Harmony of the Gospels

 Samaria, Galilee
Lessons on the Coming Kingdom
(Gen. 6-9) Luke 17:20-37


Jesus Speaks on the Spiritual Nature of God’s Kingdom

(Luke 17:20-21)  And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, 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.

The Pharisees and their many followers were looking forward to the arrival of an outward, earthly, visible kingdom, one in which the Jews would occupy a very prominent place.  They were hardly able to wait for its arrival.  They were so anxious to know when it would be established that they were willing to obtain information with respect to this subject from any source whatever…even Jesus.   By this time in Jesus’ ministry the Pharisees had rejected His main message of the gospel, but they were still curious—as many people are even today—to know His opinion about the timetable of the kingdom.

Jesus, however, in his answer indicates that they believed a misconception concerning the nature of the kingdom, that is, that it would arrive with loud proclamations, prancing horses, marching armies and military music.  In other words, they believed it would be announced with a loud outward show.  If that were so, people would be greeting its arrival by shouting, “Here it is!” or “There it is!"  But Jesus tells them that they are wrong.  He states that the kingdom of God is essentially spiritual in its essence.  It is within, or if one prefers, inside a person.  Wherever God is truly recognized and honored as king, there one finds His kingdom or Kingship.  The kingdom is not an outward visible entity so that people would be able to point to it and exclaim, “There it is!”  Rather, it consists of inner qualities, such as “righteousness and Peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  These qualities exist wherever God is recognized as king. 

The word “within” (Gr entos) is used in the New Testament only twice, here and in Matthew 23:26.  When He said, “The kingdom of God is within you”, He could not have meant the Godless and hostile Pharisees, and so a better translation is “The kingdom of God is among you.”  That would be true, since He was there and His disciples were scattered among the crowd.

The miracles of Jesus showed the presence and power of the King.  On another occasion, Jesus told the Pharisees, “If I drive out demons by the power of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Matt. 12:28).

The kingdom is more than a future reality.  It is already present.  The Pharisees did not have to wait for it.  The disciples were already part of it.  Even today the kingdom as Jesus established it is present wherever people acknowledge Jesus as King.  You don’t have to wait to be part of it.  It is spread by the new nature that Christ places in the heart of every believer.

 

Jesus Speaks on His Coming Again

One of the greatest delusions of our time is that man is going to improve himself and his world; that he is going to build the kingdom of God without God.  He expects to bring in the Millennium without Christ.

Now the glorious day of the Kingdom was the subject of much of what Christ had to say.  In fact, He emphasized the future—the change that was coming and His return.

In this passage before us Christ warns His disciples not to be concerned about His return.

Now the return of Christ is in two phases.  The first phase is what we call the “Rapture of the church” which is the taking away of true believers (detailed for us in 1 Thess. 4:13-18).  But in this passage He is talking about the second phase of His return, which is returning to earth to establish His Kingdom.  This will take place after the Rapture and the great tribulation.

(Luke 17:22-23)  And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.  And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

The first time He came, they failed to recognize Him because they were looking for a conquering Messiah to come and deliver them from Rome.  Instead He came as a baby and lived as a peasant.  The next time He comes it will not be in an isolated place like Bethlehem, but He will come in glory.  Therefore He warns them not to pay any attention to those who say He is here or there—or He is coming at a certain time.  This is one reason you cannot set a date for the coming of Christ.

These verses are very important; therefore we must look closely and rightly divide them.  The Pharisees are out of the picture now.  These words are spoken to Christ’s followers, both then and down through the ages. 

1. The expression the days will come means, “The time will arrive.”
2. The word one in “one of these days” may be a Jewish term for “the first” (of the days).  See John 20:1.
3. The phrase the days of the Son of man probably signifies “the Messianic era” at the close of the world’s history; or the Millennium.  And ye will not see it means that it will not be delayed for a long time.
4. The expression the Son of man is used here for the first time in Luke.  It occurs 25 times in this Gospel.  It is how Jesus designated Himself.  It emphasizes that He is not the nationalistic Messiah of Jewish dreams, but, in a sense, “the Savior of the world.”  He is unique among men.  He is the Son of man.  He is the man of sorrows, but this very path of sorrows leads to the crown, of glory.  Moreover, this glory is revealed not only when He comes with the clouds (Dan. 7:13), but reaches back through His entire life on earth and through every redemptive act.  He is always the glorious Son of man. 
5. Believers will long to see the beginning of this Messianic era.  Today we would say, “They will yearn for the Second Coming of Christ,” because the days preceding that time of fulfillment will be days of severe oppression and persecution.
6. The words “…but will not see it.  And they will say to you, ‘Look, here!’” etc., indicate that there will be people who, in their nervous excitement, will believe that the Son of man has already arrived but is hiding somewhere.  Jesus warns His followers not to go running after them.  The time of arrival will not be known in advance; and the actual return, when it occurs, will be visible all over the world.  It will be as lightning which, flashing suddenly but brilliantly, lights up the entire sky, from one end to the other; as the next verse tells us.

