We have been studying in this section of Luke’s gospel about the kingdom of God. There have been two themes in this section: what is the kingdom of God and who belongs to the kingdom of God? Luke continues his instructions about the kingdom by noting the question of the Pharisees concerning the kingdom. The Pharisees ask when the kingdom of God would come. John the Baptizer had been proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus has also been repeatedly teaching the nearness of the coming of the kingdom of God. Luke has emphasized this truth in a number of places throughout this gospel.
But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:27 ESV)
Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:8–12 ESV)
But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20 ESV)
Since the kingdom of God is near, the Pharisees want to know when this kingdom would come. Jesus answers this question in two sections, first to the Pharisees and second to his disciples.
The Nature of the Kingdom (17:20-21)
The rabbis taught that there would be great heavenly signs to signal the arrival of the kingdom. They desired to make calculations for the coming of the kingdom based upon various events that they saw (cf. Luke 12:54-56). In the Jewish way of thinking, if Pilate was still governing Judea, then the kingdom had not come. If the glorious temple of Ezekiel 40-48 had not been constructed, then the kingdom had not come. If the pagans were not defeated or flocking to Zion, then the kingdom had not come. They were looking for various signs. They were looking for upheavals and revolts. Jesus counters this thinking by teaching the Pharisees that the kingdom was not coming with signs that could be observed. They were always asking for signs from heaven (cf. Luke 11:16). There would not be signs like this upon which people could make calculations. In fact, the scriptures point to the suddenness of the kingdom’s arrival. But that is not the point right here. Jesus wants the Pharisees to grasp that the kingdom is not coming in the way they think it would come.
Jesus teaches something very startling. Jesus says that you are not going to say that the kingdom is here or there because the kingdom of God is in their midst. The KJV, NKJV, and NIV 1984 reads “the kingdom of God is within you.” This is a plausible reading of the Greek, but is rightly rejected because Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. Jesus was not telling the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was within them. Jesus has been spending his time in these chapters revealing that the Pharisees are not in the kingdom. The Samaritans, the sinners, and tax collectors were entering, but the Pharisees and religious leaders were not. Rather, the kingdom of God was in their midst. I want us to think about the impact of what Jesus is saying. Who was in their midst? Jesus was in their midst, the King of Israel. Recall what Jesus said in Luke 11:20. If Jesus casts out demons by the power of God, then the kingdom of God had come upon them. Jesus had been casting out demons. What is Jesus’ point? The kingdom was already working in their very midst. The reign of God had already broken into the world through Jesus’ ministry. To see the kingdom, look at Jesus and what he offers. As we have seen in these last five chapters in Luke, the kingdom of God is made up of people who have responded to Jesus and share in the benefits he has to offer. The kingdom of God was within their grasp if they would recognize that Jesus is the King of this kingdom. The kingdom was arriving and the king was in their very presence. There was no need to look around all over the place for the kingdom. The kingdom is seen in Jesus.
Revealing the Son of Man (17:22-30)
In verse 22 Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches them more about the kingdom, as these many chapters in this section of Luke’s gospel has been about. The Son of Man is going to come in his glorious kingdom. But there is a touch of a shift in the reference point. Jesus says they will desire to see “one of the days of the Son of Man” (vs. 22). In verse 24 Jesus calls this, “the Son of Man be in his day.” Verse 26 uses the same phrase again, “So will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” Verse 30 perhaps gives the greatest clarity, “So will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” So what is “the day when the Son of Man is revealed” and what does it have to do with the message of the kingdom? These are the questions we will need to answer as we explore the rest of this chapter.
Jesus describes this as a coming event that will not be hidden. It will be observed like lightning across the sky. The coming of the Son of Man will be obvious to all. Therefore, do not listen to people who claim that the Son of Man is here or there. Jesus says that is going to be a time coming when they will desire the days of the Son of Man, but must not be fooled by going out and looking for it. When the days of the Son of Man arrive, the coming will be quite visible.
But before this coming can happen, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected. Before the days of the Son of Man can arrive, the Son of Man is going to experience suffering and rejection. Second, Jesus wants them to know that life will seem to be the same as any other day. Just like in the days of Noah, so it will be during the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, and marrying in the days of Noah when the judgment of the flood came. In the same way, during the days of Lot people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, and building. But then judgment suddenly came against Sodom, raining fire and sulfur on the city. Now we know what Jesus means by “the days of the Son of Man.” He is talking about a coming judgment. Jesus says the days of the Son of Man are going to be like the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Life continued as normal but then judgment suddenly struck. Notice the two parallels between the days of the Son of Man and the days of Noah and Lot. First, the judgment was sudden. Second, the judgment was complete. The flood was a comprehensive judgment of the earth for its sins. The fire and sulfur was a comprehensive judgment of Sodom for its sins.
