The world around us is obviously a mess, and yet you need to realise that the kingdom of God is here. We’d all want a world without war, division, death or pain. The world we’re in doesn’t exactly seem like a place where we could say, “the kingdom of God is here.”
Christians have a hope for the future, a time when Jesus Christ, Son of God, will return to the earth. All things will be made new again. Those who have rejected him will be rejected by him. Those who have come to him in this life will go to be with him forever on a new earth – alive with him forever.
But what about now? Is it all just hard stuff now, and joy tomorrow? Luke 17 helps us understand the times we’re in, the times to come, and what it means for you today.
Seek the Lord (20-21)
It’s helpful to notice that Jesus speaks to two different groups. In v20-21 he’s talking publicly to some Pharisees, and in v22-37 he’s speaking privately to his disciples. Read Luke 17:20-21.
Why were the Pharisees asking when the kingdom of God would come? Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of God for us in recent chapters, but they’re clearly expecting some kind of event. Why? In a sense, they’re right to think that way.
The Old Testament sets those expectations:
- Isaiah 25:7-8 On this mountain he will swallow up the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all the nations. When he has swallowed up death once and for all, the Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove his people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken. – End of death!
- Isaiah 35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy
- Isaiah 65:17-18 For I will create new heavens and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind. Then be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating
Certainly, the coming Messiah will bring sight to the blind, an end to death, and a new heavens and a new earth – and much more! But we need to view Old Testament prophecy carefully.
Prophecy has multiple horizons
I remember driving from Newcastle to Edinburgh:
- There was a particular brow of a hill I came to when the trees cleared and all of a sudden I saw Scottish mountains in the distance. They all looked so close together.
- In truth, they were miles from me – and miles from each other.
- Prophecy in the Bible sometimes works like that.
- Things look close together, seen from a distance across time. But as you get closer (in time), you realise they’re actually far apart.
So where the Pharisees were expecting all the prophecies about the kingdom of God to happen at once, Jesus is carefully separating out for them what’s already happening and what’s to come.
He’s also reminding you that the kingdom of God isn’t a place, it’s a reign.
- As you enter Wales on the A483, there’s a sign saying “Welcome to Wales”. You cross the boundary, and you’re in Wales.
- But the kingdom of God isn’t a place like that.
But it does have a king. “Messiah” means “anointed” or, as we would do it now, “crowned”. Christ is the Greek word; Messiah Hebrew for anointed. Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus God’s chosen king over the kingdom of God.
- Jesus, Son of God, was anointed by the Holy Spirit of God at his baptism.
- And where the king is, there’s the kingdom.
- Or rather, wherever anyone bows the knee to Jesus as king, there’s the kingdom.
The kingdom of God is where the Messiah is honoured
So the kingdom of God is here in Bromborough. Eternal life is here. Because there are people here who serve Jesus as king, and that’s where the kingdom of God is.
Jesus will go on to make the point that if you wait until the day of his return, it will be too late to turn to him. “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” Today is the day for you to turn from your sin and attachment to this world, and seek the Lord.
Someone might say, “Maybe later, on my deathbed.” Do you really think you can con God like that?
Jesus is alive now. He rules now. He’s the eternal Messiah king. The kingdom of God is in your midst. Seek the Lord today. Because there will come a day when it’s too late:
Seek the Lord while he may be found (22-37)
Jesus turns to his disciples to speak of what must happen. Read Luke 17:22-25.
- It’s clear to Jesus at least that he’s on his way to Jerusalem to die – rejected by that generation.
- His disciples will look back, longing for the days when they walked with him
- They’ll look forward too – longing for the days when they’ll walk with him on his new earth!
He knows that false teachers will come claiming his return.
- Jehovah’s witnesses said that Jesus did return but secretly in October 1914.
- Jehovahs’ witnesses are false prophets, false teachers.
- They will say to you, “See there!”
But Jesus says when he does return you won’t need anyone to point to him – he’ll be like lightning flashing across the whole sky! Completely unmissable!
And he will be glorious!
His glory will be through the cross of Jerusalem.
- He has worked salvation for his people by taking the punishment of their sins on himself – death.
- His people will be waiting for him, longing for him.
- Saved by faith in Jesus, we’ll see him with our eyes.
- But no-one else will be waiting for him.
Life goes on, sinning
Read Luke 17:26-30.
Life is going on, as it always has. As it did in the days of Noah, and as it did in the days of Lot. Buying & selling, living, eating, surviving as best we can.
