In order to understand our text today we need to begin with a brief history of the Jewish understanding of the Kingdom of God at the time of Christ. We heard last week the Pharisees asking Jesus “when the kingdom of God was coming” This was a question that was in the minds of many Jews at the time of Christ for good reason. The Hebrew Scriptures predict the coming Rule of God in the world. If you bear with me I’ll read a couple passages to you.
In Isaiah 2…
“the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever
These passages and many others painted a picture in the minds of many Jews that God himself would come in power to the earth. His coming would bring an outpouring of mercy and peace and justice to the world. There would be world peace as all nations were under his control. Figuratively, the arms of God will wrap around the hurting, the lame, the broken and God himself would carry them.
This idea of the God coming as king and perfect ruler over the world was prominent during the time of Christ. No doubt it was prominent because inside of all of us is the desire for the world to be made right. We might have different definitions of what it means for the world to be made right but almost all of us think there is something deeply wrong in the world that needs to be corrected.
In the years leading up to the time of Christ the Jewish people wrestled with the question of God’s promises to come and be king and his lack of coming. Why had God not yet come? Would he ever come? Was he ever going to make the world right? Was he ever going to rescue his people? As you may remember, at the time of Christ’s coming the Jewish people were under Roman captivity. They did have some limited forms of independence but if they ever seriously tried to rebel against Rome they would be in deep trouble. In fact at various times they had tried to rebel against their rulers and every time it ended in a bloody battle and deeper enslavement.
So they wrestled with the nature of God’s kingdom… Was God going to actually come to earth and rule or was the kingdom of God going to be something simply within their hearts. A spiritual kingdom.
The Jewish people also argued about how God’s kingdom was going to come. Was God himself going to come and bring the kingdom or was he going raise up a person from within Israel, a man like Moses or David who would free his people. In Hebrew, the language of the Jewish scriptures, this person was called Meshiach, in English we pronounce this Messiah. In Greek this figure was called the Christos, where we get the English word Christ. When biblical writers use a title Jesus Christ they are saying, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.
Still others clung to a promise found in the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Daniel 7 there is a short passage that prophecies about a supernatural person who is given all authority and power by God to rule on earth. This person is called the Son of Man. So from this passage many Jewish people began to look for the Son of Man to come and setup God’s kingdom.
So this conversation about the kingdom of God, the Messiah, and the Son of Man was happening throughout Israel during the time of Jesus. And it is a conversation that gives us the context needed to understand the passage Carl read last week and we are going to continue reading this week. Lets go now to Luke 17. And just read verses 20-21.
20 Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
The Pharisees asked this question because they wanted to know what Jesus’ position was on the kingdom of God. Did he believe the kingdom was spiritual or physical? Did he believe a Messiah was coming or the Son of Man?
It’s clear how many of Jesus’ followers would have answered the question. Many of them thought Jesus was the Messiah and was there to bring about the overthrow of Rome and God’s physical kingdom. He would be king. He would rule from Zion. This is why Jesus was put on a Donkey and brought into Jerusalem. Its why many times he is called King. Its ultimately one of the reasons he was killed, the people believed Jesus was the king of Jews and was going to usher in God’s kingdom.
Look quickly with me at some very interesting verses in Acts chapter 1 starting in verse 3.
After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the father. This he said is what you have heard from me, for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” he replied, “it is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Right up until Jesus was taken to heaven at least some of his followers believed he was going to overthrow the Romans and setup God’s kingdom on earth… This is fascinating.
With that in mind when Jesus’ answers the Pharisees question about the kingdom of God by saying that the kingdom of God is “among you” or “within in you” or “within your grasp” however you want to understand his words, as Carl said its difficult to really understand what Jesus is saying here, but no doubt his words would disappointed Jesus’ followers.
They wanted a physical kingdom, and they wanted Jesus to bring in God’s rule and they wanted to rule with him. And now he was basically saying that it wasn’t going to happen at least not yet.
So we can just imagine what would have been going through their minds when Jesus tells the Pharisees the kingdom is among them…
This is it? This can’t be the kingdom of God? Rome is still in power? The world is still filled with violence. Injustice is rampant. Jesus you can’t be serious!
I think Jesus understood that his answer had caused confusion and anxiety and disappointment in his disciples. So in our passage today Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to live now. Very practical instructions, as we will see in a moment.
Lets read the text together now…
22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. 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.[i] 25 But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will 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 Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. 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 that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them 30 —it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. 34 I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.”[j] 37 Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
Before going any farther today, I think it’s important to reveal my overall understanding of this passage. In these verses Jesus uses some rather strange language. Scholars would call it apocalyptic language. He uses this language because he is doing a rare thing in scripture, he is talking about things that are going to happen in the future. The question is when in the future.
Growing up my tradition we understood these verses to be teaching about the rapture. If you are not familiar with that word it is simply the belief that God is going to bring his people to heaven with him, sometime in the future, shortly before he pours out his wrath on all the earth to punish their wickedness. In fact there was a famous song made out of verses 34-35 about the rapture. Anyways I grew up in this tradition and was taught that these verses and others like them were about either the rapture or what is called the 2nd coming of Christ, promised by the Angels in Acts 1.
I don’t think that is what this passage is about. I think in these verses Jesus is foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, something that took place in AD 70, 40 years after Christ’s death and within the lifetime of most of the disciples. This is what Jesus means in verse 30 by the phrase “the day that the son of man is revealed.”
Jesus isn’t talking about his 2nd coming he is talking about a day when who he was would be revealed very literally to the generation who had rejected him. The destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple revealed to the Jewish people of the generation that encountered Christ that he was indeed sent by God as their Messiah to save the whole world from their sins. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans offered indisputable proof that the Jewish way of relating to God through sacrifices and observing the Law was bankrupt. Christ was now the only way for any of us to be in right relationship with God.
By foretelling Jerusalem’s destruction, Jesus is giving practical help to his disciples. He is warning them to be ready to leave Jerusalem before it is destroyed. Just like Lot left Sodom and Noah got onto the ark, the disciples would be wise to leave when they could sense the time was coming. He is helping to preserve the lives of members of the early church. And what’s crazy is that we know Jesus’ warning actually worked. There is good historical evidence that because of these and other words of Christ in the gospels that warn of the coming destruction of Jerusalem many Christians living in Jerusalem relocated to just over the Jordan river in what is now Jordan to a place called Pella, just before the Roman invasion in AD 70. Escaping destruction.
So in one sense this passage is very practical! One of the most practical in all of scripture, right up there with God’s instructions for building an ark. Super practical if you a living in prehistoric times and a flood is coming, not super helpful once cruise ships and aircraft carriers have been invented. Our situation is very different from the disciples; however, its not without some parallels. While we don’t need to be told to flee Jerusalem to avoid death, we do need to figure how to live while we wait for Christ and his kingdom to come in full. We like the disciples, long for a time when God will rule the world with justice and mercy and make all things right. So maybe just maybe we can learn a little bit about how we should live while we wait for Christ’s return from what Jesus said to his disciples.
Lets look again at verse 22. Then he said to his disciples, “the days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of man and you will not see it”
Just a side note, the term Son of Man can sound confusing or strange to us but as I said earlier it is a term from the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Daniel a person with the Title Son of Man is given by God authority and power over all the kingdoms of the world. In the Gospels, Jesus calls himself Son of man more than anything else. So in this passage when we see the Title “Son of Man” just know that Jesus is talking about himself.
So Jesus is telling his disciples that there will be a time coming when they will long to see one of his days, that is they will long to see his power and to be in his presence. They will long for him to reveal himself to them again…. Like he has revealed himself to them through his miracles, his words, and eventually through his death and resurrection. He is telling them there will be a time when they will long for a day like that, a Jesus day, he won’t appear.
Those of us who live in the in between, between Christ’s first and 2nd coming, also live with constant longing for more from Jesus. A dissatisfaction. A Desire to meet Christ in a more meaningful way. Whether we admit it or not to be a Christian is to feel a certain longing for something more.
I remember when I first started listening to music that wasn’t overtly Christian as teenager and bought U2’s greatest hits of the 80’s. I had heard they were Christians so I started listening. I remember listening to one of the greatest hits, “I still haven’t found what I was looking for” and thinking, how could these guys be Christians? I have found what I’m looking for. I had a god shaped whole in my life and now I have Jesus. Obviously they can’t be Christians.
The truth however is that in this time between Christ’s first coming and his last we will long for more of Jesus than what we have. To live in this time is to live with a longing for Christ that won’t be satisfied until we see him face to face. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Like Christ’s disciples, we also will live our lives with a deep longing for Christ’s presence, a longing that won’t be filled until we either die or Christ returns.
Lets look back at our text…They will say to you, ‘Look, there’ or Look here! Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as lightening flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the son of Man be in his day…
Real quick these verses are a continuation of the first thing Jesus said… You will long for me, and your longing for me will tempt you to look for me in lots of different places. Sometimes our longing to experience Christ, to meet Christ can tempt us to set off in search of Christ in places where he isn’t. Our longing to meet Christ can cause us to sit and watch TBN and listen to a Preacher who tells us when Christ is going to return. How many of you remember the book the Late Great Planet Earth? That book sold 28 million copies! The left behind series sold somewhere around 50 million copies. Jesus knew that his leaving would tempt both his disciples and us to seek him in a variety of different places. Jesus is telling us to stay away from these things, from people who claim they know when he is returning or preachers promising that they have a way for us to obtain a special encounter with Christ. Why? because when Christ comes it will be obvious to all, Like lightening in the sky.
One message this text has for us then is that while we live in the in between we need to have a patient longing for Christ. On the one hand we need to be always longing for his presense but on the other hand we need to be patient and not chase after people, or books, or teachers who promise us something they can’t deliver. When Christ comes we will know it.
Look with me now at verses 26-29: 6 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will 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 Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. 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 that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them.
Jesus mentions two stories in these verse. Noah and Lot. For those who didn’t grow up in church Noah was a man who lived in some really nasty times. The bible tells us that “ The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” So the Lord sees this wickedness and decides to flood the world, killing every person except one family, the family of Noah. Noah then of course builds a boat, loads the animals on it, and gets in and he, his family, and the animals ride out the storm.
The second story Jesus alludes to here is the story of Lot. This story might be a little less well known to us. In the story of Lot, God sends two angels to warn Lot, Abraham’s Nephew, to leave Sodom, a city full of all kinds of wickedness, because the city is going to be destroyed by God. Lot doesn’t want to leave and is literally dragged out of the city by the two angels. Once out of the city the angels tells lot and his family to run for the hills and not look back. Everyone but Lots wife heeds the angels warning, she however looks back longingly at the city and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lot and the rest of the family survive but the city itself is destroyed by fire from the sky.
In both of these stories, there are two groups of people, those who listened to God’s warning of what was to come and changed how they lived, and those who ignored God’s warning and continued to live life as if everything was fine. The people who listened to God warning and changed how they lives were spared those who didn’t perished.
Jesus is using these stories to make sure his disciples leave Jerusalem. Be like Noah and Lot, listen to my warning so you can avoid the destruction that is coming.
He is telling us something similar, while we wait for the return of Christ, Flee from Sin…
Sin may not always cause God to send a flood or fire from heaven but the natural consequences of sin are always destruction. And the best way to escape sin is to run.
The best example I know of this truth is the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. You don’t have to turn there but real quick if you remember Cain was jealous of his brother Abel because God preferred Abel’s sacrifices to his. So he gets angry and is going to kill his brother. God then steps in and has a conversation with Cain in Genesis 4 verse 6. “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? 7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.”
Sin always desires to dominate us. It wants to subdue us and destroy us. We must flee. We must run to the hills. We must run from that phone call. Flee from that situation at work. Leave the room… Put that letter in the draw and wait to send it. Sin is serious business and sometimes the only way to escape its grasp is to take drastic actions…
Finally, lets look at verse 31-33… 31 On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.
Here again Jesus is give practical advice to his disciples. When the invasion of the Romans happens, just run and don’t look back. Don’t be like lots wife and look back with longing at what you are leaving behind. The disciples needed to be ready to leave whatever earthy possessions that had a moment’s notice.
Just another sidenote for you bible scholars out there, if the coming of Son of Man mentioned here is really about the 2nd coming, why would Jesus tell his disciples to make sure they were ready to flee? How could one flee from the 2nd coming of Christ? He’s coming and he going to make all things right and there isn’t anyway a person could flee from that.
Alright, back to the text, so this text is basically telling the disciples to live simply, and hold possessions lightly, because someday you will need to leave everything behind…
Likewise for us to follow Christ means to live simply. It means having nothing that we wouldn’t be willing to give away if our spiritual lives depended on it. Jodi and I are having an ongoing conversation about our smartphones. I think both of us know that we use our phones as a way to escape from parenting. Instead of listening to our kids or reading with them or playing with them or paying attention to them we will sit on our phones. So we are having this ongoing conversation about whether we should get rid of our phones. Phones aren’t wrong, just like possession aren’t wrong. But phones or any other possession can become something that keeps us from escaping the clutches of sin a death. Just like in this passage. Physical stuff isn’t he only thing that can keep you from escaping the destruction of sin. Attitudes like anger, bitterness, greed and lust can all hold us back from escaping the clutches of sin.
So how do we have the change our attitudes and our actions?
Verse 33 tells us… Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.
There is only one way to preserve our spiritual lives… We must die to ourselves. What does this mean? It means that everyday I get up and submit my desires, my wants, and my needs to God and I depend on him to meet them. He then becomes my life. The Apostle Paul restates this idea this way in Galatians 2:20 “for I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, the life I live in the body I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
We like the disciples long for the kingdom of God to come in full. We long for the day that God is going to make everything right. But like the disciples we still have lives to live, we still have jobs to work, families to raise. So what are we do while we wait for Christ’s return? 1. Be patient. 2. Flee from sin. 3. Live simply. Knowing that the power to be patient, flee from sin, an live simply, doesn’t come from myself but from dying to myself and allowing Christ to live in me.
If you were trying to escape a city under siege anything you had to carry with you would slow you down. Any stuff, or attitudes, or ideas, that slow down your ability to escape sin is stuff that needs to go. Like the disciples we need to run
From these verses we can see that just like the disciples in the end we will be vindicated by Christ’s return, which leads us to the next verse.
Life in the in between…
- Expect to endure suffering. (vs 25)
- Have confidence in your vindication. (vs 26-29)
- Live a life of simplicity. (31-33)