There were some guys I went to school with at Sunset International Bible Institute that were looking forward to the day when Lubbock, TX would be nothing more than a dusty smudge in their rear view mirror. Not me, though. I loved every second I was there and look forward every year to going back for the annual workshop. And I suppose, if I very honest, there are times I wish I could just go back, even for one day, to those times when it was class all day with some of the finest instructors the brotherhood has to offer, evenings of study and fellowship with friends and fellow classmates, just laughing and talking and laughing some more. Those were the days.
In Luke 17.22-37, Jesus speaks to his disciples about nostalgic moments they would experience when he was gone. In verse 22 he says to his disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.” He’s preparing his disciples and telling about the days that are ahead where they will wish for the good old days, when they had Jesus with them to fellowship with and laugh with. But though they long for those days, they won’t see them. Well then Jesus, what should the disciples do to get ready?
The Caution to the disciples
He says “they” are coming. You know “them” don’t you? “They” are the ones who know best. It is usually “them” who have told someone how things are going to be. Who are “they”? Very simply, “they” are people. These people (“they”) show up several times in this section of Scripture (v.23, 27, 28, 29). They’re the rabble, the alarmists, the comfort seekers, the leisure lovers, the ignorant ones. In verse 23, they are alarming the people, trying even to alarm the disciples about this thing or that. Jesus warns not to listen to them. Though these people seem to know best, they don’t. Therefore, don’t listen to them. And Jesus goes on to explain the facts in the case in v.24. He uses simile to describe one of his future comings: it will be like lightning lighting up the sky – everyone will see it and know about it. But something has to happen before he come in judgment: he must suffer and die (rejection) at the hands of the curent generation. He is warning his disciples of events soon to take place.
The Condition of the people
Jesus then uses two past events to describe the condition the people will be in when he comes. First, the people will be like the people of Noah’s day. Here “they” are just partying away, having a good time, enjoying life without a care in the world. All the while, Noah the preacher of righteousness is warning them of the impending doom about to come upon them. They ignored the warnings and God came in judgment. So it will be when the Son of Man comes in judgment. The people continue to ignore the warnings and then judgment comes. The flood came and destroyed the people. The Son of Man will come and vanquish the people of his days.
Second, Jesus uses the example of Sodom in Lot’s day. Again, the scene was similar to Noah’s day: business as usual, not a care in the world. Everyone is ignorant and blissful because of it. But when Lot left Sodom, God rained down judgment on that city and to this day it cannot be found. So total was its destruction. When people become insensitive to sin and ignore the warnings of God, something terrible is waiting at the door. Its called the judgment of God. A lot of people want to remain blissfully ignorant of the wrath of God; but just becuase you ignore it and even though may claim it does not exist does make it so. I can say all day long the sky is green and even honestly and sincerely believe that, but it doesn’t make it so. Christ was warning his disciples who were to get the word out: judgment is coming on the people.
The Coming of the Lord
“On that day” – the day the Lord comes in judgment. The people are not to go back inside their house or turn back from the field. They are to flee! Run away and don’t look back (“Remember Lot’s wife” who looked back and died because of it). If you look back, if you hesistate, nothing good will come of it. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” It is human nature to preserve self. Its built in. But Jesus says not to preserve your life because if you do, you’ll lose it anyway. What does this mean? Jesus seems to be advocating entrusting your life to God. Bleak times are ahead and clinging selfishly to your life will in an attempt to preserve it will not end well. Instead, entrust your life to him who can keep your life. James rightly says, “What is your life?” Is it even really your life to begin with? Turn it over to God and he can preserve it.
Verses 34-35 are often interpreted to mean the rapture and 1 Thessalonians 4.17 is cited to “prove” their interpretation. But I do not think this passage is speaking of the rapture or even speaking to the “Second Coming” of Christ. Will Christ return someday to judge and take Christians to heaven? Yes. But this passage is not speaking to that. Then what is Jesus talking about? He is talking about a coming judgment upon the people of Israel, namely, AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem. When you go back and look at history, you can understand what Jesus is talking about in v.34-35: in both cases, one is left and one is taken. Josephus writes that when Jerusalem fell, 97,000 people were carried off into captivity and 111, 000 perished in the seige (The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, chapter 9). So we have approximately half perishing in the seige and the other half are taken away in captivity. Families and friends are split because of death and/or captivity.
So terrifying is this scene that the disciples ask “Where, Lord?” Where will these things happen? Jesus answers, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (v.37). What are we to make of these cryptic words of Jesus? Well, remember that while Jesus is on earth, the Jewish Law was in effect. But Christ came to nail it to cross (Col 2.14). And so Christ by his put to death the old Law and established the New Covenant. Jesus died approximately AD 33; so for nearly 40 years, although the theocracy was dead, the economy and even the sacrifices continued despite being a dead system. Jerusalem was nothing more than a corpse and the vultures (the Romans) gathered round her to pick her to pieces. This occured in AD 70. In AD 70, God carried out judgment upon Israel, using the Romans to accomplish his will. By the way, that is not something new for God to do; simply look back in the Old Testament and you will see God using very bad and wicked nations to punish other nations. He even used the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish Israel and Judah (respectively). So it should not surprise us to see and hear Jesus speak of the impending doom of Jerusalem and even speaking of himself coming in judgment, since Christ is God.