20 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.”
The Kingdom of God was believed to be a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, led by the Messiah, rightful heir to the throne of David, who would establish God’s law and rule over all of the Earth.
Historically, there was Messianic fever in Israel in the days of Jesus. Israel was a conquered nation, a vassal of Rome. And while the Romans recognized their religion and, in theory, the Emperor tried to respect it, in practice, they had been subjected to a series of cruel, corrupt, or clueless officials appointed over them who periodically inflamed the people with actions that offended their religious sensibilities. So the people were looking for the Messiah to appear and free them from Roman rule.
Jesus wasn’t the first person who came claiming to be the Messiah. Nor would He be the last. The others generally took to violence and were put down quickly by the Roman officials as rebels. They faded into obscurity, their dreams for a kingdom fading with them.
So the interest of the Pharisees was coming from that context. When is the kingdom coming? If you’re the Messiah, what are you doing here mucking about with the rabble healing diseases? When are you going to get around to the business of building your kingdom?
Note that it’s also possible that the motivations for the Pharisees asking this question may also have been nefarious, in that had Jesus discussed establishing an actual kingdom here on Earth in the usual sense of the word, they would have had ammunition to take to the Roman officials and have Him arrested and condemned for sedition.
But we’ll be generous in our assessment and assume the question is an honest one. Jesus wasn’t exactly acting like the Messiah they expected, so the question of when He would get around to doing some Messiah’ing and supernaturally smashing the Roman armies might have been a sincere one.
Jesus’ reply to them reflects what He says elsewhere in the gospels. The kingdom of God is not one of this world that can be observed by the presence of armies or palaces or great lords in finery. There won’t be any apocalyptic signs bringing about its establishment. There will be no capital city of it. No place where the King is closer to some men and more distant to others.
The kingdom of God was already there. It was with the King, as He laid the foundations in the hearts of those apostles He had chosen. It was there as He changed men and women’s hearts with His words and teachings. It was there as He restored the broken, tended the wounded, and encouraged the faint hearted. With every action, He built the Kingdom of God. It had already arrived. The Kingdom would transcend the petty politics of the earthly kingdoms. It would free hearts, minds, and consciences from the tyranny of this world’s culture and our own worst impulses. It would transcend borders and languages, cultures, gender, race, ethnicity, and class. It would be too large and too expansive to be confined by physical borders drawn on a map.
The kingdom of God remains within our midst. We are His workmanship, part of that kingdom. And we have a daily opportunity to continue that work. Instead of thinking about a future where we rule and reign over nations, think of a future of mankind untied in Charity, mercy, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness, following the path of Christ. And consider what we can do today to build towards that vision.