Preached by Ben Bechtel
My wife Whitley and I have been married for over two and a half years. So, we aren’t newlyweds anymore but our wedding is also recent enough that I can remember many things very vividly still from that day. One memory that sticks out is the morning of our wedding. One of my best friends got up before all of us, cleaned up the mess we had left of the place the night before, and went to get coffee and donuts for all of us. As we sat and ate breakfast I remember having several guys say to me, “today is the day.” They didn’t have to explain to me what that meant. I knew that the day was obviously the day of our wedding, the day Whit and I had been looking forward to for 15 long months since we made initial promises of engagement to one another.
In a similar way, Jesus speaks of the day in this text we will look at this morning. In the minds of the biblical authors and Jewish readers, the day meant the Day of the Lord, the day that would fulfill so many of their longings and expectations. It was the day promised when God would return to consummate his kingdom on earth, restore the fortunes of his people Israel, and bring justice down upon his enemies. This, as far as the Bible is concerned is the day. However, the kingdom, as we will see Jesus teach this morning, is also already present in the person of Jesus. This kingdom, both its present and coming form on the day, is the subject matter of Jesus’ teaching here in this text. Jesus is going to show us all this morning that the kingdom of God, both in its present and future forms, ought to direct the desires of our hearts. Let’s read Luke 17:20-37 together (pg. 997):
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.”
The structure of Jesus’ discourse here is very important for the way in which we understand its meaning. This is often lost on us as English readers, but many times a biblical passage’s structure actually contributes a lot to the meaning of the passage. In verses 20-21, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and his focus is largely on the present moment. In verses 22-37 Jesus turns to address his disciples and his focus is largely on the future. In the very structure of this text we are given a clue already that there is a direct contrast being set up here. There is a contrast between the disciples and Pharisees, between Noah/Lot and the men of their day, between Jesus and the generation of his day, between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Two distinct groups of people with two distinct value systems and two distinct ways of life are presented before our eyes. Keep that in the back of your mind as we continue.
1. The Importance of Now For the End (20-21)
I’m sure you all are familiar with the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy.” To that little proverb I would add, “and so are expectations not met.” To illustrate this for us, I have a great story from the life of Pastor Jason which I just learned about this week. While Jason was in college, about a year before he started dating Natalie, his sister tried to set him up with a girl she thought he would really like. And Jason, expecting that there was no way his sister could set him up with anyone he would really like, wrote off the invitation. That girl that his sister tried to set him up with was Natalie. So Jason missed out on meeting his wife a year sooner because his expectations of the kind of girl his sister would pick for him got in the way. But when he actually rightly related to Natalie, he realized that they would be great together and fell in love with her.
This is precisely what the Pharisees do here in this text: they miss Jesus because of false expectations. In verse 20 Jesus says, “The kingdom is not coming in ways that can be observed.” What he is not saying is that the kingdom will only come in some inward, “spiritual” form that no one can see. Rather, he is specifically attacking the Pharisees’ assumptions about what the kingdom would look like when it came. They thought that the Day of the Lord would involve the Messiah coming by force, setting up the kingdom of God, and showing that they, the religious leaders of Israel, are in the right.
Do you see the irony? Jesus is saying, “you’re asking about when the kingdom will come while it is happening right in front of you!” They’re asking where the kingdom is while the King is standing right in front of them! Think about this again in light of the text Noah preached last week. They are watching Old Testament predictions about lame men being healed in the days of the Messiah come to life before their eyes and they are so blind they can’t see it (Isaiah 35:1-10). This is why Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 12:56:
56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
The Pharisees had expectations about what the Messiah’s future kingdom would look like and those expectations kept them from rightly relating to the Messiah in their midst. And ironically and tragically, this has eternal implications.
This happens to us all the time. Our expectations of what we think the Messiah’s kingdom ought to look like keeps us from a right relationship with Jesus. Think about these examples:
• We think the Messiah’s kingdom is virtually the same as our country and its interests. We have expectations for what the Messiah ought to do for America. And so the message of salvation sounds very similar to a particular party platform. Jesus becomes a military and national mascot rather than the King of an alternative kingdom.
