The Coming Kingdom
An overarching theme in the middle section of Luke is the question: ‘Who is worthy of the kingdom of God?’ Back in Chapter 9, a Samaritan village rejected Jesus on the basis that he was a Jew heading toward Jerusalem. The Pharisees were outraged at Jesus’ association with ‘sinners’ and insulted at his teachings against them. The challenges were given to choose between money or God; and family or God. Jesus also described the kingdom as abounding in forgiveness and the reality that the unworthy are invited.
One question remaining is, “When will this kingdom come?” What is the urgency to follow Jesus? Can we choose money now and leave the kingdom for later? Can we embrace this world with all it has to offer and concern ourselves with the next life in our third stage of life?
This study will focus on Luke 17:20-37, therefore, you may choose to read the whole section or just read the text we are delving in to.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosyh met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
22 Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” 
37 “Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
What an impressive collection of teachings from Jesus! As Jesus travels toward Jerusalem (17:11), we see the theme of discipleship continue. He highlights a Samaritan as the example among the lepers; he says that the kingdom of God is not something you can observe like a walled city, but there are people already in the kingdom now and they might be picking grain in the field right next to you; the faithful disciple will pray continually while they wait for the Son of Man to return (exercising prayer is an indication of exercising faith); God expects sinners to be more aware of the kingdom than self-righteous folk; the humility and dependence of a child is a good example of kingdom people; the rich will find it almost impossible to enter but those who have given up everything to be in it will be rewarded because they have chosen the greater treasure.
We are going to look at 17:20-37 only; the words that Jesus spoke about his first and second coming.
- 17:20-21 A question from the vultures.
- 17:22-25 The Son of Man must leave us behind.
- 17:26-30 Comparing the second coming to The Flood and Sodom.
- 17:31-36 Already left behind.
- 37 A question for the vultures.
17:20-21 A question from the vultures.
“Once…” Not necessarily chronological but Luke places this account here for thematic reasons.
“…on being asked by the Pharisees…” I’ve titled this section, “a question from the vultures” mainly because it feeds into the imagery of Verse 37 and since our interaction with the Pharisees has been growing in negativity – wanting to trap Jesus rather than join him. They would like to see Jesus fail and die. (See Luke 5:21; 6:7, 11; 7:30; 11:42, 43, 53; 12:1; 14:1; 16:14).
“…when [will] the kingdom of God would come…” So, the question of this narrative is about when the kingdom will come. Not what, or who, but when. Many will be satisfied to simply consider their question as meaning, ‘when will we see a kingdom like David and Solomon again as promised?’ That is, a kingdom that you can see and approach but has the power and blessing of Almighty God to build it and sustain it, rather than the power of men. It is worth noting, however, that the whole of the bible can be threaded together on the theme of Kingdom. This is the concept that God reigns and he promises to establish an eternal kingdom that will never end. 2 Samuel Chapter 7 is one of the most significant passages in the bible where God promises to establish the kingdom of David forever and his throne will endure without end. But how will this happen since Israel is now run under Roman rule? The question from the Pharisees sets Jesus up to describe a kingdom that is not in the future but is in the present but cannot be described with walls and a castle.
Jesus came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1; 9:2, 27; 10:9; 11:20; 13:18, 20; 16:16; 17:20, 21; 18:29, 30; 19:11; 21:31) but he was also aware that not everyone would understand him and enter (Luke 8:10; 9:60, 62). Some heard and responded with open ears (Luke 9:11; 13:29; 18:16, 17; 23:51) while others who were given the option will reject it (Luke 10:11; 13:28; 18:24, 25). The question of when is wrapped up in the work that Christ is will on the cross and at the resurrection to establish the kingdom – not that he is not already the king, but he is yet to redeem his people to bring them in (Luke 21:31; 22:16, 18).
“…not something that can be observed…because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” This is Jesus’ answer. Understand what he is saying and you’ve understood the kingdom. He will go on in Verses 22-36 to expand on this and flesh it out but unless we grasp the concept that you don’t travel to the kingdom of God, it comes to you, we will never get it. You can’t poke at it or measure it. But the entry point is Jesus, the centre of it is Jesus, the owner of it is God the Father who has put all things under the feet of Jesus and the seal of entry or membership is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All this is fleshed out in the remaining pages of the New Testament as the Apostles explain how the kingdom has come in Jesus Christ (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 1:8; James 2:5).
