The original question posed by the Pharisees was, "When is the Kingdom of God coming?" (verse 20). The long section from the end of verse 20 to verse 37 is Jesus' answer, first to the Pharisees (verses 20-21) and then to His disciples (verses 22-37). His reply to the Pharisees is rather curt: "You won't be able to discern the coming of the Kingdom because you haven't recognized that I am its chief representative, though I have been among you."
In His longer explanation to His disciples, Jesus goes into quite a bit more detail about the timing and conditions of establishing His Kingdom. First, He says, do not be deceived when people tell you Christ has come (verses 22-23). We will know very well when He returns; it will be like a flash of lightning that everyone will see (verse 24). However, before this can happen, Jesus must be tortured and crucified as man's Redeemer (verse 25). From our vantage point, which the disciples did not have, we know that this condition has already been met at Golgotha or Calvary.
Then He gives details about the conditions in the world when He returns. It will be as it was in the days of Noah and Lot (verses 26-30). He highlights two major signs of the end here:
1. He will come suddenly when people do not expect Him to return. Most people will be going about their normal activities, unaware of the times.
2. When He returns, society will be degenerate and wicked just as it was before the Flood came and before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 6:5-7; 18:20; 19:1-11).
Luke 17:31-33 shows that, for His disciples, His coming will result in a test of faith. They will have to be willing to leave everything behind—their homes, their possessions, even their loved ones—in order to obey the call of God. Lot's wife turned back in longing for what she had left behind, and God's judgment fell swiftly upon her. We may have to be willing even to give up our lives for salvation, because in trying to save our physical lives, we would have to renounce our beliefs.
Verses 34-36 illustrate three scenes of judgment. These show that Christ will judge us individually, and despite how close we may be to another—a spouse, a neighbor, a co-worker—our obedience and good works will not deliver anyone else (see Ezekiel 14:12-20). We will have to prove ourselves to the righteous Judge of all (Acts 17:31; Romans 14:10).
Finally, the disciples ask Jesus where these things will take place (Luke 17:37). His reply is better translated in the Revised English Bible: "Where the carcass is, there will the vultures gather." This seems somewhat enigmatic, but if we take what He says literally, He implies that He will return at a place of great carnage. This would parallel the scenarios prophesied in Zechariah 14:1-5 and Revelation 19:11-21 (see especially verses 17-18, 21b).
All through this section Jesus is describing real circumstances, real people, and real places. He speaks of a literal Kingdom to be established at His return "with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30).
Since the context of Luke 17:21 is Christ's second coming, and Jesus is speaking in great detail about the time, place, and conditions of His return, we must see His Kingdom as a literal government—just as real as any government of man. We cannot divorce "the Kingdom of God is among you" from this larger topic. Doing so distorts the true meaning of a literal, soon-coming Kingdom ruled by Jesus Christ that will grow to fill the whole earth after His return.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is the Kingdom of God Within You?
This raises the frequently asked question: Did Jesus really mean "within you"? Or did He mean "among you"? Whichever one of these options Jesus meant—or even both of them—does not negate the facts that:
» The Kingdom of God certainly did reside in the Person of the human Jesus Christ.
» God's Kingdom certainly does reside today in His brothers and sisters—the members of His church—by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.
» The fullness of God's Kingdom must come, completely, at "the fullness of times," which will be at some time in the future: ". . . that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him" (Ephesians 1:10).
We know that the Kingdom of God was inherent within the human Jesus; and therefore, if we are now in Him by His Spirit dwelling in us, then the Kingdom is inherent within us too.
Actually, the "within you or among you" argument is something of a moot point. Why? Because God's Kingdom certainly did not originate with the conception or birth of the human Jesus. Rather, it was actually originated and prepared millennia prior to Jesus' human lifetime. As the Logos, He and God the Father began preparing their Kingdom way back in prehistory, at the time God's Word calls "the foundation of the world."
Jesus says in Matthew 25:34: "Then the King [Jesus Christ] will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Hebrews 4:3 also shows that God's Kingdom was planned "from the foundation of the world": "For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: 'So I swore in My wrath, "They shall not enter My rest,"' although the works were finished from the foundation of the world."
God the Father and Jesus had completed the major part of their preparation work for their Kingdom eons ago!
Thy Kingdom Come! (Part One)
It is evident that the Pharisees' conception of the Kingdom of God differs from that of Jesus. They believed in a spectacular, visible establishment of the Kingdom, even as we look forward to its fulfillment in the near future. However, in Luke 10:9, 11 and again in Luke 11:20, Jesus plainly says that it was already present, whether in the persons of the apostles or Himself, as exhibited in their acts. Acts can include miracles, conduct, and their messages. His statement in Luke 17:20-21 explains that they should not expect a visible manifestation of the Kingdom as they perceived it at that time.
Theologians may argue over the interpretation of words, but Jesus' own testimony undoubtedly implies that the Kingdom of God was in their presence in His Person and ministry. Therefore, the last phrase of Luke 17:21 should be translated as, "The kingdom of God is among you." Barnes' Notes, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, Expositor's Bible Commentary, The New International Biblical Commentary, and The Interpreter's Bible all agree on this conclusion. He was in their midst, and He was within the Kingdom of God.
When this is combined with John 18:36 (where Jesus declares that His Kingdom "is not from here") and many other scriptures pointing to the establishment of God's Kingdom with power at Christ's return, we can understand that it is both a present and a future reality. In addition, it has both heavenly and earthly aspects. On one hand, it is present and near in the people to whom God has given His Spirit and has chosen to represent Him. On the other, it is distant in terms of time and as a geographical and governing reality. As a present reality, it is small, goes virtually unnoticed, and rules over little. Yet, in the future, at Christ's return, it will dominate and rule the earth. It is certainly not established in its fullness on earth now. Nonetheless, Scripture also proves that it is a present, earthy reality having earth-bound, flesh-and-blood citizens who are, in the Bible's terms, "spiritually minded" or "in the Spirit."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 17:20: