Bible literalists believe in a physical earthly Davidic kingdom come to Israel.
One passage used against the literal interpretation of the physical kingdom is Luke 17:20-21.
“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
Read out of context, Jesus might be portrayed as a gray-haired Obi-Wan that comes to reinterpret a thousand years of prophecy for the naïve Bible literalists.
Read in context, it becomes clear that it is not a threat to what the disciples believed about the coming of a literal kingdom to earth. In fact, Jesus affirms how they will see the Son of Man coming.
Who is the audience?
A question oft ignored when studying Jesus’ teachings is “who is the audience?”
Those familiar with rightly dividing the scripture know it is the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Rom 15:8, John 1:11). Jesus came to minister to the circumcision not the Gentiles nor the mystery church which was still kept secret (Rom 16:25; Eph 3:6).
More specifically, in Luke 17:20-21 Jesus is speaking to unbelieving Israel, not the believing remnant.
This is important for understanding why Jesus said the kingdom cometh not with observation, because unbelieving Israel rejected their King. They did not see it.
Not With Observation
Throughout his ministry to Israel, Jesus explained that they would not see the kingdom of God without believing in the Son of God.
Consider, another passage where Jesus is speaking to an unbelieving master in Israel, Nicodemus.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3
Observing the kingdom of God required Israel to be born again. Unbelieving Pharisees surely would not see the kingdom of God, but be judged.
After telling the unbelieving Pharisees that the kingdom cometh not with observation, he turns to his faithful disciples and tells them how to observe his coming which would be like lightning (Luke 17:24).
“For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.” – Luke 17:24
They would not see the Messiah for a time, but all will see the Son of Man in his day as lightning. To believers it would be their redemption and kingdom come, for the unbelievers it would be judgment.
The Kingdom Within You
In Luke 17:21 Jesus tells the unbelieving Phariseees that the kingdom of God is within you.
Spiritualizers of the kingdom argue that this is proof that the kingdom is inside all of us like the force, and is not to be described literally as it appeared in Israel’s prophecies.
However, we cannot forget who is the audience. Jesus is not talking to believers, but unbelievers that would not see the kingdom. The kingdom of God is not in these faithless Pharisees in any sense.
“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:” – John 12:37
In Luke 17 immediately before this kingdom question, Jesus healed the lepers. These unbelievers rejected these miracles as proof he was the King, and “demanded” Jesus answer their question so as to trap, mock, and catch him in lies.
The events in Luke 17 are similar to when Jesus healed the blind and dumb in Matt 12:22. The Pharisees denied the miracles and said Jesus had a devil.
Jesus’ response: if you believe who I am, the kingdom of God is come unto you.
“But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” – Matt 12:28
Another similar circumstance was when Jesus sent the seventy disciples to heal the sick. He told them to proclaim “the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (Luke 10:9).
If they rejected their miracles by power of God they were to say:
“Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” – Luke 10:11
In Luke 17:21 Jesus was not revealing hidden truth about the kingdom being spiritual and not physical, especially to these spiritually blind faithless Pharisees. He answered their demand exactly the right way.
The way he always had to unbelievers, with the truth that they will not see the kingdom unless they first believe in Him.
Jesus was within Israel, but now he is gone. He will return with observation bringing his kingdom to those who believe (Matt 24:30; Luke 21:28).
While Jesus told his disciples he must leave, he was at that time still with them and all the nation.
The unbelieving Pharisees did not believe Jesus to be the Son of God nor the prophesied Son of Man in Daniel, even while he was still with them doing miracles.
For these Pharisees to demand when the kingdom would come is tantamount to a blind man demanding during a beautiful sunrise when the sun would come up.
The Son of God had come to Israel, and they did not believe.
The kingdom cometh not with observation to these Pharisees because they reject the very one who will bring it. The one standing with them, doing miracles in their midst, was the Son of Man preaching the kingdom come.
Luke 17:20-21 is much clearer when we rightly divide Jesus’ audience.