical kingdom, complete with a king reigning over a certain territory. But Christ is not advocating a physical kingdom; when Christ speaks of the kingdom, it is a spiritual thing. That is why he tells Pilate (twice), “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36). They were missing it. His disciples would miss it (see Acts 1.6). How frustrating that people are still missing it because of a faulty understanding of the kingdom!
Jesus is asked in Luke 17.20 by the Pharisees when the kingdom will come. Its a good question, probably a question on the minds of many of Jesus followers. Jesus gives them a straight answer: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (v.20b-21, ESV).
How the Kingdom will not come
Jesus explains first how the kingdom will not come. He says it will not come with “signs to be observed” or literally with “observation.” This is an interesting word and according to Vincent’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, it is a term used by medical writers concerning the symptoms of a disease. It is also a term used by astronomers, no doubt in their searching the stars for zodiac signs. No wonder Luke, a physician, picked up on this teaching from the Great Physician concerning the kingdom. It is not coming like a cold comes upon a person with signs. It is not like a study of the stars. The old saying is a watched pot never boils. This is how the kingdom is – with watching it will not come. In fact, the truth is that this pot is already boiling. Jesus is trying to tell the Pharisees and everyone else that the kingdom is already present. Also, men are not able to confine the kingdom to a certain location. It is not simply “here” or “there” – in fact, it is everything. The Psalmist writes, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom is over all” (Psalm 103.19, emphasis mine). God’s kingdom is so much bigger than men see. And it is not coming with signs for it has always been and men will not confine for it is “over all.”
How the Kingdom has come
Jesus tells us why this is so in the rest of v.21: “…for behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” And here is the key to understanding the kingdom of God. The reason it does not come with signs and men will not confine it is because it already is among you presently. That’s just what Jesus affirms. It has already come. When did it come? Well, God has always been “over all,” ruling and reigning and exercising sovereignty over everything. Hence, it has always been inasmuch as it is an eternal kingdom. What Christ advocates in his preaching is the individual’s entrance into that kingdom. That is, Christ tells us how we might submit our lives and lives as citizens of the kingdom. Jesus tells us how we might live with God ruling from the throne of our hearts. God ought to be the ruler of our life as we allow him to reign in our lives through his word and the power which comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.