“Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it.” Jonathan Edwards
When life is just sailing along, far less than appropriate thought is typically given to one’s standing with God when one’s life comes to an end, and there is nowhere to hide.
A worldwide pandemic that is far from over tends to cause more folks to wonder about the end of time, especially now that most of us know people who have contracted Covid, and may even know people who have died by it.
A man who heals the sick, and casts out demons, and raises the dead, and miraculously multiplies food to feed thousands, and teaches with never before seen authority, and lives without hypocrisy or sin is also a likely authority on the end of time or last days events.
Therefore Jesus was asked from time to time how this was all going to pan out or what the end of time would be like. Our next passage in our ongoing series about hell, eternal judgment and related topics is Luke 17:20-30, wherein we find first the Pharisees asking a question about the timing of the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus, knowing their questions were always laced with ulterior motives, gave them a short corrective answer. Let’s look at vs. 20,21, “Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is! Or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Comment: The kingdom of God or the rule of Christ over all had already come. It had already begun. But the Pharisees were blind to it.
Jesus knowing He had some disciples nearby, turned away from the Pharisees, and chose to give these disciples more instruction, possibly in response to a question from one of them, though if that was the case, Luke chose not to mention it. Let’s listen in starting with vs. 22-24: “And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. “They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after them. For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.” Comment: Jesus, speaking of His ascension and perhaps alluding to persecution and hardships His disciples would endure in His (physical) absence, prophesied that there will come a time when His disciples will long for His return. Because His return will not be immediate, false teachers, false prophets and even false Messiahs will spread lies that He has returned, but that to see Him you have to go to a certain place. Jesus then assured them that when He returns, just like a lightning strike that is seen by everyone in a given region, His return will be seen by everyone on the planet. No one will miss it.
Jesus never missed an opportunity to speak of His coming suffering at the hands of evil men, which of course had to happen before He would ascend to sit at the right hand of His Father in heaven, “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” (vs. 25). Comment: It is His suffering on the cross that would provide a way for His disciples to not fear or dread the end of time or final judgment. While the disciples at that time could not comprehend or accept the thought that He would suffer, being that Kings and Rulers over all do not need to suffer, they would eventually live in ever greater gratitude for His suffering and precious blood shed on the cross of Calvary.
What will life be like on planet earth when Jesus returns? Well for many, it will be like it was for the masses when God flooded the earth in the time of Noah, and when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in the time of Lot. Look with me at (vs. 26-30): “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” Comment: So what do we make of this passage? Well first of all, please note that Jesus clearly wants us all to know that these horrific events really happened; and that except for Noah and his family with the great flood, and except for Lot and his family with the destruction of two whole cities (Sodom and Gomorrah), everyone else was destroyed. In Noah’s case, at least those who knew about this massive boat being built were warned as it appears he preached (see II Peter 2:5) while he worked. But in Lot’s case, the angels sent by God gave him little warning, and those around him no warning, since the destruction coming was imminent.
Now because of God’s revelation of His “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” to everyone “since the creation of the world”, everyone is without excuse (see Romans 1:20). He has mercifully “written eternity in our hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). But alas many have ignored that mercy. And sadly when the Lord returns, which is closer and sooner every day, the people in that day are going to be just as blind and unprepared and clueless due to their hard hearts as they were in Noah’s or Lot’s day. Please note Jesus has no problem talking about these two historic days of mass destruction of unbelievers. And He wants us to be reminded of them and to remind others of them because another historic day of judgment and mass destruction is coming. Please know that that “day that the Son of Man is revealed” is an appointed and fixed day wherein everyone will have either the joy or horror of facing the King of Kings and giving an account of their response to Him throughout their earthly lives.
Because of that reality, Jesus goes on to give instruction on how those of us who want to please and follow Him should respond so that we can be fully ready for His return in vs. 31-33, “On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. Remember Lots’ wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Comment: For would be disciples of Jesus – nothing in this life should have a hold on us. Our only and ever consuming desire should be to know and follow Him – gladly leaving anything and everything behind if necessary.
Now we come to the close of our passage, which I understand was one of the passages that inspired Larry Norman’s famous song of the Jesus Movement – “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. It reads: “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” Comment: Because the thrust of our passage for today is to reveal how unprepared most people will be for Jesus’s return, I don’t think we should see these people who were taken away as believers. Rather, in keeping with Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 13:40-42, 49, it is best to see those taken as the lost and rebellious taken by angels to hell.
So how should we believers respond to this sobering passage? Well since the Holy Spirit led Luke to go from there right into a discussion about prayer (Luke 18:1-17), I would suggest we follow suit. Everything in the kingdom of God starts with prayer. And kingdom prayer always starts with ourselves, and then branches out to those the King has put in our sphere of influence.
You and I have the privilege and responsibility to help as many as we can prepare for His return (both the lost, and the saved, who are not living as if they were saved). While I have tended over the years to not jump on the “He is coming any day” bandwagon; after watching world events of the last year plus, I am more than ever anticipating His soon return. May the Holy Spirit help you and I be fully prepared!
Postcript: The point of this passage is not to define or explain how the lost or rebellious will be punished (e.g. annihilation or eternal torment). It gives no detail on the matter. Rather the point is that the same God who wiped out humanity (except for Noah and family) with the flood, and who wiped out all the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah (except for Lot and family) with fire and brimstone, will mete out just and righteous punishment to those who are living in rebellion and idolatry and worldliness when Jesus returns.