“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21) [Emphasis added.]
When Jesus says, “… the kingdom of God is within you” in this passage, what does He mean? In this dramatic response, He directly tells the Pharisees that the kingdom is not directly observed in the physical World, it is neither in any particular place nor time. Instead, He says that it is within us and this is where His full meaning becomes more nuanced. It seems clear that He is not saying that Heaven is inside my body or yours. A body does have a specific location in space and time, whereas He clearly states that the kingdom does not. When most of us hear the word “you” in reference to ourselves, we usually presume that which is being referred to is our bodies. Yet, by implication, this statement seems to imply that the “you” referred to is not a physical thing, not a body. To think otherwise (that the “you” referred to in the passage is a physical body) results in irreconcilable conflict (saying that the kingdom is not in one place or another and yet is within a body that is in one place or another). I therefore conclude that His meaning is that the essential “you” is a spiritual rather than a physical entity; He is implying that you are spirit. Additionally, by saying that Heaven is beyond the bounds of space and time and yet within you, He implies that you as well are beyond the bounds and limitations of the physical World. This transcendence of space and time is consistent with the very concepts of spirit, Heaven and “eternal life.”
Further, there is yet another very important implication here. By saying that the kingdom is within you, He infers that the infinite vastness of God, the heavenly host, the saints and all which makes up the kingdom, are contained within your essential being. Whatever Heaven may look like exactly, most of us probably think of ourselves as small and God (and thus Heaven) as infinitely vast. Clearly, the spatial comparison by Jesus is probably not intended to be taken literally, yet at the same time, it seems to provide an important clue as to how He regards us. This implies that, as God’s children with Heaven within us, Jesus envisions us as elevated to the level of the divine. God is within us just as we are within Him.
Perhaps you don’t agree with the implications I have outlined here… or perhaps you do. In either case, how would the World look if we elevated all of our brothers and sisters, regarding them as divine and treating them accordingly, regardless of what our experience might have told us otherwise? Might our different perspective inspire changes in others, even where such a perspective might seem inappropriate, or perhaps especially where it seems so? Based upon the whole of His life and teachings, does this feel something like part of the timeless wisdom Jesus might have had in mind? Does this sound anything like the call to heal, to forgive and to love all of Creation, even our seeming enemies? I hope you find this, at least in some measure, as thought-provoking as I do.