Luke 17:20-30


The Lutheran Church is unique in Christendom today in its understanding of the Kingdom of God. As the term is used in the New Testament it has one of three basic meanings:

  1. the Gospel;

  2. the invisible church; and,

  3. everlasting life.

None of these is visible to the human eye. Lutherans say that the true Christian Church is the sum total of all true believers in Christ throughout the ages. This entity is invisible. It is found, of course, where we have the marks of the church, Word and Sacraments. But only God knows with finality who belongs to this entity. Only the Lord knows those who are His, 2 Timothy 2:19.

When Jesus became a man there was much misunderstanding as to what the Kingdom of God is. The Jewish idea of the Kingdom was much like that of the millennialists and dispensationalists today: a physical, visible kingdom in which the Messiah would rule visibly.

That is why the two sons of Zebedee and their mother came to Jesus with the request that the two boys sit one at His right and one at His left in His Kingdom. Matthew 20:20-23. They felt justified in making this request. That was why the disciples were offended when Jesus told them that He would have to suffer and die, Luke 9:22 and 44. They wanted a strong earthly king and kingdom, not a suffering Messiah.

That was why even just before Jesus ascended into heaven they asked him whether, at this time, He was going to restore the Kingdom to Israel, Acts 1:6.

Perhaps it was an erroneous idea about the Kingdom that caused the Emmaus disciples to say that they had hoped that Jesus was going to ransom Israel, Luke 24:21.

After Jesus fed the 5000, the people wanted to seize Him and make Him their King. But He fled from them and retreated to the mountain alone, evidently to pray. The next day He preached a wonderful sermon offering Himself to these very people as their Savior from sin. But they did not want this kind of Savior. They all left Him.

The situation was so serious that He asked the disciples: "You don't want to go away too, do you? Thank God for their wonderful answer: "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." For the moment at least they had overcome their erroneous ideas.

Not until Pentecost did it become crystal clear to the disciples that the Kingdom of God is not a fleshly, earthly, tangible kingdom. The true Kingdom of God saves us and then demands suffering and service of us. That is what we should learn from this text.

Luke 17:20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation,

We do not know anything about the connection between this verse and the previous section. Time and place are not told us. We don't even know what motivated the Pharisees to ask the question which they asked. Some commentators think that they were peevish or angry or wanted to embarrass Jesus. But this cannot be proved.

Evidently, in the providence of God, Luke preserved this account which, in some respects, is unique. Evidently the Pharisees were expecting the Kingdom of God, according to their understanding, to come soon. For them, evidently, it was just a matter of time. And so they ask Jesus.

Jesus knew that they had a faulty notion about the character of the Kingdom and therefore directs His answer to this matter. They ask "when?" But He answers "what?" He said: "The Kingdom of God does not come with observation." The word "observation" means "watching, spying" or "observance of rules." It is used only here in the New Testament. It comes from the word which means to observe with the eyes, watch, and therefore signifies an observation with the eyes, a careful watching. The kingdom of God does not comes in a visible form, so that one can observe and watch.

Luke 17:21 nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

Jesus continues: "Neither will they say: 'Look here or there.' For, look, the Kingdom of God is within, among, you." Some translations have "within you" and others have "among you." Rather than lose ourselves in this debate and thus miss the most important points we observe the following: the "you" here is not the Pharisees but is meant of people in general.

Secondly, Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God "is", not "is coming." The Kingdom of God had been present among the people ever since the Baptist and Jesus came preaching: "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven (God) is at hand." Which means "it is here" in the message and person of Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, Jesus is saying that until Judgment Day the Kingdom of God is invisible, as becomes abundantly clear from verses 22-30. At the beginning of the sentence where Jesus says "neither will they say" He means "neither will they be correct in saying, etc." He here taught the Pharisees what He taught the disciples later during Holy Week. "If anyone says to you: 'Look here is the Christ or here' don't believe them." Matthew 24:23.

We, too, today, are surrounded by false teachers who have erroneous ideas and doctrines about the Kingdom of God and the Messiah. The Church of Rome, the fundamentalists, the millennialists, the dispensationalists, the Calvinists, many of the electronic church evangelists, have erroneous ideas about the Kingdom of God.

Luke 17:22 Then he said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.

Jesus had just informed the Pharisees as to the true nature of the Kingdom. Now He turns to the disciples. Did the Pharisees hear this? We know not. Nor need we.

Wenzel: The following discourse on the kingdom of God and the Son of man is largely paralleled by the great eschatological address of Matthew 24 and Mark 13. . . Luke here has some sayings not found in Matthew, and vice versa.
Lenski: The Pharisees needed to be told that the kingdom is within, spiritual; to this the Lord adds for the sake of his disciples that this kingdom, after its spiritual work is done, will come suddenly like lightning in judgment on the world.

Verse 22 is peculiar to Luke. Jesus is comforting His disciples in advance. After He would leave them they would suffer persecution, grief, and lonesomeness.

"One of the days of the Son of man" is like "the day of the Lord Jesus Christ" of 1 Corinthians 1:8. Jesus is referring to His coming, not one of the days which He spent with the disciples at His first coming. He adds: "But you will not see it." He stressed the fact that the Kingdom will not be visible, appreciated by the senses, not like an earthly kingdom. He would say later: "My Kingdom, my Kingship, is not of this world." John 18:36. Jesus is here implying that the disciples would suffer. But they would endure only if they have the true faith.

