The year 2020 is, so far, getting a one star review with the following explanation: Would not recommend. Nope, never again…very bad. And yet, there has never been a better year…to think through the Gospel of Luke together.
Why did Luke write the Gospel of Luke? What is its purpose? There are things which happen to make us totter, but there are things which have happened to keep us from tottering over. And one of those things which have happened to keep us from tottering over is right here in Luke 17:20-37. Keep that in mind – there is one thing in these 18 verses given to us that we might not totter over. What is it? It is verse thirty-two. Remember Lot’s wife.
Behold, The Kingdom of God
The Gospel of Luke can be outlined in three simple parts. There is before Jerusalem (Luke 1 thru Luke 9:50). There is on the road to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 thru Luke 19:44). And there is in Jerusalem (Luke 19:45 thru Luke 24). The largest part is on the road to Jerusalem. Notice what keeps happening on the road to Jerusalem. It is Luke 17:20. “Being asked by the Pharisees…” These Pharisees keep popping up!
The Pharisees were not fans of Jesus. And a reason we keep seeing them was that they sought to trip Jesus up on the road to Jerusalem (cf. Luke 11:54).
However, this looks and feels and sounds so innocently genuine. They simply want an answer to a question. The grammar suggests that the Pharisees were rather persistent in getting the answer. They want to know. Notice their question. “When will the kingdom of God come?”
This question and Jesus’ answer is really important to the rest of the passage. But why do the Pharisees want to know when the kingdom of God will come? First, the Pharisees know that the kingdom of God is coming and it is because God said so (see passages like Jeremiah 33). And so the Pharisees are waiting for it. And as the Pharisees wait for it, they are looking for it. And as the Pharisees look for it, they know what they are looking for. They will know the kingdom has come when they see it. They just want to know the signs of its coming. But pay attention to that: they will know it when they see it. And pay close attention to Jesus’ answer. It is verse 21. “Behold,” which literally means to look and see. “You do not see it.”
Jesus says, “Look. It is not coming in ways you can watch or inspect or see. And no one will say, ‘Look! I found it.'”
What Is The Kingdom of God?
Jesus says at the end of verse 21 that the kingdom of God is in their midst; it is in them or withing their grasp. In effect, the kingdom of God is right in front of you. And what does that mean?
The kingdom of God is essentially God in charge. There are studies after studies, books upon books about the kingdom of God. But all agree that it is God in charge. But what does Jesus mean that it is right in front of you? What would the Pharisees be looking at as Jesus said this? The Pharisees would be looking at Jesus. And since Jesus is here doing the things only Jesus can do, the kingdom of God is here. But that is not all. Listen to verse 22 which immediately follows verse 21. “And he said to the disciples…” Who else are the Pharisees looking at? The Pharisees would also be looking at the disciples, those who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus and help others do the same.
So, what is the kingdom of God? It is people with Jesus living according to his teaching no matter where they are.
But this is not the point of Luke 17:20-21. The point is that the Pharisees desired to see the kingdom of God, were looking for it and did not see it even when it was right in front of them. It is why Jesus says what he says to the disciples next.
The Days Are Coming
So, there is what Jesus just said to the Pharisees which was rather short. Then there is what he will say to the disciples which is rather long. So notice that; Luke 17:22-37 is to and for disciples. And Jesus says to disciples – those who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus and help others do the same – the days are coming.
Jesus calls these days, “days of the Son of Man.” Son of Man is another term for Messiah or Christ. The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Messiah. As a disciple you will desire to see one particular day of the Messiah. And what is that day? It is the return of the Messiah; the return of Jesus Christ. And what does Jesus say about that day? You will not see it (v. 22). Jesus will explain that you will not see it in the way you think you will see it or the way some are looking for it (v. 23).
Do you see how this is similar to the Pharisees? They wanted to see the coming of the kingdom. But it came not in the way they were looking.
Everyday Living (Days of Noah and Lot)
Jesus will go on to explain, for his disciples, what the days will be like when he returns. And he compares these days to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (when he lived in Sodom). What were those days like? The Bible tells us that those days of Noah were when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
But listen how Jesus characterizes the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Luke 17:26-29. People were eating and drinking; dating and getting married; buying and selling; planting and building. What does that mean? The days looked so…normal. The sin and godlessness was and is profound. But Jesus characterizes those days as being so normal – grocery shopping; Food Network; e harmony and say yes to the dress; HGTV; working for a living; and planning for the future. It is everyday, relatable living. When will Jesus return? It is when life feels so normal.
Now the day Jesus returns disrupts the normal. He brings both salvation and judgment. But keep in mind how Jesus characterizes the days. The days look and feel so normal. It is everyday living. And so to his disciples, Jesus says this one thing: remember Lot’s wife.
Remember Lot’s Wife
How are we to remember Lot’s wife? When she fled the destruction of Sodom, she looked back and perished. She turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Listen to how Jesus puts it in Luke 17:33. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” What was Lot’s wife doing when she looked back? She was seeking to preserve her life. What does that mean? What was “her life”?
Why was she fleeing Sodom? Destruction was coming. She was running to safety. So when it came to safety or destruction, she was choosing safety.
In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is called a herald of righteousness as he built the ark. His message was one of judgment. The day of judgment is coming but there is safety. Enter the ark! How many chose safety? Seven other than Noah. Why did so many not choose the ark (safety)? They knew judgment was coming, so why did they not choose safety? Lot’s wife ran toward safety, saw the destruction coming, but looked back “to preserve her life.” Why?
The parallel or picture of rescue and destruction is that of salvation and judgment, heaven and hell. When given the choice, how many people will rather go to heaven than hell? Lot’s wife was choosing salvation but perished. Why?
This is not a choice of heaven or hell. This is a choice of heaven or everyday living. “Life” here is everyday living. This is about the powerful appeal of everyday living. When faced with the return of Jesus or marriage; or raising a family; or retirement or a house on a lake with mountains in the background in big sky country, how many choose the return of Jesus?
Choosing everyday living is “where the corpse is” (v. 37).
Everyday living is everything you could ask for in this life. So, how do I get to the point of experiencing that it does not compare to Jesus?
Did you notice that before Jesus talks of this “day” he first mentions the cross (Luke 17:25)?
I think the key is beholding the cross in everyday living.
And when I think of God, his Son not sparing
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.
My God, how great Thou art!