17:22-25 The Son of Man must leave us behind.
“…to his disciples…” Notice his changing attention away from those who are not in the kingdom to those he is entrusting the kingdom to. Also note that I am not condemning every individual Pharisee but the body of people who the gospels label as being against him almost from the beginning. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who appears to have heard Jesus teaching and entered the Kingdom of God (John 3; 7:50ff; 19:39).
“The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.” The Son of Man is a title that Jesus uses of himself and it is a reference to God’s chosen One who will reign on his right hand side. See Daniel 7 and Psalm 80:14-19. The disciples are with Jesus now but he speaks of a time coming when they will long to see him again. Commentators debate about when these ‘days of the Son of Man’ refer to and most conclude that it is the second coming. While this fits with the context and truth, I feel like it is too clean. They are not longing for that time as they are listening to Jesus speak to them. He is with them. He is talking about a future when he will be gone from this earth (ascended) and his disciples will long to be with Jesus again. This then refers both to the Second Coming when that happens, but also to the raw desire for his disciples, including all who will follow Jesus, to long to be with Jesus again. The disciples did not see those days once Jesus had ascended. Perhaps we will or perhaps a future generation will see his coming. We live now in the same longing state that the disciples found themselves in once Jesus had ascended to heaven. Some theologians will put emphasis on what the world looks like leading up to the second coming and call those the days when the disciples long for the days of the Son of Man, but I am not convinced that there will be a unique period like that – I hold the view that we are in the last days and have been for 2000 years.
“…the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning…” God only knows how this will come to pass, but the fact and truth is that when Christ returns, there won’t be a soul who is unaware of it. The analogy is like the lightning which is seen across the sky. It is a singular sparked event that does not go unnoticed. Don’t be mislead by rumours of secret knowledge of his coming.
“But first he must suffer…and be rejected.” The cross. The fact that he must suffer before he is exalted speaks about the sin of humanity. Why our King and Creator must undergo suffering in order to win us back is because we rejected his authority and power from the beginning. And even the disciples who hear him speak about his coming kingdom will struggle to stand beside him. This generation will reject him but future generations will long to see him return in victory.
17:26-30 Comparing the second coming to The Flood and Sodom.
“People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day…” What warning did the people in Noah’s day get about the coming flood except in observing Noah prepare for it. Noah did not see any signs of the coming except for God’s word coming to him and I suppose the miracle of all those animals being gathered as God had asked. We live in days like that! Eating, drinking, marrying, and expecting generations to come after us. But we have the knowledge of his second coming to prepare for. We have the knowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord and that everybody must give an account of what they have done with Jesus.
“It was the same in the days of Lot.” The story of the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 19 has the same lesson. Nobody saw any signs that the city would be destroyed. The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be preceded by 6 consecutive signs except that he has already come and shown us the kingdom of God and how to enter it. If we are not in it when he returns, then it is too late.
“But the day Lot left Sodom…it will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” The chosen people of God will not suffer on the last day. Just as Noah and Lot were spared from the disaster, so too the children of God who have entered the Kingdom of God will not endure the terrible time of judgment. Here is where raptures and stories of ‘left behind’ find their traction. The day of Judgment will be swift and quick, however (2 Thess 2:8; 2 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 20:11-15).
17:31-36 Already left behind.
“Remember Lot’s wife!” When the Day of the Lord comes, the true disciple will abandon all of this temporary stuff and be glad that it is here. Our kingdom is already established in our minds and in our hearts and this world we are in is just temporary. Genesis 19:26.
“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it…” This is not a thought to have stored in a glass case and broken open on the Day of the Lord. Our mind must already be on putting to death this earthly home and treasuring the kingdom of God. If we try to save our life we will lost it. Nobody holds on to a sinking ship, but they cling to the life raft! Jesus is that life raft and we are living on the Titanic. This is a basic understanding of the Kingdom of God – we cannot serve two masters, we cannot postpone the RSVP to come, unless we give our life to Christ, we cannot be called a disciple.
