Where is the Kingdom of God? Is It In Your Heart?

Where is the Kingdom of God? Is It In Your Heart? May 19, 2011

Part 9 of series:
What Was the Message of Jesus?

On Monday, I began to consider the “location” of the kingdom of God. My first point was:

1. The kingdom of God is not what we call heaven.

God’s reign surely encompasses what we call heaven. But when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, he is not talking simply about life with God after death. Indeed, the kingdom of God touches earth as well as heaven.

This brings us to a second, common misunderstanding of the kingdom of God. Once again, I’ll put up a negative statement and then defend it with evidence from the Gospels:

2. The kingdom is not merely in our hearts.

I cannot tell you how many times in the last twenty years I’ve heard people locate the kingdom of God in human hearts. Christians do it, and so do many New Agers. Their credo comes from something Jesus himself said: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). But they missed Jesus’ own meaning by a mile.

Yes, to be sure, God’s reign touches human hearts. When people live under the rule of God, their inner beings are healed, transformed, and renewed. But the kingdom of God is not limited to some kind of internal, subjective experience. Yes, I know Jesus is quoted as saying that “the kingdom of God is within you,” but this verse is usually wrenched way out of context. Let’s return to the passage from which this line comes:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is entos hymon” (Luke 17:20-21).

I’ve left the original Greek untranslated for a moment so we can see the context of this phrase without prejudging its meaning. Jesus is speaking, not to his faithful disciples, but to a group of Pharisees. They expected the kingdom of God to come with great signs, most obviously the beginnings of a successful revolt against Rome. But Jesus says their expectations are misguided. In fact, the kingdom of God is entos hymon. Given what Jesus says about the hearts of the Pharisees elsewhere – that are “full of greed and self-indulgence” and “all kinds of filth” (Matt 23:25, 27) – it’s unlikely that Jesus is telling the Pharisees to look within their own hearts to find the kingdom. Rather, he is saying to them: The kingdom of God is right here, in your midst. The Greek phrase entos hymon can mean “among you,” as it does in this instance. If the Pharisees want to find the kingdom, Jesus says, they should look, not into their own sinful hearts, but right in front of their eyes, at Jesus himself, at his words and works.

So, though God’s reign embraces and transforms human hearts, it is not limited to some sort of interior experience. The kingdom of God impacts actions, thoughts, relationships, families, institutions, and governments. In the end, it will touch everything on earth, when God’s will is fully done on earth “as it is in heaven.” Yet this expansive kingdom has begun on earth in a most unexpected and unnoticed way – rather like a mustard seed – in the ministry of Jesus.

If the kingdom of God is neither up in heaven nor limited to human hearts, but is something we ought to experience in all aspects of our earthly life, this points to another question: When is it coming? Did Jesus envision the kingdom of God as present reality? Or was it rather something that was coming in the future? In my next post I’ll begin to deal with the question: When is the kingdom of God coming?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Evan


    This is one of those situations in which my measly course in Biblical Greek allows me to comprehend your point, but not be in a position to pick among possible translations. KJV and NIV both say “within you,” which you are apparently saying is a “legitimate” translation but not the “best” translation. Obviously, “among you” alters the meaning a good deal from “within you.” It seems that both Greek and Hebrew have phrases that can be translated in a number of ways, and whose precise meaning depends on context that we, not being immersed speakers of such languages, may not be able to pick up on. In your example, is there a way to determine the “best” translation of the Greek?

    If such an answer turns into an extended symposium on Greek grammar, well, then that is a topic for another time. But there are plenty of passages that can turn different ways depending on the choice in translation. In the passage at hand, there are lots of folks in the “within you” camp. I think your choice makes the most sense, but I am looking at it retroactively with the sense of considering the experience of the corporate Church for a couple of thousand years that Jesus would seem to have meant “among you.” If there is a way to discern which of the possibilities of the Greek is most appropriate without resort to such retroactive interpreatation, I am all ears. 🙂


  • Anonymous

    Evan: Just consider the context. Would Jesus have been saying that the kingdom of God was within the Pharisees? That doesn’t work. Would Jesus have said that the kingdom of God is in their midst? Yes, most certainly.

