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The Kingdom of God, The Return of Christ, & the Final Judgment – Luke 17:20-37

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

(These notes are the gist of what I preached today in our church service. The video is up now on our youtube site).

INTRODUCTION – Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God and Savior of the World was headed to Jerusalem. Unlike a lot of us men, who once we have a destination in sight, and have made our travel plans - - we put the pedal to the metal, …we ignore pleas to make bathroom stops, and we grumble when we hit construction delays; - - unlike us – Jesus was always watching for what the Father was up to along the way. Last Sunday Joshua helped us understand the significance of His healing the ten lepers that cried out to Him for mercy as He was traveling through their village on the way to His ultimate destiny in Jerusalem.

Now Jesus rarely if ever traveled alone. And it appears on this trip there was a group of Pharisees perhaps on one side of the street watching His every move and trying to figure out how to do away with Him; and on the other side of the street were His disciples or followers, who knew He was unlike any other – certainly unlike the Pharisees and other religious leaders.

So apparently right after He healed the ten lepers and brought attention to the fact that 9 of them (probably Jews) did not worship Him for doing for them what no one else had ever been able to do or could or would do; and then praising the Samaritan for turning around and worshipping Him - - apparently right about then one of the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming. Let’s pick up the story in vs. 20 and 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.”

Now the Pharisees were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures; and thus they knew that it had been often prophesied that a kingdom was coming, that unlike all the earthly kingdoms, this kingdom would be ruled over by God Himself; and that unlike earthly kingdoms, this kingdom would never end.

Their hope and self centered expectation was that this kingdom – along with being a religious kingdom - would also be a political and military kingdom that would finally bring an end to all of Israel’s enemies. And would put Israel in the center of the universe where they felt they belonged. And like all political and military kingdoms, it would be introduced with great fanfare, pomp and circumstance. “Signs to be observed…..”

By this late point in Jesus’s earthly ministry, they should have known better. While the kingdom of God is only mentioned around 20 times in the Old Testament, it was the primary thing Jesus talked about from the day He first began to minister until He ascended to be with Father and Holy Spirit in heaven. Matthew 4:17,“ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The theme or message of the kingdom of God was constantly on Jesus’s lips and out of the 55 times the word “kingdom” shows up for instance in the book of Matthew alone, only 4 of those times referred to the future or its culmination in heaven. Jesus’s instruction was heavily focused on the now, because it is your now that determines your future in Jesus’s kingdom!

The kingdom of God or the rule and reign of God over all things through His Son Jesus Christ was established and began to expand the very moment Jesus – the King began to minister. Because Jesus was in their midst, so was His kingdom.

Jesus could have said much more, but as I said, He had often spoken of His kingdom, and He knew these Pharisees were trying to trap Him, not follow Him. So He turned to His disciples and began to speak to them about the culmination of His kingdom or His second coming.

As I’ve meditated on this passage over the last week, it seems to me there are seven main things Jesus is after for those of us who are seeking to follow Him as Lord and Master. And the first one is this:

1. If you find yourself increasingly longing to be face to face with your Lord and Savior; if you find yourself longing to be delivered from this sinful body and this sinful world, and to finally have no barriers between you and He, no distractions in your pursuit of and enjoyment of Him - that’s a good thing. That shows you are becoming a true disciple of Jesus. Look at vs. 22 “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.” I think especially as we get more in the trenches with and for Him; daily fighting the unseen dark forces of this world to see the captives set free and to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven - - the suffering and hardships that come with that fight will cause us to long to finally be with the One we love. May the Holy Spirit increase that longing in each of us!

Here’s the second thing I see in this passage:

2. When Jesus returns, everyone on the planet will instantly know. Just so there is no confusion or giving into deception, Jesus wants us to know that we will not need anyone to tell us or inform us. There is no way that any of us can miss it. Let’s read vs. 23,24 “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.“ For those of you who have lived much of your life in parts of CA where lightning is rare (like Los Osos), this may not compute to you. But for those of us who grew up in parts of the world where lightning strikes – especially in the summer time are normal and plentiful, this analogy makes a lot of sense. When lightning strikes – anyone who is outside is going to see it and many inside their homes and cars will as well. It has a way of making itself known in a grand and powerful way. Well when Jesus returns, it will be impossible to miss it. We won’t need the experts and spiritual gurus or CNN to inform us of it.

