20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” – Luke 17:20-37 ESV
This section contains a fascinating and somewhat confusing series of lessons on the kingdom of God. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus had declared the good news regarding the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV
Jesus was declaring that He was the Messiah or Savior the prophets had written about. He was the son of David who would ascend to the throne and re-establish the Davidic dynasty in keeping with the covenant God had made with David (2 Samuel 7:11-16). And this message struck a chord with the people of Israel because they had been longing for the arrival of the warrior-king who would be their emancipator, releasing them from their subjugation to the Romans. For centuries, the Israelites had been waiting for God to send the next David, a man whom He would use to redeem His people and restore their fortunes as a nation. So, everywhere Jesus went, His words concerning the kingdom were met with joyous expectation and hope.
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread… – Matthew 4:23-24 ESV
But the longer Jesus’ ministry went on, some of the people began to have doubts about His message. While they were amazed by His miracles and blown away by the power of His words, they were disappointed that He had not done anything to establish His earthly kingdom. If He truly was the long-awaited Messiah, when was He going to turn His attention to the Romans and clean house? How were they supposed to believe He was who He claimed to be if He never did the things the Messiah was supposed to do? This led many to demand that Jesus perform a “sign from heaven” to validate His identity. Yes, He had healed many people, but there were others who did the same thing – even His own disciples. He had cast out demons, but that was nothing new. Even the Jews had their own exorcists who were known for doing the same thing.
In fact, on one occasion, Jesus cast out a demon from a man and the people immediately proclaimed, “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” (Matthew 9:33 NLT). But the Pharisees rejected their enthusiastic endorsement of Jesus, saying, “He can cast out demons because he is empowered by the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34 NLT). And to prove their point, these men “demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Luke 11:16 NLT). Their refusal to accept Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah led them to constantly demand that He provide them with some kind of heavenly sign as irrefutable proof.
One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” – Matthew 12:38 NLT
So, it should come as no surprise that Luke records yet another confrontation between Jesus and this religious leader where they demand that He perform a sign. But this time, their request is hidden behind a question regarding the kingdom of God. They ask Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (Luke 17:20 NLT). This question wreaks of sarcasm. In essence, they are ridiculing Jesus for having declared that the kingdom had come, but they could see no signs of its arrival. He was still nothing more than an itinerant Rabbi wandering around the countryside teaching, preaching, and performing the occasional miracle. He spent more time in Galilee than He did in Judea, where Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel was located. He had many followers, but no army. And while He had cast out a handful of demons, He had done nothing to get rid of the Roman centurions who occupied the land of Israel from north to south. If He was the Messiah, they wanted proof. When was He going to do something to usher in the kingdom He claimed to have brought?
But Jesus saw through their ploy and understand the real focus of their question. They wanted some kind of sign that Jesus was the warrior-king who was going to conquer the enemies of Israel and re-establish the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem. And it seems unlikely that these men were expecting Jesus to fulfill their demand for a sign, because they believed Him to be a fraud. To them, He was little more than a charlatan and anything but the Savior of Israel. Yet, Jesus responded to their question.
“The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” – Luke 17:20-21 NLT
Jesus knew what they wanted. They were demanding that He do something that would affirm His kingly role and prove that He had been ordained by God to be the next ruler over Israel. Like all the Jews, the Pharisees and scribes were expecting the Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom that mirrored the glory days of David and Solomon. And Jesus knew that they were looking for visible, tangible signs that would demonstrate He meant business. As far as they could see, there was absolutely no evidence that would suggest He was a king, by any stretch of the imagination. But Jesus informed them that the nature of the Kingdom of God was radically different than what they had been expecting. In fact, the kingdom was already in their midst. The King was standing right in front of them. But Jesus didn’t look like a king. He didn’t do kingly things. At least, not according to their understanding of the role.
But it is interesting to note what the psalmist wrote concerning David.
He [God]chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV
The Jews were expecting another David, a warrior-king who would destroy the enemies of Israel. But God had spoken of David as the shepherd-king who cared for the people of Israel. Jesus had come to seek and to save that which was lost. His first advent to earth was intended to bring a different kind of victory over a completely different kind of enemy. Jesus had come to conquer sin, death, and the grave. His coming had inaugurated a different kind of kingdom that would not be of this world. What the Jews failed to understand was that the Messiah’s mission would come in two parts. There would be a first advent and, when the time was right, it would be followed by a second one.
And this is where Jesus turns His attention to His disciples, in an attempt to help them understand the full scope of the divine redemptive plan. Even they were beginning to have doubts about Jesus’ identity and role. They were just as anxious for Him to set up His earthly kingdom, and they were having a difficult time understanding the apparent delay in what they believed to be the primary point of His mission.
Jesus informs His disciples about future events that will need to take place before His earthly kingdom can be established. In the days ahead, He will die, resurrect, and return to His Father’s side in heaven. And after His departure, they will long for His return.
“The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it.” – Luke 17:22 NLT
With the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the church age began. The kingdom of God will exist in its partial form through the lives of all those who, through placing their faith in Christ, become citizens of that kingdom. They will live their lives on earth as sojourners and strangers. But one day, Christ will return for His bride, the church. He will gather up all those are citizens of the kingdom and take them to be with Him in heaven. That will usher in the days of Tribulation – a period of great suffering and persecution on earth when the enemy will focus all his wrath on the nation of Israel. During that time, many will come to faith in Christ and even suffer martyrdom at the hands of Satan’s earthly proxy, the Antichrist. But at the end of that seven-year period of time, Jesus will return. This will be His Second Coming when He appears as the warrior-king with the armies of heaven beside Him, and He will defeat all the enemies of God and judge all those who have rejected God and His Son.
At that time, there will be two groups of people on earth: Believers and non-believers. And Jesus indicates that the destruction will be severe. But those who have come to faith in Christ during the days of the Tribulation will be spared. That is what He means when He says, “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-35 ESV). People will be caught completely by surprise. They will be going about their lives, “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” (Luke 17:28 ESV), and then, suddenly, the King will return.
And it will be after this apocalyptic event that Jesus will set up His earthly kingdom and rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. The sign the Pharisees were demanding was one they really didn’t want to see. The kingdom for which the disciples longed would eventually come, but not during their lifetimes. God has a plan and He is working that plan to perfection. And the first phase of the plan required that His Son come to earth as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT). It will be at His second advent that He comes as the Lion of Judah and conquers the enemies of God and re-establishes the rule and reign of God on earth.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson