There are more than a couple passages in the Bible where scholars disagree on the exact meaning and timing of events, and this is one of them. To go into alternate options and reasons would require more examination and explanation than we have time for in a devotional. But we may surely glean from this Scripture a general application that is undeniable.
At the time of Christ, there was great anticipation of a coming kingdom; and the Pharisees ask Jesus about this. Of course, Jesus is himself the king, so the kingdom was essentially “in their midst.” But they wouldn’t see it if hit them in the face, their unbelief being that profound.
We too, on the other side of the cross and the ascension, anticipate a final and spiritual kingdom. I believe this has an aspect of an earthly time, in fulfillment of promises to Israel (known as the millennium); but beyond that we also know there is an eternal kingdom.
This much is for certain: the world will not last forever. Jesus will come again and there will be a restoration of things to the original desires of God for relationship with the people of his creation. But when does this all happen?
At the ascension of Christ, the disciples were thinking of this question, asking Jesus if this was the time. He said it was not for them to know the times and the seasons, but to rather be busy in work and service in the power of the Spirit that would come.
Later, around the time of the writing of Luke’s gospel, there was errant teaching that the Lord had already come (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Beyond that, we also read in 2 Peter 3:3-4 that later yet, some would mockingly question whether the Lord would ever come at all.
The major points to be taken from this passage and others of similarity are that …
- This world does not go on forever. There is an end, with judgments to follow and the establishment of a temporary earthly, and then an eternal, spiritual kingdom to follow.
- It is impossible to know when these events will take place. For those who are not prepared in terms of belief and relationship with God, it will be as in the times of Noah or the destruction of Sodom – unanticipated and sudden.
- Many people, as in those times, are not at all prepared. There is no time to look back and find security or safety in material things. “Remember Lot’s wife” … turned into a pillar of salt!” Yuk!
- The admonition for believers is to have an eternal focus rather than a materialistic and earthly focus. And this is a challenge for sure. It would be for the disciples, and it is for us today. But that is the safest place and highest ground to find. The Pharisees would not find it. The disciples would find it, though with difficulty.
So, prudent living is wise and commendable. But we must ever be mindful to hold lightly to things that are only of this world. I find that to be a daily challenge, and I suspect you all do as well.
Luke 17:20 – 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.”
22 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. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
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 sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
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. 34 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 grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”  [not in original texts]
37 “Where, Lord?” they asked.
He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”