IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD WITHIN YOU?
Eric Snow, sermonette, March 11, 2006, Ann Arbor, UCG
Leo Tolstoy is great Russian novelist best known for the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. After having written these novels, when he was around 50 years old in 1879, he went through a spiritual crisis. He even considered suicide. He converted to a kind of Christian anarchism. He denied Jesus was God, denied immortality, and rejected the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. He condemned both governments and private poverty, despite being a aristocratic landowner himself. He made a real show of doing hard manual labor during his middle age despite gaining wealth by birth and by his writings. After his peculiar conversion, he wrote nonfiction works arguing the case for pacifism and non-violence. He condemned governments for using violence to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful, including their property. The best of this works is entitled The Kingdom of God Is Within You.
Here he alludes to Luke 17:21. He ends his book by quoting this verse. But is this translation correct? Is the kingdom here now? Is it within us now?
In actuality, Tolstoy used a bad translation in his book’s title. Today, we’ll see that Luke 17:21 reveals that the kingdom of God was in the midst of Christ’s listeners since He was its future king.
General principle: Read the context when faced with difficult Scriptures.
To whom was Jesus speaking? (v. 20) The Pharisees, who sought to have Him killed. Was the kingdom of God set up in their hearts then? It obviously wasn’t a church either, since that didn’t begin until Pentecost after He died.
Alternative translation (using margin): “the kingdom of God IS in your midst.”
How so right then, if Jesus wouldn’t return for (say) 2000 years?
2nd general principle: Use Bible to explain Bible, not own ideas read into it.
Daniel 7:13+, 17-18+, 23
Kingdom of God set up when Jesus returns. It then becomes a literal earth-ruling government, not a pretty sentiment about moral improvement in our hearts.
Tolstoy’s mistake: “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God, which can only be done by
the recognition and profession of the truth by every man.”
In truth, God has to thrust His rule upon humanity.
Verses 17, 23 use “king” and “kingdom” interchangeably.
As Americans, not used to having a king, not used to this principle. But a king can be used to represent his government, his kingdom. British queen put on stamps, coins, currency, etc. Look at Canada’s.
HWA, Just What Do You Mean . . . KINGDOM of GOD, p. 19: “The Bible uses the terms ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ interchangeably . . . The KING of the future Kingdom was, then and there, standing in the midst of them.”
In conclusion: Leo Tolstoy was a very talented novelist. But his book title, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, uses an obvious misinterpretation of Scripture. To do proper Bible interpretation, we need to examine both the general and immediate context of difficult Scriptures. The church’s teaching that the kingdom of God is a literal government to be set up on earth after Jesus returns is not contradicted by this verse. As part of a general outline or model for prayer, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come.” (Matt. 6:9-10) As the UCG’s booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom (p. 14) insightfully observes: “The most common prayer in Christendom acknowledges that God’s kingdom is not here yet and that Christians are to fervently prayer for its arrival!”