On that Day (On the Way to the Cross - Part 19)
Scripture: Luke 17:20–18:8
Synopsis: Jesus our King started a coup, but then went away so that certain other things could happen before fully establishing his Kingdom. The day will come when he will gloriously return. What will that day be
like? How shall we live in the meantime?
I once had a friend who described to me what it was like to live through a coup. That is, when a government is brought down and another takes its place. My friend was Nigerian visiting the capital of Sierra Leone. He was staying at a hotel across from the capitol building when suddenly a large number of men in trucks with guns appeared and started storming the capital. My friend said that he and the others with him locked their hotel doors and hid under the beds, fearing for their lives, until it was over.
I had another friend, from Sierra Leone, who was part of the conversation. Now this was in Australia and this particular friend had been granted asylum because his country was not safe to live in. I remember he told me that the government there was overthrown so often that those doing the overthrowing would only bother killing the top people and keep everyone else to actually ruin the government.
I have to admit that this kind of thing is outside my experience. The government of my country of birth has been generally stable for 150 years. From this conversation with my friends though, I could see that a forceful change in government can happen suddenly, and it can be devastating for those who end up on the losing side.
In Jesus' time, most Jews thought the day of God' Kingdom would be a coup, led by the Messiah, in which Israel would be politically restored. What we see in Jesus' teaching though is a much larger picture than the restoration of one small nation. On that day, God's Kingdom will bring real justice, redemption, and restoration throughout the whole world forever.
Today's text is all about the way that God's Kingdom will overthrow this present age. In it, Jesus reveals some of what we should watch for and expect, as well as how we should live as we wait.
Let's begin with verses 20-21:
20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, Look, here it is! or There! for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
We start with a question from the Pharisees that shows they were thinking of a small scale Kingdom. When they asked when it would come, they meant here in Israel. The first thing we need to understand about the Kingdom of God is that, in a sense, it is already here. Jesus told the Pharisees that there was no need to look for signs or rumors because the Kingdom of God is in your midst.
Kingdom of God is already here.
Some people take this to mean that the Kingdom of God is not physical, but spiritual. However, I would like to suggest an alternative interpretation that I believe makes better sense of the context. First of all, we can assume that these were unbelieving Pharisees. If that was the case, it would not make sense for Jesus to say that the Kingdom was in them in a spiritual way since they did not have faith in Jesus.
Secondly, the conditions that need to be satisfied for a Kingdom to exist are a King, citizens who are loyal to him, and a land where he is sovereign. At that moment when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, he was standing there before them and his disciples were gathered there too. I would suggest that since the King of God’s Kingdom and the citizens of God’s Kingdom were physically in the midst of the Pharisees, that at that moment the Kingdom of God was present in their midst.
There is a sense in which this is also true today. Many people, including Christians are looking for the signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom and chasing after rumors when we, the citizens of the Kingdom, are already here. From this perspective, our task to make disciples of all nations is quite literally to expand God’s kingdom in the world today. The great coup has already begun.
That being said, we need to be careful. The Kingdom of God has not yet been fully realized on Earth. We are still waiting for some things. At the time of our text, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and was with his disciples, but that only satisfied two of three conditions to be a Kingdom: they did not have any land. For us today, we are the citizens of the Kingdom, but our King is not with us in a visible way, and we still don’t have any land.
I wonder if this reminds you of the way God established the Kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament? He started with one man and promised him one son. Hundreds of years later, that one son became about 2 million slaves in Egypt. Now there was a people, but no law, no king, and no land. God took them out of Egypt and became their King by establishing his law and covenant with them. Now there is a King and loyal citizens, but no land. Forty years later, God led them to begin taking a land and, after several hundred more years, they finally became a Kingdom with a King, loyal citizens, and land.
Just as ancient Israelites did not receive all promises at once, so to Jesus' disciples must wait for the full establishment of God’s Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God is not yet fully established.
At this point, we see the King turn from the Pharisees to address his people and tell them that certain things must happen before the Kingdom is fully established. One of these things is that King had to suffer and be rejected.
In v. 25 Jesus said that he would suffer and be rejected by this generation. Nowhere is this more clear than at that moment when Pilate found no just cause for his death and offered to release him. He even gave them the choice between Jesus, who was not found guilty, and Barabus, a convicted murderer. They demanded Jesus’ death and the murderer’s freedom. The utterly rejected the true King and had him crucified.
Jesus knew that this was going to happen. Jesus on the cross was no accident, but was part of God’s plan to establish his kingdom. Before in verse 21 Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was in their midst on the basis that he and his disciples were present. People had already trusted in Jesus to forgive them and had become his disciples, but that forgiveness was not free.
Just as God redeemed a people for himself from slavery in Egypt, now he would redeem his people from slavery to sin. On the last day before Israel came out of Egypt, God came in wrath against every first born in Egypt except those whose doorposts were painted with lamb’s blood. This blood was not some sort of magic, but a symbol marking those who belonged to God.
Jesus was on his way to the cross where his blood would turn away the Father’s wrath and become a symbol marking all those who belong to him. King Jesus would buy a people for himself with his own blood. The suffering and rejection were necessary and he went willingly to them.
Another thing that had to happen before the Kingdom could be fully established is that the King had to be absent for a long time.
22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.
Since that generation would reject him, Jesus would leave them and this absence would affect his disciples the most profoundly. Have you ever noticed that you long for family the most when they are away and you are struggling? On my first thanksgiving day stationed in Korea with the Army, I was working hard and under a lot of stress. At lunch time, I remember sitting alone in the dining facility eating canned turkey, and thinking about my family gathered at Grandma's house enjoying each other's company, eating a real roast turkey. I longed to be there with them.
I think that is the type of longing that Jesus meant here. Jesus foretold that he would be away for a long time and that his disciples would greatly desire to see him, especially as they faced all kinds of trouble. Imagine his disciples after he ascended into heaven. They were shunned, persecuted, brought before authorities, jailed, and expelled from the synagogues. There must have been so many times when they longed for Jesus to be there with them.
As his disciples today, we experience a similar longing for our Lord to come back and sort out this messed up world. Even though he is gone long, our King will return. In the mean time, people are always talking about ‘signs of the end times’ and so many wierdos claim to be the second coming of Jesus. Jesus next words reveal three things about the manner of his return that put to rest the need for signs and rumors.
1. Jesus’ return will be unmistakable.
People are led astray by liars claiming to be Christ all the time. It has made me wonder sometimes if on the day when Jesus really returns, will I recognize him? What if the real Jesus comes and I think it’s a hoax or another crazy person claiming to be him? The answer to that question is found in verses 23-24:
23 And they will say to you, Look, there! or Look, here! Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
I lived a good part of my life in Arizona which is famous for spectacular lightning. When lightning flashes there, everyone sees it. It lights up the whole sky. Sometimes it is so brilliant that for just a moment it is the same as daylight. And then the sound of it! It can make your heart skip a beat and all your house windows rattle.
Jesus said that his return would be like lightning flashing across the sky. The clear point here, especially when combined with Jesus answer to the Pharisees, is that we need not be obsessed with signs of the end and certainly should never listen to any rumors of Jesus’ return. It is so sad that so many people are led away by liars claiming to be Christ when the clear testimony of scripture is that when Jesus returns, the event will be unmistakable. There will be no question, no mistake, no one will miss the return of the King.
2. Jesus’ return is that it will be devastating and unexpected.
26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
Jesus compared his return to the great flood and the destruction of Sodom. Notice that both of the events Jesus mentioned were displays of God’s wrath against sin. It is safe to conclude based on this and other scriptures that Jesus’ return will also bring devastating judgment against sin in the world.
If you think about it, you don't want Jesus to come back in wrath against your sin. We don't really want justice from God, we want grace and forgiveness. I mention this because it is too easy for us to read a passage like this and think about God judging all the "bad people" which mysteriously does not include you and me. If not for God's mercy through faith in Christ, we would be judged.
