Luke17v20to37: THE SECOND COMING

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke17v20to37

Commentators have conflicting views about the interpretation of this passage - so it is easy to end up wondering what it can be about. I hope this exposition is close to the meaning intended by Jesus. In my view Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom of God - as it is and as it will be.

(B) The nature of God's kingdom. Verses 20 and 21.

(1) The Pharisee's question. Once, having been asked by the Pharisee's when the kingdom of God would come .... . v20.

It is possible the Pharisee's question was bitterly ironic or sarcastic. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. But what was he doing? He just seemed to be wandering round with a crowd of Galilean supporters, fraternising with the disreputable elements in society and healing the sick. The Pharisees wanted to know when they would see some real action. When would Jesus take the initiative to restore Israel's autonomy and enhance its influence in the world? Where was God's warrior king?

(2) Jesus' reply.

Jesus replied to the Pharisees by describing the nature of the kingdom. It was:

    (a) A hidden kingdom. "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation." v22.

    The Pharisees did not see the kingdom because they were looking for the wrong things. My two friends Eileen Coe and Hazel Cawston sometimes tell me where to find a rare wild flower. It is often difficult to find because I am not completely sure what the flower looks like. I use my wild flower books but that is not the same as seeing the real thing. Once I have found a new plant it is much easier to find it again - because then I know what I am looking for.

    Elijah overlooked the fact that there were 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. He did not see them! Elijah expected all God's people to be like him. God had to teach him a lesson. He was not in the earthquake, wind and fire but in the still small voice. The quiet influences of a father's prayers and a mother's example were in the final analysis more influential than the fire that fell on Mt Carmel.

    The Pharisees were looking for a warrior king to lead a popular uprising against the hated Romans. They expected great David's greater Son to defeat every Jewish enemy and to establish a mighty kingdom to the ends of the earth. Judaism would be the state sponsored religion with its centre being the Temple in Jerusalem - the city of God. What had a poorly educated carpenter from Nazareth and his rag tag following of Galilean fishermen, tax collectors, emotionally challenged women and other assorted sinners have to do with that?

    There remain some Christians who want something similar to the Pharisees. They hope for a great figure to champion their cause in Parliament. They want a state sponsored church to be a power in the land. There are militant believers who want to see their enemies crushed.

    This is not Christ's way. He was never an establishment figure. Jesus conquers men's hearts. His followers act like salt in society. The symbol of Christianity is not a flaming sword but a cross.

    (b) A kingdom without borders. ".... nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is.'"

    The kingdom of God is not like an earthly kingdom - nor should it ape one! God's kingdom hasn't any geographical significance. It isn't like Solomon's kingdom stretching from the Mediterranean in the west to the Euphrates in the east.

    Earthly kingdoms rise and fall but God's kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. It has its many enemies but none shall ever defeat it.

    (c) A kingdom within a kingdom. "..... because the kingdom of God is within you."

    This phrase is interpreted in three different ways by commentators: as above or "... the kingdom of God is amongst you" or "... the kingdom of God is within your grasp."

    I believe the best version is the second one above because that was literally true. Jesus, his disciples and other devoted followers did constitute the kingdom of God. The kingdom was right there amongst the Pharisees and lawyers and they missed it because they were not looking for the right things.

    The kingdom of God is a kingdom within a kingdom. It transcends time and space. Whenever and wherever there are believers in Jesus - there is the kingdom of God.

(C) The kingdom under attack. Verses 22 to 25.

Jesus said: "But first he (the Son of Man) must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." v25.

As Jesus suffered and was rejected so, too, will his followers through the ages experience many disappointments and outbreaks of persecution. There are two understandable reactions to this:

(1) A desire to see Jesus. "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." v22.

When Christians are up against it they long for Christ's presence on earth either:

    (a) As he was. Some believer's imagine if only Jesus was here in the flesh like he was 2000 years ago things would be so much easier. He would answer all our questions and put to rest all our fears. The old children's hymn has a seductive charm:

          I think when I read that sweet story of old,
          When Jesus was here among men,
          How He called little children, as lambs to His fold,
          I should like to have been with them then.
          I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,
          That His arm had been thrown around me,
          And that I might have seen His kind look when He said,
          "Let the little ones come unto Me."

    When we feel this way we should remember what Jesus said to his disciples: "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." John16v7and8.

    The Holy Spirit is a better helper! See exposition on John16v5to16.

    (b) Or as he will be. In the face of opposition and ridicule Christians may long to see Jesus arrive in glory and power for the final reckoning. In that day Jesus will confound his enemies - and ours. But, perhaps, it is a good thing that God is more patient than us! Peter wrote: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2Pet3v9. What a wonderful observation!

(2) An obsession with Jesus' second coming.

In times of great distress Christians tend to think a lot about Christ's return. This has two bad effects:

    (a) Some are taken in by false Messiah's. Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running after them. v23. One only has to look at the list of Messiah claimants in Wikipedia to realise there has been no shortage of false claimants through the years.

    The influence of false Messiahs is invariably bad. See article on David Koresh.

    (b) Others believe Christ will return on a specified date. There have been numerous foolish forecasts of Jesus' Second Coming - See article in Wikipedia. Such prophecies deceive many and make the church look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.

    Jesus made it crystal clear what his return to earth would be like. "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." v24. It is this verse that convinces me that Jesus was talking in this passage about his Second Coming and not, as Tom Wright and others suggest, about the fall of Jerusalem. After all what had the destruction of Jerusalem to do with God's Kingdom?

    So Christ's return to earth will be:

    (a) Sudden - like a flash of lightning.

    (b) Dramatic - as a sheet of light covering the whole sky - brighter than the noon-day sun.

    (c) Unmistakeable - a unique event the like of which has never been witnessed before.

    (d) Universal - the light will shine all over the world as men everywhere realise that Christ has come.

NO-ONE will be left in any doubt about what is happening.

(D) The state of affairs before Christ's return. Verses 26 to 30.

"Just as it was in the days of Noah ..... . It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all." v26to29.

(1) Life goes on as normal.

It is wrong to think that Christ's return will be preceded by abnormalities in society. Whenever something awful happens there is a tendency for some Christians to say, "The Second Coming is at hand." This is not what Jesus teaches. Before he returns the world will be going on as it always has. Sadly, many, as in the days of Noah and Lot, will have assumed that because nothing has changed nothing will change. Tomorrow will be the same as yesterday. But one tomorrow will be very different from all our yesterdays!

(2) People unprepared.

Many folk will be totally unprepared for Christ's Second Coming. They will be caught completely unawares - just like the people of Noah's day and the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah.

(3) A time of destruction.

For huge numbers the return of Jesus will not be a happy day. It will be a day of destruction. As God destroyed a civilization in the flood and wicked cities in the day of Lot so God will destroy all Christ's enemies on his return. (See article on Heaven and Hell.)

(E) The disposition that saves. Verses 30 to 32.

It is vital to have the right disposition towards Jesus before he returns. No-one is going to be able to change at the moment of his arrival. There is a:

(1) Wrong priority.

"On that day no-one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no-one in the field should go back for anything." v30and31.

When Jesus appears our first thought shouldn't be:

    (a) About putting our affairs in order. We shouldn't be concerned about making our goods secure - burying the silver in the garden, taking the dinner out of the oven, switching off the washing machine, packing some sarnies ... .

    (b) About making sure the wife and kids are all right - hurrying home to reassure and protect them. On Christ's return they are no longer our responsibility.

(2) Right priority.

Our first thought when the sky flares brighter than the sun, should be: "He's back! He's back! Hallelujah! Jesus is back. I'm coming Lord .... I'm coming - please take me."

Francis R. Havergal's words will be a reality:

          Thou art coming, Thou art coming:
          We shall meet Thee on Thy way,
          We shall see Thee, we shall know Thee,
          We shall bless Thee, we shall show Thee,
          All our hearts could never say,
          What an anthem that will be,
          Ringing out our love to Thee,
          Pouring out our rapture sweet
          At Thine own all-glorious feet!

We shall only react like this if Jesus is first in our hearts - if we are able to sing in true devotion:

          King of my life, I crown Thee now,
          Thine shall the glory be;
          Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow,
          Lead me to Calvary.

