Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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The Great Separation

Luke 17:20-37

One of the most popular and most controversial topics in the Bible is the setting up of God’s kingdom on Earth. Some believe it happened in the past. Others believe that is happening now as the church influences the culture. Still others believe it is to happen in the future. Today we listen as Jesus sets the Pharisees straight about the nature of that kingdom, and warns the world that they need to take this kingdom and its King seriously before it is too late.

20 – 21

The Jews were very interested in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Among the Pharisees there were two major opinions about it. One was apocalyptic. In other words, a figure would come from heaven accompanied by great signs and great power. Another was that God would raise up a figure already living—someone like David that would politically deliver the nation.

So the topic was of interest and not unusual that they would ask Jesus about it, as He was at that time a respected rabbi.

In fact, both versions of the coming of God’s kingdom are true to a certain extent, but Jesus clarifies to the Pharisees who were counting on signs from heaven in order to believe that Jesus is in fact the King in God’s kingdom.

You might at first glance wonder about Jesus’ answer. Is He saying there won’t be signs for His coming? No, but it He reveals the difference between His first coming and His second. By saying that the kingdom is not observable means that it is not a physical place or thing—it is a Person. Jesus is the King in God’s kingdom. Where He is, there the kingdom is.

I think the Pharisees were challenging the notion that Jesus was the Messiah because He didn’t fit into either scenario in their Messianic playbook. He wasn’t politically active nor was His presence accompanied by signs in the heavens. It makes me wonder—how often do we try fit God into a box of our own expectations? Something happens that we don’t understand and we say “my God wouldn’t do that” or “why would a loving God allow that?” Or we read something that doesn’t fit our way of understanding God and we either dismiss it or try to explain it away. Instead we should be completely open to His Word, letting it create the narrative, and should be open to the fact that there are some things we just won’t understand this side of heaven. But we do understand God’s character, that He is holy, just, and loving.

So next Jesus turns His attention to His disciples to explain the difference between expectations and reality of the coming of the Messiah, and also some truths about what the Second Coming means in terms of our attitude about the Messiah.

22 – 25

Suffering is going to be a way of life for the disciple. I think that’s every bit as true today as it was then. We may not suffer from severe persecution in this country (yet) and our lives may not be threatened (yet) but every Christian has to suffer in the battle against the flesh—fighting tooth and nail sometimes to fend off the ever-present old nature that wants to reassert itself in our lives.

Like disciples suffering persecution, during those times we too long for the Messiah to return. Sometimes that longing gets so bad that we’re tempted to latch onto any sort of hope that He has returned. During the centuries following the first coming of Christ, there were been many who claimed to be the Messiah, and many followed them. “Don’t do it!” Jesus says. There will be absolutely no mistaking His Second Coming. Jesus describes it like “lightning” going from horizon to horizon. Here’s how it’s described elsewhere:

Matthew 24:30 (HCSB) “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

We know from other places that when Jesus returns He will come with both heavenly signs like this and also political power that is absolute (Revelation 2:27 “He will rule them with a rod of iron”). But the two things they needed to get were roles of the Messiah, and the order those roles took.

We want a ruling King to come and make everything all right—to right the wrongs and get the bad guys in our life. But first Jesus had to suffer to pay for our entrance into His kingdom, and often he asks us to wait patiently under suffering (1 Peter 2:20).

But part of that waiting is the hope that it will indeed all work out. It may appear as if nothing is happening, but that is actually a good thing because when the Lord returns, choices will be over.

26 – 32

The “days of the Son of Man” is a reference to something called the “Day of the Lord”, and it refers both to an actual day, but also to a period of time. It’s when God finally answers all those prayers and actually comes back to intervene in human affairs.

What He does is contained in many prophecies. We know that Jesus will return with us (Jude 1:14), touch His feet to the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4) which will split in two. He will defeat human enemies which will have been fighting in the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:15). He will then separate those that know Him from those that don’t (Matthew 25:31-34), putting those that trusted in Jesus on His right.

Matthew 25:34 (HCSB) Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

The others, He will put to His left:

Matthew 25:46 (HCSB) “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Here in Luke 17:26 and following, Jesus uses two Old Testament accounts to describe the attitudes leading up to those events. Despite the fact that Noah built his ark out in the open and was even given a week’s final warning (Genesis 7:4, which could parallel with the 7 years of Tribulation before Jesus’ return), no one listened and no one responded. They went on as if nothing was different, until the God shut Noah and his family in and the rain started (Genesis 7).

In the days of Lot, despite the angels’ warnings, the people of Sodom treated the coming judgment as a joke (Genesis 19:14). They went on with business as usual until it was too late to escape the fire and brimstone.

So too, as the days draw near for the physical return of Jesus, people are acting as if it doesn’t matter. In fact, I’d say that the openness to the gospel is getting worse. Christians and Christianity are being marginalized and villainized. It’s business as usual. People see the gospel but don’t think it means anything to them. They hear the warnings to escape the judgment but just laugh.

In that day no one will laugh and no one will be able to escape being judged by God. I think verses 31 and 32 speak to the fact that you can’t love the world and love the Lord. Don’t think you can belong to Jesus and yet still be held captive by your possessions. Lot’s wife looked back towards Sodom with longing. She loved the city more than the truth and didn’t want to leave; so she suffered the same fate as the city.

So verse 33 and following then is the final conclusion—you don’t really want the kingdom of God to come unless you are ready and you can’t get ready unless you have given your life to Jesus. The idea of working and sleeping speaks to the fact that in the final judgment people will be separated not by their class or position, but by whether they belong to the King or not.

37

The Pharisees wanted to know when the kingdom would come. Jesus didn’t answer them directly, but focused back on themselves and getting ready for whenever He comes. The disciples want to know where, but Jesus doesn’t answer them directly either. But, He says, just as you can spot where a sick and dying animal is by the presence of vultures circling overhead, so too it will be more than obvious when the Lord returns to Jerusalem.

The picture of vultures is also a pretty graphic reminder of the carnage of that day, when the Lord finally strikes down those who hate Him.

Conclusions

  • For the pre-Christian, this is sobering. Are these just scare tactics?

Yes and no. Recently the Oregon Department of Transportation released some reports indicating that unless an increase in funding takes place—when the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake hits, most bridges will drop and block rivers and the Oregon Coast will be unreachable for years. It’s scary to think about, but the report should prompt us to action now. It’s the same with the gospel. I don’t want you to be scared into the kingdom, but it would be dishonest to just avoid any talk of what will happen when the Kingdom comes to earth.

Noah could have just sold cabins on his ark like a grand cruise. Instead I’m sure he talked about the coming rain and the rescue his boat would provide. So too, we talk about the rescue from judgment that is Jesus. We need to be realistic about what’s going to happen, but also realistic about the great hope that exists in the Lord.

  • For the Christian this is hopeful

Hebrews 10:23-25 (HCSB) 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, 25 not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

  • Instead of fear, hold onto hope because He is faithful and will return
  • Instead of despair, become aware (“concerned”) of ways you can help others be transformed into God’s image and be used for His kingdom by showing selfless love and good deeds
  • Instead of withdrawing, focus upward on worshiping God and connecting with other Christians in meaningful relationships
  • Instead of becoming discouraged, become an encourager (parakaleo – one called alongside to help)

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