(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.

When will Jesus return?  I know the answer.  At the conclusion of the Great Tribulation, Christ will come to set up His glorious kingdom, and His appearing will be as evident to all and as sudden as a great blinding flash of lightning.  Most individuals, even those living in Galilee or Judea missed the humble beginning of the Kingdom at Jesus’ First Coming.  None can possibly miss the completion of the Kingdom at His Second Coming.

 

25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.

However, long before the Second Coming takes place the Son of man must suffer.  It is a must, for the decree of God from eternity must be carried out, prophesy must be fulfilled, those belonging to Him from eternity must be ransomed.  He must suffer “many things.”  The gruesome details of this suffering are withheld at this time.

The words “and must be rejected by this generation” shows that Jesus was pointing to Calvary.  The return of Christ will happen not because beleaguered disciples think it must happen now, but because God has declared that the time is right. 

(Luke 17:26)  And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

The time immediately preceding Christ’s return—the days of the Son of man—will be like the days of Noah.  The account of Noah and the flood is found in Genesis 6-9.  While this “preacher of righteousness” was building the ark he warned the people, but they refused to take to heart what he was doing and saying. While there was extreme wickedness in the time of Noah, and will be detestable wickedness in the time immediately preceding Christ’s Second Coming, Jesus words in Luke 17:26-27 emphasize the sudden unexpected nature of His return.  Many will be so absorbed in the affairs of this life that they fail to prepare for His coming.  His return will take them by surprise.

(Luke 17:27)  They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

What’s wrong with these things?  Marriage is not wrong—it is right.  What’s wrong with eating and drinking?  We must do this to live.  There is nothing at all wrong with these things.  In fact, by means of these things men are able to glorify God according to 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”  Why does Jesus mention these things?  Well, the generation of Noah was living as if God did not exist when judgment was eminent.  Even though Noah preached patiently, the society of his day failed to take his message seriously.  Second Peter 2:5 makes this statement: “And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly.”  He didn’t gain a single convert except his wife and his own sons and their wives.  The everyday routines went on (eating, drinking).  One generation led to another and another (marrying and giving in marriage).  There was nothing wrong with everyday routine—unless people are lulled by it into thinking that life is no more than an endless sequence of such things.  There was no thought on the part of anyone except Noah and his family of the coming catastrophe.  Noah boarded the ark, and soon after that the flood came and destroyed all the people that were outside the ark—God’s means of salvation from the flood.  Today men and women are eating and drinking (and not even marrying though living together), and they do not recognize that the judgment of God is out there in the future—when, we do not know.  So the truth within these verses is, “Be ready, for God will come suddenly! 

(Luke 17:28-29)  Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

This is a tremendous thing our Lord says on this occasion.  Lot was the nephew of Abraham and the son of Haran. When Abraham traveled to Canaan, Lot and his household went with him. Lot chose to settle in the fertile Jordan valley, and he eventually moved into Sodom. Lot is all together different from Noah; yet there are similarities.  None in Sodom were panicking, selling off their property and getting out of town.  The stock market did not collapse because Lot said that judgment was coming.  They simply didn’t believe it.

Sodom was destroyed with fire and brimstone.  Today, we call brimstone, sulfur.  Sulfur is a well-known yellow mineral that burns and produces a horrible poisonous gas.  Today this gas is known as the major industrial pollutant in acid rain.  The devastation God rained down on Sodom was so complete that its location has been lost to this very day.  Sulfur is also mention in God’s final judgment of the wicked, “The lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

Jesus was making one final point.  The future fulfillment of the Kingdom will come as unexpectedly as the world-wide flood in Noah’s time or the destruction of Sodom in Lot’s day.  Sadly, most people living today live only for self, as if they don’t ever expect to be held accountable by God for the lives they have lived.  Many will die heedlessly and to their surprise face judgment (Heb. 9:27).  Others will be alive at Christ’s return and be thrown headlong into irreversible calamity. 

