Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21 NASB)
And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” (Luke 17:37 NASB)
As I read through Luke’s “Little Apocalypse”, in addition to the problems found in the other two (Matthew 24 and Mark 13), Luke has this strange contradiction. Right up front, this isn’t as much of a problem as it seems. I bring it up because it’s easy, and therefore common. But it’s not really that much of a problem.
The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with signs that announce the timing, but certain elements will give hints as to the location of their occurrence. The Pharisees ask when, and the disciples ask where. It’s really that simple. So the short answer to my title is, “both”. That being said, there are some peculiar elements to this section.
Luke’s apocalypse is the shortest, contains the fewest Scripture references, and descriptions. He has pared down the description of Jesus preserved in the decades after His ascension to this. Mark and Matthew both have more closely aligned accounts, but even theirs differ significantly at parts.
So here’s my theory, I think the statements of Jesus collected under the topic of “End Times” Luke culled through for “Kingdom of God” statements instead. It’s a theory, but not really something clearly defined. On the other hand, Luke clearly retains assertions of Jesus about His “return” and “appearing” (the day the Son of Man is revealed). I was thinking this might be Jesus alluding to His resurrection, but that’s not really supported well here. There’s no reason to flee from fields and housetops when He rises from the dead.
The theory that this more about the Kingdom than the End comes partly from my belief that the famine in Judea for which Paul sought to collect money from other churches came about after the destruction of the Temple. The aftermath of the Jewish uprising couldn’t have been pleasant for anyone in Judea, and followers of Jesus even more so. Clearly that wasn’t the end described in the other two Gospels even though the description seemed to fit. This is partly why I think Paul’s view of the end is like it is, and Luke would be influenced by that view more than by the other apostles.
So, Luke describes a even more distant future. He refrains from references to this generation not passing away, and instead focuses on readiness and quick response. The other two apocalypses pose their own set of problems, but I think Luke has selected the statements of Jesus he believed, under inspiration of the Spirit, to be more faithful to what Jesus was revealing. I suspect Matthew and Mark simply preserved them as they found or remembered them. And I suspect they hoped the strife in Judea would be the signal of Jesus’ return.
That’s my truly uneducated guess there. I haven’t tested it or anything. I do know that these issues (the “Little Apocalypses”) are hotly contested and little understood. So my ignorance is common even among those who do have tested theories. The Kingdom of God is here, gatherings testify to its presence. But there is a coming day of the Son of Man, when Jesus will be revealed and the Kingdom will be all that’s left. Will you be taken or forsaken?
What’s your view through the knothole?