In the previous post we understood more about the intentions of the Pharisees and their belief structure. The amazing fact is how Jesus responded to them with absolute authority and affirmation.
Jesus’ Response to His Disciples
Several observations are necessary before we proceed with our exposition of these verses.
(1) The kingdom of God is viewed as a whole, encompassing all aspects of it, including the first and second comings of Christ.
(2) Though Jesus focused on the first coming in His response to the Pharisees, He stresses the second coming in His instruction to the disciples.
(3) Though the coming of the kingdom of God means many blessings to those who eagerly await it, the emphasis here falls on the judgment of God which will come upon sinners at His return.
(4) The emphasis of our Lord in these verses is on the dangers which face men in conjunction with the coming of the kingdom, especially those which can lead them astray.
(5) While Jesus is speaking to His disciples, He is also speaking of those dangers which face men in general, especially the unbelieving world.
With these observations in mind, let us look at what our Lord has to say, beginning with His words directed to the disciples, concerning the dangers which they face in relationship to the coming of the kingdom.
The Coming of the Kingdom and Excessive Zeal - Luke (17:22-25)
Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
The disciples of Jesus face a different danger, and for different reasons. The Pharisees rejected the kingdom of God because they rejected the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. The disciples, on the other hand, had come to love Him and were deeply committed to Him. Jesus warns His disciples of the dangers that face them because of their love for Him, and their desire to see Him.
The disciples’ understanding of the coming kingdom and how it will be established is distorted, too. Jesus must therefore remind them of His coming rejection and death. In addition to this, Jesus will not be physically present with them after His ascension, and thus for a time they will yearn for His physical presence. This personal, physical presence will take place (on earth) at the time of the second coming, at the time when the kingdom of God is established on the earth.
In His physical absence there will be hard times for the followers of Jesus, who will be rejected and persecuted even as He was to be. In such times of adversity, a great hunger for Christ’s kingdom and His presence on the earth will be experienced by those who love the Messiah. This eagerness for His coming has its potential problems, for the danger will be to be distracted from their devotion and duty by going off after everyone who claims or who is thought to be a “messiah.” We know from other texts on the coming kingdom that many will arise with messianic claims, some of whom will do mighty signs and wonders. These will tempt some to follow them, and thus to be distracted from their devotion to the true Messiah, and to what He has called them to do in His absence.
There is a “cultishness” in all such movements, for in order to follow such “messiahs” they will have to leave their present place of service. Each of these false messiahs will have a following, but they will not be regarded by all as God’s Messiah, nor will they institute the kingdom. Jesus instructs the disciples here that chasing after messiah’s, as though they might miss His coming is foolish and unnecessary. When He returns, it will be universally known and evident. There will be no mistaking it. Thus, there is no need to worry about missing out on this kingdom and no need to follow-up everyone who claims to be the king.
When I was younger and lived in the Northwest, I used to go salmon fishing. Usually, this meant using a large plate, called a dodger, which was followed by a hook, on which a herring was placed as bait. That dodger accomplished several things. First, it flashed in the water, attracting the attention of the fish (or so the manufacturer told us). Second, the dodger wobbled in the water, due to its shape, causing the herring to appear injured, so that the salmon would think it was an easy catch. The dodger did something else, though—it tugged on the line, appearing to the novice to be a fish. To the inexperienced fisherman, more precisely, to the eager, inexperienced fisherman, every little tug on the line gives the promise of a catch, and so the line is constantly being reeled in to see if a fish is there. It won’t be. But all the time that the line is being reeled in, the chances of catching a fish are reduced. The poor herring on the end of the line is being worn out (and thus must be replaced).
The experienced fisherman knows that these little “tugs” are to be expected. He also knows that when a salmon is on the hook, there will be no doubt about it. You know when you’ve hooked a salmon! Thus, the key to effective fishing is patience and endurance. This is precisely what Jesus is teaching His disciples—not to be confused or mislead by every tug on the line, every hint of a claim to the messiahship, but to faithfully endure, trusting, worshipping, and serving Him, knowing that His coming will not be missed, by anyone. Being over-eager can therefore have its dangers. Our eagerness should be expressed through those energies which serve Him, not those which seek to discover Him in some false messiah.