Jesus adds that everything before both of these events was simply business as usual. People were doing their everyday things when sudden and complete destruction rained down on them. No one expected it, no one predicted it. Jesus’ return will also be unpredictable.
Nevertheless, there are so many people who constantly claim to know when this will happen. It seems like every year some person or group makes a new prediction of the end. Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated apocalyptic predictions. Five of these predictions failed just in 2012, two of them made by the same guy. There is even one well know ‘end times expert’ who thinks the end will start next month.
Jesus said in Mark 13:32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The bible is so clear on this point. If Jesus, God in the flesh, chose not to know the time of his return, what makes us think we can figure it out? What makes us think someone here actually knows? Don’t believe the rumors no matter who they come from. No one knows.
Jesus' return is not something that can be predicted and it will be devastating for all who do not trust in him. This brings us to the third point: Jesus will preserve his people.
3. Jesus will preserve his people.
34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
Just like Noah and his family and Lot and his family were all preserved from destruction, Jesus will separate his people from those who are not his. This is a recurring theme in the gospels. Just a few weeks ago, Pastor Cam preached on the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13. The weeds in the parable are allowed to grow alongside the wheat until harvest time when they are taken out and burned. In Matthew 25 Jesus said that when he returns he will separate the sheep from the goats. That is, it will be immediately apparent to him who belongs in the Kingdom and who does not.
All of these passages speak to the truth that when the King returns, he will separate out all who do not belong to him to eternal punishment. But all those who have become his people, by grace through faith, will experience the final culmination of the Kingdom of God.
How then shall we live?
Jesus, our king, is away for a while, but he will return. When he comes, it will be unmistakable, unexpected, devastating for all who have not become his people, but glorious for those who have. The challenge for us then is how shall we live? I would like to suggest four aspects of how we should live in expectation of the culmination of God’s Kingdom. The first of these is Don’t look back.
31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot's wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
The two illustrations here are of two people who see trouble coming. One tries to get back to his house for shelter and the other tries to protect his wealth. According to Jesus, these are both worthless and dangerous pursuits. If the devastation of Jesus’ return will be like the flood, seeking shelter will do no one any good. If it will be like the destruction of Sodom, you don’t have time to go back for anything.
Both of these cases are people who try to save themselves. In that light verse 33 makes more sense. If you try to save yourself you will fail. But if you instead rely on Jesus to save you, it may cost you things like shelter and wealth, but it will ultimately save your life when he comes back to judge. While you wait for Jesus to return, trust him and don’t look back.
The second thing we do as we wait is to Keep praying for justice.
1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, Give me justice against my adversary. 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming. 6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? , Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Earlier on I mentioned that while Jesus is away we as his people will face all kinds of trouble. One of the troubles we face is persecution. We do hear reports all the time of our brothers and sisters who are enduring discrimination, imprisonment, torture, harassment, and even being killed for no other reason than their faith in Jesus. Even in so-called developed countries it is getting harder to express faith in Christ and live by his commands without being penalized either socially or judicially.
The hardest part for us is that as followers of Jesus we are commanded to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to let God handle justice on our behalf. The only One we can appeal to for justice and help is God.
In the parable Jesus told, a woman seeks justice from a corrupt judge who eventually gives in and does what is right for her. He only gives her justice because of her persistence. Of course, God is not like the corrupt judge in the parable. God loves his people and hears our cries to him. How much more will he give justice to his elect? As we await the return of our Lord, we must cry out to God for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters in faith that He will bring us justice.
Finally, don’t lose heart. We have hard times ahead as we await Jesus’ return. On top of that, the good news we proclaim is unpalatable to many people today. But Jesus will return, he will bring justice to the earth, he will bring grace for all who belong to him. He will overthrow the world's order with its idolatry, injustice, greed, self serving governments and even our sinful hearts. In its place Jesus will establish his kingdom with his redeemed people forever.
More in On the Way to the Cross
April 13, 2014Glorious Injustice (On the Way to the Cross - Part 24)
April 6, 2014Peter and Judas (On the Way to the Cross - Part 23)
March 30, 2014I Will Send My Son (On the Way to the Cross - Part 22)