I am not a scientist. My brain just does not work that way. As a matter of fact my brain recoils at the sight of scientific equations. Quantum theory, string theory, and all the other theories end up befuddling my feeble attempts to understand. I know enough to know that not everything can be chucked into a controlled environment and forced to reproduce results that can be quantified. Some answers cannot be found by peering through a microscope. Don’t get me wrong, the varied scientific fields have helped mankind tremendously and I am thankful. But I wonder if our dependence upon medical science has left us spiritually empty. We live longer but we don’t seem to be happy about it and we are not at all sure why it is important. The Kingdom of God cannot be explained or objectified by any branch of science.
One of the questions concerning Luke 17:20-21 is whether or not it is to be defined by 22-37. Is the coming kingdom of God the same thing as the coming Son of Man? Verses 21 and 23 have “look here, look there” in common. Does this link the two passages together in meaning? Well, there is a difference. In verse 21 Jesus says they will NOT say “look, here it is,” or “there it is.” In verse 23 they will say “Look here! Look there!” So, maybe Jesus is dealing with two different concepts here. Maybe verses 21 and 23 are more of a contrast than a link; a contrast of approaches.
Our passage begins with a question posed by the Pharisees as to when the Kingdom of God is coming. Interestingly, the word coming is in the present tense when one would expect it to be future. The Pharisees along with most of the Jews were looking for a coming physical kingdom; a kingdom that would break into the present darkness like a burst of blinding light; a kingdom that would elevate Jerusalem to the highest point on earth like a beacon of Jewish favor in the sight of God. Nolland suggests that the question is: “how will we know when the kingdom of God will come/has come?” Maybe, but Luke had access to words that would have made that meaning much clearer. But what if the Pharisees are sarcastically responding to Jesus’ talk about the kingdom as if it were near or already there like when he compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed? “Oh really, Jesus, the kingdom of God is near (which can mean spatially or temporally). When is this coming?”
Jesus’ answer is also in the present tense. With the word “when” in the question there will always be a hint of it still coming, but in Jesus’ statement it seems hard to push it into the future. Even if the question implies a future reality, that does not necessitate that Jesus’ answer does as well. The kingdom of God is not coming with observations. What the NASB translates as “signs to be observed” is primarily a medical science term for symptoms that can be observed, diagnosed, and treated. It means inquisitive spying. The word is found only here in the Bible. The kingdom of God is not coming in a way that can be scientifically observed. And here is another point of diversion between verses 20-21 and verses 22-37. In the latter passage Jesus does give them signs to look for; things they can observe. But the kingdom of God is already coming and it is coming in ways that you cannot quantify.
Nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or, “There it is!” Scientific discoveries have “aha” moments; moments that are observed and then reproduced in a controlled environment; moments that can be pointed out to others. Otherwise, they remain theories. And who is it that will not say these things? Could be no one. No one will be able to say it because the kingdom of God doesn’t come that way. Could be those who experience the kingdom. How does the woman of questionable reputation explain why she was willing to pour out her life’s savings on Jesus’ feet? How do the disciples defend their decision to leave everything and follow Jesus? It doesn’t make scientifically observable sense. The kingdom of God is within you. This is heavily debated, but the word means within. Nolland argues that this would be a teaching not represented in the gospel tradition. Well, what about all of the “kingdom of God is like a seed” parables? The kingdom of God is something that grows within you. All other translations seemed forced to me.
Scientific observation will not help you to see the coming of God’s kingdom. It is a matter of faith. It is hearing the word and allowing the word to sink deep and then to grow within you. When I get asked, “How do you know?” I respond with, “I have faith.” My life is better when I am transformed by God’s kingdom. Taste and see that God is good. Allow his kingdom to thrive within you. Grace and peace.