“…two people will be in one bed; one taken and the other left [behind]…” The question that the vultures/Pharisees asked was when will the Kingdom of God appear. The answer is that it already has appeared (although Christ must first go to the cross and conquer sin and death). Two people can be sharing their life together here on earth and yet one of them is in the Kingdom and the other is not. When the Day of the Lord comes, the one who is left behind will get a shock. Books and movies have been generated over this illustration and I fear that they take a clear and startling picture from Jesus and push it into a franchise. The point is to be in the kingdom now! Don’t wait for Jesus to turn up again! Be one of the disciples who have put aside the things of this earth and are longing for the day when Christ will return – the days of the Son of Man.
37 A question for the vultures.
“Where, Lord?” My first question is: where what? Do they want to know where the Kingdom of God will be? Where Jesus will return? Do they want to know where the righteous will be taken? Or do they want to know where the other people will be left? That is, where they will be judged. The response that Jesus gives concerning vultures leads us to view this as a judgment question. What happens to those that are not part of the kingdom?
“Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” Isn’t it true that sometimes things that sound profound can take time to truly understand? This is an image of death. Classically, you might visualise an old Western scene with someone seeing vultures circling and they conclude quite easily that death and a finished battle lies beneath. The vultures come after the shooting. The answer that Jesus gives is layered. He is saying, everywhere. He is saying, when judgment comes, it’ll be final. Those who were not taken will not have a second chance. He is saying, leave the answer to that question to the likes of vultures. But you, be concerned about entering the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is asked about the when and where of the Kingdom of God. His answer is that it is everywhere now and those who are in the Kingdom will be ready when Christ returns. When that Day comes, it will be too late. Nobody will miss it and everybody will be either saved like Noah and Lot or they will undergo death that is swift and everywhere.
Topic A: Remember Lot’s wife. How quickly can you walk away from your possessions in your mind? The things we have in this life serve their purposes and when we lose them it can be quite heartbreaking or sad to say the least. But if you had to walk away from it right now for the sake of keeping the Kingdom of God, could you do it? Lot’s wife knew she had to get out of the city and run for her life but she turned around and is remembered to this day as a metaphor for looking back instead of looking forward at the goal. As we grow in our Christian faith, we can continue to test ourselves on what we are clinging hardest to – the things of this world or are we running hard for Christ and His kingdom. Perhaps you can share as a group how you respond to this.
Topic B: Remember Noah. The world around Noah were mostly unaware and uncaring about the judgment to come. If only they had known and believed beforehand that their entire existence would be wiped out by water. Well, Noah knew. And he told his family. He preached to others in his day, presumably that the wrath of God was coming (2 Peter 2:5). If Lot’s wife is a metaphor for not looking back, Noah is a metaphor for being sure of what is coming. And if we are convinced that Jesus will return like a thief in the night and that time will be over then for people to repent – what do we do about that? If you knew everyone was dying of a deadly virus and only our church had the antidote for the cure, would we keep that to ourselves?
Topic C: Left behind theology. This is not a salvation issue, but the way we view the end days can make a difference in the way that we form our faith and communicate to others about it. The ‘Left Behind’ theology which was famous back in the 1990’s and has made a very small comeback with a new movie, does have quite a large following with high profile American preachers. Two issues that I see is a) the difference between being fearful of Christ’s return or looking forward to it and b) how we can allow one theory of the future invade our reading of the bible. On the first issue, the bible, particularly in this passage, states that we need to be ready and eager for the days of the Son of Man now. That’s it. No more story. No more epic battle at the end of the age where we fight for the name of Christ. Jesus has come, paid for our sins, and is ready to return at his will to take us home. Those who remain are left for the vultures. On the second issue, the bible must interpret the bible and feed our doctrine and conclusions. Our conclusions must not feed our reading of the bible as if we must force a pre taught, preconceived, spectacular idea of the end of time into every passage that talks about the end days. This point is about reading the bible well rather than being lead by the most attractive argument that preachers put forward. Do you know how to read the bible for all it’s worth or do you rely on preachers to convince you of their point of view. If the latter, then I hope that they are good, grounded, born again AND well trained teachers who, although have a big church behind them, could do with some better reflection on the end of days theology.