We’ve been on a little journey going through Luke 14 through to 17, and we come to the end of that section this morning. We come to the end of Luke 17, it’s a very appropriate passage that we’re looking at because it’s got to do with what is coming. Australians for some funny reason, go into the New Year with a great sense of optimism. I suppose it’s not a really dangerous thing, but we keep thinking that, with the fireworks, the New Year will be just fantastic and every year brings an enormous amount of challenge and difficulty as well as many blessings and gifts. And it’s a good thing for us to have the perspective of Luke 17 because it lights up exactly the year that we’re going into.
Now what Jesus teaches in Luke 17 is that the kingdom has come. I hope everybody knows that. We just had Christmas and the reminder that Christ came, but the kingdom is also coming as we are taught in the Lord’s prayer to pray, “Your kingdom come.” So the kingdom has come, and the kingdom is coming, and if you want to understand this, you’ve got to intersect or have in your mind two intersecting circles. One is the world, and one is the kingdom.
When Jesus came, the kingdom intersected the world. But one day the kingdom will completely cover and replace the world, and so many people in the world are in the world but in the kingdom. They are very much part of this world, but they are also very much belonging to Jesus. And these are the people, many of us here today, who look forward to and long for the full coming of Jesus to cover and replace the world.
I assure you that when Jesus comes completely, it will be a wonderful time. We will suddenly see our Maker, the one who loves us more than anyone else, completely eliminate evil and bring justice. He will set up a reign and rule which is unopposed and perfect as to be quite sensational and I guess we can only think and use our imagination to work out how wonderful that will really be.
It doesn’t do any harm if you’re a Christian to live waiting for the second coming, even to die waiting for the second coming because it remains true that Jesus may return any minute of any hour, of any day, of any year and it’s also a fact that those who have lived waiting and expecting the second coming have lived most wisely in this world.
Show me the person who has lived with their eye on eternity, and I’ll show you the person who has made the best impact on this world. Show me the person who has lived with their eye on the temporary and I’ll show you somebody who cannot make a great impact on this world.
In Luke 17, Jesus addresses two groups. First of all the Pharisees in verse 20 and then the disciples in verse 22. So once again as we’ve seen in this whole series, He is surrounded by the ‘outsiders’ and the ‘insiders’. And He has something to say to both of them.
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- What will He say to the outsiders? He says to the outsiders, “The Kingdom has come – wake up.”
- What does He say to the insiders? He says to the insiders, “The Kingdom is coming – wake up.”
I hope you know that the kingdom of God, the rule of God, is a monarchy.
If the veil of heaven could be removed and we could see into heaven with our eyes as John was able to in the Book of Revelation, we would see a throne, and we would see that on the throne is the Lamb,and the Lamb is not voted in by us for a term of office, but He is there appointed by God forever. The kingdom of God is a monarchy, not a republic.
And this Rule of God, this reign of God is exercised whenever people surrender to Jesus, and therefore the Rule of God means God is in charge of those who have surrendered to Him whatever place they live.
So as we come to Luke 17 this morning, we’re going to have two simple points –
The first verses 20-21, a brief lesson in The Kingdom Come and then from verse 22-37, a full lesson in The Kingdom Coming.
The Kingdom Come
“Having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied.” Now the Pharisees had a very big interest in the kingdom of God. They imagined, of course, the kingdom in their own way.
They thought that it would be something that would be quite physical, would be quite military, would be quite political as I say, and maybe they were willing to think of Jesus as some kind of prophet, some kind of guru they could get information from, so they ask Him – ‘well when will the kingdom come? We’ll trust you as a prophet, when is it coming?’
And Jesus gives them two negatives. The first negative is that it won’t come visibly. The Pharisees, of course, were very interested in signs. Jesus says in verse 20 – you can’t see the kingdom come with the natural eye. You won’t see it by observing. It’s no good getting out your binoculars and looking for the kingdom. It’s not going to come like that.
Now, of course, Jesus was visible, and of course, His miracles were visible, but it takes God-given eyes to see Jesus is King, bow down and surrender to Him and these Pharisees are going to need more than clever charts and tables and measuring tapes to work out the kingdom. The second thing that Jesus says is that people will not be able to say “here it is or there it is” as if the kingdom is a kind of place or thing. You can’t fly over the kingdom and point out the window and say “there it is down there’. You can’t look over a hill and say “look, here it is coming over the hill towards us”. It’s not the sort of thing you can point to.
So Jesus teaches the Pharisees first of all – you can’t see it with your binoculars, and you can’t see it by having someone point to it. And this is the shocking message which He gives in verse 21 – “The kingdom of God is within you”.
Now, this is a verse that has been lifted out of context by many unbelievers, very unhelpfully, and it’s become a very frighteningly famous verse. You’d be amazed at how many people know how to quote this verse. “The kingdom of God is within you”. And they use it in a kind of a New Age way to indicate that Jesus says the kingdom is inside everybody. And of course if the kingdom is inside everybody, it’s very convenient because you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to repent or believe or obey or follow or trust. You’ve just got it!
And they say this is what Jesus himself said and therefore it’s a very appealing text. I want to prove to you that Jesus does not mean this by this phrase and perhaps I can help you to have an answer if the quote comes up. And the question that we need to ask is this – who is Jesus speaking to? And the answer is, He is speaking to the Pharisees. He’s speaking to the opposition. He’s speaking to His opponents. And therefore, not only is it unlikely that He would be comforting them, but it’s almost absolutely certain that He would be challenging them.
What is going to challenge your opposition? It’s not going to challenge your opposition to say – “well relax fellows, the kingdom is inside you”. In fact, this word “the kingdom is within you” – the little phrase “within you” in the original language can have a whole range of meanings.
- It could mean – “it’s in the midst of you”
- It could mean – “it’s among you”
- It could mean – “It’s within you”
It would have been much better if the NIV Bible had gone with the word “among” because then it would have made sense.
Jesus says “the kingdom is among you”. It’s possible of course that what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees was something like this – “The kingdom is actually an inward thing. The kingdom is actually a spiritual change of heart” but it’s much more likely that what He is saying to them is “you don’t even recognise the kingdom – the King is among you – He is standing in the circle – You have surrounded me with your question, and I am in the very midst of you as the King – the kingdom is among you”.
He’s rebuking the Pharisees for missing the coming of the King. He’s already announced the kingdom is at hand and now He stands and says you’re looking everywhere but to Me.
Before we leave this, I think it is a very good corrective to the person, and often this is a very religious person who gives the impression that they are believing and hoping and sincere, but they have no time for Jesus. Is there anyone here this morning who would say ‘I believe, I hope, I’m sincere, but I don’t really have a great interest in Jesus?’ If that’s the case, you need to listen very carefully to what Jesus said to the Pharisees.
I remember a lady leaving church once, she’d been brought by her boss, and as she was walking out the door she said ‘of course you know I believe in God’. I think she thought her boss had brought her because he thought she was a pagan which he did and she said ‘of course you know I believe in God’ and then she said ‘I don’t see where Jesus fits in but I believe in God.’ Suddenly she gave completely away the fact that she was not a Christian because she had not really come to grips or come to grasp Jesus.
That’s the case with the Pharisees. They believe in God, in the kingdom, they are sincere, they’re hopeful but they will not or cannot take hold of Jesus and so they miss the King. They miss the kingdom.
The simple illustration which comes to mind of this is some people standing on a railway station. You imagine a couple on a railway station, and they are talking about travel, and everybody else is on the station, and they are full of expectation and hopes, and the train pulls in and people start to get on board, and the couple just stay on the station. And the carriages remain open, and the couple just keeps talking on the station and suddenly the doors close, and the train moves off, and the couple is still on the station. They are talking travel, they are thinking travel, they’re hopeful, but they’ve never actually joined the train which is the essence of the journey.
So it is with Jesus. Jesus has come. It is as if the carriages of Jesus are open – Luke 13 – ‘Go in the door’ says Jesus. Luke 14 – ‘Come to the feast’ says Jesus. Luke 15 – ‘Come back to the Father’ says Jesus.
The carriages are open, and yet the person stays on the platform and never enters. And then one day Jesus says ‘the carriages will close, the train will move off’ and the person has found that they have been in the company of people interested, they’ve even watched other people enter, but they’ve never actually entered themselves. That’s what Jesus teaches the Pharisees. A brief lesson in The Kingdom Come.
The Kingdom Coming
He turns to the disciples in verse 22. These are people who have stepped into the train, they stand inside Jesus, they’ve surrendered to the King. What’s the message that He’s going to give these disciples? What is it that is so urgent about the kingdom? Answer – it’s coming! And as I say, this is a very great comfort for the disciples, but it’s also a very significant challenge to stay alert and to be wise in the world. You’ve only got a certain number of years given to you to be in this world, so you use them well.
Before Jesus teaches on the coming of the kingdom, again He has two negatives, for the first in verse 22 – He says that the time is coming. Literally, the days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man. In other words, says Jesus, there will be days of duress where you will long to see just one of the days of the coming kingdom, but you won’t. And He prepares His disciples for the possibility that they will live all their days waiting, as of course, they did.
And the second thing He teaches them in verse 23 that there will be false prophets who will come along and they will point to some local guru, they will say ‘there he is’ or ‘here he is’, and we have seen over 2,000 years, many of these gurus appear. Many of the cults are led by false messiahs. Jesus says don’t be tricked into some kind of small scale local messiah because, as He goes on to say from verses 24-37,” when the Messiah comes nobody will miss”.
He goes on in verses 24-37 to teach many things about the coming of the kingdom. And the first in verse 24 is that it will be unmistakable. 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. When I first read that verse, I thought – well, He must be teaching that it’s going to be fast. And the coming of the Son of Man will be fast. Paul says “it will be in a blink of an eye”. And so it’s always worth remembering, and I still find this challenging, that the whole takeover of the kingdom of God, the whole return of Jesus, could come between a conversation. It could come in the very midst of a Sunday service. It could come as you are on a train – short journey.
But this verse is not primarily teaching that the kingdom will come quickly. It’s teaching that it will be unmistakable, just as lightning in the sky is seen by everybody, you don’t have to point it out to people. Jesus teaches that His coming will be unmistakable.
He teaches similarly in Luke 21, where He says that His coming will be cosmic. There will be a literal collapsing of the planet. Everybody will see Him – it will be an enormous spectacle. Nobody will have to say ‘is that Him?” or “there He is”. It will be absolutely obvious to everyone, unmistakable. But He says to His disciples in verse 25 that it’s also going to be after the cross. Just in case those 11 or 12 disciples thought that His return was seconds away. He says to them in verse 25 – “it will be after the crucifixion”. First He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. So it will be unmistakable.
Second, it will be unexpected, verses 26-29. Two men, Noah and Lot, interestingly they were both very imperfect men. They both preached judgment. They were both ignored by the majority. Then the judgment came in Noah’s day. And fire came in Lot’s day.
I want you to notice what people were doing when the judgment came. Notice what they were doing – verse 27. They were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage. Verse 28 – they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting and building.
Now, these are normal activities, and there’s nothing wrong with any of them. There’s nothing wrong with eating and drinking. There’s nothing wrong with marrying and going to a wedding. There’s nothing wrong with buying, selling, planting and building. Nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, they are all very normal, and you might be engaged in half a dozen of them this week. But the point that Jesus is making is that everything seems normal, suddenly the judgment comes. Just when everybody was doing entirely normal things – shopping, holidays, starting a new job, turning on the television, then the judgment comes. So don’t expect, says Jesus, some heavenly announcement. The only thing that is given to us to prepare us is the Word of God.
Two things so far – unmistakable and unexpected.
Third – it will be inevitable, verses 30-33. Jesus says it will be like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, if someone is on the roof of his house with his goods inside, he should not go down to get them. No one in the field should go back for anything – remember Lot’s wife!
Now what Jesus is saying is very simple here – it is that the coming of the kingdom is going to be so cataclysmic, there’s no point in thinking of going back for your suitcase. There’s no point in coming in from the field to collect your favourite photo albums or something like that. In fact, it’s a good thing to remember Lot’s wife. She looked back, and of course, she looked back because her heart was really in the world of Sodom and she was turned into a pillar of salt. She made the great mistake of turning back.
So the old order, says Jesus, will be entirely over. Everything that we’ve collected, whether it’s furniture, or painting or ceramics or cars, or whatever it is – it’s going to become entirely behind us, but the danger is that your heart is in those things, so it is a question of treasure. It’s not that furniture and ceramics, and paintings and cars are wrong. The question is “what do you love?” And if you love the perishables, the danger is that you will be with the perishables, but if you love the imperishable,that’s where you’ll be.
Now dear friends, don’t torture yourselves with this, this morning. Jesus is making a simple point, and that is – whatever you do, don’t be a slave to the passing things. Make sure that regularly you renew your commitment to the One who is coming, who will take you into the imperishable.
The last thing He says, it will be divisive – verses 34-35. Two people in one bed – one taken. Two people grinding grain – one was taken. It is an interesting observation isn’t it that every now and then someone says to me and no doubt they say to you when you start to talk to them about Christian things, they bring up somebody they know who is a believer as if that person they know will make them safe.
Somebody said to me recently that their daughter-in-law’s brother-in-law was a minister. I think this was designed to make me back off. As if to say – well you know, how safe could you be? Your daughter-in-law’s brother-in-law is a minister! But Jesus says that a couple could be in bed, that’s how close that could be. And one is in Heaven, and one is in Hell. Two people could be in the same job together – that’s how well they know the believer, but the believer is carried, as it were, to glory and the unbeliever left behind.
