Is God’s Kingdom a Condition of the Heart?
“The Kingdom of God comes by way of a listening heart,” observes Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth. For some, God’s Kingdom is just that—a change that takes place inside a person when he accepts Jesus Christ and develops faith. Is God’s Kingdom simply a personal transformation, a kingdom ‘only in your heart’?
FOR Jesus, the Kingdom was indeed something close to his heart. The Kingdom was “the axis of Jesus’ preaching,” acknowledges Pope Benedict. During most of his relatively short ministry, Jesus traveled throughout the land, “preaching the good news of the kingdom.” (Matthew 4:23) By his teaching and by the miracles he performed, Jesus made clear that the Kingdom is more than a person’s acceptance of God and obedience to him. It involves rulership, judgment, and everlasting blessings.
Rulership and Judgment
On one occasion during the final days of Jesus’ ministry, the mother of Jesus’ close disciples James and John came to Jesus and said: “Give the word that these my two sons may sit down, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21) Clearly, she was not speaking about something in the heart of her sons. She understood that the Kingdom involved rulership with Jesus, and she wanted her sons to have a share in it. In fact, Jesus did promise his 11 faithful apostles that they would be in his Kingdom and “sit on thrones” and “judge” with him. (Luke 22:30) To his followers, then, Jesus’ Kingdom was to be a real rulership—an administration, a government.
What about the people in general in Jesus’ day? Did they understand the Kingdom to be just a personal transformation, or did they expect something more? Well, shortly before Passover 33 C.E. when Jesus was entering Jerusalem riding a colt, the crowd welcomed him and some cried out: “Save, we pray, the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9) Why did they cry out that way? No doubt they had come to recognize that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that God would give him an everlasting Kingdom, “the throne of David his father.” They longed for the salvation, peace, and justice that the Kingdom would bring.—Luke 1:32; Zechariah 9:9.
Even people who appeared to have little interest in Jesus’ ministry had knowledge of one of his teachings. At Jesus’ execution, a criminal impaled alongside him pleaded: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your kingdom.” What was Jesus’ reply? “You will be with me in Paradise,” he assured the dying man.—Luke 23:42, 43.
That robber evidently believed that after being raised from the dead, Jesus would receive or enter into a Kingdom. Jesus would have not only the authority to resurrect and reform the man—along with millions of others—but also the desire to do it. Yes, empowered as Ruler in the spirit realm, Jesus would bring everlasting blessings to mankind earth wide through the Kingdom.—John 5:28, 29.
A Kingdom in Their Midst
Did Jesus not say: “The kingdom of God is in your midst”? Yes, those words of Jesus are found at Luke 17:21. In fact, some Bible versions say “the kingdom of God is within you,” while others say “is among you.” (See, for example, the King James Version and The New English Bible.) What did Jesus mean by that statement?
The context shows that Jesus addressed those words to an antagonistic Jewish religious group called the Pharisees. They had their own expectations regarding the Messiah and his Kingdom. For them, the Messiah would come “with the clouds of the heavens” as a glorious King, to deliver the Jews from the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel. (Daniel 7:13, 14) Jesus, however, pointed out their error by telling them: “The kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness.” Then he added the words: “Look! the kingdom of God is in your midst.”—Luke 17:20, 21.
While Jesus taught and performed miracles that clearly identified him as the promised King of that Kingdom, the Pharisees, lacking clean hearts and genuine faith, simply became more opposed. They doubted Jesus’ credentials and claims. So he laid the facts before them: The Kingdom, represented by its designated King, was ‘in their midst.’ He did not ask that they look inside themselves.* Jesus and his disciples were standing before them. “God’s kingdom is here with you,” he said.—Luke 17:21, Contemporary English Version.
The pronoun “you” in the expression rendered “within you” in some Bible translations is plural in the original Greek and refers to the Pharisees, to whom Jesus was speaking. Surely, Jesus could not have been talking about the Pharisees’ personal transformation or their receptive heart condition.