Our Lord gave us a pretty thorough overview of the End Times as they relate to Israel. It’s often called the Olivet Discourse because He was speaking to four of His disciples on the Mt. Of Olives. It was at the end of one of His last days of freedom before being arrested, and they asked Him about the End of the Age. Matthew’s account of His answer is in chapters 24-25. Mark’s is contained in chapter 13. Luke’s version is a little different in that it also includes a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. You’ll find it in his 21st chapter.
Since the Lord was answering questions about Israel’s future and His 2ndComing, the focus was decidedly Jewish, so we don’t learn anything about the Church from studying it. But understanding how things will progress for Israel gives us a background that makes Paul’s prophecies about the church in the End Times, which came 20 years later, easier to understand. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, written about 51 AD, officially introduced the notion of the Rapture and its timing to the early church, and contain clarifying information about the anti-Christ and the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit as well. The 2ndComing is referred to in every chapter of these two letters, for an average of once in every 13 verses.
In Luke 17:20-37, the Lord gave us some additional information about the time of His coming that’s often overlooked in our preoccupation with the more popular Olivet Discourse. But after you’ve gained the Jewish perspective from that passage and the Christian one from Paul’s letters, you can use Luke 17 to double check your understanding of the End times, and see if you’ve gotten it right. The fact that Luke 17 shares some language with the Olivet Discourse gives us a hint that they’re meant to be related. Let’s take a look.
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, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Right off the bat, the Lord threw us a curve to make sure we’re paying attention. It came in the form of the word translated “within”. He was responding to the Pharisees who had posed the question. The Kingdom of God was not within them because they weren’t believers. So what was He trying to tell us? Well, it turns out that the word can also mean “in the midst of”, and the Kingdom was in the midst of them. He was the personification of the Kingdom and He was standing right in front of them. Some translations, the NIV for example, offer “among” as an alternate to “within” in verse 21.
To the Pharisees it was only true that the Kingdom was among them. But once the Holy Spirit was given, the Kingdom would also be within all believers. At that point, both of these interpretations would become true. The Kingdom of God is within us, and we are in the midst of the world. This is the spiritual, or invisible phase of the Kingdom. But as we’ll see it’s not the final phase.
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. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. 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. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.(Luke 17:22-25)
After being rejected and executed by the leaders of His generation, the Lord would go away, and only the invisible phase of the Kingdom would remain. It’s called the Church. But then He would return and when He did there would be no mistaking it. It would light up the entire sky, and the physical phase of the Kingdom would come again.
This is a clue as to why the Church and Israel are mutually exclusive in the world. The Kingdom of God began with Israel. He had Moses tell them so. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)
But then because of their disobedience it was taken away from Israel and given to the Church. In Matt. 21:43 Jesus said. “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
But this wasn’t to be permanent. After the Church disappears, the Kingdom will be restored to Israel. The early Church understood this, as evidenced by James’ prophecy in Acts 15:13-18 where he said that the Lord would first take from among the Gentiles a people for Himself, and after that would return to rebuild David’s fallen tabernacle. Later Paul confirmed this, saying that Israel had been hardened in part until the full number of Gentiles come in, and after that Israel would be saved. (Romans 11:25-27)
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 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.(Luke 17:26-27)
Like it was in Noah’s time people will be unaware of the judgment that will precede His return, not because they haven’t been warned but because they haven’t believed the warning. Noah is used as a model of the believing remnant of Israel at the end of the age, preserved through the judgment while the world is destroyed. Noah and his family remained in the location of the judgment while the unbelievers were swept away in the flood. At the End of the Age Israel’s believing remnant will remain in the location of the judgment but will be preserved while the Lord completely destroys the nations around them. (Jere. 30:11) In the symbolic language of Revelation this remnant is represented by a woman, while Satan is called the serpent.
The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Rev. 12:14
“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17:28-29)
At first glance this seems like another similar example. But it’s really very different. Lot was taken away from the location of the judgment to a place of safety. In fact the angels who were sent to remove him said they couldn’t bring the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot was away and safe. (Genesis 19:21-22) He was rescued from the out pouring of God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah.
In this sense, Lot becomes a model of the Church. Paul explained that the Church would be rescued as well. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thes.1:9-10)
The Greek word translated “from” in verse 10 means away from the time or place or any relation to coming wrath. Just like Lot, we have to be away and safe before the End Times judgments can begin.
I’ve often said that Jesus didn’t teach the doctrine of the Rapture and didn’t even tell His disciples about it. But if you already know it’s coming you can find hints of it in the Gospels. This is one of them, and by using Lot as a model the Lord confirmed the timing. Before the judgment.
“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
“Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17:30-37)
In the Olivet Discourse Jesus gave this warning not to go back into their houses in conjunction with the revealing of the anti-Christ, and in the Greek neither “on” (NIV) nor “in” (KJV) modify the phrase “that day” so it’s reasonable to assume He means the same thing here, referring to the beginning of the 3 ½ year Day of the Lord.
Likewise, I think the word “night” when some are taken and some left refers to its end. As in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:40-41) the word translated “taken” literally means received, and the word for left means put away, as in a divorce. At the end of the age, after the Lord returns, some tribulation survivors will be received live into the Kingdom. They will have become believes after the Church was raptured and will be welcomed into the Kingdom as their reward. Other will not and will be put away, off the planet, in the place prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) It’s a reference to the Sheep and Goat Judgment.
Some read a lot of symbolism into the comment about dead bodies and a vulture, but I see it as a simple parable. Vultures don’t gather any place in the sky except over the carcass of a dead body. The dead body is really the purpose of their gathering. That’s where they belong. The use of this parable was just the Lord’s way of answering the disciples’ question, “Where, Lord?” He said each group will wind up right where they belong.
So in these 17 verses of Luke 17the Lord explained the dual nature of the Kingdom, the fact that He was going away and then coming back, that His 2ndComing would be physical just like His first one, and there would be both a believing remnant preserved through the judgments that precede His return (Israel), and a group of believers who would be removed to a place of safety before they begin (the Church). There would also be survivors who don’t belong to either group. Upon His return, some of these would receive the Kingdom as a reward for believing, while the rest would be sent to the place prepared for the devil and his angels for refusing to believe.
Like I said, Luke 17: 20-37 is not a passage for discovering, but one for confirming. Reading it will inform you whether you got it right from your other studies of prophecy or not. I call it Luke’s Proof Text.