    My translation isn’t unusual. It’s the norm for good modern translations. The NRSV has “among you.” The ESV has “in the midst of you.” The NLT has “among you.” The TNIV has “in your midst.” The Message has “among you.” There is a widespread understanding among translators and interpreters that “among you” is the best rendering.

  • Sherman

    That’s the great thing about the bible; it can be interpreted in so many ways to the point where it becomes pure speculation and words can be twisted and contorted to mean whatever the reader wants them to.

  • Anonymous

    Human beings have a way of twisting the truth to suit their own ends. I’m not sure that’s so good, though.

  • Eddie

    I’m not a church historian nor a Greek scholar. Following are statements on Luke 17:21 that I found in e-Catena, a compilation of allusions by the Ante-Nicene fathers (pre 325 AD) to the NT. These men lived when koine Greek was still in common use and either spoke it fluently or knew someone who did. They are also much closer to the time when Jesus lived and would have a good idea of the socio-historical context.

    of Rome (170-235) “ . . . the
    kingdom of heaven to be sought for within a man” and “ .
    . . the kingdom of heaven that reposes within us as a treasure”

    of Alexandria (184-254) “ . . .the kingdom of God is within His

    Another witness I would like to call to the stand 🙂 is Jerome and the Latin Vulgate. He uses intra (Latin for “within”) as opposed to  apud (Latin for “among”) in Luke 17:21.

    This covers more than 400 of the first years of recorded Christendom. Unless you are aware of discussions similar to yours during these times, there are no recorded arguments regarding the meaning of this verse. I feel the church fathers are unanimous on “within”.

    With respect to your statement about the context, I would like you to consider the following scenario. If I were trying to convince a group of people that disease was not the result of witch doctors, one of my statements could be “The disease is within you”. This is not a statement saying that everyone within the sound of my voice  has the disease but a general statement as to the nature of the disease. The Pharisees were looking for a physical kingdom set up by a conquering Messiah. It is equally logical to say Jesus was making a general statement as to the nature of the kingdom by saying it is “within you”.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I am saying that this verse has been misunderstood, even by people who knew Greek very well. But it isn’t a question of the Greek, which can clearly be meant either way. It is a question of what Jesus meant with that Greek. Here, I think, his meaning is rather obvious, as most all contemporary translators recognize. To be sure, the kingdom of God impacts our hearts, but it is much, much more than some internal state, as the whole witness of Scripture makes abundantly clear.

  • jimlyerla@cox.net

    Good insight, many tell me the same thing but what I see is that the kingdom is being built all around me. But most churches still keep the keys to the kingdom hidden.
    Have a great day Jim

  • Jesus is not simply pointing at Himself, but at a mechanism of living being exemplified within Himself — that is — He was filled with the Spirit and spent the remainder of His ministry, listening to the revealed inner thoughts, reasoning and logic delivered from the Father through the Spirit to Himself and then ignoring His own flesh and living in lock-step with what the Father said to Him inwardly. THIS is what Jesus was pointing at — not just some simple “belief”, but a life turned over to being filled with the Spirit and following the same life-pattern as Christ subjected Himself to as a forerunner of what He commands us to do IF we are to be “saved.”

    Therefore, “salvation” is not just a “prayer-at-an-altar” and it is not just a “belief” that you have and then you get to live like hell the rest of the time. NO — Jesus commands us to be filled with the Spirit of God as He was, except He was pure — there was nothing evil or wicked in Him. With us, the Spirit comes in as a fire to burn and purge old thinking, old reason, old logic born of the seeds of the world and hell.

