Reflections from the workbench

Published 7:39 am Thursday, September 25, 2014

“The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21 KJV)

Hmmmm. Really?

I grew up in a church culture where the kingdom of God was “heaven,” that place where one went upon earning the right to be called a child of God through acts of righteous obedience, and “hell,” that realm of Satan’s fire and damnation, was the alternative. However, no matter how many theologians and preachers may still teach that concept I do not believe it to be true.

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Now that I have your attention, let me explain.

There are numerous occasions in the Bible where “the kingdom of God,” or “the kingdom of heaven,” are cited, and the two phrases are always interchangeable. Matthew and Luke use them most often, with Mark and John trailing behind.  But even within the four Gospel books, let alone the numerous uses in the rest of the New Testament, there are apparent contradictions in what exactly is meant by “the kingdom of God/heaven.” Over the centuries, theologians and preachers from the Early Church Fathers to present-day Bible scholars and preachers have failed to agree on exactly what Jesus meant when he referred to the “kingdom of God/heaven.”  Even the many translations and transliterations of the Bible used by Christians do not translate the Greek phrases in the same way.

For example, in Luke 17:21 the King James Version translates “baslileia tou Theou entos humon estin” as “the kingdom of God is within you,” which is the correct and literal translation of the Greek rendering of what Jesus said in Aramaic.  However, rather than “within you” many translations use “among you,” “about you,” “not to be observed,” and any number of other variations to dodge the very words of Christ which say directly and plainly that the kingdom of God is within (entos) each one of us. Entos in Biblical Greek means “to fill as a vessel.”

So what does that mean?  I believe Jesus came into the world teaching the Good News (the Gospel) that belief in a God of condemnation and judgment was in error, and that he, Jesus, had come to proclaim that God’s compassionate love was the final measure of all things.  The kingdom which Jesus declared was not the Messiah-led political and social revival of the Judaic golden age of King David, but a new world order wherein God’s kingdom (i.e. God’s dominion) was in the hearts, minds, and spirits of those who loved him and one another.  Jesus said that the kingdom was not “out there” somewhere but “in here” (Luke 17:20), within those human vessels who choose to incorporate the dominion of love proclaimed by Jesus.  That means the potential for living in the kingdom of God/heaven is within each of us – right now.  Heaven is therefore rooted in our very being as we are alive in the world and is not something we earn as a reward at death.  It is the fullness of life and the peace of God which passes all understanding in the present.  It is something we choose to live into by taking Jesus and his teaching about love and compassion seriously.  The option to heaven within us is simply misery, uncertainty, insecurity, anger, hatred, and pain as daily bits of hell on earth.

The kingdom of God is within you. Peace of heart, mind, and soul in the present are within our reach, and the eternal life of heaven begins today.

The principle Jesus taught for this is quite simple: “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40 KJV)

– Michael Doty