God would not destroy the city until Lot had been taken out of it.  Neither will He bring the Great Tribulation upon this earth (which immediately precedes the coming of Christ to this earth) until He takes His own out of this world.  Sodom, because of her sin, stood on the brink of destruction, and the moment Lot left town, judgment fell.  I believe the minute believers leave this earth in the Rapture, the Great Tribulation will begin.

(Luke 17:30)  Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

Certain and sudden are perhaps the best words to describe God’s judgment on Noah’s world and on Sodom.  Unprepared and selfish are good words to describe those whom God condemned.  Jesus made it clear that it will be like that when the fulfillment of the Kingdom is complete at last.  He called it the day the Son of Man is revealed.  The term day refers to what other New Testament writers identify as “the Day of the Lord.”  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief (2 Peter 3:10).  Material prosperity and apparent security will prevail at the time of Christ’s return.

God has a people in the world today who are just like Lot in some respects.  Although they have trusted Christ as their Savior, they compromise with the world.  Yet as believers they will be taken out of the world before the judgment comes.  Today the world doesn’t listen to the church.  As in Lot’s day, they think we are just pessimistic.

(Luke 17:31) In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

In the first century, people often put a railing or parapet around their flat housetop and used it as a kind of patio for relaxing or cooling off after sundown.  Sometimes people used their roof as a workroom.  Such individuals might suppose that from the rooftop, they would have an advance warning of Christ’s return, as for example, they could see a thunderstorm or an advancing army.  But that wasn’t the case.  The final revelation of the King and the Kingdom will come so quickly that a man…must not come down to the inside.  He can only face the inevitable.  In any case, material possessions are worthless in the face of the Kingdom.  Only faith in Jesus matters. 

The same is true for the man who is in the field working.  There will be no advance notice given.  He can not turn back to his house to make preparations.  It will be too late.  He can only face the inevitable.  Think about the suddenness of the calamity that befell the unprepared office workers in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Any thought of fleeing at Christ’s return is, of course, out of the question.  The only proper attitude to have when He returns is complete surrender to Him and His Word, then and now.  Such devotion should be placed above all worldly interests. 

In Matthew’s and Mark’s account, this warning is applied to the days just previous to Jerusalem’s fall (A.D. 70). 

Next, Jesus adds an illustration, showing the tragic result of looking back and yearning for the possessions left behind:

(Luke 17:32)  Remember Lot’s wife.

The story is told in Genesis 19:17-26: “And when they (two angels) had brought them (Lot, his wife, and two daughters) out, they said, ‘Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley.  Flee to the hills, lest you be consumed.’…But Lot’s wife looked back, from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”

The sad thing about Lot’s wife was, however, not what many think it was.  It was not, at least not primarily, that she turned into a pillar of salt, but that in her scale of values she placed earth above heaven, material things above spiritual.

She is an example of one who did not believe God.  She had friends in Sodom.  Probably they were having a bridge party that afternoon.  She kept saying, “Let’s go back.”  She evidently longed for some of the material possessions she left behind.  She looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.  What a tragedy for this self-centered woman to be remembered in history only as a bad example.  She didn’t believe God would destroy that city.  Therefore we are to remember Lot’s wife.  The important thing for us is to believe God.  And we need to be prepared for His return, so much so, that in our thoughts, words and deeds, we assign preeminence to Him, doing everything out of love for Him and the triune God.

(Luke 17:33-36)  Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.  I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.  Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Here Jesus describes the separation that will happen at His return. “Night” emphasizes the unexpectedness of His coming. Believers will be taken; nonbelievers will be left to face the judgment. Although He did not explain the meaning of “taken,” the emphasis is that the believers will be taken to Himself, escaping judgment.  Taken = saved.  Left = abandoned to judgment.

Jesus had earlier taught His followers, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whosoever loses his life on account of Me will save it” (Luke 9:24).  Verse 33 is quite similar.  Jesus has moved from illustrations of the suddenness of His coming to the need for preparing for His coming.  Many people have tried to make their lives secure in this lifetime by focusing on self and possessions (eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, and building).  People who focus on this world, who fail to prepare for God’s judgment, will lose everything—just like Lot’s wife. 

Then how can a person prepare?  Only by losing ones life.  People who commit all their hopes, all their dreams, all their expectations, both for this life and for eternity, to Jesus Christ will assuredly be ready.  Such people will preserve their lives for eternity with God.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).  Some Bible students have called this verse an example of “great reversal,” emphasizing that Jesus’ teaching was the opposite of natural human inclination.   We win by losing and we lose by winning.  This truth makes sense only to those with eyes of faith.   The question is whether we want to be winners, only for this life, or for eternity. 

Jesus makes the point that two people engaged in identical activities could have different eternal destinies.  The two…in one bed might be as close as husband and wife, yet one might be prepared for judgment and the other swept away. 

Jesus also gave an example of routine activity frequently shared by friends.  Grinding grain together was an essential part of the domestic responsibilities women had and was almost always done in pairs.  As close as two friends might be in this life, they might face different eternal destinies.

Judgment will reveal a separation as far apart as heaven and hell.  Listen to what Julia Ward Howe wrote in the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him!  Be jubilant, my feet!


(Luke 17:37)  And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

The Pharisees had asked Jesus when the Kingdom was coming.  As we have seen, He didn’t answer them directly.  Instead, He insisted that the identity of the kingdom was the more important issue.  Then He proceeded to give some details about the future of His Kingdom to the disciples.  We could summarize His teaching as follows: the Kingdom is present now, but it has not yet been fulfilled.  That will happen only when the Son of Man is revealed.  The consummation of the Kingdom will happen suddenly, so be prepared. 

The disciples next asked another question.  The issue burning in their minds was where?  Is there a particular place to look for Christ’s return?  Jesus de-emphasized the where and taught the importance of the main thing: the present reality of the Kingdom and the fact of His return.  Jesus had already taught the disciples that there were any number of wrong answers to the question where.  In the earlier context, Jesus had answered the question by mentioning lightning.  It’s as if He said, “You won’t be able to miss it, any more than you can miss a sky full of lightning. 

To further answer the question where, He gave them a riddle in the form of a proverb.  Jesus statement has been stumping Bible students ever since.  When Jesus said, “Wheresoever the body is,” most interpreters think He was referring to a dead body.  Meaning: wherever there are those who are spiritually dead, there the final judgment will overtake them.  Second, the term “eagles” is better translated “vultures.”    “Vultures” is preferable, because eagles do not flock, and are not carrion birds.  It is a terrible picture of judgment: a sky dark with huge carrion birds which come to pick white the bones of a corpse.  Wherever there is irresponsibility, lack of response to God, the pride of the creature, there is spiritual death—and the gathering of black carrion birds of judgment. Compare this verse with Revelation 19:17.  “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God.”  This is what we call the Battle of Armageddon, which is actually the war of Armageddon, and will be ended when Christ comes to establish His Kingdom on earth.  Surely Jesus was answering the disciples’ questions along the following lines.  Vultures easily locate carcasses without anyone telling them where.  By nature they are irresistibly gathered to places where they can feed.  In the same way, any one in the world will be able to locate the place where the Son of Man is revealed.  They will be irresistibly drawn to the place. 

When the Kingdom is fully realized at Christ’s return, there will be an irresistible dividing of humanity.  The time and place are unimportant, for everyone will recognize it as surely as vultures recognize a meal.  The fulfillment of the Kingdom is certain.  People need to enter that Kingdom now, so that they will escape the judgment.

Have Faith to be ready when He comes.  The important thing is not to set dates but to be ready when He comes, for true faith leads to faithfulness.  To look around at the increase in sin will discourage you, and to look back (as did Lot’s wife) may destroy you, so look up and eagerly expect the Lord’s return today!

Life is short.  Therefore, opportunities to make our lives to shine for Jesus should be grasped.  There is a Dutch hymn that stresses this very thought:

Enter the doors which to you God is giving;
Few are your days and the time rushes on.
What, will you say, will be left of your living?
Only whate’re out of love you have done.
Nothing abideth, nothing abideth.
Life and its beauty, will wither away,
But what was done out of love for the Savior—
That lasts forever; its mem’ry will stay.

 

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