• We think that the Messiah’s kingdom ought to simply further our own interests and desires. We continue to live our lives the way we always have, because Jesus couldn’t possibly want to change anything about our lives. We don’t think the mindset of Jesus’ kingdom would ever be different than our own. Jesus becomes merely a self-help guide and personal cheerleader rather than a King who demands your life.
• We think the Messiah’s kingdom ought to bring us physical prosperity. We believe that if we follow him he will give us material blessing, a physical career, long life, and obedient children. Jesus becomes a personal piñata rather than a King who wants to bless us with the privilege of knowing him.
Friends, missing the real Jesus due to our false expectations for what he will do for us will be catastrophic for us on the day. What we do with Jesus now has implications for the day of his return. Amidst the kingdom of man here on earth, the kingdom of God is present. May we not miss the real Jesus who is present through the preaching of his Word, the fellowship of the church, and our service among the needy and broken of our world. May we listen to him and respond in faith and submission. May we not miss him because of our false expectations.
2. The Importance of the End For Now (22-37)
Here now Jesus turns from the Pharisees to address his disciples. In his speech to the Pharisees, his main point is that how we respond to the present kingdom is important for the coming kingdom. Now, as he turns to the disciples, he shifts our eyes towards the future day. Jesus wants to show us that the coming kingdom is important for how we live now. The coming kingdom serves as both a warning and a comfort to the follower of Jesus in the present.
a. Warning (26-37)
Let’s read verses 26-33 so they are fresh in our minds as we look at them here:
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.
This passage is pretty wild. Jesus assumes here that we have two stories from the book of Genesis in our minds as we read, the stories of Noah and Lot. In both of these stories God, after much merciful delay, brings judgment upon the extreme wickedness of the people of that day. One judgment is by fire and the other by water. What Jesus is showing us here, is that these two days of judgment from the Old Testament are foreshadowing the Day when God will return to his people. They are events that direct our attention forward to the end.
Many of you can testify to the destructive power of water just in these past three weeks. I also can relate to the destructive power of fire from personal experience. My freshman year of college my dorm almost burned down due to a grease fire on the first floor of the building, which was caused by one of my friends trying to deep fry Oreos and Kit Kats. I lived on the third floor of the building and one fateful evening while a few of my friends and I were sitting in the common area smoke began to creep into the quad. Immediately the fire alarm went off and everybody panicked. This was no drill: it was a serious fire. What do they always train you to do during fires? Run for it! Don’t go back for your stuff! So, what did me and my friends do in that situation? We all frantically ran back the hallway to grab our laptops! When I look back on that, I see how stupid that was. My life was actually in danger and yet I valued my laptop more than my own life in that moment. My heart had been pre-programmed to value my laptop over my own life.
This story shows us something about what Jesus is trying to teach with all of this. What our hearts are programmed to love now will be what we cling to on the day of judgment. This is precisely what the story of Lot and his wife shows. They are living in the notoriously evil city of Sodom and God decides enough is enough. Lot and his family are the only righteous people in the city and so God sends two angels to lead them out before the destruction of the city. And as they are fleeing the city, Lot’s wife looks back longingly at the evil city and is instantly turned into a pillar of salt. It’s a wild story. This is why a certain piece of Jewish literature calls Lot’s wife “a monument to an unbelieving soul.” 1
We are Lot’s wife. We are programmed, from birth, to desire the kingdom of man and not the kingdom of God. However, when Jesus’ kingdom invades our life he calls us out of this evil kingdom. He calls us to run from the wickedness and injustice of the kingdom of man and toward a different way of life entirely in his kingdom. And even though in this life, the kingdom of God is not fully visible, and the lines between the two kingdoms seem blurred, there will come a day when this is no longer the case. This is what Jesus goes on to say in verses 34-37:
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.”
On the Day, some will be taken and where they will be taken is not good. The disciples ask where they are taken and Jesus says it is a place of death, where the vultures gather. This Alfred Hitchcock-esque scene shows us the severity of turning back to the kingdom of man. There will be a day when the desires of our hearts are revealed and in that day we will either run towards the kingdom of God or look back longingly at the kingdom of man.
Church, with the end in mind, what are you programming your hearts toward now? Which kingdom do you desire? How are you actively shaping your desires towards the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man? I can tell you one thing, if you think that just sitting in a church service and listening to your favorite worship songs throughout the week is enough to shape your heart towards the kingdom, I’m afraid you underestimate the sinful longing of our hearts to look back. In order to not look back, we desperately need the Word of God. We desperately need the fellowship of believers. We desperately need the spiritual disciplines. We desperately need the Lord’s Supper.
Here’s another diagnostic question for us to get at this idea: does the kingdom of God shape your schedule more than the kingdom of man? Does your calendar, your day-to-day decision making and activities, reflect that you are a citizen of the city of God or the city of man? Or are you like the men of Noah and Lot’s day, going on with their daily activities, without a thought to God. I am preaching to myself here. Whit and I have realized this summer that we have not done this well. Our schedules have been dictated by our desires rather than God’s. We weren’t taking any active steps to spend time with those who are not believers in Jesus. We guarded our free time with a closed fist and used it selfishly. Let us all heed this warning together to prepare our hearts for the day when our true desires will be revealed. Let us not look back longingly to the things of our former kingdom.
b. Comfort (22-25)
God’s coming does not only warn us, but also should give the disciple of Jesus much comfort. Listen to verses 22-24:
“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.
There will be days when the disciples will long for Jesus’ return but Jesus tells them that they will not be able to see it. But he does comfort them that they won’t miss it. The coming of the kingdom is not something we will miss if we are in the other room grabbing a snack. It’s not something that others will see but we might happen to miss. It will be as clear as a bright lightning show across the summer sky. And so Jesus comforts his disciples that even though they will not see it in their lifetime, it will be something that can’t be missed.
But, let’s stop and ask a question: how is this supposed to be a comfort? If the Day will come and we can’t miss it, how do we know that we won’t turn back towards the kingdom of man? In fact, if we look back at the story of the Bible, we might say that we are certain we will turn back as Lot’s wife did! Adam and Eve were commissioned by God with the task of expanding God’s rule and dominion in the garden and yet they longed back for that one fruit they were prohibited from eating. The people of Israel, after being redeemed from Egypt miraculously, long back for Egypt. David didn’t go out to battle but longed back for Bathsheba. Our hearts are all hardwired to desire the kingdom of man so how can we be sure on that Day that we will not look back as Lot’s wife did?
The answer, our further comfort, comes in verse 25:
25 But first [the Son of Man] must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
That word “must” can also be translated in a more forceful way “it is necessary.” Before the Day comes, it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and be rejected. The disciples there might be asking “why, Lord? Why do you have to suffer before the Day comes? Why not just crush your enemies and restore Israel now?” The answer is that the Son of Man must suffer so that we may be able to stand on the Day of the Lord!
It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer because of all of our propensity toward evil. While we all long back, Jesus presses forward throughout his whole life towards the cross. He ushered in the kingdom of God, not seeking to gain his life but to lose it. And he was rejected and killed by the kingdom of man so that men and women may be called out of that kingdom into the kingdom of God. Jesus takes the punishment for the evil of the kingdom of man upon himself and offers all who believe on him to enter the kingdom of God. So, for those of us who believe on the name of Jesus, our day of judgment is in the past and the coming Day of the Lord can only mean good news for us! It is a day of salvation and vindication not a day of judgment! When the day of judgment comes, we like Noah and Lot will be delivered through our trust in God as Savior, specifically in the person and work of Jesus. It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer and die so that we might enter into the kingdom of God. How can we know we won’t turn back on that day? Because the one in whom you place your trust did not look back!
The suffering of Christ on the cross reminds us of the importance of both the present for the future and the future for the present. How we respond to Christ’s offer of forgiveness has implications for our eternal future. Today is the day of salvation! Repent and believe on him today.
The cross sternly reminds us that in the present we must shape our desires in light of the cross. We must not seek to gain our own lives here on earth. We must not run towards possessions or material gain but seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Do not turn back to the kingdom of this world. Remember Lot’s wife.
At the same time, the cross also brings us tremendous comfort for the future. Because Jesus suffered on the cross in your place and has taken the punishment of God on himself for your sins, you have nothing to fear on the Day. It will only be a day of rejoicing as you enter into God’s kingdom in its final form on earth as it is in heaven!