“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” —Luke 17:20-21 NKJV
Jesus often talked about the kingdom of God in the Gospels. There are 60 separate references in His teaching that refer to the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Over a period of 40 days between His resurrection and ascension, Scripture tells us He taught His disciples about the kingdom of God. The problem with the New Testament is that it does not specifically define the kingdom of God.
A kingdom is, by definition, a territory ruled by a king. This would have been on the mind of Jewish people in Jesus’ time. For centuries the nation of Israel had lived under oppression and in and out of captivity. Many believed that the long awaited Messiah would come in a blaze of glory and lead the Jewish people to their rightful place in society. Their dignity would be restored and the Messiah would take His place on the throne of Israel. That is why just before Christ’s ascension, His disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
But God had far greater plans. The kingdom of heaven would reach far beyond the Jewish world and be equally accessible to every man, woman and child born again of the Spirit of God. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). To Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).
When questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus answered, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). The human heart is the sphere of God’s reign in which He exercises His kingship and sets up His kingdom. There are several parables Jesus uses in John chapter 13 to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like, but in Matthew 18:23, He tells us a most important requisite to entering it. “...unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is the complete reversal of greatness in the world, which is marked by independence, strength and self-assurance. In contrast, the kingdom of God is marked by childlike qualities of dependence, humility and trust. It is never found by looking for it or in doing the best we can to keep the rules. It is found by submitting all we are to Christ and walking humbly with God.