The Blinder of Worldly Preoccupations - Luke (17:26-37)
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. “Where, Lord?” they asked. He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
In verses 20 & 21, Jesus had told the Pharisees that neither they, nor the people, would recognize the kingdom of God, even though they were looking for it. We have not yet heard the reason why this was true. I believe that verses 26-37 provide us with an explanation and application. Jesus reserves this explanation for here because He is using it as an example and as a warning to His disciples. Apart from the miraculous work of God in their conversion, the Pharisees will not be able to grasp this warning, but the disciples will better understand, at least later on. We know from the second epistle of Peter that he learned from this incident, for he, too, refers to the lessons which could be learned from both Noah and Lot with respect to the coming judgment of God (cf. 2 Peter 2:5-8).
Several lessons are taught by the Old Testament incidents concerning Noah and Lot. Both men, as we know from the book of Genesis (Noah, Genesis 6-9; Lot, chapter 19), lived among wicked men. Both men (and at least a part of their families) were taken out of God’s judgment, which was poured out upon the rest. In the cases of both men, the judgment of God was poured out on a wicked generation and many died. And in both cases, no one seemed aware that the judgment of God was coming until it was too late.
But why did none of the people seem to sense that God’s judgment was at hand? Was there no warning?
We must say, in the first place, that there was no spectacular warning of impending judgment. There were no “signs and wonders.” There was, however, the testimony of that ark, which was being built over a period of 120 years. Peter refers to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Peter implied (2 Peter 2:7-8), as Moses also did (Genesis 19:9-11, 14), that God’s judgment was at hand. There may not have been any spectacular warnings, but then neither was there anything but Jonah’s preaching to the wicked Ninevites. They had heard all they needed to.
Back to my question, then, “Why did none of the people heed the warnings of judgment which God had provided?” The answer is quite clearly suggested by the Lord’s description of the activities they were engaged in at the time judgment fell upon the unsuspecting people. Simply put, everybody was going about their daily activities of living. People were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building. It was “life as usual” for these people when the end came. They never realized that judgment was coming upon them.
It is interesting to note that while the people of Noah’s day, as well as those of Lot, were exceedingly wicked Jesus did not emphasize their wickedness. He did not say that when the end came, the people were busily engaged in their sinful practices. There is nothing intrinsically evil about eating and drinking, about marriage, or about one’s daily activities. These people were judged for their sin, but they were caught off guard doing what everyone does. Indeed, when we look beyond to verses 34 & 35, the one that is taken and the one that is left are both doing the same things.
What, then, is our Lord’s point in telling His disciples that those who were destroyed were simply going about their normal activities? Here, the Lord Jesus is not stressing who will possess the kingdom or why men are “left” or “taken.” Instead, He is underscoring the reason why men can be totally unaware of the coming of the King and the kingdom, so that it comes upon them totally unprepared. Jesus has just told the Pharisees that neither they nor the masses would recognize the fact that the kingdom had come. Now, I believe that He tells us why. The reason is that men do not look for the kingdom when their “life” is wrapped up in this life, and especially in the “things of this life.”
In both Noah’s day and in Lot’s, people were preoccupied with “living.” Life to them consisted of the earthly, temporal things which bring men pleasure, meaning, and joy. “Life,” as Jesus is using the term here, is not just one’s physical existence, but one’s source of meaning and significance. When people’s “lives” are caught up in the pursuits of living, they become insensitive to spiritual matters, and in particular to those warnings of the Scriptures and the saints concerning God’s coming and His judgment. The same spiritual dullness which unbelievers face because of their worldliness (finding their “life” in the world, in temporal things), Christians can experience (cf. Luke 21:34-36). Look at Lot and his family. Lot’s son-in-laws refused to leave Sodom, and thought Lot was out of his mind. Lot himself was most reluctant to leave. While Lot’s wife left Sodom, her heart was still there, and thus she turned back to see all that she loved, her “life” going up in smoke.
In verses 26-37 there is a blending of historical illustration with future application. Jesus was likening what happened in the days of Noah and Lot to what was yet to happen to Israel. Thus, He said,
“… on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let not the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house go down to take them away; and likewise let not the one who is in the field turn back. Remember Lot’s wife” (verses 29-32).
Mrs. Lot is the specific illustration here. I wonder if, as they were leaving Sodom, she suddenly turned and said, “My new sewing machine. I simply must have it!” Whatever it was, Mrs. Lot’s treasure was in Sodom. She hated to lose it. She had, at least, to have one last, longing, look.
Jesus is speaking of a very particular event in verses 30-37. It is a part of the overall program of the coming kingdom of God. The emphasis is on the judgment side here, rather than on blessings. We are certainly not being told of the “streets of gold” but of the hellish sufferings of a sinful generation. Men will not be prepared for it. Those who are present at the time of this judgment must flee without any delay, without any turning back, without trying to save anything which wrongly brought “life”—namely, it would seem, worldly possessions.
In this time of judgment, two will be in bed. One will be taken and one will be left (verse 34). My (NASB) text tells me that two men will be in the same bed. It is possible, as some translations render it, that it is really a man and wife who are thus pictured. It is also possible that it is two men, but without any sense of immoral conduct. In those days a bed was not like the “beds” which we have today—single, twin, standard, queen, king, water, etc. In those days there were no bedrooms usually and thus the whole family slept together on the floor, on what must have been mats, at best (cf. Luke 11:7, where the head of the house speaks of he and his children being in bed).
The second case is that of two women, both of whom are going about their daily duties in the grinding of grain. One is taken, and the other is left. But where is the one taken to? It is possible here to see a reference to the rapture, that event when the saints are removed from the earth to be spared the judgment of God, poured out on the earth in the time of the great tribulation. But it is also possible to see the ones taken as those taken in judgment, just as many are said to perish in the tribulation.
The disciples, in verse 37, ask the question, “Where?” They are asking, as I understand them, where those who are taken away are taken to? “Where are they taken to, Lord?” The answer of our Lord is vague, but we must conclude that the place was very bad, as was their fate. They were told that where the (dead) body is, there the vultures would be gathered. It is thus to death that those taken are taken, but this gruesome fate is not carefully detailed. Who would want to hear more on this matter?
I understand our Lord’s words here to be more directly relevant and applicable to his audience. I believe that Jesus is specifically speaking of that judgment which God is going to bring upon Jerusalem and upon those who have rejected and have crucified Him. I understand Jesus to be referring to the “sacking” of Jerusalem by Rome, under the leadership of Titus, in 70 A.D. When news reaches this unsuspecting city, everything must be left and those who would be saved must leave everything behind and flee for safety outside the city. This subject will be taken up in much greater detail by our Lord (according to Luke’s account) in chapter 21. As is typical with Luke, he seldom goes into detail on any subject until he has first, earlier in the writing, introduced his subject and prepared his reader for it.
In our text the Savior informs us of three dangers with reference to the second coming. The first danger is that of shaping the second coming in accordance with our own desires and expectations. Neither the Pharisees nor the people of Israel would not recognize the coming kingdom because they had false pre-conceptions of what the King and the kingdom would (must) be like. When Jesus failed to fulfill these expectations, He was rejected, and ultimately put on the cross. The Pharisees had a very intricately worked out set of standards and codes of conduct for virtually any occasion. Would we think they would have done otherwise with the kingdom of God? Thus, though the Pharisees were watching closely for the kingdom, they were looking for the wrong kind of kingdom, and they would insist that this kingdom conform to their standards. Given this set of values and expectations, they would never see it. And as Jesus said, they had not seen it in Him, even though He stood in their midst, even though His message was consistently about the kingdom of God, and even though John had introduced Him as the King.
It is here that you and I need to be very careful, too. We are a part of a Christian community that (rightly) places much emphasis on the coming of our Lord. The difficulty is that we have worked out such an intricate plan as to how and when (the sequence of events) this will happen, we, like the Pharisees, have begun to view ourselves as the experts. We actually seem to think that we will stand by, watching it all happen, checking each event off on our list. My friend, I do not think that we can know most of the details about the coming of our Lord’s kingdom until they actually occur. We are no more likely to have things all figured out than did those upon whom the first aspect of our Lord’s coming came. If you had asked Simeon or Anna, Elizabeth or Zacharias or Mary how the kingdom of God was going to come, they would not have been able to say, “Well, there will be this little baby born … ” They knew it when they say it, because their hearts were tuned to the right frequency, so to speak. But they did not know what would happen until it did. Let us beware of feeling to expert about the coming of the kingdom. And let us be particularly careful not to demand that God’s kingdom conform to our understanding of it, our expectations for it, or our distorted and even sinful desires of what it should be.
The second danger is that which posed a threat to the disciples: over-eagerness to see the Lord Jesus again, manifested in a chasing after every potential “messiah” which may arise. Our Lord’s return cannot (as the Pharisees supposed) be all figured out in advance, but we can be assured that we will know it when it comes. The emphasis of our Lord is not on us finding or discovering Him and His coming kingdom, but on how He will find us. Repeatedly, Jesus urged His disciples to be faithful and diligent when He returned. Let us therefore focus our attention and our efforts on being found faithfully carrying out the task which He has given us, and that is making disciples of all nations. We ought not to be chasing after every self-proclaimed messiah, but we should be bringing others to the true Messiah, by faith.
The third danger is that of worldly pre-occupations, which diminishes our desire for the kingdom, and dims our view of its reality, and dulls our desire for it to come. When our “life” is found in Christ, and we can give up all else, all other things in which the world find “life” then we will eagerly await His return, and we will work to hasten it. This is why Jesus has had so much to say about possessions. Possessions will possess us if we find our “life” to be wrapped up with them. When we use our possessions to further the kingdom, then we lay up treasure in heaven, and we quicken our hearts toward heaven.
The way in which we go about our daily life determines our hunger for heaven, and our sensitivity to its nearness. I fear that many of us have this reversed in our minds. We seem to think that if we study the kingdom of God enough, our hearts will be warmed to it, and we will then let loose of those earthly things which sap us of our spiritual strength and desire for God. It seems to me that Jesus is saying to opposite. If we would have a heart and a hunger for heaven, then let us obediently give up all that the world spells “life” and then our hearts will yearn for heaven.
These three dangers are relevant not only to the coming kingdom, but to all other areas of our life as well. Take, for example, our desire for godliness. Some, like the Pharisees, have a neatly packed definition of spirituality, with all kinds of external check points. They think that by merely “following the program” men will be spiritual, and that anyone who is not “in the program” (whatever that program may be—and there are many programs) cannot possibly be spiritual.
There are those as well whose desire to be godly and to sense God’s personal presence in their lives is so great that they lack stability and endurance. They are persistently chasing off after some new claim of spiritual vitality. They go to this church and then the next, the follow after one “spiritual” leader after another. A misguided desire to be spiritual can be the source of many cultish pursuits. Spirituality, like the kingdom of God, will finally and fully come in time, when God has sovereignly determined it would, and in the way He has chosen. We should not seek to be “spiritual” per se, but to be obedient and faithful to Him who both saves and sanctifies.
As I have thought about this text, it has been very helpful to me in putting “signs and wonders” into perspective. Some read the book of Acts and then either demand or yearn for the same kinds of signs today, thinking that such would persuade the wicked to repent. Such is simply not true. The daily lifestyle of men, determined by their values, determined by their definition of “life,” is what speaks most loudly. As Jesus put it in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus, “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:31). It is not more signs and wonders that are most needed, but a simple proclamation of the gospel, accompanied by a biblical lifestyle and conduct. If men would be saved, they will be saved by heeding the Word of God. Let us proclaim it to them.
If you, my friend, have not yet trusted in Christ as your Savior, you should do so today. Jesus tells us in this text that you will not have any warning signs of the coming day of judgment, any more than the preaching of the gospel. There will be no time to repent when that day comes. If you would believe and obey, if you would acknowledge your sin and trust in the work of Christ in your place, do it now. The day of judgment does draw near. Let neither you nor I be unaware or apathetic about its coming. Let us find in Christ that our judgment has already been meted out, and that all that we await is our salvation.
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Author: Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with his Th.M. in 1971. Bob is a pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas, and has contributed many of his Bible study series for use by the Foundation. He is also an author of the Book - Let me see thy glory: A study of the Attributes of God.