Third thing: 3. The best way to be prepared for His glorious return is to understand and embrace the purpose of His suffering. Had Jesus not suffered for us, He would not be returning for us. Had Jesus not suffered and bled for us, we would have no reason to look forward to His return, only dread. Look at vs. 25, “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” Jesus’s suffering on the cross for us was beyond horrible. Both the physical pain, the utter shame and humiliation, and whatever was going on emotionally and relationally with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit that led Him to cry out, “Father, Father why have you forsaken Me?”

What I want to point out is Jesus’s suffering began many years before that awful and yet wonderful event. As One who never ever for one second committed a sin; and who began I believe as a child to love righteousness and hate lawlessness (as Psalm 45 and Hebrews 1 says of Him), He had to live day by day with parents and siblings born in sin (and his siblings were lost evidently until Jesus was raised from the dead). Jesus loved to go to the synagogues and the temple as a child and worship His Father and hear the Scriptures read; but many of those gathered with Him were mired in empty religion and self righteousness. The religious leaders of His day were thoroughly corrupt.

Listen if the scriptures say that righteous Lot was oppressed by the wickedness of his generation; and he was a sinner from birth - - how do you think Jesus felt – as One who never sinned; who was morally perfect in every way - - how do you think having to live among the likes of us for 33 years was for Him? It is an understatement to say that Jesus suffered many things! He suffered daily, increasingly and greatly so that our estrangement from God could be broken.

Fourth thing

4. When He returns many will be found still lost in their sins, and absolutely unprepared to give an account of their choice to repeatedly ignore Him. Even though Jesus the Son of God endured all this suffering and shame so that we could be saved and delivered from our sins, when He returns – many will be found still lost in their sins and rebellion, and absolutely unprepared to give an account for their choices to repeatedly ignore Him. Let’s read vs. 26-30 together: “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.” For 120 years Noah and his family built the ark and prepared for the flood. We have reason to believe from other scriptures about Noah that he was preaching to all who were gathered around watching this spectacle while he worked. Building a massive boat like that required supernatural wisdom and great perseverance and faith. As the project went on more and more people found out about it. But other than Noah and his family, they all ignored Noah’s pleas for them to repent. When the rains began to fall they were all caught totally unaware and unprepared; and thus they all died in the flood.

The same spiritual deadness and blindness was true of the residents of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And as a result they all died. And sadly it will be true of many when Jesus returns. And part of the reason for that is everything will seem normal. People will be dining out, surfing, fishing, golfing, throwing parties, hosting celebrations, and there are seemingly no repercussions to their godless and indulgent living. If God is up there somewhere, He must not care or even notice – they think.

King Solomon in Ecclesiastes summed the problem up well when he said, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are given fully to do evil.” (Eccl. 8:11) The prophet Isaiah, put it this way, “You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’ Isaiah 47:10

When Jesus returns much of the world’s inhabitants will be clueless, and terribly unprepared for what awaits them.

5. Disciples must learn from the foolishness of their fellow citizens, and be found ready when Jesus returns. Look at 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 Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it

Theologians and commentators have struggled with this passage because it appears from the verses that follow these verses and from other passages, ….. when Jesus returns - whatever state we are found in at that moment is the state He will address us in. But this passage seems to imply that we will have some moments to respond.

The fact is how we live now, and the choices we are making now will have tremendous influence on how we respond then – if we indeed do have a few seconds or minutes to respond before we are face to face with Him or taken away by His angels.

And the thrust of these verses is Jesus expects His disciples to have no attachments to this world or its stuff. We don’t know exactly why Lot’s wife turned back. We know the angels of God were mercifully seeking to deliver her and Lot and their daughters from the horrible judgment coming down any moment on their cities for their unrestrained evil and wickedness. Whether it was Lot’s wife’s new set of China that she had just purchased after saving her shekels for many months, or her new blanket that she had just finished knitting, or that precious new baby goat that had just been born the day before, something back there caused her to make light of the tremendous mercy being extended to her and her family. And her punishment was in keeping with her foolishness.

I believe when the apostle Paul said in Phil. 3:13 and following, “….one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead – I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I believe He was saying anything and everything that was of any value to me in my former life is as garbage now (see vs. 8), compared to the supreme value of knowing Christ. It’s very possible he was thinking of Lot’s wife when he wrote that.

