The Kingdom of God Is In Your Midst! A Brief Commentary on St. Luke 17: 21Posted: February 22, 2020
Well over a decade ago I encountered a man who was rejecting the Church (though he was not a parishioner of Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church which I serve as an assisting priest). He quoted a verse from St. Luke’s gospel to justify his departure from the Church. The verse that was shoved in my face comes from St. Luke 17:21, “…The Kingdom of God is within you.” Knowing Greek I tried to offer a correction to his misapplied verse. It did not work. Justifying himself he left the life of the Church and will not return. His conviction was that since the Kingdom of God was within him he needed no one to instruct him, and had no need to follow the ways of Christ within the context of the sacramental life and teachings of the Church. He wanted spiritual autonomy simply because he wanted to continue in an adulterous affair.
This verse from St. Luke’s gospel has been and is misused by many to justify many things — none of them come to any good. With this posting I offer a much better translation and interpretation of St. Luke 17:21. Let’s begin with the context. Jesus has gathered around him both Pharisees and his disciples: he is in the midst of this gathering. Given this setting we read this,
Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, He answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ Behold the Kingdom of God is in your midst (he basileia tou theou entos humon estin).
The Greek adverbial phrase, entos humon, is to be properly translated as “in your midst”, rather than “in you”. I give my reasonings. First, I look to a fantastic scholarly lexicon (dictionary) — the work of Johannes Lowe and Eugene Nida. In their Greek – English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, the word entos is found under two semantic domains. The first semantic domain is “Spacial Position”. The authors write regarding all Greek words within this domain involve, “a position within an area determined by other objects and distributed among such objects” (p. 713). Given this, entos humon is to be understood as “in your midst,” or “among you.” Again I give the textual context, the Kingdom of God was already among them — in the person of Jesus himself (“Where the king is, there is the kingdom”). The second semantic domain is “Psychological Faculties”. I quote the authors again,
On this basis some scholars have suggested that the phase entos humon can be interpreted as a potentiality for participation and hence, be translated ‘within your grasp,’ but it is more likely that one should understand the phrase entos humon in Lk 17.21 as a spatial relationship, for example, ‘in your midst’, or ‘among you’ (p. 321).
Thus, Jesus declares that the Kingdom of God was among those gathered around him — he was “in their midst.” Jesus Christ is God incarnate and King of kings, and where he is, the Kingdom of God is found. Additionally, the Kingdom of God is not observed, but is encountered by active participation while in his presence. So, we have this question: where is Christ found where such participation takes place? The answer: the Church. In fact, the Divine Liturgy begins with this exclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” This is where those gathered around Christ encounter him and participate in him by the liturgy of the Church. Participation in the worship of God provided by the Divine Liturgy is not passive; worshipers do not form an audience that is informed and entertained. Liturgy means “the work of the people,’” and by it we are in Christ’s midst encountering him by active worship.
At times throughout the Divine Liturgy there is a simple, but wonderful, verbal exchange. One begins the exchange by saying, “Christ is in our midst!” The reply is, “he is and ever shall be!” Christ is in our midst! He is presented to us by the reading and hearing of the Scriptures, by the singing of hymns, and by all the words and actions of the Divine Liturgy. But there is more, he is most perfectly presented to those gathered together in the Kingdom of God by the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the center of our worship — every action of the Divine Liturgy moves the assembled people of God toward this Sacrament. Here, in the Eucharist, Christ is re-presented to us once again by his real presence in bread and wine which, by the action of the Holy Spirit, become his Body and Blood. Of his Body and Blood we commune as we are called to eat and drink as he receives the Church to himself and gives himself to the Church. Truly, in the Church we enter into the Kingdom of God because “Christ is in our midst!”