When God’s Kingdom Comes: Luke 17:20-37

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While Matthew’s gospel shares a lot more details surrounding Jesus describing what the world would be like leading up to His return, Luke includes some interesting pieces of Jesus’ teaching on this. However, unlike Matthew’s gospel, which frames Jesus teaching about the end after the disciples ask a question, Luke’s gospel seems to frame this around the Pharisees asking Jesus a question, and putting a thought into His mind.

Let’s read what Luke tells us Jesus shared about the coming of God’s kingdom and what Jesus’ followers should expect regarding His return.

Our passage for this episode is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 17, and we will read from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 20, Luke tells us that:

20 Once the Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom would come. He replied, “The coming of God’s kingdom is not something you can see. 21 People will not say, ‘Here it is.’ Or, ‘There it is.’ That’s because God’s kingdom is among you.”

Let’s pause briefly here because in the next verse, Luke shifts directions slightly and I don’t want us to miss the big idea Jesus shares in this opening.

There are actually two big ideas in these first two verses. The first big idea is one that I find amazing, especially when I look at the majority of the gospels. This first idea is that this group of Pharisees seems to ask Jesus a genuine question. More often than not, the Pharisees were leading the broader group of religious leaders in planting traps and challenges for Jesus. However, that is not what we discover here.

In the opening verses of our passage, we discover how the Pharisees ask a genuine question and receive a genuine response. This tells me that Jesus treated every situation independently, and Jesus didn’t hold grudges against those who seemed to most openly oppose Him. This also challenges me to be like Jesus and treat every situation independently and to not hold grudges against those who most openly oppose me.

The second big idea is in Jesus’ response. While the kingdom that all those in the first century were looking for was a military kingdom to arise and challenge Rome, Jesus describes the arrival God’s kingdom as not something easily seen. The arrival of God’s kingdom is invisible, and one reason for this is because God’s kingdom is a kingdom unlike what we would often think of as a kingdom.

Jesus finishes off this second idea by saying that God’s kingdom was already among them. This is powerful because when these religious leaders were looking for a kingdom to arrive, Jesus tells them they missed the kingdom’s arrival and that it was already here. This tells me that God’s kingdom is anywhere that God is present. This means that when Jesus walked the earth, God’s kingdom was present. This also means that anywhere the Holy Spirit is present, God’s kingdom is also present.

When we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, we enter God’s kingdom, and we ally ourselves with it! God gave Jesus’ followers the Holy Spirit, and while the Holy Spirit works in different ways through God’s people at different points in time, allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives is never the wrong choice.

However, our passage isn’t finished yet. With the question of the coming of God’s kingdom on Jesus’ mind, we continue reading in verse 22:

22 Then Jesus spoke to his disciples. “The time is coming,” he said, “when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man. But you won’t see it. 23 People will tell you, ‘There he is!’ Or, ‘Here he is!’ Don’t go running off after them. 24 When the Son of Man comes, he will be like the lightning. It flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25 But first the Son of Man must suffer many things. He will not be accepted by the people of today.

26 “Remember how it was in the days of Noah. It will be the same when the Son of Man comes. 27 People were eating and drinking. They were getting married. They were giving their daughters to be married. They did all those things right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking. They were buying and selling. They were planting and building. 29 But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven. And all the people were destroyed.

30 “It will be just like that on the day the Son of Man is shown to the world. 31 Suppose someone is on the housetop on that day. And suppose what they own is inside the house. They should not go down to get what they own. No one in the field should go back for anything either. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it. Whoever loses their life will keep it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed. One person will be taken and the other left. 35-36 Two women will be grinding grain together. One will be taken and the other left.”

37 “Where, Lord?” his disciples asked.

He replied, “The vultures will gather where there is a dead body.”

In Jesus’ big message to the disciples about His return, we see a huge theme present. When Jesus returns, it will be sudden and visible to everyone like the lightning. Jesus’ return will be quick, because those who woke up that morning thinking they were going to experience a normal day discover this day would be anything but normal. And Jesus’ return should prompt us to leave anything and everything of this world behind.

Anything less global than a world-shattering event is likely not Jesus’ second coming.

While the disciples want to know where Jesus’ return will take place, the only answer Jesus gives them is that His return will be wherever vultures gather when there is a dead body. While many people could understand this response in different ways, I understand Jesus’ words to basically mean that this will be world-wide, or specifically wherever there are people living in the world.

Right now, there are people living in almost every place on the planet. Some places are more crowded than others, but every continent has people living on it, including Antarctica which is home to various groups of scientists and researchers.

While vultures don’t live in all parts of the world, I don’t think that the idea of vultures is as significant as we might think at first. While vultures were the primary predatory bird in that culture and region, I suspect Jesus would have used any predatory bird or animal if He’d been sharing in a different part of the planet.

The last big idea I want to share from Jesus’ message isn’t a very positive one, but it is significant. Jesus’ return will mark the point when God’s people are taken while others are left. Jesus’ last words indicate that what is left following His return will be dead bodies, indicating that this world wide conclusion likely won’t leave anyone alive left on this planet. Those taken with Jesus will be taken to heaven, and those left will be vulture food.

While this sounds bleak, it is significant for us to pay attention to because any return that is any less earth-shattering than what Jesus describes here is more likely an impostor than Jesus. If we see, hear, or believe anyone’s claim that Jesus has shown up and His return doesn’t end the world, then whoever showed up wasn’t the Jesus of the gospels.

Jesus came to bring glory to God the first time He came, and the second time Jesus comes it will be to gather God’s people to come home with Him to heaven. Jesus’ second coming will be a much shorter visit than His first, because as He tells His disciples in John’s gospel as they are traveling to the garden on the night of His arrest, Jesus is making homes, rooms, or mansions for us in heaven. Our ultimate home is going to be with God, and we get to experience the home He has prepared for us when He returns to bring us home!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, continue seeking God first in your life and choose to ally your life with Him and His kingdom. Accept Jesus’ sacrifice as payment for your sins and accept the Holy Spirit into your heart, your mind, and your life. Also, continue looking forward to the day Jesus returns and takes us home to be with Him!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Through prayer and personal study, discover a God who loves you with all of His heart and a God who is willing to cross the universe to redeem you!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 36: When some Pharisees ask Jesus about the coming of God’s kingdom, discover what we can learn about when God’s kingdom arrives, and about Jesus’ second coming as well!

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