It is only the person who has died to self - to selfishness and possessiveness - who will be ready for Christ's return and will live. Jesus said: "Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." v39. Lot's wife was addicted to the comfortable lifestyle she had in Sodom. She didn't want to lose it. It is possible she turned back to the pleasures of the plain - and was lost. If we find the pleasures of the world irresistible we shall not be ready for Christ's Second Coming - and will perish.

(F) The kingdom's final configuration. Verses 34 to 37.

Although the Kingdom of God has existed from the time of Jesus to the present it is not the kingdom that will be. It is as yet an imperfect kingdom. So long as it remains in the world it is infected by the world - as Jesus taught in his parables of the Leaven, the Mustard Seed and the Tares. The subjects of the God's kingdom are not all they should be! All that will end when Christ returns. Let us look at the consequences of Christ's Second Coming:

(1) Some are left.

"I tell you ..... two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left."

Perhaps a father and son are working together on their land and one, both decent and hard working, is left for judgment and destruction. Now is the time for men and women to avert that ultimate tragedy.

(2) Some are taken.

"Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left." v35.

Two friends - sharing a grindstone - preparing flour for their daily bread - and one is whisked away to be with Jesus and all those resurrected to life. This is the plain teaching of Scripture: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. 1Thes4v16and17. Why commentators like Tom Wright assert that those taken away are the ones destined for judgment I cannot imagine!

All the redeemed of all the ages will be finally gathered together. They will constitute the finished kingdom in all its glory and will be presented by Jesus to God without spot or wrinkle. All its subjects will fully qualify to be with the Lord forever. 1Thes4v17.

I love Fanny Crosbee's hymn about Jesus' Second Coming:

      On that bright and golden morning when the Son of Man shall come,
      And the radiance of His glory we shall see;
      When from every clime and nation he shall call His people home -
      What a gath'ring of the ransomed that will be

      What a gath'ring! what a gath'ring!
      What a gath'ring of the ransomed in the summer land of love!
      What a gath'ring! what a gath'ring
      Of the ransomed in that happy home above!

(3) An awful truth.

"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left." v34.

It doesn't matter how intimate you have been with a believer that intimacy will not save you on the day of Christ's return. The pleas and prayers of your loved ones will no longer count for anything. One will be taken and the other left. Husband and wife will be parted forever.

(4) "Where Lord?"

When Jesus said, "One will be taken and the other left," the obvious question was not, "When Lord?" but, "Where Lord?" v37. The disciples wanted to know where the 'taken' were taken to. Jesus gave the illuminating answer: "Where there is a dead body, there will the vultures gather." v37.

This must have been a proverb whose meaning was obvious to Jesus' followers but it is not understood very well today!

It seems to me that Jesus was telling his disciples that in the end we go where our inclinations take us. The dominant desire of vultures is carrion. They will always be found where there is carrion. It is their dominant desire and draws them to it. We, too, are invariably drawn to our dominant desire.

There are some people who can nearly always be found - in a betting shop, in the pub, on their allotment, on the golf course, with their family or in church. When Jesus was 12 and his parents lost him they spent a long time searching for their boy in Jerusalem. Jesus told Mary and Joseph that they should have known where to find him. His inclination was to be about his Father's business!

The Christian's dominant desire is Jesus. At the end we shall be, like the vultures, where our heart's inclination takes us - to him - our Saviour, Master, Friend. I realise that the picture of a group of seedy vultures tearing at a rotting carcase is not a very good picture of the redeemed gathered around Jesus but this interpretation of the proverb is in harmony with the rest of the passage.

I can remember going to a reunion of a group of pupils that I didn't get on particularly well with when they were at school. I was brave to go! Nothing much had changed! I got a fairly cool reception at the reunion. But then as I stood on the edge of the darkened dance floor a woman stretched out a hand from the shadows and drew me to her. "Come and sit by me, Mr Reed," she said. "Come and give me a cuddle." It was Joanne who twenty five years before had been a very sweet girl - and one with whom I had enjoyed an affectionate relationship. Nothing had changed. She was drawn to me by her heart's inclination.

(G) Conclusion.

I believe my exposition has a coherence and consistency that is not possible if the passage is, as some commentators maintain, about the fall of Jerusalem or partly about the fall of Jerusalem and partly about the Second Coming. Jesus was asked a question about God's kingdom and that is what his answer is all about.