The Returning Lord: Luke 17:20-37


We are resident aliens!  To follow Jesus is to be different. And being curious about the future is to be human.

We need to know where history is going:  Not to prepare charts but to prepare hearts.  We are to be faithful watchers. 

The kingdom’s future nature. 
Ultimately the kingdom’s coming will include its powerful and coercive establishment on the earth, with total authority over all of humanity. When the Son of Man returns with authority to vindicate the saints and exercise power on their behalf, it will be a grand day of judgment (Dan 7).

Kingdom now (forgiveness, defeat of Satan, release of the Spirit, new community of the church – v21); Kingdom to come (God’s power, vindication of the saints, justice). Jesus has two goals in Luke 17:
1. The kingdom is inextricably tied to him (20-21). 
2. Although times will be tough and we will long for the day of the Son of Man, his day will eventually come suddenly and bring harsh judgment for those who resist him(22).

Our world is heading towards judgement

1. We will not have to work hard and knowing what is happening (but not a cosmic sign v26-30).  We need to be ready.

Jesus explains that the kingdom does not come "with signs to be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst."  But, how is "the kingdom of God is in their midst."  He does not mean in one’s heart. Jesus is speaking to Pharisees who have rejected him. They do not have the kingdom in their heart. And nowhere else in the New Testament is the kingdom described as an internal entity. He must mean something else here.

It is present in Jesus. He and it stand before you. You do not have to look for it, because it is right before your face (7:22-23; 11:20; 7:28; 16:16; 4:16-23).

The program of God’s reclamation of creation starts and stops with Jesus.If the Pharisees had read the sign of the present time correctly, their question would not even be asked (12:54-56). Jesus has declared that the process of kingdom growth has started, so they should not assume it is absent, though it has made such a humble start (13:18-20). They need to respond to the King.

2. Judgement is a serious matter.  People will be separated. Life for some: death for others (v37).    We are accountable for our actions. Jesus portrays a division within humanity. Two pictures make the same point. Whether two are asleep or two women are grinding at a mill, on that day one will be taken and another left. It is debated whether the one is taken into judgment and the one is left for salvation or the other way around. Given the Noah and Lot metaphors, as well as the picture of the birds gathering over the dead bodies in verse 37, it seems that it is those who are left behind who experience the judgment. Those who flee, like Noah and Lot, are spared.

When the disciples ask, "Where, Lord?" they appear to be asking where this will occur or what will happen to the bodies. Jesus replies that where the bodies are, the vultures are gathered  (Lev 11:13; Deut 14:12; Job 39:30; Mt 24:28). The image is grim. The Son of Man’s return means massive judgment; it will be final and will carry the stench of death. The return will be deadly serious. You should not be on the wrong side when it comes. Be assured that the vindication of the saints will come (18:1-8). The Son of Man’s return means humanity’s separation into two camps: those who were for him enter into everlasting life, while those who were against him face an everlasting judgment.

Our world is going there without concern for God (Noah and Lot).
Jesus compares the day of that arrival to the times of Noah and Lot. The two examples are parallel. Life went on with eating, drinking, marriage, buying and selling–and then judgment came. For one it was the flood, for the other fire and sulphur. But to be outside the family that day was to face instant judgment. The time of the Son of Man will be no different: it will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

When the judgment comes, he says, it will be swift. There will be no time to gather possessions from your home, whether you are on the roof or in the field. Unlike Lot’s wife, do not look back, longing for what you are leaving behind. To seek to protect your life is to lose it. But to lose your life will be to gain it. In other words, if you identify with God, suffering and persecution may result, but God will redeem you. If you fear the rejection of persecution, you will not come to Christ, but neither will you be redeemed by God. Jesus’ words here recall 12:1-12. Again the point is, Expect suffering but persevere with patient faith. Redemption comes, and so does God’s vindication.

1. Choose wisely when it comes to the things of God.  The idea that it the time of judgement there will be a second change is a myth (Gen 7 and 19).

2. Every moment is a moment to change the destiny of others (2 Peter 3:9).

When – the thousand dollar question?
For a time, disciples will long to see it, but it will not come. That day does not come immediately. People will claim that it has come, but Jesus warns that the disciples should not go to check for his arrival. Those claims are not the real thing. When it comes, it will be sudden and visible like the lightning across the sky.

But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. That’s why he heads for Jerusalem (13:31-35). Before glory there is rejection and suffering. The kingdom’s decisive arrival will be obvious, but for now rejection dominates.

One day the kingdom will wield a gavel, but for now it bears a cross.

A blind alley?
Scholars argues that Jesus predicted his quick return after the ascension, and when it did not come the church struggled to explain why. As often, this is mostly academic speculation.  But he makes clear here and in texts like Mark 13:10, 32 that the exact timing is not known and that other things must happen first, like his suffering and the church’s preaching of the gospel. God has a plan, even if we cannot know the exact timing of all these events. If there is a problem with "delay," it is because the church failed to reflect on the whole of Jesus’ teaching.

Cell outline

1. Where is the kingdom of God? (17:21)

2. What did Jesus tell his disciples they would long to see? (17:22). At his return, is Jesus going to bring peace or punishment?

3. How did Jesus describe what the days of the Son of Man will be like? (17:24-30). What exactly are the “days of the Son of Man?”

4. Jesus warns those on the roof or in the field not to go back to get their possessions. Why? What does this have to do with Lot’s wife? (17:31-32)

5. Verse 17:33 is the second time Luke records those words of Jesus. What does that mean? (Luke 9:24-25). What does "trying to keep one’s life" have to do with turning to get one’s possessions? What is the paradox here that trying to save one’s life results in losing it?

6. Jesus speaks of people in close physical proximity to each other, and warns that one will be taken and the other left. What does this teach us about the nature of Jesus’ coming? Where will they be taken? What happens to those who are left? (17:34-35)

Going deeper

What’s the meaning of that last verse (17:37)? What does this verse teach us about his location when he comes? (17:37)


Practically speaking, how could Jesus’ teaching about losing your life make a difference in your daily routine? How can you reaffirm your commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost?

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