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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Kingdom of God

Luke 17:11-37

Today’s passage presents us with the difficulties of translation. It also presents us with the concept which Jesus considered central to his preaching: the Kingdom of God. He is on his way to Jerusalem for the Crucifixion; this is a stop along the route.

Preliminary

(Luke 17:11-19 NIV) Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. {12} As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance {13} and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" {14} When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. {15} One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. {16} He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. {17} Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? {18} Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" {19} Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

A glance at a map will make the position clearer:

mapGalilee is up here. This includes the city of Nazareth, where Jesus was raised.

Samaria is here. To get to Jerusalem, he would have to go through, or around, Samaria

And Jerusalem is here.

So Jesus is heading south. On his way he meets the lepers. They teach us some familiar lessons:

v  “Have mercy upon us” – the degree of humility is a reflection of the degree of faith.

v  They call him “master.” The word in the Greek is a curious one; it occurs very seldom, and only in Luke’s Gospel. The Greek epistates is a military type of term, almost “commander.” Here’s where it’s used:

v  Simon Peter, when the net almost breaks,[1] calls him that.

v  Again it is Peter who calls him this when the boat almost sinks in the storm, and Jesus calms the sea.[2]

v  When the woman touches Jesus garment hem and is healed,[3] Peter again calls him this.

v  Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration[4] again uses the term.

v  John calls him this when he complains of someone else driving out demons.[5]

v  And the lepers use it here. It seems to come out at times of great stress, when men want someone else to take charge, to rule over them. We shall see how appropriate this is.

v  Some might think that the Samaritan returned simply because his home would be to the north. Perhaps, but on his way he gave thanks to God in the flesh. Considering the racial hatred between Jews and Samaritans, one can understand Christ’s disgust with the nine.

Translation Trouble

Remember that Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic, not Greek. This accounts for the variation in the terms “kingdom of heaven” (often found in Matthew) and “kingdom of God” (usually found in Luke and Mark). But the next two verses are also quite difficult to translate. The NIV and the NAS translate them quite differently (based upon the same Greek text). Perhaps Jesus intended both meanings:

(Luke 17:20-21 NIV) 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, {21} nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

This translation makes two things clear:

·         This passage is not necessarily connected with the one above it, and

·         The kingdom of God is spiritual; it is “within you.”

Compare this translation

(Luke 17:20-21 NNAS) Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; {21} nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or, 'There it is!' For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst."

This translation makes two things clear:

·         The two incidents are in sequence; they are close together in time, and not just a disjointed happenstance.

·         The kingdom of God is physically “in their midst.”

The commentators make two things clear:

·         Both translations are based upon the same (and excellent) Greek texts.

·         Both are correct translations of the Greek.

Which causes the teacher to ask, “Just what is the kingdom of God?”

The Kingdom of God

Much confusion comes from this phrase. It is helpful if we understand it like we understand the Trinity itself:

·         Like Jesus Christ (and the church) it is “in our midst.” It is physically present today.

·         Like the Holy Spirit, it is “within us.”

·         Like God the Father, it is coming with power at the Last Judgment.

All three “versions” are manifestations of the same thing. So then, just what is the Kingdom of God. It’s time for a definition:

The Kingdom of God

·         Consists of the reign and rule of God the Father.

·         Reign, in that those who belong to this kingdom must acknowledge that He is Lord. A kingdom is not a kingdom without a king, and the king must be the legitimate king. Power is not sovereignty, despite Mao-Tse Tung.

·         Rule, in that those who belong to this kingdom must obey their Lord and King, not just giving lip service to him.[6]

·         Is the frequent topic – indeed the central topic – of the preaching of Christ.

·         There is no mention of the Kingdom of God in the Old Testament. The preaching of the kingdom begins with John the Baptist.[7]

·         At the beginning of his ministry[8] Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God.

·         When Jesus commissions the disciples to go and preach, they are to preach the good news of the kingdom of God.[9]

·         It is entirely the work of God, as Paul tells us, for “God gives the increase.”[10]

The Kingdom of God is in your midst

The kingdom of God can be said to be in our midst in two forms – which are indeed related:

·         In the person of Christ himself. Who better exemplifies the obedience to and glorification of the reign and rule of God?