    The Spirit renews by us following Him inwardly, burning out the old and planting the new from the seed (thoughts, reasoning and logic) delivered and given to us as a Gift of God, from the Father, exemplified and purchased by Christ and brought and placed in us by the Spirit of God.

  • Godsgirl3286

    This was awesome! Thank you for helping bring clarity. God bless you abundantly sir.

  • Andre

    The Kingdom of God is in you and al around you, It’s not to be understand with only the mind, but most of al with your feelings, and if you want to control it with a negative thought our feeling you wil never feel the real Kingdom, That is the justice and the only law of every choice we make, so choose wel in live in the kindom of love and you are always right! A.E,X*

  • steve

    Well said!
    I like the expression….”burning out the old and planting the new”.
    As Luther said “Every man must believe alone and die alone”. My belief in Christ should not be influenced by anything external to God’s word and what he cares to illuminate for me in prayerful meditation i.e. not the beliefs of others, events, bad circumstances etc.
    In this way God is experienced in a joyful, interior way. And this cannot help but carry over into righteousness and correct living.
    Too many try the other way around. They try to force the external world (not of God) into belief in God….

  • sheckyshabaz

    I have to tell you that i disagree with your assessment meaning “among you”.

    Readers of the King James Version will be familiar with the saying, “the kingdom of God is within you,” a literal rendering of the words ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν spoken by Christ in Luke 17:21. Several modern versions have instead “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” for theological reasons. The new rendering is used only because the translators think it is theologically impossible that Jesus would say that the Kingdom of God is “within” people. But there is no clear attestation for such a meaning as “among” or “in the midst” for the adverb ἐντὸς in any ancient Greek source. It is indisputable that “within” is the ordinary meaning, and the immediate context here also seems to favor this meaning. Here Christ is obviously contrasting the outward appearance (μετὰ παρατηρήσεως “with observation,” v. 20) with the inner spiritual reality of God’s rule. It was understood thus by the translators of all the ancient versions, and by all the Church fathers. Moreover, as S.C. Carpenter explains, “For ‘among’ S. Luke would have said ἐν μέσῳ, which occurs seven times in his Gospel (see especially xxii. 27) and four times in Acts.” (Christianity according to S. Luke [London: S.P.C.K., 1919], p. 103.) See also the more recent discussion in Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1965), pp. 61-3. A thorough review of the linguistic evidence is given in an article published online: Ilaria Ramelli, “Luke 17:21: ‘The Kingdom of God is inside you.’ The Ancient Syriac Versions in Support of the Correct Translation,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 12/2 (Summer 2009), pp. 259-286. The circumstance that in Luke’s narrative these words are addressed to unbelieving Jews does not make any difference, because as Olshausen says, “The expression ἐντὸς ὑμῶν does not make the Pharisees members of the kingdom of God, but only sets before them the possibility of their being received into it, inasmuch as an internal and spiritual manifestation is made its universal criterion.”

    The “in the midst” rendering does not accurately represent what Luke wrote here; it represents an interpretation of the phrase, which belongs not in the text but in the margin. If Luke had meant to convey this interpretation of the dominical saying, he would not have used the word ἐντὸς.