Brethren – these are days to be evermore attached to Christ and to break attachments to anything else that might keep you from Him. If that is your trajectory, then when He returns you will have nothing to fear, and if you have a few seconds or minutes to respond to His appearance in the skies, you will respond appropriately. If that is not your trajectory, then today would be a great day to get free from the things that are tripping you up.

6. When Jesus returns, His angels will take the lost away to hell and there will be no negotiations, second chances, redress clauses, repeating of their fifth amendment Miranda rights, etc. Please read vs. 34-36 carefully with me. “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.]

I am very aware that some teach that it is the saved, the sons and daughters of the King who will be taken away. But I beg to differ because of three things: First because of the emphasis in this passage on unbelievers being so attached to this world, that they are oblivious to the reality that He will soon return and their destiny will be fixed at that point. Second, because of what Jesus has communicated in other passages about what the angels will do first. Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 13, and we are going to look first at vs. 29 & 30, then vs. 37-43 and finally at vs. 47-50. Vs. 29, 30 “But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” Now let’s read Jesus’s explanation of this parable in vs. 37-43 “And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the Righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Finally in Vs. 47-50 we find the parable of the Dragnet has a similar message: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The third reason I believe it is the lost and rebellious who will be taken away first is because of Jesus’s answer to the disciples’ question in the last verse of our passage today.

And that leads me to my seventh observation from this passage:

7. Those taken by the angels will be placed in hell. Look with me at vs. 37 “And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Because Jesus had just discussed people being abruptly and forcefully taken from their jobs or beds or wherever they were when Jesus returned, it follows that the disciples were asking where are these people going to be taken. Jesus’s answer is another reason why I believe these people taken are not going to heaven, but rather to hell. Do vultures represent demons in Jesus’s answer? All I can say is, His answer is dark and sobering, and certainly is not indicative of the environment or atmosphere of heaven where the sons and daughters of the King will be gathered when He returns.

CONCLUSION – So if Jesus returned this afternoon, would He find you living as if He was not coming back for a long time or perhaps that He doesn’t hear the words you say in private, or the deeds you do when you think no one is looking? Would He find you attached to the things and values of this world – loving the creation rather than the Creator? If so, I would submit to you that all you can know for sure is you have this moment right now to make things right with Him. You are not guaranteed another day or even another breath. It His mercy and goodness that you have had as many opportunities as you have had to turn to Him, and to turn away from your sin and rebellion. These opportunities are not infinite.

Hopefully if Jesus returned this afternoon He would find you longing for Him, unattached to the things of this world and gladly laying down your life for His kingdom purposes. If that is generally true of you then I would exhort you to excel still more in your love for and devotion to Him and His will and destiny for your life.

The world has plenty of blinded, clueless people living as if they are self reliant and self sufficient and all of their prosperity is self generated. What the world needs is disciples around them, who live every moment as if it will be their last; who are very sober that they will some day give an account of their lives to their Maker and Master, and who long for Him and His kingdom and glory far more than they long for the things of this world.

My great concern about our reading eschatological passages in the Bible is how we respond to them. Do we read this and just resign ourselves that this is how its going to go down? And oh well, at least our names are written in the book of life! Or is there another alternative?

This morning I had a few minutes to sit in my office before pre service prayer, and I felt led to open one of my file drawers and peruse my revival files. I pulled out the one on the Layman’s Revival of the mid to late 1800’s. It started in New York City, but not by one of us pastor types. In 1857 the churches were slumbering and stagnating there and elsewhere. Immorality was rampant. Things began to turn around when a concerned layman named Jeremiah Lanphier decided to start a simple noon prayer meeting for businessmen. Six men attended the first one in the fall of 1857. By the Spring daily prayer meetings were being held in many places and attendance grew to 10,000.

These prayer meetings eventually spread from coast to coast and powerful conversions took place in most every city. God’s presence was so strong in New York City that ships coming into harbor were impacted to such an extent that sailors were saved before they ever touched land.

Friends there is definitely another alternative! I’m not saying everyone will be saved. But I’m saying Jesus does not want us to roll over and die and let the god of this world ransack our cities. His hand is not too short!!

Time of Corporate prayer…

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