This statement seems of a par with the picture of the kingdom working secretly, like salt or yeast in the dough. It’s not quantifiable or measurable by normal human standards.Indeed,as Paul said: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit ” (1 Cor 2:14). Kingdom thinking is in a totally different category to human thinking, and every generation witnesses the disaster of confusing the two.
You might think, for example, that bigger is necessarily better (in terms of church attendance or bank balance) or that the favour of man is the same as the favour of God.
But here’s the context:
“Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is in your midst.’”
That the question is put by the Pharisees suggests the possibility of a put-up job, designed to catch Jesus out. But he takes it evenly, using it as an opportunity to clear away confusion. Even the disciples were confused about this one, as witness the question put in Acts 1 “Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” It is reasonable to assume that the Pharisees thought the same way.
But the kingdom is in your midst! That is to say, the king is right here, incognito. Just as Pilate bitterly exclaimed “What is truth?” when Truth stood next to him, so those seeking a human kingdom failed to detect the king. Like many today, the Pharisees said they wanted the Kingdom of God to come; but you don’t want the Kingdom if you reject the King.
“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. 23 People will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them. 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.
The clear point is that Jesus’s kingdom won’t come immediately in the disciples’ day. Jesus acknowledged that there would be a longing for his return. And there have been many fake contenders. Think of David Koresh, Jim Jones or Sun Myung Moon. And many more.
But Jesus said that the Messiah’s return would be visible and indisputable like lightning. “ But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” That is to say, Jesus’s kingdom cannot come until He finishes His work on earth.There is a tendency in all followers of Jesus to skip the cross and go straight to the Kingdom of God; but the Kingdom of God can’t come until the King goes to the cross.
The other aspect of lightning, of course, is its unexpectedness.
26 ‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 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.
28 ‘It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.”
Jesus describes a world that is functioning in a “business as usual” way when He returns. People ate, drank . . . married wives, they were given in marriage – things carry on just as they were. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: In the same way, as it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah before the destruction of those cities, so it will be before the coming of Jesus. Life will be pretty much business as usual, until sudden destruction and judgment comes.
But don’t miss the point: Jesus’ use of the accounts of Noah and Lot as pictures of His coming shows us something important: in each case, God delivered His people, then He brought down judgment.
The last section in the chapter calls for an appropriate readiness.
30 ‘It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.
So how do we prepare for the coming of the King?
First, don’t worry about your possessions (v 31). And don’t think about what’s behind you (v32). Remember Lot’s wife. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt as she and her family escaped from Sodom because she looked back (Genesis 19:26). Will you be caught looking back at what is left in the world?
And one final thing:
“I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.35 Two women will be grinding corn together; one will be taken and the other left.’ 37 ‘Where, Lord?’ they asked. He replied, ‘Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.’”(Luke 17:20-37)
When Jesus comes, some will be taken suddenly and others will be left behind. This passage is often applied to the “rapture,” a term applied to Jesus’ coming for His people in the midst of a business as usual world. The point hereis the radical unexpectedness. The way to be ready is to be ready now.
All this will happen at the time when judgment is ripe. But when? Where? Check where that flock of carrion is circling…. William Barclay says this was a common proverb meaning that a thing would happen when the necessary conditions were fulfilled.
The passage begins with the total secrecy of a king incognito, but it finishes with the blaze of trumpets. What is presently hidden in humiliation will one day be revealed in glory. But for now, you and me, let’s just live ready.