The Days of the Son of Man

Sermon preached on Luke 17:20-37 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/04/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

Jesus’s earthly teaching ministry largely focused on teaching concerning the kingdom of God. Today’s passage answers some more questions for us about the when, what, and where about the coming of the kingdom of God and its king, King Jesus. The passage is divided up into two sections, with verses 20-21 recording Jesus speaking to the Pharisees about the coming of the kingdom. And then verses 22-37 record Jesus speaking to his disciples about his future second coming as king of the coming kingdom. This passage will then give us opportunity to think about the coming of the kingdom, both in the ways it has already begun to be realized, and the way it will yet come in its fullness at the end of this age.

So, let us begin in our first point by using this passage to teach us a little history lesson of the time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming. So then, starting with the time that Jesus was there on earth, right here in our passage, we see the Pharisees ask him this question in verse 20 about when the kingdom would come. That’s the question, “when.” They are asking about at what time they will see that it comes. Jesus doesn’t answer that exact question, though, and surely it must be because he is saying the question is a little off.
He answers them by saying that, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed”. He explains what he is addressing when he goes on to say, that they won’t say “here it is” or “there it is”. In other words, the kingdom’s coming is not something that they need to be on the look out for some special set of signs to observe in order for them to find it and enter into it. Rather, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” So then, Jesus is challenging the premise to the question that the Pharisees are asking. He understood them to basically be saying, “We know the kingdom is not yet here, so what special signs do we need to watch, in order to correctly know that it is here when it finally comes.” Jesus then challenges the premise that the kingdom is not yet here. While, yes, Jesus will go on to speak of ways in which the kingdom’s fulness yet lies in the future, Jesus wanted these Pharisees to realize an important truth they were missing. There was a real access to the kingdom right then and there.

You might note that some translations put a footnote here for when it says that the kingdom is in the midst of you, and suggest another possible translation for “midst” is “within”. If that was the intended meaning, that would suggest Jesus is speaking of how the kingdom of God is something that right now can be realized in your heart. While that is a truth we can find taught elsewhere, what seems most likely intended to me is that Jesus is referring to how right now the kingdom is in their midst and available for them to even now receive and be received into. Let me state how we know this is true according to Luke’s gospel so far. Jesus spoke in Luke 4:43 that his teaching ministry was to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God from town to town, elsewhere his preaching is literally summarized that the kingdom was at hand. In Luke 6, when he gave his beatitudes, he spoke how people could right now have the kingdom of God, saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom.” In Luke 7, he compared the old covenant prophets ending in John the Baptist as inferior to even the least in the kingdom of God, implying that right now one, through Jesus’ message, could enter into the kingdom. In Luke 10, when he sent out the seventy, he told them to heal the sick and then tell them that the kingdom of God had come near to them. He told them that even if the town rejects them, they should still tell them that the kingdom had come near to them. In Luke 11, Jesus says that his casting out of demons is proof that the kingdom of God had come upon them. I could go on with other references too. Yes, Jesus also made various statements that spoke of ways in which the fulness of the kingdom was not yet. But apparently, these Pharisees needed this clarification to understand that there was this important aspect of the kingdom that had already come and they could even now begin to be a part of it. Realize, that ultimately the kingdom had begun to come because Jesus as the King of the kingdom had come. So then, the Pharisees didn’t need special secret knowledge of certain signs they could observe in order to recognize the kingdom. They instead simply needed to embrace the teaching of Jesus as from the Christ for which he is.

I said I was giving you a little history lesson of the time between Christ’s first coming and his second coming. So, the first thing to recognize is that when Jesus came into this world at his first coming, he inaugurated the coming of the kingdom. As king of the coming kingdom, he announced the beginning of its arrival. But the next thing we learn is found in verse 25 that Jesus, referred to herein as the Son of Man, would then have to endure suffering and rejection. While Jesus came announcing the coming of the kingdom, he as its king had not yet entered into his glory. First, he had a mission of suffering to endure. That would culminate with his death on the cross. Only after that, would Jesus begin to enter into his glory. His disciples would begin to see the glory in the resurrection. But then verse 22 tells us of what comes next. It says that he tells his disciples there will come a time when they will long to see the days of the Son of Man and not see them. These “days of the Son of Man” speak of the King reigning in his glory. Like you might say of a king, “These are the days of King so-and-so”. So, Jesus predicts to them his coming ascension. After Jesus’ death and resurrection he would ascend up into heaven. And that is where he is right now. He is up at heaven, reigning on high as the king of this kingdom. But we don’t see him right here with us. We believe that he is with us by his Spirit, because he promised that. But he has promised that he would one day return, coming in the clouds, to usher in the final consummate glory of the kingdom. But until then we must wait.

