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The following is an excerpt from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Luke 17.
He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (17:20b–21)
As He consistently did in His confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus dismantled their misconceptions. The present form of the kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, He told them. Their constant seeking after signs was therefore misguided, based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the spiritual kingdom. There are no visible signs of the coming of that aspect of the kingdom that would lead people to say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!”; its coming will not be heralded by visible spectacles.
The Pharisees failed to discern the spiritual kingdom because not having experienced the new birth, they were dead and blind. Jesus told the prominent Pharisee Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3; cf. Matt. 13:11–16). As the apostle Paul would later write, “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Those who fail to recognize the King cannot see His kingdom.
But the spiritual kingdom will not always remain invisible. At Christ’s second coming, it will be unmistakably visible to all (Rev. 1:7; cf. 19:11–21). Not only will He be revealed in all His glory, but the redeemed will also be unveiled for who they really are (Rom. 8:19–21; 1 John 3:2). But until then the kingdom will continue to expand invisibly as people are added to it by salvation.
Idou (behold) introduces the Lord’s shocking statement that “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Entos (midst) literally means “inside.” In its only other appearance in the New Testament, the word refers to the inside of a cup (Matt. 23:26). Many translators, seeking to avoid the apparent difficulty of Jesus saying that the kingdom was inside the unbelieving Pharisees, translate the phrase in which it appears in your midst. However a different phrase, en mes¯o, is regularly used to communicate the idea of “in the midst of,” or “among” (e.g., Matt. 10:16; Luke 2:46; 8:7; 10:3; 22:27; 24:36; Acts 1:15; 2:22; Heb. 2:12). The apparent difficulty is easily resolved by understanding your in the broadest national sense rather than as a narrow reference to the Pharisees. As was inevitably the case, the crowd listening to the Lord’s dialogue with the Pharisees ran the gamut from the outright rejecters to the curious but uncommitted, to the true disciples of Jesus. The Lord was reinforcing the point that the spiritual kingdom is internal and not manifested by observable signs.
The kingdom of which Jesus spoke is, as Paul wrote, marked by “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). It exists in the hearts of all those in whom the King lives. The wonder of wonders is that the Trinity takes up residence in the hearts of those who embrace Christ and enter the spiritual kingdom. In John 14:17 Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would indwell believers, while in verse 23 He added, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”
Entering the spiritual kingdom by the gospel became the message of the early church. During the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension, Jesus prepared them to preach that message by “speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Philip the evangelist’s ministry involved “preaching the good news about the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). The apostle Paul “strengthen[ed] the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). In Ephesus “he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). When he met with the leaders of the Jewish community at Rome Paul “was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening” (Acts 28:23). He told the Corinthians that “the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20), and warned them that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9; cf. Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). So central was the kingdom to Paul’s ministry that he described himself as a worker for the kingdom of God (Col. 4:11).
The prophesied signs concerning the future earthly kingdom that the Pharisees demanded from Jesus will be manifested when that kingdom is established at the second coming. Our Lord’s return to judge unbelievers and establish His earthly kingdom is the subject of the next section of Luke’s gospel.