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When does God's kingdom come? How soon will it begin? Now. . .; but not yet. . . ; then unexpectedly!
When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
Then He said to the disciples. "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man and you will not see it. They will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. As lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
"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, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
"Likewise in the days of Lot: they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone 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. 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.
"In that night, there will be two 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."
They answered Him, "Where, Lord?" So He said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."
Luke 17:20-37 NKJV, condensed
The Days of God's Kingdom
To those in his own generation Jesus said--Today God's kingdom is at hand, in your very midst. Not with conquering armies, fanfare and parades or pompous coronations, but as quietly as a mustard seed growing in the ground, that's how the kingdom has entered the world. And all those who glimpsed its light and believed in its promise, whether rich or poor, slave or free, young or old, male or female, received the duties and benefits of their eternal inheritance.
"Open the eyes of your spirit," Jesus said to the Pharisees, "The kingdom is right here. How does it work? Follow me and you will see." We could call these words "End Times 101". It's where the reality of heaven's kingdom begins in each heart of faith. If a Pharisee or anyone else doesn't take this first step, they will never experience the reign of God.
Because this wasn't the kind of answer the Pharisees were expecting, they continued to search the horizon, looking here, glancing there. Their preconceived notions about God's kingdom were flawed, and they failed to see their King as he walked among them, teaching, healing and casting out demons.
Later, Jesus continued this teaching. There is much more on the high seas than you see from the shore. Those who believed would need patience, strength and comfort. To his followers, Jesus said--There's another day ahead, a difficult time of waiting. Then you will long for these days when I walked among you. When that time comes, people will claim a sighting; but don't you believe it. Don't go searching for me. Just keep the faith. When I return it will be clearly visible, like a lightning flash across the darkened sky. Everyone will know it.
"But first I must suffer!" You will notice that Jesus called himself the Son of Man in these verses. It's a term used in ancient Hebrew scriptures, often in reference to God separating the righteous from the unrighteous. A judging Son of Man is a powerful, vindicating figure and sounds like the right arm of The Almighty. But Jesus added another dimension to that title, one which shocked those who heard it. Jesus would be a suffering servant, a Son of Man who takes the blows of evil that are hurled against him. He would be battered and crushed beneath the weight of hate and rejection. The disciples had heard Jesus talk about a cross on previous occasions. But still they could not comprehend. The dual use of his title made no sense. Not yet.
Jesus continued, comparing future generations to people living in ages past. In the days of Noah and the time of Lot, people were oblivious and presumed life would go on forever, but God was grieved he had ever made them. They lived with no thought of their Creator and broke his heart, until the day they were taken by surprise and there was no tomorrow.
When that day comes, the ledger will be full and complete. There will be no time to collect one's material possessions, or even to look back, as Lot's wife did at her own peril. Attempts to save one's life will actually destroy it; losing one's life will preserve it. The only recourse is to trust that, in the words of father Abraham, the Judge of all the earth will do right, and not destroy the just with the unjust.
Jesus' words plunge into the darkness of night now. Two together in bed; one will be plucked, the other left behind. Two will be grinding grain together; one will be taken, the other ignored. Even the intimacy of family and friends will be broken and forever changed. Not one will respond to God's grace by proxy. Judgment strikes on an individual basis; there is neither guilt, nor a free pass, based on association.
"Where?" the disciples asked. It's a one word question so we'll trust Jesus' answer to determine what they meant. Jesus responded with a proverb, "Wherever there is carrion the birds of prey will flock." Circling high overhead, with their huge wingspan and their effortless soaring, raptors mark the spot of a dying animal before descending for the clean-up. Lift your eyes. It will be obvious for all to see. Where? Wherever necessary, that's where God's judgment will occur.
The day of the Lord will be a time of rejoicing for those who long to see him. For others who reject the King in their midst, it will mean death and destruction. Now is the time for all of us to open our eyes to God's time. The great invitation of the Gospel is to come, believe and get on board by following Jesus.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What date on the calendar do you look forward to, or dread, the most?
When will God's kingdom come? And where? Did Jesus answer these questions to your satisfaction?What questions do you have regarding the future of God's kingdom?
Jesus spoke of the coming of God's kingdom as a present reality, a time of patient waiting, and a "day" of judgment which no one will escape. What time is it now? And how did Jesus describe our present situation?
The wording will vary depending which version of the Bible you are using: The kingdom of God is within you, among you, or in your midst. Discuss differences you note in these phrases, and how you understand God's kingdom to be present today--within, among, around, etc.
The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they wanted a powerful Messiah who would deliver them from all enemies and make their life better. Jesus preached the coming of God's kingdom, yet nothing had changed! Their oppressors, the Romans, were still in power. Do we still struggle with unfulfilled expectations and promises today? The kingdom Jesus proclaimed--Has it changed our world in any way? Explain you answer.
Share what you know about the days of Noah and of Lot. What similarities or differences do you see between then and now?
Genesis 6:5-8 reads: The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry He had made man , and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, "I will destroy man whom I have created, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. What do these ancient words tell you about judgment and the Judge?
I quoted from the words of Abraham (Lot's uncle) found in Genesis 18:25. Start reading at verse 22 and read through to the end of the chapter. What was Abraham's role in the lead up to the destruction of Sodom? Is anyone (maybe even you) playing that same role today?
What does it mean to long for Jesus, and how do you react to that thought? Have you ever been eager to see Jesus? If so, what were the circumstances?