Luke 17:20-37

Kingdom Now

Luke 17:20-21  -  Pharisees Question about the Kingdom 

20 When one of the Pharisees had asked him
when the kingdom of God would come, he said to them,
“The kingdom of God does not come with observation.
21 Nor will people say,
‘Look! Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’
For look, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The Pharisee’s question may have been an effort to taunt Jesus.  Early in his mission (4:43) Jesus had expressed his urgent need to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom.  Whatever Pharisees had understood by the term, it had not eventuated as far as they were concerned.

Luke distinguished the coming of the Kingdom from the day(s) of the Son of Man (that he would discuss in the following section).

The man’s question gave Jesus the opportunity to clarify his sense of the Kingdom. It was within [or among]  them.  It obviously was not a political structure, similar to the kingdoms they were familiar with. It was the enabling presence of God in the world, calling and empowering people to live in line with the truth of God, of themselves and of community.  People’s response to the enlightening, empowering energy of God would take shape in their political and other interactions, but it would not be identified with any precise social or political structures they may bring into being, even with God’s help.

As the Samaritan leper’s faith enabled him to see the hand of God at work, the same faith would enable people to be aware of and responsive to the signs of God’s presence and action already in the world.   The problem of the Pharisee was that he was unable to read the signs of God’s presence because he was looking for the wrong ones.  He sought the spectacular, unable to see the deeper level of reality present in the ordinary.  

Interplay of Present and Future 

Luke introduced a new but connected theme: the coming of the day(s) of the Son of Man.  The Pharisees question had been answered.  Jesus then spoke to the disciples.

Luke 17:22-37  -  The Days of the Son of Man

22 He said to the disciples,
“A time is coming when you will deeply desire to see
one of the days of the Son of Man,
and you will not see it.
23 People will tell you,
'Look! There it is!’ or ‘Here it is!’
Do not go off; do not follow.
24 Just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so the Son of Man will be on that day.
25 But first he is destined to suffer many things
and be rejected by this generation.

Jesus’ treatment of the coming of the Kingdom had focussed on its actual or potential presence already in the world. His talk of the days of the Son of Man directed the disciples’ gaze to the future. Present and future needed to be held in creative tension. The promise of a future different from but connected to the present tended to give hope in the eventual perfection of the Kingdom.  Current struggles were worthwhile, and need not be source of discouragement.

Indeed there would be struggle, such that the perseverance of the disciples would be strongly attacked.  They would deeply desire to see (even) one of the days of the Son of Man and ... not see it. Their experience was, however, not without precedent.  The Son of Man himself would first suffer and be rejected.

Jesus was totally indefinite regarding both the shape of the eventual future and when it would arrive.  The thirst to know the future ultimately betrayed a desire to be in control. Disciples had to learn to surrender all desire to control and to trust completely in the providential love of God. When the Son of Man would eventually come, his coming would not be known through unusual signs and wonders but would be obvious to all like the lightning (that) lights up the sky from one side to the other.

26 Just as it was at the time of Noah,
so it will be at the time of the Son of Man.
27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being married up
to the day that Noah went into the ark,
the floods came
and wiped them all out.
28 It will be like in the days of Lot.
People were eating, drinking, buying, selling, sowing and building.
29 But on the day that Lot left Sodom,
fire and sulphur rained down from heaven
and destroyed them all.
30 That is the way it will be on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

The past would throw some light on the coming of the Son of Man:

  • life would be going on as normal
  • the coming would be definitive
  • evil would totally disappear.
31 On that day whoever is up on the roof of the house
and the belongings inside
should not come down to collect them.
Likewise no one out on the farm must turn back home. 
32 Remember Lot’s wife. 
33 Those who seek to secure their life will lose it,
and those prepared to lose it will preserve it.
34 I assure you, that night two people will be in the one bed,
one will be gathered up, the other left.
35 Two will be grinding together.
One will be gathered up, the other will be left.”

Reliance on belongings would be useless.  Last minute (pre)occupations would be irrelevant.  People’s ultimate experience of the future (gathered or left) would be a factor of their on-going lives and their sensitivity and fidelity to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.. among you.

37 In reply to him, they said, “Where, Lord?”
He told them, “Where the body is, there the eagles flock.”

Just as Jesus had given no answer to the Pharisee’s question of when (17:20), likewise he gave no answer to the disciples’ question where.  Such questions betrayed a lack of trust in God.  The advent and the location of the coming of the Son of Man will be obvious as they happen and only as they happen.

The image of body and eagles seemed to reflect the image in the Book of Job:

Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.”  (Job 39.30)

Perhaps the overall impression left by Jesus’ discourse was the importance of the creative tension of present and future.  The future would give context and hope for the present.  The present would give shape and outcome to the future.  Both were of crucial importance.  What was non-negotiable was present commitment to the Kingdom by participating in Jesus’ mission to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.  Yet such activity could find sustained motivation only when anchored in the certainty of the eventual coming of the day of the Son of Man.

Next >> Luke 18:1-8