Please don’t read these verses literally, as though the second coming is going to be some celestial vacuum cleaner which will pass over the world and suddenly people will be dumped from their fields and their houses. That’s not the point at all. That is to completely literalize what is meant to be a picture of division. All Jesus is merely saying is that when the return comes, there’s going to be a division into two. And it doesn’t matter how close your contact with the believer, the question is – do you know the King?
We ought to be saying to people every now and then who tell us that their Archdeacon grandfather was a good friend of theirs and therefore they are perfectly OK, and they don’t need to come to church. We need to say to them – ‘isn’t it tragic that you came so close to a believer and heaven and you miss out!’ Because that’s what Jesus is teaching – it’s divisive.
When the disciples hear these powerful words of the kingdom coming, that it’s going to be unmistakable like lightning, they call out in verse 37 – ‘where Lord?’ and Jesus gives one of the most difficult answers in the whole of the Bible “where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”
Now for all the options of what this verse means, I will give you two. It’s possible that Jesus is answering literally, the question – “where will the person left be?” and He is saying to them – “like a dead body the vultures will move in.” I think it is more likely He is using a picture of some kind of inevitable comfort, and He’s saying something like this, “It’s so certain that you will arrive at the feast of God – you are so secure – it’s almost like vultures to a carcass. Just as they are magnetically drawn to the feast of a body, you will be magnetically drawn, divinely, supernaturally drawn to the feast of the King.
I mentioned these two options, and one guy told me he liked neither of them. But these are the best two that I can give as an interpretation of that verse. He’s either saying the dead person – the person left behind – will be like the carcass left to the vultures, or He’s giving a verse of encouragement to the believers, that just as vultures flock to a carcass, the believers will be drawn to the feast. Well if He had two groups in mind, and He addressed them both, and we should finish with the same word this morning.
So here is a word first of all to the person who’s got some interest in the kingdom of God, that’s why you are in church this morning, but you don’t really understand Jesus the King. I want to ask you this question. Do you realise that He’s already come and the door of the kingdom is open because when He died on the cross, He opened the door of the kingdom?
Please do not wait for writing to appear across the sky. Please do not wait for some little voice to come into your head. Please do not wait for yourself to suddenly improve, so you get to the point where you say yes. I really am now fit for Heaven. What you need to do is to go in prayer to Jesus, kneel down in your room and give yourself to Him and then you’ll belong to Him and you’ll be in the train, and you’ll be ready for His return. Don’t miss it!
But to the majority here this morning, who are disciples, what does this message teach us especially as we move into a New Year. I want to give you some quick suggestions.
If the second coming is going to be global, don’t be fooled by anyone who reduces the kingdom to something in this world. There are enormous sections of the church who will tell you that, if you want to take Jesus seriously, just do something locally. But obviously, that’s not it. It’s a global thing. It’s an eternal thing. Think about eternity.
Second, if the kingdom is going to come unexpectedly, do keep witnessing to people in ordinary situations as you have meals with them, as you work with them. Let your life be an excellent light to them. Honest, gracious, kind, patient and where you have the opportunity, a word in season because people are capable sadly, of locking into the means of eating, drinking, and buying as if they are the goals. You’re about the only person who is going to help them see that what they are doing should not be their goal, but the goal is something eternal.
If the kingdom is going to sweep away everything that is material, ask yourself this morning if your heart is really fixed on the imperishable. Ask yourself if your children think that your heart is set on imperishables. Ask yourself if your desire for your children is that their hearts should be fixed on imperishables. It is, I think, shocking, if not disgusting that some people would adopt the priorities of the world and want for their children, what the world wants for their children. That is that the best school, the best education, the best result, the best job, the best spouse, the best income, the best house to live in. We’ve got to move out of that. Jesus is teaching us that all of that is a killer and capable of completely absorbing the believer to destruction.
We’ve got to teach our children to think beyond, enjoy what’s around, but look well beyond it. And if the kingdom is going to divide people, and you think that’s harsh, remember that God Himself was divided from His Son. In other words, Jesus took separation so that no-one might be separated and therefore everyone must take up what God offers at great expense.
Well, let’s pray for that perspective. Heavenly Father, at the end of this year for which we have so much to thank You, and yet You have brought us through many dangers, toils and snares, we ask that You would help us to have the mind of Christ.
We pray for the people here perhaps this morning, who have never entered into the person of Christ, that You would give them the ability and the humility and the willingness and the courage to take hold of Christ.
And we pray for the many here this morning who are in the kingdom and look forward to the coming of the kingdom, that You would help us live as people of eternity, enjoying what You have given, enduring what is difficult but looking forward and helping others to look forward to the coming of Christ.
And we ask it in His Name – Amen.