Saturday, August 23, 2008

The kingdom is within

by John D Ramsey

I have begun a little Bible study I call Kingdom in Context. A few nice guys and I get together on Tuesday mornings and take a look at Scripture passages that contain the word kingdom. Okay, sometimes we look at passages that do not contain the word kingdom but are essential to understanding the passages that do. In any event, my friends are extremely patient with me. We began our study in Genesis 10 way back in February. We are about to launch into the book of Judges even though the word kingdom does not appear even once. At the onset, I calculated that the study would take about six or seven years to complete. Actually, I think understanding the kingdom fully will probably take an eternity. While our study is concentrating on the Old Testament so far, occasionally I take a peak at a kingdom passage in the New Testament. Today, this verse came to mind:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Luke 17:20, 21 (NIV)

To whom was Jesus speaking when he said, “. . . the kingdom of God is within you”? Were these the Pharisees to whom Jesus pronounced six woes in Luke and eight woes in Matthew? How could the kingdom of God be within someone to whom Jesus said,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to”?

Matthew 23:13 (NIV)

To the observant, my quoting these two verses may appear like a bait and switch. Luke uses the terminology, “kingdom of God” while Matthew says, “kingdom of heaven.” Nevertheless, Luke and Matthew use different words when quoting the same sentences elsewhere (the kingdom parables in Matthew 13 and Luke 13, for instance). Jesus’ probably spoke these words in Aramaic, making both Matthew and Luke’s translations valid and equivalent. Any distinction between the kingdom of heaven in Matthew’s Gospel and the kingdom of God in Luke’s Gospel is mere speculation.

What did Jesus mean when he said, “the kingdom of God is within you”? This might be easier to understand if Jesus had been speaking to his disciples and not to the Pharisees. When confronted with difficult concepts, some modern Bible translations use a form of semantic jujitsu to deflect Jesus’ words into meaninglessness. The New American Standard Bible, for instance, quotes Jesus as saying, “the kingdom of God in your midst.” If that were the case, then Jesus’ words might have been a self-reference because Jesus was in their midst. Yet if Jesus were referring to himself as “the kingdom of God”, then would not the Pharisees have been able to recognize the kingdom with “careful observation”? In fact, if the Pharisees’ observations of Jesus had been empirical rather than emotional, they would have recognized him as the Holy One of Israel. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was both intangible yet within their grasp. In fact, the kingdom of God was already within them. If the kingdom of God was within the unbelieving Pharisees, can we infer that the kingdom of God is also within each of us?

On the one hand, the kingdom of God was within the Pharisees; on the other hand, the Pharisees refused to enter into the kingdom. For this, Jesus warned them of impending judgment. When Jesus told the Pharisees that they did not enter the kingdom, the inference is that they willfully refused to enter. Jesus did not accuse them of being unaware of the kingdom. He accused them of rejecting it.

In what way can we have the kingdom of God within us and yet refuse to enter therein? Without attempting to reconcile the metaphors, but rather looking at their meanings, the answer in one word is accountability. Paul preached to the Athenians, saying,

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

For in him we live and move and have our being.”

As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”

Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.

He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:24-31 (NIV)

The evidence of God’s kingdom is within each of us, and God will consequently hold each accountable. God “commands all people everywhere to repent.”

When Paul says, “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead”, what is the antecedent of the word him? The man whom God has appointed to judge the world is the man that God has raised from the dead.

Moreover, the one whom God raised from the dead, is also the “UNKNOWN GOD” whom the Athenians worshipped in ignorance (v22, 23). Paul told them, “what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul’s appeal to them, in essence, was for them to acknowledge the truth that they already knew in their hearts: that they were accountable to Jesus Christ. They already knew they were accountable to someone; Paul introduced them to Jesus. The kingdom of God was within them, yet to enter into it they needed to acknowledge their accountability to the resurrected Savior.

Acknowledging Jesus Christ as our Creator, Savior, and Judge is the essence of our repentance unto salvation. We turn away from ignorance of God toward the knowledge of him who died for us. We acknowledge that we are accountable to him, and we acknowledge that our salvation comes only through him.

The kingdom of God is within us; have we entered into it?

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