Luke 17:20–37 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
The Coming Kingdom of God Is Within You
Jesus' teaching will now turn to the coming of the kingdom of God: The Pharisees ask "when" the kingdom will come (v. 20); Jesus explains to his disciples "how" it will come (vv. 22–35); and finally Jesus touches on "where" it will come. His teaching isn't full and detailed here; we wish it were. In teaching his listeners of "the end times," Jesus wanted to teach them about the "nature" of his coming here, not its "timing."
In today's passage, we read that the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom was to come. Jesus briefly answered their question, in a way that showed they wouldn't, indeed hadn't, recognized the kingdom as having already come. From this starting point, Luke records the teaching of our Lord on the coming of the kingdom, which was raised by the Pharisees' questioning.
The Pharisees Ask; Jesus Answers (vv. 20–21)
It's interesting that it would be the Pharisees who'd approach Jesus with this question. They looked upon themselves as experts in spiritual matters. No doubt they'd have expected the Messiah to have come from among their elite group. Seemingly, the Pharisees' question about when the kingdom was to come was an implied rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Likely, it was another of their efforts in a long-standing commitment to trip up the Lord Jesus and thus be able to publicly discredit him.
As usual, Jesus wasn't taken back by their question. The general thrust of our Lord's response is that neither the Pharisees nor the people would recognize the coming of the kingdom. Our Lord's statement, made in v. 21, is most perplexing: "The kingdom of God is in your midst (or "within you")." What did Jesus mean by that? Is Jesus saying that the kingdom is a spiritual matter, a matter only of the heart, and thus an "inside" thing? Again, we wish that he'd have made that clearer.
While Jewish leaders didn't see Jesus as the Messiah, nor recognize him as King, or sense his kingdom, several people did, even at his birth. Those whose expectations conformed to the prophets of the Old Testament, and who were illuminated by the Holy Spirit, could and did recognize the King: Mary, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist; all recognized Jesus as the coming King and spoke of the coming of his kingdom. While the words and works of Jesus should have been sufficient evidence, the hardness of men's hearts prevented them from seeing the obvious, no matter how hard they looked.
The Kingdom Comes; Be Zealous (vv. 22–25)
The coming kingdom will be only for those who are initially in Jesus' spiritual kingdom. In our Lord's teaching, he turns from the present, spiritual kingdom (vv. 20–21); at the end of v. 21, he describes it as the kingdom of God within you, then the kingdom of God outside of you, which is the universal kingdom that's visible on earth. Beginning in v. 22, he describes the nature of that kingdom.
Jesus' disciples were facing a new danger, and for different reasons. The Pharisees rejected the kingdom of God because they rejected the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. The disciples, however, had come to love him and were deeply committed to him. Jesus warned them of the dangers they'd face as a result of their love for him and their desire to see him.
But the disciples' understanding of the coming kingdom and how it would be established was similarly distorted. Jesus must therefore remind them of his coming rejection and death. In addition, he won't be physically present with them after his ascension; thus, for a time, they'll yearn for his physical presence, which will take place at the time of Jesus' second coming when the kingdom of God will be established on earth. In his physical absence, there will be hard times for Jesus' followers, who'll be rejected and persecuted even as Jesus was to be. In such times of adversity, a great hunger for Christ's kingdom and his presence on the earth will be experienced by those who love the Messiah.
Avoid Worldly Preoccupation Blinders (vv. 26–37)
In vv. 20–21, Jesus had told the Pharisees that neither they nor others would recognize the kingdom of God, even though they were looking for it. Jesus hasn't yet revealed the reason why this was true. Perhaps vv. 26–37 provide us with an explanation and application.
Several lessons are taught by the Old Testament incidents concerning Noah and Lot. Both men, as we know from the book of Genesis (Noah, in chapters 6–9, and Lot, in chapter 19), lived among wicked men. Both men (and at least a part of their families) were spared God's judgment, which was poured out upon the rest. And in the cases of both men, the judgment of God was poured out on a wicked generation, causing many to die; no one seemed aware that the judgment of God was coming until it was too late.
What, then, is our Lord's point in telling his disciples that those who were destroyed were simply going about their normal activities? Here, Lord Jesus doesn't stress who'll possess the kingdom or why men are "left" or "taken." Instead, he underscores the reason why men can be totally unaware of the coming of the King and the kingdom, so that it comes upon them totally unprepared. Jesus has just told the Pharisees that neither they nor the masses would recognize the fact that the kingdom had come. Perhaps the reason is that men don't look for the kingdom when their "life" is preoccupied by an earthly focus, especially those who try "to keep their life."
In both Noah's day and in Lot's, people were preoccupied with "living." Life to them focused on earthly, temporal things that bring man pleasure, meaning, and joy. "Life," as Jesus is using the term here, isn't just one's physical existence, but one's source of meaning and significance. When people's "lives" are caught up in the pursuits of earthly living, they become insensitive to spiritual matters, and in particular to those Scripture warnings concerning God's coming and his judgment.
Jesus is speaking of a very particular event in vv. 30–37; it's a part of the overall program of the coming kingdom of God. The emphasis is on judgment rather than blessings. We're not being told of "streets of gold" in the coming kingdom but of the hellish sufferings of a sinful generation. Man will not be prepared for it! Those who'll be present at the time of this judgment must flee without delay, without turning back, without trying to save anything that wrongly brings with it the preoccupations of "life" — namely, worldly possessions.
In this time of judgment, two will be in bed; one will be taken and one will be left (v. 34). The second case is that of two women, both of whom are going about their daily duties grinding grain; one is taken, and the other is left. The disciples, in v. 37, ask the question, "Where, Lord?" likely asking where those who will be taken away are to go. The Lord's answer is vague, but we must conclude that the place was very bad, albeit deathlike, as was their fate.
Concluding thoughts Neither the Pharisees nor the people of Israel would recognize the coming kingdom because they had false preconceptions of what the King and his kingdom would (must) be like. When Jesus failed to fulfill their expectations, he was rejected and ultimately put on the cross. The Pharisees had an intricately worked-out set of standards and codes of conduct for virtually any occasion. Thus, though they were watching closely for the coming kingdom, the Pharisees were looking for the wrong kind of kingdom, and they'd insist that his kingdom conform to their standards. Alas, given their set of values and expectations, they'd never see it. And, as Jesus said, they hadn't seen it in him, even though he stood in their midst, teaching them and performing miracles, despite the fact that his message was consistently about the kingdom of God, even though John the Baptizer had personally introduced him to them as the King.
- Q. 1 How could the kingdom of God be "in the midst of" the Pharisees (vv. 20–21)?
- Q. 2 According to v. 24, will Jesus' second coming happen secretly or publicly? Why do you think so?
- Q. 3 Is the kingdom of God yet in you or your midst? How can you tell?
- Q. 4 While you live "in the kingdom," waiting for the Son of Man to come, what do you see in this passage about the way you might apply vv. 32–33?
New International Version (NIV)
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The Coming of the Kingdom of God
20Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst."
22Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23People will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. 24For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. 25But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
26"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage 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, buying and selling, planting and building. 29But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
30"It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32Remember Lot's wife! 33Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left." [36Some manuscripts include here words similar to Matt. 24:40.]
37"Where, Lord?" they asked.
He replied, "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."