So what judgment event is Jesus speaking about as he gives this warning about the coming of the days of the Son of Man? Let’s read the rest of the chapter to see what we can learn from Jesus’ instructions. When the days of the Son of Man come, notice the first thing the people were to do was to not return to their homes. They were not to return to the house to gather their possessions, no matter if they were in the field or on the rooftop. They were to flee and not turn back, just like Lot’s wife.
Now many people try to take these instructions to refer to the final judgment when Jesus returns for the final time. But these directions do not fit this interpretation. If it is the end of the world, the final judgment, when Christ returns to the earth and we all stand before the white throne judgment of the Lord, then why would it matter that a person not turn back to his house? If it is the end of the world, then it is the end and it does not matter what a person does.
Second, Jesus says that when the days of the Son of Man come, where there are two people, one will be taken and one will be left. Notice in verse 34 two people may be sleeping in bed. But one person will be taken and one will be left. In verse 35 two people may be working in the field. But one person will be taken and one will be left. These descriptions also do not fit the end of the world judgment. If it is the end of the world, the final judgment of Christ, then no one is going to be left. Everyone will stand before the Lord in final judgment and give an account, as the scriptures teach.
The final description is given in verse 37. There will be dead bodies everywhere. Jesus says that there are going to be corpses and the vultures are going to circling and gathering for their meals because there will be so many dead bodies. This also does not fit the end of time, final judgment of God. There are not going to be dead bodies with vultures eating our flesh when Christ returns for the final time. When the end comes, it is the end and nothing else is going to happen (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-12; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
The Coming Kingdom of God
So what is Jesus talking about? Let bring all of the questions together so that we can comprehensively answer all the questions we have raised so far. What are “the days of the Son of Man?” What do these days have to do with the kingdom of God? What event fits these directions and descriptions to not return to the house when these days come, that one person will be taken and one will be left, and there will be dead bodies everywhere so that the vultures will come? Daniel 7 describes the coming of the Son of Man as the subjugation of all wicked, insubordinate nations and kingdoms.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14 ESV) All people and nations must serve him. His kingdom has eternal power and rule. The expectation of the coming of the Son of Man and the arrival of the kingdom of God was the subjugation of the nations (cf. Psalm 2; Psalm 145). The kingdom of God will conquer worldly nations and kingdoms. Daniel 2 pictures the kingdom of God shattering and crushing the world nations. This is the beginning of warning judgments given by Jesus in his teachings. The Jewish nation was going to be judged because of its rebellion to God, disobeying God’s commands, killing the prophets, and most notably killing Jesus, the King. This fits the directions and description given by Jesus. The Romans made their invasion of Judea and Jerusalem around 67 AD and completed its destruction in 70 AD. When the Romans came, the people were to quickly flee and not return to their home for their possessions. Further, many of the Jews were captured by the Romans in this invasion, explaining the description of one person being taken and one person being left. Finally, there were dead bodies everywhere, as recorded by the historian Josephus, who lived during that time. He records the horrors of the Roman invasion. It was an event that was visible to all people as Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. The Jewish nation was being swiftly and comprehensively judgment for its wickedness and the kingdom of God continued to conquer nations in rebellion to Christ. This is the picture of the days of the Son of Man and how it relates to the kingdom of God.
But what does this mean for us today? Why does the imagery of Jesus as a conquering king ruling in his kingdom and subjugating the nations have any impact or meaning for us? Daniel 7 gives us a picture of the expectations of the kingdom and what it means for us.
But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever (Daniel 7:18 ESV)
And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. (Daniel 7:27 ESV)
In the last few lessons we have discussed the greatness and glory of Jesus as King. Everyone must bow the knee before Jesus, giving our lives completely to him as his subjects or be judged with the rest of those who reject him. For this lesson, let’s focus on the amazing graciousness of God. This kingdom is not about the wrath of God wiping out the enemies, though the scriptures are certainly clear that the enemies will be judged. The kings and rulers of the earth today rule in a selfish way. We see dictators historically and currently ruling for themselves, acquiring power for selfish, evil motives. Please notice the rule of Jesus. His rule, authority, and kingdom are being given to the people of the Most High. He gives this all-powerful, glorious kingdom to his people.
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:10–13 ESV)
In our wretched condition of sinfulness and rebellion, God has made a gracious offer to reign with him. He is offering a place in the eternal kingdom of God. He is giving us the glorious kingdom. How could God be so kind to offer us a place in this kingdom? It shows another dimension of God’s love for his creation. He wants us to be with him. He wants us to reign with him. He is giving us a kingdom if we will become his people today.