Behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).
The Jews of the first century made a fundamental mistake. They expected the Messiah to come to earth and establish a physical, earthly kingdom.
Jesus was, it seems, always trying to tamp this expectation down. When he fed the five thousand, they tried to make him king, and he had to escape their poorly directed fervor (John 6:15). When Pilate asked whether he was a king, he had to explain that his kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36).
The Jews of the first century were understandably hoping for a return to Israel’s glory days; the reign of David and Solomon would be nice, they seemed to be saying. Every time they watched a Roman battalion march imperiously by them, they must have thought: “O that a son of David would come and show these Italians a thing or two.”
They must have missed the passage about God’s messiah being a suffering servant, beaten and bruised, silent like a sheep before its sheerer (Isaiah 53). That makes sense: Our modern heroes do not include mild mannered Clark Kent. It’s not like we thrill to see him tear open his tie and dress shirt to reveal Peter Parker! Certainly the Jews were not dreaming that their hero die a humiliating death at the hands of the same Roman forces!
Many Evangelicals of the twenty-first century make the same fundamental mistake. They dream of a Messiah who will return to literal Jerusalem (you know, the one in central Israel), and set up a thousand-year reign here on earth.
Yet Jesus was never about an earthly kingdom, political rule and geographical frontiers, not then, and not now. The problem with an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem is it is a dream that is too small, too cheap, too temporary.
The kingdom of God is matchless, spiritual and divinely conceived (Daniel 2:44). It is eternal and unearthly. When looking for the kingdom of God, look around you (to the other members of the kingdom), within you (to the king who rules where it really matters) and upward (where he resides).