The Kingdom of God is Within

The kingdom of God.  I’ve always wondered what the term “kingdom of God” meant.  What I’ve learned is that it’s complicated.  The term kingdom of God (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦo) occurs 162 times in the New Testament.  It’s important because it concerns our relationship with God.  Is the kingdom coming for us?  Do we make it ourselves through the work of our hearts and hands?  Is God’s rule now or sometime in the future?  Or both?

There seems to be no difference between the terms kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven.  Matthew uses the latter because Jews, who were his primary audience, would have been uneasy with frequent references to the sacred name of God (Turner, p 41).  Mark and Luke refer to the kingdom of God, and so shall I.

The kingdom of God can refer to the second coming of Christ, when the world would be become God’s kingdom (Weiss, Schweitzer).  Or, the kingdom of God can refer to the new world already begun by Christ, the first advent.  We must work to make it happen, but at the same time it is already here, in the work of those who would bring it about.  This is called realized eschatology, or a variant, inaugurated eschatology, depending on the degree to which you think the kingdom is already present.  But using the right term is not so important.  Important is the idea that the kingdom of God has, in some measure, already begun with the life and death of Christ (Perrin, pp 1-2).

If the kingdom of God has begun with the life of Christ, what are we to do?  How does it happen?  One answer is that it happens because individuals have made the kingdom of God their own.  Inspired by their own experience of the kingdom of God, some men and women work to make the world in its image.  A variant of this view (it seems like all there are is variants) is that the kingdom of God is unfolding in the course of history, and best realized in utopian communities and the like.  Personalism is associated with this view in Catholic theology (Alford, pp 59-63).  As for me, it seems as if history is headed in the wrong direction, at least in the terrible twentieth-century.


The Lord’s Prayer

Our father who is in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . . . (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4)

The kingdom of God is at the center of the Lord’s Prayer.  Most interesting to me are its petitions, as they are called.  When we pray the Lord’s prayer we don’t ask for “my bread,” but “our bread.”

Accordingly, I know that my heavenly Father has heard my prayer not when there’s bread on my table, or on my immediate family’s table, but when there is bread on my church family’s table. (Perrin, p 216)

Perrin should have said “on everybody’s table.”  Christ breaks open the idea of family, so that includes not just people like me, but socially undesirable others, alien others, strangers. 

The Greek word for “us” is hemon (ἡμῶν, Strong’s number 2257),  In every case the Lord’s Prayer refers to us, not me.  Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our sins.  Lead us not into temptation.  I’m reminded of  Reinhold Niebuhr‘s observation that the worst things we do we do as self-righteous collectives.  Our sins include imperialism, colonialism, slavery.  Our concern should be that everyone in the world has bread, for it is “our bread,” granted to us by “our father.”  The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer in the first-person plural. 

Seeing the kingdom of God in the light of the Lord’s Prayer means acting responsibly as a family member, community member, and citizen of the world.  Nothing is more important in the Lord’s prayer than the little word “us,” repeated six times.  It is used twice in the space of five words in the prayer for bread.

Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within

Not well known for his religious writings, Leo Tolstoy transforms Christ’s teachings into existential demands.  Unimportant are disputes over doctrines such as the Trinity.  Important, “the most essential question of life,” is how to reconcile the duty of patience and love for all with the obligation to kill men in war (loc 453).  The answer is simple: if you follow Christ, you will not kill others regardless of the circumstances.  Christ was a pacifist.  Period.  Quakers, Mennonites, the Amish, and all who share their beliefs about war are right.  Everyone else is wrong, including the church in most cases.

While waiting at a railway station, Tolstoy encountered troops and officers sent to flog and shoot peasants who had protested the enclosure of a forest they had long lived and hunted in. 

Fate seemed expressly to have brought me face to face for the first time in my life with a fact which showed me absolutely unmistakably in practice what had long been clear to me in theory, that the organization of our society rests, not as people interested in maintaining the present order of things like to imagine, on certain principles of jurisprudence, but on simple brute force, on the murder and torture of men. (loc 2780)

Every man who participated in this barbarity was going against the word of God.  “Your duties as a citizen cannot but be subordinated to the superior obligations of the eternal life of God, and cannot be in opposition to them.” (loc 4780)

This is the meaning of the kingdom of God.  It is not in the future.  It is not even in the utopian organization of society.  The kingdom of God is within you.

The kingdom of God cometh not with outward show; neither shall they say, Lo here!  or, Lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17: 20-21)

It is with these lines that Tolstoy concludes his essay.


If the kingdom of God is within, then the details don’t matter, such as whether you believe that we see glimpses of God in utopian communities and social progress, such as the elimination of slavery and segregation.  Realized eschatology it is called.  The kingdom of God is everywhere you are now.  It’s a tough road, because it may mean resisting lawful authority.  But lawful authority is subservient to the teachings of Christ.  So too is the Christian Church, which too often follows Christ only when it is convenient (Tolstoy, loc 75-88).

I chose to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and had an easy posting.  Others went to jail.  I think they experienced the kingdom of God.  Even jail is the kingdom of God if you are imprisoned because you refuse to recognize the unjust and immoral authority of the state.   


C. Fred Alford, Narrative, Nature, and the Natural Law.  Palgrave, 2010.

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.  University of Chicago Press, 1952.

Nicholas Perrin, The Kingdom of God.  Zondervan, 2019.

Albert Schweitzer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus.  Franklin Classics, 2018.  [original 1906]

Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within, translated by Constance Garnett.  E-Bookarama.  Kindle Edition. [original 1894]

David L. Turner, Matthew.  Baker Academic, 2008.

Johannes Weiss, The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Sigler Press, 1999. [original   1892]

4 thoughts on “The Kingdom of God is Within”

  1. There is so much here that I will have to put another commennt when I have read it two or three more times
    I would just like to say I really liked what you said about the Lord’s prayer and jow it is written in the first person plural
    During the Lockdown I have been more and more aware of how terrible it will be for poor people living in high rise flats in the worst parts of London.Surely others willsee this too
    My street has become a little bit like the Kingdom of God
    We have website where we can share messages or ask for help in getting a prescription from the pharmacy or for milk and bread I’ve found it strange to be an old person who the others are keen to help.And I’ve got to know people I’ve never known before
    I wonder how that could be continued.For I see now it’s still like a family but the family is bigger.We are not doing anything for the really poor living 2 or 3 miles away in what was once an industrial area.
    I will have to ponder over this/But I don’t think that Utopia is going to happen one day so it must be about how we are related to the Other inside and out.Thank you for stressing that aspect of the Lord’s prayer

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