    Ver. 20, 21.—Without particularly explaining the occasion, the Evangelist opens his narrative with a remark that the Pharisees had enquired of Jesus as to the time (πότε, when), of the coming of the kingdom. (Whether it was in the village itself, ver. 12, or in what other place, is not said.) The Saviour first deals with the curious and proud enquirers, and then subjoins (at ver. 22) instructions addressed to the disciples. Hence the brevity of Christ’s remark (as Schleiermacher rightly says, loc. cit.) has here its genuine significancy. For the question “When cometh the kingdom of God?” (πότε ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ), obviously expresses not merely the superficial views of the Pharisees, but their self-complacent ignorance (xviii. 9). Themselves they regarded as sufficiently, by birth and theocratic position, constituted the legitimate subjects of the expected kingdom. And it therefore merely concerned them to ascertain the opinion of Jesus as to the time of its appearance. In opposition therefore to these materialistic views and hopes of the Pharisees, was to be brought forward the spiritual aspect of the kingdom of God. This our Lord does by annihilating, in the first place, their expectations of a splendid manifestation. All of outward glory which the Pharisees had conceived as combined in the rearing of an earthly Messianic kingdom, is comprehensively expressed by the term παρατήρησις, observation. (The expression is in the New Testament found only here; it denotes literally the act of perceiving, of observing; and then, secondarily, every thing that excites observation. At Exod. xii. 42, Aquila has rendered שמרים by παρατηρήσεις.) In the second place, the Saviour withdraws the kingdom of God wholly from the local and phenomenal world,—οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν, ἰδοὺ ὧδε, ἰδοὺ ἐκεῖ, nor shall they say, lo here, lo there, and transfers it, finally, to the world of spirit (ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν, is within you.) The expression ἐντὸς ὑμῶν does not make the Pharisees members of the kingdom of God, but only sets before them the possibility of their being received into it, inasmuch as an internal and spiritual manifestation is made its universal criterion. The explanation of ἐντὸς ὑμῶν by “among you,” which has been adopted not only by [Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob] Paulus, [Ferdinand Florens] Fleck, [Friedrich Wilhelm Bernhard] Bornemann, but also by [Wilhelm Martin Leberecht] De Wette, must be utterly rejected for this reason, that the clause so understood forms no contrast to the antecedent “lo here.” The ἐστι, is, is no farther significant, than as indicating that the kingdom was at that moment existing in some of them. It may seem, however, that this ideal view of the kingdom of God is in contradiction to the following discourse (addressed to the disciples), in which the “day of the Son of Man,” is referred to in such terms as represent it as an outward fact producing outward effects. These effects, it is true, in so far as they wear an aspect of terror, form a counterpart to the “observation” anticipated by the Pharisees, and the coming of the Son of Man is represented as an instantaneous and overwhelming phenomenon, in contrast to the ὧδε, here, and ἐκεῖ, there (ver. 21). Still, however, it remains true that the kingdom is here represented as external, while at ver. 21 it is styled within you. (Still more definitely do Matth. xxiv. and Luke xxi. represent the appearance of the kingdom as an external one.) Yet this twofold conception and portraiture of the manifested kingdom of God (see on Matth. iii. 2), present it under those two aspects which mutually complete each other. The kingdom of God shews itself as purely spiritual in its origin, and also external in its perfection. It appeared in its spiritual form, while Christ was present in his humiliation. And for this reason does the Saviour bring before the Pharisees that aspect of it, in regard to which they were wholly mistaken. In its external manifestation shall the kingdom of God reveal itself, when Christ comes in his glory, and in this form does the Saviour particularly set it forth at Matth. xxiv. and Luke xxi. Here he brings forward the future revelation of the kingdom only in connexion with the fact, that periods of suffering must precede it, and that the appearance of the Son of God himself will bring dismay upon a world entangled in the sensual pursuits of life. By this means would the disciples, on the one hand, be comforted amidst their approaching struggles, and aroused to watchfulness, that they might encounter them in faith; while, on the other side, the Pharisees would be impressed with the conviction that the manifestation of the kingdom did not necessarily carry with it any thing of a joyful nature to them; but, on the contrary, would bring upon them destruction (as happened to those living in the time of Noah and Lot), unless they were enabled to acknowledge and embrace the kingdom of God in its spiritual and internal revelation, as it presented itself in the appearance of the suffering Son of Man.

    Excerpt from Biblical Commentary on the New Testament by Dr. Hermann Olshausen … Translated from the German for Clark’s Foreign and Theological Library. First American Edition. Revised after the Fourth German Edition, by A.C. Kendrick. Vol. 2 (New York: Sheldon & Co., 1860), pp. 88-9.