And, spiritually speaking, going on sinning. Those lives people lead don’t honour God. They use his name as a cheap swearword. No-one fears God; if you speak about him, no-one wants to know.
In 2 Peter 2, Lot is described as righteous and Noah a “preacher of righteousness” – very much the church’s role today. Those men were ridiculed, mocked, often ignored. They didn’t fit in with a society that had normalised sin, and neither can we. Our own society calls for us to upgrade, to come up-to-date, and abandon the timeless morality of God.
They don’t realise that this God will one day return. And, as in the days of Noah and Lot, that day will be sudden and catastrophic judgment. No-one will believe it’s going to happen until it does.
Jesus is being kind to you here. He’s gracious to warn you. In fact, he invites you to life.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, because on that day of his return, it will be too late.
Images in tension
We’re given images of it in v31-33 and again in v34-35. We need to hold the images side-by-side, in tension. Read Luke 17:31-35.
- In Matthew and Mark, very similar words there apply to how people will react to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
- But here, he’s clearly in the context of the end, when Jesus returns.
- Don’t be the kind of person who’s so attached to this world that when Jesus returns your first thought is for your ‘stuff’.
- You are not the abundance of your possessions today, and you certainly won’t be then.
- If you’re a Christian, you’ll be like Lot: Looking forward.
- If this world is your life, you’ll be like Lot’s wife: Looking backward, getting caught up with the judgment.
Seek the Lord today, while he may be found. Read Luke 17:34-35.
- The language of being “taken” and “left” is less clear than it might seem. Was Noah “taken” and the world left, swept?
- Or was the world taken in the flood, and Noah left behind?
- We need to be careful we don’t read too much into things deliberately left vague.
- What is clear is that there will be a separation of people.
And it will be a person-by-person separation.
And it’s God who will separate us.
- So v31-33 (the person on the roof or field, turning back) shows the futility of ‘things’ on that day.
- Because v34-35 shows that it will be God who separates us all.
Read Luke 17:37 (there is no v36).
- Do they mean “Where will people be taken?” or “Where will this judgment happen?”?
- Jesus’ enigmatic (and rather ugly) answer works either way: All this will happen wherever people are.
- No-one will escape this judgment from God.
Live in Christ’s kingdom now
Most of these words are for Christians, Jesus’ disciples. There’s a deliberate vagueness about some of the details of Jesus’ return. Deuteronomy 29:29 The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.
If you knew that Jesus was coming in the year 2525, that would change how you felt about his return. Equally, if you knew he was returning this afternoon, you might well adjust your plans.
If Christians are going to disagree over things, top of the list will probably be the details of Jesus’ return. Which means that whatever conclusions we come to, we have to be ready to accept that we’re probably wrong about something! So we need to put the vague details to one side, and focus on the obvious two things Jesus wants you to know:
First, the kingdom of God is here in your midst
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He lives and is reigning now. Today, as you repent of your sin and ask for forgiveness, as you bow your knee to him for rule of your life, you enter the kingdom of God.
You will probably never meet King Charles, but you will meet the king of creation one day.
- He knows your name; he listens when you pray.
- He cares for you, loves you, watches over you.
- Jesus is the good shepherd, guiding you throughout every day.
- He is the throne of grace you come to for help in time of need.
- In the kingdom of God, you know the king.
- As you are in his kingdom, he is in you and you are in him – there is an unbreakable, spiritual union with him.
- And when he returns, he will gather you up and you will walk with him, with the grass of a new earth beneath your feet. He himself will wipe away your tears, and you will laugh and dance and sing and leap and rejoice forever.
As he is with you all this life, you must follow him every day. That will mean taking up your cross, denying your sinful self. You are called to service, to love, to sacrifice.
And you can’t do those things alone, but they are the works he has prepared for you and he will enable you every day.
The kingdom of God is here.
Second, Jesus will return
He will do so suddenly. People have been watching the signs for centuries convinced that the time is near. Don’t waste a moment trying to work out if things in the world are a sure sign of his return. He’s coming back; it might be in your lifetime, might not.
But be ready. Be living a life of holiness as you build towards an eternity of holiness with him. That’s your destiny.
- Cut out sin; watch your mouth; do good to all; love.
- Look forward to seeing Jesus! He is the delight, the prize.
- Cultivate a knowledge of him, in prayer and faith.
And tell others about Jesus!
- V34 I tell you, on that night two will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. – be sure to tell your loved ones, those nearest to you: Spouse, children, grandchildren.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, and then live in his kingdom now.