The Pharisees ask the question that many people still ask: “When will the kingdom of God come?” Or, to put it another way, if everything you are saying is true, Jesus, when will we see this “kingdom of God” that you spend so much time talking about?
Jesus’ first answer is in verses 20 and 21. The kingdom of God is something spiritual. You cannot observe it. Because the kingdom of God is where the king rules, each real Christian is an outpost of the kingdom for they are ruled by the king. Therefore, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you, or within you. Plus, of course, the kingdom of God was right in front of them, for the King was right in front of them!
Jesus’ next answer runs from verses 22 to 37. Here he essentially says that while he is the King of the kingdom, and the kingdom comes whenever someone is born again and accepts Jesus as their King, there is also another sense in which we are waiting for the kingdom to come. Jesus’ rule will not be finally fulfilled until he returns to rule in power as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and the new heaven and the new earth, the eternal kingdom of God, is fully and completely established at Jesus’ return.
As Jesus lays out this future horizon, he guards against many misinterpretations—misinterpretations that are so prevalent today among Christians, it is worth bearing close attention to what Jesus actually says.
First, people will come claiming that Jesus has arrived, but do not believe them (17:22-23). It is worth remembering the parallel passage in Mark 13:32 that no one knows the day or hour. If only Christians had paid more attention to this teaching of Jesus, it would have saved them a lot of wasted time trying to figure out when Jesus is going to return. We don’t know. We cannot know. No one knows. If someone says they do know, therefore, do not listen to them!
Second, when Jesus does come, everyone will know (17:24). It will be like when lightning lights up the whole sky from one side to the other. This return will not be secret, or in a stable, but public, and visible to all.
Third, when Jesus returns it will be unexpected (17:25-30). Just as in Lot’s day, people will be going on with their normal lives (“eating and drinking”), and also in Noah’s day (“eating and drinking”) so when Jesus returns in judgment, people will be carrying on their normal lives, and his return will be a sudden, unexpected event. This, of course, means that we must be prepared at any moment for Jesus to return.
Fourth, flee the wrath to come (like Lot and not Lot’s wife, 17:31-32). We are to do everything to escape such judgment, by believing in Jesus ourselves now, and not hang around and try to make the most of our time here on earth with sinful pursuits. Now is the day of salvation. Seize the moment.
Fifth, when Jesus returns, the one who is saved and the one who is condemned will be clarified and dramatically judged (17:34-35).
Sixth, and then once again, returning full circle, when Jesus returns it will be a public event that everyone can see (17:37). The image of a corpse and vultures is vivid. The point of it is that in a desert area, vultures could be seen from a long way away, and you would know if they were flying up and down and circling around, that underneath there was a dead body. Similarly, when Jesus returns, everyone will know about it.
The driving force of these words is to cause us to ensure that we are ready for when Jesus returns. To not delay, because we do not know when Jesus returns. And to flee the wrath to come by hiding ourselves in our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. It also gives urgency to our evangelism.
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