Last essay we studied Luke 17:1-19, which contains several miscellaneous teachings to the disciples (vv. 1-10) and the cleansing of ten lepers (vv. 11-19). Now we are ready to take up verses 17:20-37. In verses 20-21 we see that the Pharisees, who are still present, ask Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. They apparently were expecting an answer in terms of certain observable signs, that is, the kingdom would come when such and such an event or events took place. But Jesus replied that there would be no observable signs of the kingdom’s coming. Instead the kingdom was to be found “within them” (NIV) or “among them” (NRSV).
Both translations are correct, but they make quite a difference in meaning. If Jesus meant that the kingdom was to be found “within” the Pharisees, he meant that the kingdom is an internal matter. The kingdom is inside of people. On the other hand, if Jesus meant that the kingdom was to be found “among” them, them he meant that the kingdom was present in Jesus’ ministry among them.
I agree with the NRSV translation “among” for a couple of reasons. First, the Pharisees were not believers. Therefore Jesus would not have declared that the kingdom was within them. And second, this is the only place where Jesus used this language about the kingdom that would suggest it is internal. Jesus spoke of men entering the kingdom, not of the kingdom entering men. Therefore I believe Jesus was referring to his own ministry among them.
Now then, Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees is followed by a discourse to his disciples about the coming of the Son of Man, which is intimately entwined with the coming of the kingdom. That is the coming of the kingdom will involve the return of Jesus himself as the Son of Man.
The phrase, “the days of the Son of Man” in verse 22, is found only here and in verse 26 of this same chapter, where it is paralleled with the phrase, “in the days of Noah.” There are a variety of possibilities for what Jesus meant by it, so we are not going to go into all of that. In my opinion, the simplest way to take it is as representative of the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. That is to say, the day would come when the disciples Jesus was speaking to would long for one of the days when Jesus still was living among them. Jesus was saying that times would get so tough that they would long for Jesus’ presence, but they would not see him. Indeed their desire for Christ’s presence would become so strong that they would be tempted to run here and there to find him when they heard reports that he had returned. But those reports would be false, says Jus, so they ought not waste their time and energy.
In verse 24 Jesus gives an explanation as to why the disciples must not be taken in by false reports of Jesus’ return. When he returns, there will be no mistaking the fact. It will be clear to all. Jesus uses the analogy of a lightning strike. When lightning strikes from one side of the sky to the other, all can see it. And people do not run here or there to see a flash of lightning. It lights up the sky from one end to the other in an instant. And that is how the return of Christ will be.
The saying in verse 25 seems to be a warning to Jesus’ disciples against the idea of his manifesting himself as the Son of Man before he has suffered and been rejected by “this generation.” “This generation” refers to the generation alive in Israel during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
In verses 26-30, in order to illustrate what the Day of the Son of Man would be like, Jesus offered the disciples a double comparison between that Day and the days of Noah (Gen. 6-8) and Lot (Gen. 19). In Noah’s time the people ate, drank and married. In other words, they carried on the normal activities of life with no understanding that it was all about to end.
If you go back to Genesis 6:1, you will see that the human population was expanding. Then verse five tells us that human wickedness had become so great that every human thought was wicked all the time. Verse 11 reveals that the earth itself was corrupt and full of violence. And verse 13 tells us that God informed Noah that he intended to destroy the entire human race. When the rains came, only eight people, Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives, were saved from the flood by their going into the ark. Everyone else died. It wasn’t that they had no warning. Noah had warned them while he was building the ark. But they refused to listen, mocking Noah instead.
In the case of Lot’s day, the situation was much the same as in Noah’s. The people were doing all of the usual human activities: eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, and building. And they had no idea that judgment was coming.
The story is found in Gen. 19. Two angels, manifesting themselves as men, came to Sodom, and Lot offered them hospitality (vv. 1-3). But wicked men from the city surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the angels be given to them for sexual pleasure (vv. 4-5). Lot refused and went outside to try to reason with them. He had no success, and the angels had to save him from the attackers by blinding them (vv. 4-11).
Then the angels led Lot, his wife, and his two daughters out of the city in order to save their lives, because God had determined to destroy it (vv. 12-17). Lot and his family were warned not to look back. When they were safely in a small town named Zoar, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah took place (vv. 18-26). Unfortunately, Lot’s wife looked back, and her life was lost as a result (v. 26).
It is not hard to see the similarities between the times of Noah and Lot. Both lived during a time when human beings in general were not following the will of God, a time when human wickedness was rampant, and a time when violence was everywhere. And judgment was the result. The flood killed the population of Noah’s day, and the populations of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire.
As we see in verse 30, Jesus declares that the day of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah and Lot. In other words, when Christ comes again, he will bring judgment on the wicked, just as God brought judgment on the wicked of the days of Noah and Lot.
In verse 31 Jesus gives a practical warning to those who will face the coming catastrophe. When it happens, it will be too late to try to save any belongings (v. 31). Whether on a rooftop or in a field, they must flee immediately rather than linger and look back as Lot’s wife did (v. 32).
In verse 33 Jesus gives us a general principle that undergirds his warning. When the Son of Man comes, it will be futile to try to preserve one’s life. On the contrary, we must be willing to lose our lives, meaning lose them to the Son of Man. Our security is in him, not in our possessions or even in our physal lives.
Jesus goes on in verse 34 to say that the coming of the Son of Man will divide people into two groups, those “taken” and those “left.” Those taken will be those who are ready for Christ’s coming. And those left will be those who are not ready. Now many interpret this to mean that those who are ready are the believers, and those who are not ready are the non-believers. That certainly is true as far as it goes. The believers who are anticipating Christ’s second coming undoubtedly will be among the “taken.” And those unbelievers who are enemies of Christ, who have made a conscious decision to reject God’s love, will be among the “left.” But there might be unbelievers who are ready to believe and will do so when they see the Son of Man coming in his glory.
Verse 37 is difficult to interpret, because it is so brief. The disciples ask, “Where, Lord?” I assume they meant by their question, “Where will the Son of Man come?” In a sense Jesus already had answered the question. It was fairly clear from what he said earlier that the coming of the Son of Man would take place everywhere. But the disciples didn’t get it. So Jesus answers their question.
Unfortunately, his answer was rather cryptic: “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Jesus wanted a vivid image to symbolize the corruption of sinful humanity. He certainly accomplished that with an image of corrupt humanity as a rotting corpse that attracts vultures. And the coming of the Son of Man will be as evident as circling of the vultures.