This text is about what the Kingdom of God is like and therefore how Christians are to go about seeking it and building it.
The Text: Having rebuked the Pharisees for prizing the wrong things (Lk. 16:15), the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God will come (Lk. 17:20). To which Jesus replies that the kingdom is not coming in ways that can be observed (Lk. 17:20). Rather, the kingdom is already in their midst (Lk. 17:21). Jesus then turns to His disciples and tells them that the days are coming when they will desire to see the days of the Son of Man and will not see them (Lk. 17:22). Jesus says not to believe the reports when people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ Rather, it’s going to be like lightening that flashes across the sky (Lk. 17:23-24). But before that, the Son of Man will suffer many things and be rejected by this generation: it will be like the days of Noah and like the days of Lot, when the Son of Man is revealed (Lk. 17:25-30). On that day, everybody should run and not be like Lot’s wife who looked back (Lk. 17:31-32). The followers of Jesus need to be willing to give up everything for Him, their own lives, friends, and family (Lk. 17:33-35). And when the disciples ask Jesus where this will happen, Jesus says cryptically, “where the body is, there the vultures/eagles will gather” (Lk. 17:37).
Now You See It; Now You Don’t
This section plays with the language of “seeing.” Jesus says the kingdom doesn’t come in ways that can be observed and tells His disciples not to listen to the claims that it has arrived here or there, but then He goes on to say that the day of the Son of Man will be like lightening stretching across the sky, like a flood, like fire falling from heaven, like a field full of corpses. And presumably, Jesus expects His disciples to see these signs in order to run when the time comes (Lk. 17:31ff). Clearly, Jesus means to equate the “days of the Son of Man” with the coming of the Kingdom. Daniel explicitly describes the ascension of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days to receive a kingdom for all nations that will never be destroyed (Dan. 7:13-14). But at the center of this passage is the Son of Man suffering many things and being rejected (Lk. 17:25). This seems to be the interpretive key. If the disciples are looking for another Babylon or Greece or Rome, the kind of kingdom the Pharisees are looking for, they will not see it. It is not coming in ways that can be observed like that (Lk. 17:20). But the Son of Man is coming and His kingdom will be revealed, but He will be revealed in a storm, in a flood, in judgment and war. In other words, the kingdom will come in much the same way that its king has come.
The Faith of the Kingdom
This whole chapter is concerned with a particular kind of faith. When Jesus urged His disciples to be on guard against temptations, causing little ones to stumble, and confronting, repenting, and forgiving sin – the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith (Lk. 17:5). But Jesus said the kind of faith they need is little like a mustard seed (Lk. 17:6) and humble like an obedient servant (Lk. 17:9). And all of this is pictured in the Samaritan leper “seeing” that Jesus has healed him and returning with shouts of joy to fall on his face at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 17:15). Jesus told that Samaritan leper: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” All of the lepers eventually saw that they were cleansed, but the Samaritan leper saw the most clearly what had happened. He saw most deeply, most truly. Faith believes and obeys and rejoices in the truth despite how the circumstances look (cf. Phil. 1:12-13). Jesus is challenging His disciples to see the kingdom coming like this.
The City of God
When Moses came to deliver Israel, and working conditions got worse, they were angry with Moses (Ex. 5:21). When Moses led Israel through the wilderness, the people complained that he had brought them out to die (Ex. 16:3). When Israel spied out the land of Canaan, the ten spies brought back a bad report of giants in the land, and the people once again complained and began making plans to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4). Whether God takes away, whether God takes us through, or whether God leads us into something new, it has always been difficult to trust Him. The kingdom of God will be for all the nations of the world, and it will be a kingdom that will never be destroyed (Dan. 7:13-14) – therefore it must be a unique kind of kingdom, taking all things into account. The tension that is often felt is between what theologians call the “already” of the kingdom and the “not yet.” We pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, but it can sometimes be tempting to assume that what has already come is the final version and resent anything new or else be so focused on the “not yet” to miss what God is giving us in the gifts right in front of us. Jesus came eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors and the Pharisees refused to join, but Jesus says that when the Son of Man is revealed, people will be eating, drinking, buying, selling, marrying, and building and miss Him (Lk. 17:27-28). People can put the wrong kind of hope in a spouse or a leader or a church or a job and miss Christ. It could have been a terrible blow when Stephen died and Saul began his persecution of the saints, but when the Christians fled from Jerusalem they went out with boldness and joy: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word…” (Acts 8:4) Why? Because their faith was in Christ.
Conclusion: The Kingdom of the Son of Man
Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom was in their midst (Lk. 17:21) and then He went on to tell the disciples what to look for when the Son of Man is revealed (Lk. 17:22-30). Putting this together, we should say that the kingdom of God is wherever the Son of Man reigns. And the Son of Man began to reign when He was betrayed and condemned and lifted up to suffer on a Roman cross. So when the Roman legions with their eagle standards surrounded Jerusalem and burned it to the ground, the Christians did not look back like Lot’s wife because they knew Jesus had done it. They knew the kingdom had come. They knew they were more than conquerors.
So how do we build a kingdom like this? Fix your eyes on Jesus. Put your complete trust in Him alone. Everyone else will let you down some time. But Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. And faith in Christ doesn’t detach from the world because Jesus died for the love of this world. Confess your sins, forgive one another, and work hard unto the Lord, all with simple, joyful Samaritan-like faith in the Lord who is building His kingdom in our midst.