Please read LUKE 17: 20-37
One thing that Jesus has pointed out about the Pharisees is that they tended to evaluate or judge things by appearances. The Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by Matthew, makes much of this. The Lord Jesus told men that sins were not merely external (murder, adultery, etc.), but internal (anger, lust, greed). So, too, righteousness was not so much the doing of external acts (fasting, tithes and offerings, long prayers), but in the attitudes of the heart.
In chapter 16, Jesus accused the Pharisees of being far too external in their orientation:
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15).
Is it not easy to understand that when it came to the coming of the promised kingdom of God, men would expect its arrival to be signaled by various external “signs and wonders”? And who but the Pharisees would expect to observe them and recognize the kingdom first. In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, we are told it was the Pharisees who persistently challenged Jesus to prove Himself by performing signs (Matthew 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11).
In our passage, the subject is the kingdom of God and its coming. The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom was to come. Jesus briefly answered their question, in a way that showed they would not, indeed they had not, recognized the kingdom as having already come. From this starting point, Luke records the teaching of our Lord on the coming of the kingdom which was raised by the questioning of the Pharisees.
It is most important to take note of the fact that there are three errors described in our text, all of which have to do with the second coming.
The first is the error of the Pharisees (verses 20-21).
The second error is that of our Lord’s disciples (verses 22-25).
The last error is that of the people as a whole, the masses (verses 26-32).
From a study of our text, and from a study of the gospels as a whole, we can see that no one fully understood the prophecies of the Old Testament and how they would be fulfilled in Christ. At best, some had bits and pieces of the story, but no one could put them all together. If this is true, we should be instructed that none of us, who live in the 20th century, have a complete understanding of Bible prophecy. We may, like some in Jesus’ day, feel that we are experts in the area of the coming of the kingdom, but we, like they, are not.
We, too, have many misconceptions concerning the return of our Lord and the establishment of His kingdom on the earth. We need these words from the lips of our Lord as much as the people of His day needed them.
In our study, we will focus our attention on these three errors, their causes, and their remedy. We will seek to learn how the second coming, the coming of our Lord’s kingdom, can play a vital role in our lives, and how our lives play a great role in terms of our eagerness for the coming of our Lord and His kingdom. We will see, as well, that the three errors described in our text apply to matters other than the second coming, too. Let us listen well to these inspired words about the second coming, its relationship and its relevance to us.
The Pharisees’ Question and Jesus’ Response LUKE (17:20-21)
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
It is interesting that it would be the Pharisees who would approach Jesus with this question—interesting, but not surprising. The Pharisees looked upon themselves as the experts in spiritual matters. No doubt they would have expected Messiah to have come from among their elite group. They seemed to look upon themselves as the accrediting agency for all spiritual ministries. I understand that the Pharisees’ question about when the kingdom was to come was an implied rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. I believe that it was but another of their efforts in a long-standing commitment (cf. Luke 11:53-54) to trip up the Lord Jesus and to thus be able to publicly discredit Him.
As usual, Jesus was not taken back by their question. Jesus’ answer has two parts.
The first part of His answer pertains to the “careful observation” of the Pharisees (note the “your” in verse 20).
The second part of Jesus’ response pertains to the people of Israel at large (note “people” in verse 21). The general thrust of our Lord’s response is that neither the Pharisees nor the people would recognize the coming of the kingdom.
I believe that the Pharisees wrongly thought they had everything under control. They had a very neatly packed religious system. They had their beliefs carefully organized, and they had a very precisely laid out code of conduct—a law for every occasion. Thus, they had a theological formula for the kingdom and its coming. They felt, I think, that they would simply apply the standards they had set up to every potential “Messiah” and would thus be able to judge when the true Messiah had come. They seemed to think, as well, that they would have ample time to apply their tests and to come to their conclusions. The term that is translated “careful observation” in the NIV is one that was used by the ancients for a doctor who carefully observed the symptoms of a patient, in order to diagnose his illness (very appropriate for Dr. Luke). The same term was used for the “careful observation” of the heavens, of those who were experts in astronomy. One could watch the course of a planet, or could plot the trajectory of a comet, and thus be able to forecast where it would be at a certain time.
The Pharisees may very well have thought that they could deal in the same fashion with the arrival of the kingdom of God. They would simply apply all of their standards and tests (assuming, of course, that they were absolutely correct and infallible) over a period of time, and then in a very cautious and scientific way pronounce the true Messiah to be such. Surely they would be able to tell the real thing.
Jesus said otherwise. They would not be able to do so, and neither would the people at large. They would not be able to point to the Messiah or the kingdom and say, “Here it is” or “There it is.” The question must therefore be, “Why?” I do not think the answer is that there are no indications of His coming, but that the expectations of what the “King” and the “kingdom” would be like were so distorted that they would never recognize the real thing. The concept of the kingdom was so secular, so earthly, so materialistic, that the kingdom of our Lord was never seriously entertained as an option. Jesus simply did not fit the preconceived expectations of the Pharisees and the people, and neither group had any thought of changing these. Thus, Jesus simply had to go. And this was in spite of the fact that Jesus did produce many signs, attesting His identity as Messiah (cf. John 9:16; 11:47; 12:37).
The last statement of our Lord, reported in verse 21, is the most perplexing of this paragraph: “The kingdom of God is within you.”
Just what does this mean? Is Jesus saying that the kingdom is a spiritual matter, a matter only of the heart, and thus an “inside” thing? I think that while there is some truth here, it was not at all our Lord’s point. The specific term used may never have been used with the meaning “among.” This I can readily accept. But perhaps the unusual term “within” is stressing two things at once. First, the kingdom of God was already present in the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Second, however, while Jesus was “in their midst” (so to speak), He was never one of them, never one of the Pharisees, and never one with the Jews either. Jesus was utterly different in that His kingdom did not conform to the Pharisaical expectations nor to the popular ones. Jesus was “within” His people, but not “one of them” in the sense of what His kingdom entailed.
Lest we conclude that no one could recognize the King and His kingdom, let us recall that several people did, even at His birth. Those whose expectations conformed to the prophets of the Old Testament, and who were illuminated by the Holy Spirit could and did recognize the King. Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist all recognized Jesus as the coming King, and spoke of the coming of His kingdom. While the words and works of Jesus should have been sufficient evidence, the hardness of men’s hearts prevented them from seeing the obvious, no matter how hard they looked.
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