In 1523 Martin Luther, in his treatise On Governmental Authority, declared that the question of whether or not the Christian should bear arms on behalf of the State should be left to “the other group, the non-Christians.”
Luther concluded that it was “very beneficial and essential for the whole world and for your neighbor. Therefore, if you see that there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges, lords, or princes, and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position, that the essential governmental authority may not be despised and become enfeebled [i.e., weaker lest the government should] perish.”
Almost 400 years later the Russian writer Tolstoy, in his aptly titled The Kingdom of God Is Within You, famously stated that:
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God.
These works have propagated the false notion that the kingdom of God has come. Therefore, it is your Christian duty to become involved in politics, the military or, at the very least, in social justice endeavors in order to continue to “spread the kingdom” (as some today put it).
Tolstoy’s book was named after one of the most used verses to advance this view: Luke 17:21. But the context clearly contradicts this erroneous view.
In v. 20 “The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come.”
The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, Here it is, or There it is, because the kingdom of God is within you. (NIV)
Many other translations and paraphrases render the last phrase as:
“The kingdom of God is inside you.” Worldwide English and J.B. Phillips’ NT
“God’s kingdom is here with you.” Contemporary English and the Easy-to-Read Versions
There’s even a footnote in the CEV that says “Or in your hearts”!
This forcing of what some call Dominion or Kingdom Now Theology destroys the fact that in the original NT Greek present tense verbs sometimes have a future meaning.
We see that in v.24 the coming of the kingdom “will be like lightning flashing across the sky,” i.e., very much universally visible, not invisible. The disciples even ask Jesus, at the end of the chapter, “Where will they [the people he’s been talking about] be taken?”
The same use of Greek present tense verbs with a future meaning appears earlier in the so-called Beatitudes of Matthew. Even though there’s a present dimension to the kingdom in Mat. 5.3 and 10 (“theirs is the kingdom”) the context shows its future application. In Mat. 5:4 Jesus says “they will be comforted” and in Mat. 5.5, “they will inherit the earth,” i.e., the future kingdom on earth will finally belong to them!
The same is true for other verses like Mat 21:31 where Jesus says that tax collectors and prostitutes “are entering the kingdom of God.” That’s because, as he goes on to explain in v.32, those “tax collectors and prostitutes” believed the Baptist’s preaching about the coming kingdom of God!
NOTE that in Luke 3:9 the Baptist warned the people about an impending doom by saying that “The ax lies at the root of the trees!” “Therefore,” said the Baptist, “every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
We can compare this present yet future meaning of kingdom texts with what the NT says about your own salvation. Even though the majority of references describe your salvation as a future event, the NT also sees your salvation as a past (“you were saved,” Eph. 2:8) and present (“you are being saved,” 1Cor 1.18) process.
In the book The Coming Kingdom, Dr. Andrew Woods says that Jesus’ ministry was “characterized by perpetual promises of a future, earthly kingdom” in verses like Matthew 19:28:
Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And Matthew 26:29:
But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.
Dr. Woods continues by saying that “A terrestrial, geopolitical element is always included in the Old Testament’s presentation of the kingdom. Such an abrupt change from understanding the kingdom as encompassing this physical reality to solely a spiritual reality is tantamount to hermeneutically changing horses in midstream.
Why would Christ, or any of the New Testament writers for that matter, introduce such a radical transition without any in-depth commentary explaining that such a transition was underway?”