Luke 17:23 Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them.

Jesus is speaking about false prophets, phony Messiahs, who will come with dangerous teachings about the nature of the Kingdom and the nature of the Messiah. On this verse compare Matthew 24:23-26. They will say: "Look there, look here."

The word "look" throughout this section denotes the fact that the speaker wants to call attention to something important. In verse 21 the word was used both by the false teachers and by Jesus. The false teachers said: "Look here. Pay attention to my teachings about the Kingdom." Jesus said: "Look here. The Kingdom of God is spiritual and not  visible." Jesus prohibits belief in this false teaching when He says: "Don't go away after them. Don't pursue them."

Jesus foresaw the false prophets and false Messiahs of our time with precision. Without thinking you can very likely give the names of five false Messiahs who have appeared in your lifetime. And the end is not yet. We must prepare our people with solid, Scriptural doctrine so that they themselves can test teachings to determine whether of not they are of God. 1 John 4:1.

Luke 17:24 For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.

From this verse and verses 26 and 30 we know that the term "one of the days of the Son of man" in verse 22 means the end of time and not one of His earthly days.

This verse explains verse 23. Jesus is saying: "So far as a visible manifestation of My Kingdom is concerned, no one will have to go anywhere." Jesus uses the simile of lightning to describe His coming. The point is not the suddenness but rather the simultaneous and universal appearance of lightning from one end of the sky to the other to all people. The glorified Jesus will appear to all people all over the earth at the same time. Look at verse 30. Now He is revealed to us invisibly in His Word. On His day, the last day, He will be revealed visibly to all people. That is an awesome thought.

Luke 17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

The words "but first" introduce the tremendous contrast between verse 24 and 25. Here all false ideas about the Kingdom evaporate. The truth of verse 24 depends on the truth in verse 25. In this life we have only the theology of the cross. The theology of glory, of course, is ours by faith. It is our grand hope and prospect. BUT FIRST.

The verse speaks of the will of God and the willingness of the Lamb of God. "He" is the Son of man. Note that there is a limit to Jesus' suffering. When He had suffered sufficiently, the Lord took Him peacefully in death.

"This generation" means the generation of Jesus' day. On this verse compare Jesus' prediction at Luke 9:22,44. Here Jesus does not mention the resurrection, nor need He. He is stressing the contrast between glory, verse 24, and suffering in verse 25.

The commentators mention the inescapable overtones in this verse for the Christian. Just as Jesus suffered many things before He entered glory, likewise we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God, heaven. Acts 14:22. This life must be lived by faith in the Son of God. Galatians 2:20. In this world we will have tribulation but Jesus has lastingly overcome the world. John 16:33. In all these tribulations we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37.

Luke 17:26 "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.

This verse and verse 27 are very similar to Matthew 24:37-39. "In the days of the Son of man" denotes the time before the end time, not "the day of the Son of man." Kretzmann says this verse describes "an indifferent carelessness." Those days were 120 years of faithful preaching by Noah, the preacher of righteousness. 2 Peter 2:5.

Luke 17:27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

Note the imperfect tense of the four verbs denoting constant habitual action. Note also that the other three verbs in this verse are aorist: "Noah entered -- the day came -- the cataclysm destroyed all." Every word punches. An awesome description. Note the finality of the word "all."

Kretzmann: The warning had gone out through the mouth of this preacher of righteousness that the people should repent of their foolish ways. But they gave so little heed to the warning that they continued in all the manner of complete abandon in the desires of the flesh up to the very hour of the cataclysm.
Marshall: The people were unprepared for what happened.

The people of Noah's day had become insensitive to spiritual matters and were wholly absorbed in earthly, material, and temporal things. This verse says much to our times.

Luke 17:28 "It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.

This illustration is peculiar to Luke. With a few additions the verbs are very similar to those in verse 27. The materialism of mankind is the same from one generation to the next. History keeps on repeating itself. Unconverted human nature never changes. Note again that all the verbs are in the imperfect tense denoting constant, habitual, and customary action.

Luke 17:29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

This account is found at Genesis 19:24-25.

Marshall: Lot is not especially named as an example of virtue. The emphasis is rather on the behavior of the men of Sodom and the consequent, unexpected judgement. . . . There is surprisingly no mention of the sins of Sodom. It is the thought of unpreparedness and attachment to earthly pursuits rather than of sin which is uppermost.

At Noah's time mankind was destroyed by water. At Lot's time they were destroyed by fire. God was behind both.

As in the latter part of verse 27 note that in this verse the verbs are aorist which gives it a note of finality. And, as in verse 27, we again have "all." At the time of the flood only eight were saved. And at Lot's time only four were saved. This is an awesome and somber truth. Verily, we ought be prepared at all times.

Luke 17:30 "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

The first part of this verse is very elliptical. We supply: "Just as it was in the day of Noah and Lot." Then follows "it will be the same." What will be the same? Many will be destroyed because they are unprepared.

Paradoxically, many false prophets came and said: "Lo here, lo there," but they were mistaken. And their kind of preaching will not prepare the people for the time when the Son of man will actually be revealed.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Gospel Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 79-82. Used with permission.

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