Lk 17:20-21 and the Apocalypse
I want to applaud Brandon Wason, whose recent post on Novum Testamentum defends a translation for the kingdom of God being “among” the Pharisees rather than “within” them. Following other interpreters, Brandon points to lexical evidence which supports a meaning of “among” (or, as I prefer, “in the midst of”) for entos. For Jesus to have said that the kingdom of God was within the hearts of his own rivals would have made no sense. Besides which:
“No matter what stage of the New Testament tradition is being considered, the idea of the kingdom of God as a purely interior, invisible, present spiritual state of individual hearts is a foreign intrusion. It is at home in 2nd-century Christian Gnosticism (so the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 3, 51, and 113), 19th-century German liberal Protestantism, and some 20th-century American quests for the historical Jesus, but not in the canonical Gospels in general or Luke in particular.” (John Meier, A Marginal Jew, Vol II, pp 426-427)
Lk 17:20-21 has not only played a significant role in turing Jesus into a Western Protestant or quasi-gnostic thinker (the “within” translation), but also in undermining the idea that he preached a future apocalypse at all (however entos is translated). But that’s hardly warranted by a cumulative assessment of the evidence, and it’s not even implied by the Lukan narrative. Here’s what happens. When pressed by the Pharisees for the apocalypse’s timetable, Jesus redirects their attention to the kingdom’s present dimension:
“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed. Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For in fact the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Of course, that’s evasive and doesn’t answer the question. In fact, it insultingly implies that it was the wrong question to ask. Instead of worrying about apocalyptic signs, these fools should be taking advantage of the sacred prologue all around them (or among them, or in the midst of them). This is how Jesus dealt with rivals who challenged him in public. Rather than allow himself to be shamed or put on the defensive, he blew them off by changing the subject. But on other occasions he promised red rain, saying the apocalypse would be coming within a lifespan or generation (Mk 9:1/Mt 16:28/Lk 9:27;Mk 13:29-33/Mt 24:33-36,42/Lk 21:31-33,36).
Jesus was like many millenarian prophets, keeping his cards close to his vest and refusing to commit on specific dates. He would sidestep the issue (Lk 17:20-21) or offer vague timetables (Mk 9:1; Mk 13), but no more. Some things never change, do they?