Chapter 17:20-21 (ESV) - Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Question to consider: What is the kingdom of God?
If you’ve ever seen the Peter Jackson movies based on The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein, there is a scene in which the true king, Aragorn, has convinced the undead men of the mountains to fight against Sauron by offering to end their bondage as the true heir to the throne. Aragorn then leads this undead army in a dramatic charge against the evil orcs to defeat all of Sauron’s forces and win the war.
The Pharisees were expecting something similar of the Messiah against the evil Roman empire. Not only would the Messiah unite the tribes of Israel into a powerful army of men, but He would bring with Him the great army of angels to destroy all who opposed the living God including the devil and his army of demons. He would then set up His throne on Mount Zion and rule forevermore according to the law of Moses and, more importantly, according to their Oral Torah (their traditions) which they believed was received by rabbis directly from God.
Of course, the moment Jesus started poking holes in their traditions and accused them of actually violating the law of Moses with them, they rejected any notion that He could be the Messiah and despised Him for His popularity among the crowds. His so-called “army” would be made up of disgusting sinners and tax collectors, and though it was true that He demonstrated authority over demons, His authority must have come from the devil himself.
So in my mind, the voice of the Pharisees when they asked Jesus when His “kingdom” would show up must have had a deeply sardonic tone to it, much like when they ridiculed Him for His comments against their unrighteous wealth. I would also imagine that Jesus’ response, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed,” did nothing to win them over to His side.
They would not see the Messianic army flying out of a ghost ship to defeat the Roman army. The kingdom of God was already there in their midst, the very tax collectors and sinners they rejected, and Jesus was their king. They would not defeat Rome in battle, but with the gospel. They would not be the sword of God but His harvesters. The kingdom would advance as the church would go into all the world and make disciples as Jesus told us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
For Millennia, we’ve seen the church advance in this way. Times in which people have tried to advance the kingdom by the sword have done more damage than good. Today, the church is failing to advance because it is more concerned with appealing to the culture and growing its “giving units” than preaching the gospel and making disciples. The salt is losing its “saltiness” as Jesus would say (14:34), and churches that have abandoned Christ’s kingdom with a false gospel are not even fit for the manure pile.
Dear heavenly father, we ask that You sanctify us in the truth; Your word is truth. We echo Jesus’ prayer for His church in John 17 that You would send us out to proclaim Your law and gospel in all of its truth that people may be clothed in the righteousness of Christ when they stand before You. As we go out, I pray that You would keep us from the evil one and help us to stand firm in the faith. Amen.