When someone mentions Christ’s words on the end times, the first thing we think of is the Olivet Discourse, and rightfully so. But the passage in Luke 17:20-37 is also quite enlightening when it comes to our studies in eschatology. Before reading this post, I would suggest refreshing yourself by reading this often overlooked end times passage again. Here are some insights from the passage.
The Kingdom of God ~ The conversation begins by the Pharisees demanding when the Kingdom of God should come. Jesus responds that this is not something that can be observed or pointed out. He states that the Kingdom is in their midst. As of yet, we have no reference to the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees points out that the Kingdom is already at work in their midst as Jesus had revealed in the parables on the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom is working, but in a way that was previously unexpected. Luke had already imparted this truth to his readers in 8:4-15. What point was Jesus making to the Pharisees?
The Kingdom Present ~ The Kingdom had come to them in the person of Christ and they had completely missed it. Miracles were being performed, the dead were being raised to life, demons were powerless in His presence, there was no sickness that He could not heal, the poor had the gospel preached to them, and He demonstrated His power over the weather. The Kingdom of God, or Kingly Rule, had already begun in the lives of those who confessed Him as Saviour. So Jesus was basically telling the Pharisees that it was not something to be pointed out in the future since it was already in their midst.
The Kingdom Future ~ And yet Jesus continues the conversation as if there is a future aspect to this kingdom. But here He is not speaking to the Pharisees. He has turned His attention to His disciples. This drives home the point that no matter how much Jesus debated with the Pharisees, they would never understand the future kingdom since they refused to participate in the present working of the kingdom. The discples on the other hand, repented at His preaching, confessed Him as Messiah, and began working the works of the Messiah right alongside Him. They would participate in the future kingdom since they were now members of it by their confession of Christ.
The Days of the Son of Man ~ Jesus does not use the word "kingdom" again in His words to His disciples. Instead He talks about "the days of the Son of Man". He starts out with a basic timeline which includes first His suffering and being rejected by the present generation. It only stands to reason that these "days of the Son of Man" would inaugurate the Messianic Kingdom which was what the Pharisees really wanted Jesus to open up about, no doubt to condemn Him. His use of the title "Son of Man" is most likely a safeguard against accusations of blasphemy, yet also His confession as Messiah would be given at the point of His ultimate rejection before the high priest and Sanhedrin, so it’s not time yet. It’s safe to say that Jesus is speaking of the Messianic Kingdom which will begin like a flash of lightning when the Son of Man is revealed. This future kingdom will not begin like Jesus’ advent of the disciples’ day. It will be instantaneous and world wide. There will be no secret coming that only a few people know about.
The Judgement ~ Nowhere did the Pharisees speak of any coming world wide judgement that would inaugurate the Kingdom of God. This was a teaching that Jesus opens up to His disciples. He does this in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse by mentioning the flood of Noah, Matthew 24:36-39. Here Jesus mentions both the flood of Noah and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of judgement to be brought at that time. This begs the question, did the scribes and Pharisees believe that the Messianic Kingdom would begin with a world wide judgement? The OT scriptures describe this world wide judgement. Psalm 46 and 97 are two examples, Isaiah 24 is another example which shows the judgement of the whole earth followed by the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, and Isaiah 34-35 is another example which includes the restoration of the earth immediately following the world wide judgement. We can’t be sure of exactly what the scribes and Pharisees believed, but Jesus makes no equivocation about what He is setting forth. There WILL BE a world wide judgement on the earth at the beginning of "the days of the Son of Man", specifically when He is revealed, verse 30.
Escaping the Judgement ~ Both the judgement of Noah and the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah have one thing in common that Jesus is conveying to His disciples. Noah and family were spared the effects of the judgement. Lot and his family were spared the effects of the judgement. God warned Noah ahead of time to be prepared, enter into the ark, and escape judgement. Lot was carried out of Sodom by angels. In both cases it is the exact same day that Noah enters the ark, and the exact same day that Lot departs out of Sodom that the destruction comes upon the earth. Verses 31-33 serve as a reminder that as the destruction comes it is not a time to go to your house to get your earthly goods. They won’t do you any good, especially if you try to save your own life. Remember Lot’s wife; this verse gives me the chills. Are you like Lot’s wife? Do you love this world more than the LORD? If your house were burning up would you go back in for the worthless things that are passing away? Lot’s wife wanted to go back to what God had clearly intended to destroy. This earth is slated for destruction, see II Peter 3:3-13 for more details.
The Gathering ~ Verses 34-36 taken in their proper context are describing the way that God’s people will be delivered from the judgement. One will be taken and one will be left. One will be taken out and spared the judgement just as Noah entered the ark and just as Lot was carried out by angels. One will be left to be destroyed along with the earth. Verse 37 has been the subject of much debate. The straightforward reading is not difficult. The question the disciples ask, "Where, Lord?" is asking where those who are gathered out of this world to escape the judgement will be gathered to. So the context tells us that Jesus said, "One will be taken." The disciples ask, "Where will they be taken to." Jesus’ answer confirms this. "Wherever the body is, there will the vultures be gathered together." The morbidity of the language sometimes repulses people from thinking that this can be describing anything holy. The picture is one that was familiar to people in Jesus day. Everyone knew by looking out over the horizon and seeing a group of birds circling over one spot what was going on beneath. Even if they couldn’t see the body for themselves, they knew it was there simply by the fact that the birds had been gathered to it. The disciples’ confusion is understood. Although they knew more than the Pharisees, they still didn’t quite understand the coming of the Kingdom of God, hence the question, "Where will they be gathered to as this world is destroyed?" Jesus is in essence saying, "Wherever I am (the body), you’ll be gathered to Me." This interpretation agrees with John 14:2-3 and I Thessalonians 4:16-17.
Conclusions: The Messianic reign will begin with world wide judgement which will include a gathering of God’s elect on that very day to be spared. Further extrapolation can include the day of judgment beginning with the trumpet judgements which is where the fire and brimstone actually begin. Those familiar with the PreWrath position understand the significance of this. Those looking to invest in this world will lose everything. Those investing in the Kingdom of God will gain everything. Those looking to save their lives will lose them. Those looking to lose their lives for the sake of Christ will wind up preserving their lives. The kingdom will begin with the Son of Man being revealed and a gathering of those who belong to Him.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman