Which Is It?

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?

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In The Midst of Life

“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” (Luke 17:26-30 NASB)

I have heard over and over that the days before the Final Return of Jesus will be accompanied by more sinfulness in the world.  The reference is always to this passage where Jesus says that the days will be like the days of Noah and Lot.  But such a claim ignores the explanation Jesus gives.

In each reference, to the days of Noah and the days of Lot, the further explanation is to things indicating that life would continue on.  In the days of Noah they were eating, drinking, and there was marriage.  The very idea of marriage expects a future.  They had none.  In the days of Lot they were conducting business, planting, and building: Progress!  This also looked for a future, but there was none.  That’s the point.

In each case the cataclysm was a surprise.  In our case, when Jesus returns, He will be a surprise.  This element of His return is repeated often in the Scriptures, yet when we get to these two references we still go to the sinfulness of those days.  I suppose we love to wag the finger, pointing to all the sin, and telling everyone they’re going to burn!  I think we need a new hobby.

Perhaps instead of wagging fingers, we can be binding wounds?  In other depictions of readiness, we are told to be busy about the work given to us rather than slacking off.  So let’s get busy.  Not busy to appear busy (I do that really well), but focused on the task at hand.

When Jesus comes, He should interrupt the work He gave us to do.  It’s okay, He can do that, He’s the Master, we’re the slaves.  When He shows up is when the whistle blows signalling the end of the work day (or in this case the trumpet signalling the end of the world).

But until that happens we are supposed to be working together at the tasks He has given us.  There’s no time to wag the finger, for infighting, for holding resentment, for being bitter, to be distracted by this perishing world’s stuff.  We have people who need a life-line, need a care-giver, need to know someone cares selflessly.  It helps them look toward Jesus.  It’s not about us, and we’re certainly not the only way He works.  But He does work through us, or wants to.

What’s distracting you?  Or will the work of Jesus through you be interrupted by His return?

Remember When The World Was Huge?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:1-4 NASB)

Do you remember a time when monsters were real?  When heroes defeated them?  Do you remember the days when the world was so much more full of wonder and bewilderment?  Have you ever longed for those times?

Consider the absurdity of our lives as Children of God.  He is unimaginable, so He preserves a record of who He is for us.  It records how He chose a people, and through them redeems His creation.  It’s a bewildering tale if we let it be.

There were days when giants defied the people of God and they fell.  There were lions and bears in Canaan, and David snatched lambs from their mouths and beat them with clubs…as a child.  Do you ever miss those days when you believed such things?

We think of “repentance” as returning to God, but that assumes we left at some point.  I am arriving at the conclusion that we haven’t left God so much as we’ve left that view of God we once had, as children.  And we’re still looking the other way.

I believe my Master is driving me to be childish.  And yet in so many ways to leave childish ways behind me.  So to believe that the world is as God describes, and smiling at those who disagree, this is becoming my new desire.

I don’t want to hang on to the view that the world revolves around me, that is immature.  But I do want to trust my Father because it never occurs to me He would be wrong.  I want to play, to pretend it’s all true, to dance with David.

I don’t want to be king, I want to be jester.  I don’t want to be a warrior except with a wooden sword, and facing enemies with assurance I can’t explain.  I want to declare to those against me that “my Daddy is bigger than you!”

Why not wash feet?  Why not allow people to threaten me, beat me, and say all manner of evil against me?  Why not?  They don’t understand.  They’re refusing to play the game my Father designed.  Am I not happier playing the game He has than theirs?

How can I enter the Kingdom of Heaven, before the Throne of God, unless I’m a child?  How can I not run through the doors, yelling because I love the echo, and jump into His lap?  He’s my Father!  Why wouldn’t I tell Him all about my day?

But I am crushed.  I’m wounded.  My heart and soul are scarred.  The world is not lovely, and the days are not happy.  My universe shrinks to insignificance, as my view of my Father fades in the distance behind me.  It’s time to return.

That’s what “converted” means!  It means to change, to turn from what is occupying my attention, and turn toward my Father who wants my attention. It’s time to weep in His arms, and curl up against His chest, hear His heart, and finally rest.

I’m tired of being grown up.  I’m not built for it.  The clothes don’t fit and I can’t run in them.  The roles are boring and I’ve stopped learning.  It’s time to change clothes, roles, and start having fun with my friends again.

What marriage doesn’t want fun?  What kid doesn’t want a parent who understands a child? I’m tired of trying to be in control, and I’m ready to play well with others.  It’s time for me to go in now, the street lights have come on…

What time is it for you?