by Mike Ratliff
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14 ESV)
When I was a youth back in the 1960’s I remember hearing many sermons in our church about how the signs of the end of the age were upon us and that it would only be a short time until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1970 Hal Lindsey published his book The Late Great Planet Earth. I read it while I was in the Navy. I bought it at the bookstore of a church in Washington, D.C. that I was attending at that time. The focus of that book was to get the reader to buy into the fact that the signs of the times were indicating that the Great Tribulation was very near. One of the points they used during that time to show that we were in the birth pangs was how horrible things were throughout the world morally, politically, militarily, and how the “gospel” was being preached around the world. Here we are over 30 years later and I defy anyone to say that things have improved in any of those categories since then. In Matthew 24:3-14, which I placed at the top of this post, our Lord tells us what the world would be like leading up to the end of this age. This age began at the Cross and will continue until the cup of God’s Wrath is filled.
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21 ESV)
The Pharisees asked our Lord when the kingdom of God would come. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah so they were more than likely asking this sarcastically. What was our Lord’s response? His answer came in two parts. The first part is called the “already” and is covered in these two verses. The second part is called the “not yet,” which is found in vv22-37. The Pharisees asked Jesus to give them the cosmic signs preceding the coming the kingdom to test Him. His answer is that the kingdom of God is not coming with “signs to be observed” (παρατηρησεως). This is the only occurrence of this word in both the Greek New Testament and the Septuagint. This word describes such as can be observed with the eyes. In other words, the signs of the coming of the Kingdom are not observable by anything having to do with the flesh. Instead, our Lord tells these men and us that the kingdom of God is in the midst” (εντος) of them. The KJV translates this as “within.” That makes it seem as if the kingdom of God was within the Pharisees. However, the three words translated in the ESV as “in the midst of you” is εντος υμων εστιν referring to the kingdom of God being in their midst. Who was speaking to them? It was the Lord and so He was referring to Himself as being the presence of the Kingdom in their midst and they could not perceive it. Why? Knowing the presence of the Kingdom is not παρατηρησεως. In other words, they were looking with eyes and judging according to the flesh, but the flesh cannot see or understand anything of the spiritual nature of God and His ways. The “already” part of the coming the Kingdom then is the advent of our Lord and its manifestation was His earthly ministry including His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension.
And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. (Luke 17:22-25 ESV)
In these verses, our Lord begins to describe the age we are in right now. This era concerning the kingdom of God is the “not yet,” meaning He is telling us that in this age we are to live expecting His return in the fulfillment of His kingdom, but as long as this age continues, that will be in the future. Do we not deeply desire to see our Lord? I do! We must never forget our Lord’s words here about not being fooled into thinking He has returned and we must follow some “Christian leader” to Him. No, when He returns it will be like what? It will be as the lightening flashes lighting up the whole sky. We will know when He returns; we will not miss Him because it will be observable to all unlike His first coming. In v25, we have our Lord’s indictment against the Jews who rejected Him as their Messiah. Isn’t it interesting what an integral part of the Gospel is His rejection by the Jews of His day?
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot–they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all– so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. (Luke 17:26-30 ESV)
Notice very carefully my brethren what will be going on in the world when our Lord returns. What will be going on? Everything will be going on as it always has. People will be shocked, except those with eyes to see. Remember, our Lord is describing in this passage what will mark this age and its end. The end of this age will come with His return. What about those not part of His Kingdom? They will be like those who did not enter the Ark when the flood came. They will be like those who remained in Sodom and Gomorrah after Lot left with his family. There will be no escape for them.
On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” (Luke 17:31-35 ESV)
This part of our Lord’s discourse is about being prepared for His return. Our hearts need to be on His expectant return not the ways and means of this world. Goods are not the sum of the lives of those in Christ. Lot’s wife did not escape God’s judgment because her heart was still tied to Sodom. She looked back and was killed. In this age those in the “not yet” part of the manifestation of the kingdom, Christians should live in such away that that their lives belong totally to their Lord not themselves. They should be living sacrifices being daily transformed through the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:1-2). They should be willing to obey the Lord even if that brings persecution. Notice also that the ones who belong to the Lord will be taken away and be saved while those right next them who are not in Christ will lose their lives. Just being close to a genuine Christian is not enough to save anyone. Think of those people who believe that their religiosity will save them.
And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17:37 ESV)
Our Lord ends this discourse in the use of a popular proverb to teach that just as dead bodies attract vultures, so the spiritually dead invite judgment. My brethren, in this age things will continue to become worse and worse until the cup of God’s wrath becomes full. The end of this age is known by God alone and when it comes the world will be shocked. Our part is to be prepared by walking in repentance and obeying the commands of our Lord to make disciples from all nations. Some of us teach, some of us go to the uttermost parts of the world to make disciples, some of us live and work in the midst of this lost and dying generation with friends and even family members who hate the truth and despise the gospel. Our part is to not be part of this world. We must live in it, but we must not be part of it. We must become separate from it as we work to become the disciples God wants us to be and to work to tell as many as we can about the hope that lives in us.
Soli Deo Gloria!