Luke 17: 20 – 37 The coming of the kingdom of God
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, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’
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. People will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them. 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. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 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.
‘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.
‘It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 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. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding corn together; one will be taken and the other left.’
‘Where, Lord?’ they asked.
He replied, ‘Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.’
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This passage starts with a question from the Pharisees. “When will the kingdom of God come?”
Why might they have asked the question? A desire to see the rule of Rome replaced by Jewish autonomy? A plan to secure an answer from Jesus that could be presented to the Romans as revolutionary, and persuade them to deal with him?
At all events, they have the wrong idea about the nature of the kingdom of God, imagining it as an earthly realm. Jesus tells them that they will not find it, because they are looking for the wrong thing. It is not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one.
That is a good reminder for us, too. In the sense that the Holy Spirit is within us, we are already living in the kingdom of God. Alleluia!
Jesus then speaks to his disciples about his return to earth, when he will come in glory to show the kingdom of God in its final, perfected state; his second coming.
He warns them not to be misled by imposters who will claim to be the Son of Man. He tells them (and us) that we won’t need telling when he comes again; it will be obvious. “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.”
We then have this difficult passage, where Jesus uses imagery from the Old Testament to emphasise what he is saying. He reminds the disciples that in Noah’s day, human life was carrying on in its usual manner right up until the rain started. Once that happened, it was too late to build an ark. In Lot’s day, human life was carrying on normally right up until the time fire and sulphur rained down from heaven. It was too late then to flee the city.
The warning in these verses is that we must be prepared. It is the same teaching as we see in Matthew 24: 36 – 51, which can be summarised as “Be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. Let him find you doing your duty”. It’s also similar to Luke 12: 35 – 48, which has the same message.
The difference here is that Jesus chooses imagery that strongly emphasise the enormous importance of being prepared for his return. We don’t know the place or the hour of his return, but we know that it will be obvious and of supreme importance to us. And of course, even if we don’t see the second coming, we still have to die physically, and that could happen at any time.
I would like to skate over the imagery that Jesus chooses. Was Noah’s flood really the deliberate destruction of most of humanity by God? Were Sodom and its inhabitants really destroyed by a deliberate act of God? I find it very hard to believe that a loving God would do such things. And yet it is inescapably true that our world has natural disasters that cause death and great suffering for innocent people, and God created it like that.
I won’t duck the issue. But I will say that I don’t understand. The best I can do is believe that after death there is consolation for those who have suffered, and that this outweighs the suffering by so great an amount that the suffering no longer matters. Perhaps it is like giving birth. I have been told that although the pain of childbirth is great, as soon as the child is born and in the mother’s arms the pain stops and is replaced by joy. But I don’t know.
Sometimes, we need to remember that where there is faith, there is always doubt, too.
Thank you for calling me to serve you. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who helps me accept your teaching. Please help me to be doing my duty when you come for me.
In Jesus name, Amen