So then, that’s the last part of the history lesson told to us here. Starting in verse 23, we are told to expect the return of Jesus. But we are also told to beware the people who would claim to see special signs of his coming and try to get you to incorrectly embrace their false claims. Verse 23 records them saying “look here” and “look there”. Notice how that contrasts and complements what he had told the Pharisees. He told the Pharisees that people wouldn’t say look here and look there about the coming of the kingdom, because the kingdom was already here. But then regarding Jesus’ return and the consummation of the kingdom, he says that people will try to say look here’s Jesus and look there’s Jesus; but they will be wrong. How many times has this prophecy already been proven true, with people through the centuries either incorrectly predicting when Jesus would return, or pointing to some world event as a sign of his imminent return. But Jesus says not to believe such reports when you hear them, because when Jesus does finally return, it will be abundantly clear for all to see. It will be like lightning that flashes and lights up the entire sky. Jesus will visibly come back in the clouds for all to see. It will be amazing. There will not be anything secretive about it. All will see and know that Jesus has returned when he comes. May a practical application here be to remind us against the faulty practice of some Christians to think that world events can help us predict Jesus’ return. While Jesus elsewhere speaks of various signs that we should expect to see before he returns, those signs are of a more typical nature – that these are things we should expect to be seeing during this entire long period between his ascension and his return – however long that may be. They aren’t signs that enable you to exactly predict the time of his second coming.

So then, that’s a little history lesson that we get from this passage. We see Jesus speak of how the kingdom already had begun to come at his first coming. Then he spoke of his suffering and death, but hinting at his resurrection and ascension. Then there is this time of waiting for his return, and when he finally does come, we will know it.

Let’s turn now in our second point to consider what Jesus warns about his future second coming. We said that his second coming would come suddenly for all to see, but without the signs that would allow you to predict the exact timing of his coming. Jesus then goes on to explain why this is reason to warn us. When Jesus comes back, it will not only be to usher his saved people unto the glory of the consummate kingdom. It will also be to bring a final day of judgment against the wicked. Jesus makes this point repeatedly and in various ways in these final verses of our passage.

We see this starting in verse 26. Jesus says that what happened during the days of Noah with the flood are an analogy of what will happen at Jesus’ second coming. Jesus will come to bring a judgment of destruction upon a largely unsuspecting world. As a side note, this is why I am not postmillennial; if you don’t know what that means, then ask me afterwards. But many people will be about their daily lives, eating, drinking, getting married, etc., and Jesus will return and usher them the wicked into eternal damnation. The application and warning here is that we need to be ready for Jesus’ return by repenting of our sin ahead of Christ’s return and looking to him for forgiveness and grace so that you are saved from that wrath to come.

Jesus then makes the same point again in verse 27 with the example of Lot with the city of Sodom. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by fire because of their great wickedness and depravity. The people were about their normal lives when suddenly fire from heaven fell upon those cities and consumed them. They should have known their wickedness would befall the judgment of God upon them, but they were not repentant and judgment fell upon them swiftly and completely. But then Jesus gives further warning based on this example with Sodom’s destruction. In verse 31, he speaks of not going back in the house for your goods or if you are in the field to turn back. Jesus’ was referencing the situation with Lot and his wife when judgment was falling. When judgment was about to come on Sodom, the angels were urging Lot and his family to leave and they were slow to get out of the house until the angels basically forced them to leave. Then, as they left the city, Lot’s wife turned back and God turned her into a pillar of salt. The point is basically the same. With regards to the coming judgment, we need to leave it all behind. Don’t cling to the things of this world which are perishing. Don’t look back longing for your old life. It’s like if your house is on fire don’t run in to try to grab the photo albums. Leave them. Better to save your life and lose the photo albums than to die trying futilely to save them. This is what is meant in verse 33 when it says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” In other words, if you cling on to a life of sin and the comforts it brings, you will lose your life when Jesus returns and brings a final judgment. But if you will let that old life of sin go and flee the wrath of God by running to Jesus for forgiveness and grace, yes, you will lose your old life, but you will save your soul to live for eternity.

The last thing to notice about Jesus’ warning of judgment when he comes is found in verses 34-35. That’s where Jesus speaks of a great division that will take place when he returns. He speaks of how some will be spared and some destroyed. But he describes this in such a colorful way to show how among close associations some will be saved and some damned. There could be a husband and wife in bed, one is saved and the other not. There can be two close friends who work together, and one is saved and one is not. This warning calls for self-examination to make sure you yourself have found salvation in Jesus. It also calls us to have concern for our family and friends, as we don’t want any of them to perish but to have eternal life.

Now at this point, I would note that this is a primary text that some Christians have used to what is sometimes referred to as the secret rapture. This is the idea that the church is raptured secretly before the end of this age. That the church is removed from this earth in an event that happens before or separate from the final return of Christ. This is the view of the popularly written but incorrect eschatology of the Left Behind book series. To be clear, there are passages elsewhere that clearly teach a rapture, just not a secret one. The Biblical view is that the rapture happens at the end of this age, when Christ returns, and when he comes back he raises the dead and has a final judgment when the saved are ushered into glory and the rest are cast into the lake of fire. So, the Bible speaks of such a rapture, but not a secret one. The Left Behind series incorrectly teaches that Jesus will rapture, remove, his church from earth and then this earth will continue on seven more years. So that view teaches that the believers will just all disappear one day from earth, and all the unbelievers will be “left behind” and wonder where the others went. Sometimes when this has been pictured on film, they even see piles of clothes left behind where the believers were raptured. But where in the Bible do you see this taught? The Christians who think this is what the Bible teaches draw their view from a strange interpretation of Daniel 9, but if you go back to Daniel 9, you will see that there is nothing clearly taught there along these lines. But the other place they point to is this passage. Here, they say, is the picture of people going about their lives and some are taken and some are left behind.

Yet, to use this passage to justify such a secret rapture is extremely problematic. For starters, it is not even clear that being left behind here is the bad thing. A very reasonable interpretation of this passage is that it is the unsaved who are taken away, like the analogy of the flood and the fire of Sodom. When the flood is finished, it is the godly who are left on earth and the wicked have been taken from it. When the fire of Sodom is finished, it is Lot and his daughters who are left behind and all the wicked have been taken from it, consumed in the fire. Even the final verse about vultures and corpses – vultures take away meat from corpses. So, this passage arguably even says you should want to be left behind. But more substantively than that, remember the context for Jesus talking about one being taken and one being left. This is at the time of when Christ will return. It will be no secret, but like lightning flashing in the sky, everyone will know clearly that Jesus has returned. And this passage says that what will happen at that time is there will be a final judgment when destruction and damnation will befall the wicked. There is no room in this passage for seven more years of history to happen after Jesus comes back before destruction befalls them. No, on that day, he will come in judgment for the wicked and in salvation for the elect. This passage clearly teaches that. So then, biblically, the rapture and the second coming of Christ all happen at the same time, along with the final judgment and the final separation between the elect and the reprobate. That is what makes this passage such a warning. You can’t know ahead of time when Jesus will return. He will come like a thief in the night. And when he does suddenly come, if you are not prepared for his coming, you will know his terrible judgment, not get seven more years to yet repent.

In closing, the disciples ask an interesting question at the end of this. They ask, “Where?” I think they are asking where will this judgment take place that separates one person from another. As Jews, they probably weren’t thinking that God’s judgment would take place among themselves. So then to hear that there was a situation where Jesus would come back and some would be saved and others damned, was startling. So, they are ask for some clarification. Jesus, you must be talking about at Rome, or some place else, right? Not here in Jerusalem or Galilee, correct? But in classic Jesus fashion, he responds not by giving them a specific place. But he says in parable that wherever there are dead bodies, that is where the vultures will gather. I saw this very literally in our recent Africa trip. Our guides were great at this. They’d see vultures in the distance all starting to flock together and our guide would speed our jeep over there and inevitably we’d find some scene where a predator had just taken out some prey. The vultures would be waiting there for the predator to finish up so they could swoop in to get whatever scraps remain. But you see the point Jesus is saying is that God’s judgment isn’t coming upon just some pagan cities. But when Jesus comes back to usher in his kingdom, wherever there are spiritually dead people, that is where his judgment will fall upon them. The application is that all of us must be ready for Jesus to return. Just because we’ve been born into the church and attended church all our lives, doesn’t necessarily mean we are ready. We each need to repent of our sins in advance of Christ’s return and turn in faith to him and look to him to forgive you of all your sins.

I hope that today’s passage has reminded us of the times we live in. Right now, we live in between Christ’s first and second comings. I hope we’ve been reminded today of the good news that Christ’s kingdom is already present and at work in certain ways in this world. We as Christians can even be a part of the way his kingdom is already at work in this world. And we have been reminded of how necessary it is to be ready for Jesus to return. We won’t be able to predict the exact time, so let us be ready for it, and let us encourage others to be ready for it as well.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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