I’m examining a difficult text found in Luke 17:20-37. In the first post on this text we noticed that the kingdom of God was in their very midst, as seen in the presence of Jesus. The reign of God had already broken into human history through the ministry of Jesus.
In verse 22 Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches them more about the kingdom, as these many chapters in this section of Luke’s gospel has been about. The Son of Man is going to come in his glorious kingdom. But there is a shift in the reference point. Jesus says they will desire to see “one of the days of the Son of Man” (vs. 22). In verse 24 Jesus calls this, “the Son of Man be in his day.” Verse 26 uses the same phrase again, “So will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” Verse 30 perhaps gives the greatest clarity, “So will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” So what is “the day when the Son of Man is revealed” and what does it have to do with the message of the kingdom? These are the questions we will need to answer as we explore the rest of this chapter.
Jesus describes this as a coming event that will not be hidden. It will be observed like lightning across the sky. The coming of the Son of Man will be obvious to all. Therefore, do not listen to people who claim that the Son of Man is here or there. Jesus says that is going to be a time coming when they will desire the days of the Son of Man, but must not be fooled by going out and looking for it. When the days of the Son of Man arrive, the coming will be quite visible.
But before this coming can happen, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected. Before the days of the Son of Man can arrive, the Son of Man is going to experience suffering and rejection. Second, Jesus wants them to know that life will seem to be the same as any other day. Just like in the days of Noah, so it will be during the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, and marrying in the days of Noah when the judgment of the flood came. In the same way, during the days of Lot people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, and building. But then judgment suddenly came against Sodom, raining fire and sulfur on the city. Now we know what Jesus means by “the days of the Son of Man.” He is talking about a coming judgment. Jesus says the days of the Son of Man are going to be like the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Life continued as normal but then judgment suddenly struck. Notice the two parallels between the days of the Son of Man and the days of Noah and Lot. First, the judgment was sudden. Second, the judgment was complete. The flood was a comprehensive judgment of the earth for its sins. The fire and sulfur was a comprehensive judgment of Sodom for its sins.
So what judgment event is Jesus speaking about as he gives this warning about the coming of the days of the Son of Man? Let’s read the rest of the chapter to see what we can learn from Jesus’ instructions. When the days of the Son of Man come, notice the first thing the people were to do was to not return to their homes. They were not to return to the house to gather their possessions, no matter if they were in the field or on the rooftop. They were to flee and not turn back, just like Lot’s wife.
Now many people try to take these instructions to refer to the final judgment when Jesus returns for the final time. But these directions do not fit this interpretation. If it is the end of the world, the final judgment, when Christ returns to the earth and we all stand before the white throne judgment of the Lord, then why would it matter that a person not turn back to his house? If it is the end of the world, then it is the end and it does not matter what a person does.
Second, Jesus says that when the days of the Son of Man come, where there are two people, one will be taken and one will be left. Notice in verse 34 two people may be sleeping in bed. But one person will be taken and one will be left. In verse 35 two people may be working in the field. But one person will be taken and one will be left. These descriptions also do not fit the end of the world judgment. If it is the end of the world, the final judgment of Christ, then no one is going to be left. Everyone will stand before the Lord in final judgment and give an account, as the scriptures teach. Some will want to claim that this is the rapture sequence, but any rapture theology does not fit the command to not go back into the house to gather any possessions. Neither end times, rapture, or second coming theologies fit.
The final description is given in verse 37. There will be dead bodies everywhere. Jesus says that there are going to be corpses and the vultures are going to circling and gathering for their meals because there will be so many dead bodies. This also does not fit the end of time, final judgment of God. There are not going to be dead bodies with vultures eating our flesh when Christ returns for the final time. When the end comes, it is the end and nothing else is going to happen (cf. 2 Peter 3:10-12; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
So what is Jesus talking about? We will explore the answer in the next post.