Why Did Jesus Tell It Like That? :: by Gene Lawley

In this culture of America it is easy to get caught up in the activities and traffic of the day and forget about what is going on everywhere out beyond our immediate circle. The fact that Jesus said, “Watch, for you do not know what hour your Lord may come,” probably has not been what most pastors have included in their sermon last Sunday, or maybe you have never heard it emphasized at all.

It could be that you have been told you are not to think about “that stuff” because the Bible says, “No man can know the day or the hour,” so don’t even think about it! And that book of Revelation, why, who can possibly understand all those symbols and judgments and what all!  (So, I’ll just try to be ready, and when He comes, that will be it. I’ll hope for the best.)

In keeping with this article’s title, it is a strange way Jesus would have us remember the days of Noah and of Lot, as He relates it in Luke 17:26-36 and a bit in Matthew 24:36-44. In the Matthew passage, He is emphasizing the fact that the Lord will be coming at an unexpected time and follows that picture with three parables illustrating how that could take place.

In the Luke narrative, He lists more details and includes the time of Lot, perhaps to illustrate that the issue is not only in Noah’s time. In the related passages in Genesis 6, for Noah’s story, and in Genesis 19 for Lot’s episode, we can find no evidence or acknowledgement that the people were “buying and selling, eating and drinking, building and planting,” etc.

All we see in those passages are the apparent evilness that permeated the people and their societies. Why didn’t Jesus tell about that being the situation when He comes on the Day of the Lord? Here is that Luke 17:26-36 passage:

“And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.  Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built;  but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.  Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left.” (We can deal with verse 37 on another occasion.)

In these days, if anyone is paying attention at all, it is apparent that the evilness of mankind from immoralities to the most atrocious of murders, and everything in between—is swelling to the breaking point and is not stopping. Paul wrote that this is to be expected:

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

No doubt that people were eating and drinking, buying and selling or trading, perhaps as normal activities of an active society, even as sinful as they were both in Noah’s day and in Lot’s day. But take careful note of this:  “And as it was in the days of Noah (and Lot), so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man” (my italics for emphasis).

His comparison tells us that when Jesus comes on the Day of the Lord, people will be unaware of anything about to take place that would be different from yesterday or as tomorrow is expected to be. This attitude supports the characteristic of His coming “as a thief in the night.” Have you not wondered about those people the television hosts interview on the street? Where are their minds? “Let’s drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die!” Or, “Oh, I never thought of that!” It is a sad thought, but most people have no inclination that we are indeed in the very last of days of life as we have known it.

When the disciples asked Jesus if He would restore the kingdom to Israel at that time, just before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:6), He replied that it was not for them to know the “times and seasons” in which God would do that. Then Jesus turned their attention to the issue at hand, the beginning of the age of grace and the expansion of the gospel message around the world (Acts 1:8). It was to be a time when God would “take out of the Gentiles a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). Paul clearly explains what has happened since they asked that question on the day of Christ’s ascension:

“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

Was the period of “times and seasons” Jesus spoke of in Acts 1 the same period of time Paul mentioned in Romans 11:25, where Israel was set aside, in part, until the times of the Gentiles would be fulfilled? Would a change in God’s dealing with the Jewish people, such as the “restoration of the kingdom to Israel” be a signal that the time when the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in” had arrived?

Jesus related a parable of a fig tree, like other trees, beginning to show signs of recovery from a long winter with new growth budding on its limbs and ties that to something of historical significance:

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (Matthew 24:32-34).

The context of this parable indicates that Jesus was not merely giving a lesson in horticulture but was illustrating a future event that would have an impact on the generation that would see it happen. With the fig tree having been a biblical symbol of the Jewish nation, it is understandable that He was projecting the restoration of Israel as a sovereign nation once again. And, the generation of people who would see this happen would also see all those things following fulfilled.

In Romans 9, 10 and 11, Paul tells of the plight of the Jew, in part, after their rejection of Jesus, the Messiah and God’s turning to the Gentiles with the gospel for a period of time until its fulfillment. Then, the promised restoration of the historical physical land that was given to Abraham and his physical descendants made its debut on May 14, 1948. That restoration has not been completed but will be as the full period of the “times and seasons” draws to a close when the seven years of Daniel’s missing 70th week begins and concludes.

In Luke’s context of this parable of the fig tree, he records Jesus making this declaration:

“Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

With all of the biblical declarations and on-the-ground evidence of the soon coming of the Son of Man, one might wonder just who was Peter’s intended audience when he wrote this:

“…Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they werefrom the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

So we come full circle, back to Luke 17:26 and following—as it was in the days of Noah and of Lot, people were busy about their own things, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. “As a thief in the night,” suddenly, secretly, unannounced, He will come, but not without prior signs and warnings to be ready for His appearance. But believers have this advantage:

“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4).