·         As Jesus said to the Pharisees, if he cast out demons by the power of God, then the kingdom is upon you.[11]

·         Jesus told his disciples to preach that the kingdom of God is “near to you.”[12]

·         In the form of the church. As our Lord did, we should obey and glorify God. Indeed, the church is called the body of Christ; i.e., the physical representation of Christ. That this is so can be seen from three passages:

·         Christ told his disciples[13] that some would not taste death until they saw the kingdom come in power.

·         Christ told the disciples they would hold the keys to that kingdom.[14]

·         Philip, preaching in Samaria after Pentecost, was specifically preaching the kingdom of God.[15]

The Kingdom of God is within you

This is the more common interpretation, and it accords well with the teachings of the church. Christ proclaimed it first:

(John 18:36 NNAS) Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."

Indeed, in this view (parallel to the Holy Spirit indwelling us), we see that the kingdom is that which God has placed in us, and flows out of us:

(Rom 14:17 NNAS) for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This is not some syrup to soothe the soul; it is indeed the heart of the matter, for Christianity starts on the inside. Paul tells us,

(1 Cor 4:20 NNAS) For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.

One of my favorite writers, Thomas à Kempis, gives us this thought:

THE kingdom of God is within you,” says the Lord. (Luke 17:21.)

Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious.

Christ will come to you offering His consolation, if you prepare a fit dwelling for Him in your heart, whose beauty and glory, wherein He takes delight, are all from within. His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed.

Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you; He Himself says: “If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him.” (John 14:23.)

The Kingdom of God is coming again

We must return to the Scripture:

(Luke 17:22-37 NIV) Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. {23} Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. {24} For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. {25} But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. {26} "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. {27} People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. {28} "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. {29} But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. {30} "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. {31} On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. {32} Remember Lot's wife! {33} Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. {34} I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. {35} Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left." {36} {37} "Where, Lord?" they asked. He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."

Here we have one of the explicit references to the Second Coming. Our Lord specifically relates his coming again to the kingdom of God

·         At the Last Supper; he will not drink the cup until he drinks it again in the kingdom.[16]

·         Paul tells us the resurrection of the dead is related to kingdom of God.[17]

The question we always ask is, “when?” Note that the disciples do not ask this question. Their question is, “where?” – as in where will the condemned be taken? We know the answer to that.

There is one sign of the times that we can get : ingratitude. Ten lepers had faith enough to be healed; only one had the sense of gratitude to return and thank the Lord of glory. Does this sound familiar?

The Christian’s response to the Kingdom of God

So what am I supposed to be doing about all this? Our Lord tells us on any number of occasions; here is a brief summary.

·         Seek the kingdom.

·         Seek it first, before anything else in your life.[18]

·         When you find it, prize it above anything else in your life.[19]

·         Repent and believe

·         Christ began his preaching with this: repent and believe the good news of the kingdom of God.[20]

·         Enter it like a little child, with true faith and humility.[21]

·         Pray for the kingdom. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” – sound familiar?[22]

·         Be ready for its coming again. The church has never lost sight of the imminent return of our Lord. Those who know he will come again visit the sick and the prisoner, clothe the naked and feed the hungry – in the name of, and for the sake, the kingdom of God.[23]

(Rev 11:15 NIV) The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever."

Are you ready for it?


[1] Luke 5:5

[2] Luke 8:24

[3] Luke 8:45

[4] Luke 9:33

[5] Luke 9:49

[6] Matthew 7:21

[7] Matthew 11:12

[8] Mark 1:14-15

[9] Luke 10:9

[10] 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

[11] Matthew 12:28

[12] Luke 10:9

[13] Mark 9:1

[14] Matthew 16:19

[15] Acts 8:12

[16] Mark 14:25

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

[18] Matthew 6:33

[19] Matthew 13:44-46, the pearl of great price

[20] Mark 1:14-15

[21] Mark 10:14

[22] Matthew 6:10

[23] Matthew 25:31-46

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