What did Jesus mean when He said “the kingdom of God is within you”? Does the Kingdom of God only exist in our hearts and minds?
What did Jesus mean when He said, “The Kingdom of God is within you?”
The simple answer is that Jesus was saying that He, the King of the coming Kingdom of God, was standing in the midst of His detractors.
“The kingdom of God is within you” Bible verse
Responding to a question from the Pharisees about when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
“The kingdom of God is within you” meaning
The first sentence of Jesus’ answer has been fairly easy to understand. Misunderstanding regarding the second sentence, however, has given many an incomplete picture of the Kingdom.
When Jesus came to earth, the Jews were looking for the Messiah to come and elevate the Jewish nation to prominence. Instead of hearing a message of repentance, they anticipated a Deliverer who would lead them in a successful liberation of their nation. And some of the religious authorities apparently believed that they—because of their careful investigation—would be the ones to first discover the promised Savior’s coming.
In the above-noted passage, Jesus told the Pharisees that their thinking was mistaken. Jesus’ first coming was to preach “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14-15) and pay the penalty for mankind’s sins. Later, He would “appear a second time … for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28) and the establishment of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Jesus made this same point when He was on trial before Pilate. When asked if He was the King of the Jews, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
How Jesus said the Kingdom of God would come
When Jesus returns, there will indeed be dramatic signs that all will be able to discern (Matthew 24:5-14, 21-27; Revelation 1:7). But in saying, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’” (Luke 17:20-21), Jesus was explaining to the Pharisees of that generation that, in spite of their meticulous efforts, their mistaken understanding would not allow them to identify the Messiah’s first coming.
Furthermore, they would not see the astonishing signs of His second coming—the signs for which they were looking. As Jesus noted, His second coming would be in another “day” (verse 24)—a time period long after the Pharisees to whom He was speaking had lived and died.
After telling the Pharisees that they wouldn’t be able to observe the coming of the Kingdom of God in the way they had anticipated, He said, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (verse 21).
In this sense, Jesus, the King of the coming Kingdom of God, was standing in the midst of the Pharisees.In this passage, entos (the Greek word that is translated “within”) can also be translated “in the midst of” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). The New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Modern King James Version and Green’s Literal Translation translate this phrase “in your midst.”
In this sense, Jesus, the King of the coming Kingdom of God, was standing in the midst of the Pharisees. These translations are clearly better, for the Kingdom of God was not in the hearts of these Pharisees.
(For more help understanding the Kingdom of God, see our article “What Is the Kingdom of God?”)
Is the Kingdom of God in our hearts?
So what about the concept of the Kingdom of God being in our hearts? It certainly was not in the hearts of the Pharisees who were attacking Jesus, but the Scriptures show that the Kingdome of God should be on our minds. After all, we are supposed to pray for the Kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) and Jesus told us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (verse 33).
As we consider how we can have the Kingdom of God as our primary goal and keep it on our minds, we need to understand that the knowledge of this kingdom is not automatically programmed within us. The popular idea that all the knowledge and wisdom we need is already within us and that all we have to do is look within ourselves to find it is not supported by the Bible.
Our fleshly, human minds are not automatically in sync with God. As our Creator, God knows how we were made. He declares: “The [human] heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The prophet through whom God spoke these words understood what God said. Responding to God, Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
The way we can transition from our natural human ways of thinking and acting to the way God wants us to be begins with acknowledgment of and repentance of our sins.
When we repent of our sins, are baptized and begin following the lead of the Holy Spirit, we voluntarily place ourselves under the laws and authority of the coming Kingdom of God.When we repent of our sins, are baptized and begin following the lead of the Holy Spirit, we voluntarily place ourselves under the laws and authority of the coming Kingdom of God.
Describing this process, the apostle Paul, who was being held prisoner in Rome at the time, explained, “He [God, the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13). So there is a sense of us being symbolically “conveyed,” “translated” (King James Version) or “transferred” (English Standard Version) into the Kingdom when we commit our lives to God and begin living as He instructs.
Our primary allegiance is transferred from all kingdoms of this world to God’s Kingdom. We are then subject to different laws (God’s laws) and belong to a different community (the Church of God).
The Holy Spirit helps us obey God’s laws. This spirit “of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7) gives us the ability to live by God’s laws even though we are still human with human weaknesses.
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are called the “sons of God” (Romans 8:14). This same spirit empowers the Church to fulfill its commission. In this sense, we have the opportunity to taste or experience “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:4-5).
Where is the Kingdom of God and how can we enter it?
Even though the Bible speaks of our “citizenship” as being in heaven after we are baptized (Philippians 3:20), in order to enter the Kingdom of God, humans must be changed from flesh and blood into spirit, from mortal into immortal, at Jesus’ second coming (1 Corinthians 15:50-53; Hebrews 9:28). When the Kingdom of God comes to earth, it will rule over all the “kingdoms of this world” (Revelation 11:15).
Unfortunately, in reading Jesus’ statement that “the kingdom of God is within you,” many have mistakenly limited the Kingdom of God to a philosophical perspective or a way of thinking. In reality, the coming Kingdom of God is far more than what is in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ followers.
In fact, it is the Kingdom that God’s faithful elect will enter at Christ’s return and that will be established here on earth.
To learn more about God’s Kingdom, be sure to read the other articles in this section on the “Kingdom of God.”