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?


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?

Giving Up Our Titles

“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?  But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink ‘?  He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?  So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” (Luke 17:7-10 NASB)

One of the elements of Scripture that is often misunderstood is the status of the disciple of Jesus.  Jesus creates the potential of this misunderstanding when He tells us we are both “slaves” and “adopted children”.  We are both at the same time, and hold these two status’ in tension.  It is somewhat like working for your parent.  You would be loved more than other employees, but still have the responsibilities of an employee.

The reason I point this out is that Scripture uses this image of slave for followers of Jesus but we ignore it.  We typically run our normal entitlement approach because in our minds we can’t be both slaves and children.  Jesus seems to think we are.  We are adopted children who are called to serve our King/Father.  So when we reach these verses in Luke 17, we usually just move on.  Today, we will not be.  Today we will wallow in them, soaking in their truth.

The basic idea is easy to grasp.  A slave isn’t given a break until the day is done.  Then they have time for themselves.  They didn’t come in from the fields and were fed, they came in and continued to serve their master.  This sounds hard, but at the end of the illustration Jesus says it’s what is expected, that’s how slavery works.

Not us.  We want “kudos” for a days hard work.  We want the “master” to serve us!  It’s what we deserve for all our hard work.  It’s also completely false, and worse, selfish and self-centered.  Jesus makes it pretty clear here that once the day of work is done, our response should be ‘We are unworthy slaves, we have done only what that which we ought to have done.’

Doesn’t that “unworthy” just stick in your throat?  You may be able to say it, but think through what this means.  You just worked your behind off and you are unworthy, having done only what you were supposed to.  No kudos for you.  No plaque, no parade, no attaboy, not so much as a thank you.  Now how do you feel?

If that is difficult for you then you are finally getting the point.  Now before we go all “cultural setting then and now” on this passage, remember that if this were obvious to them, Jesus wouldn’t have had to say it.  Sure it made sense in how He described it, but it didn’t make sense in how He applied it to them.  In fact, from conversations of the disciples recorded in the Gospels, we get the clear sense they thought they were entitled.  So this very definitely applied to them in that day, and yes it means we’re not entitled either.

So, when we work in a ministry, whatever it might be, with children, with the homeless, with community leaders, or heaven forbid with youth; we are unworthy slaves having done only that which we ought to have done.  No thank you necessary.  No gratitude needed on the part of our Master or those whom we serve.  Uncomfortable yet?  I will go a bit further.  I will venture to say that “burn out” is selfish and demonstrates immature discipleship.  Oops, that was probably too far for some of us.  Consider why we get “burned out”.  It isn’t because we view what we’re doing as the work of an unworthy slave, only what we ought to have done.  It’s usually because they pay off (for ourselves) just doesn’t seem worth what it costs us to do it.  We loose the motivation, we forget we’re unworthy slaves.

Now, I will allow that this is true also for leaders who either forget this is true for them, or who will mistreat the “slaves” as if they are the Master.   Jesus has their punishment all set.  And I don’t think we’re called to follow those who are not following Jesus.  That’s another entry topic later I’m sure.  But it will suffice to say that burn out for those simply tired of doing what they’re doing is immature discipleship.  So am I saying we should pour out our lives into ministry with nothing to show for it?  Let me answer that with another question.  Do you believe in heaven?  If so, why would such a question even come to mind?  Any other questions?

That’s my view from this knothole.  What do you see?


“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4 NASB)

Forgiveness is one of those things Christians are supposed to do that we work really hard to find a way around.  I think we normally ignore the requirement.  Sometimes, increasing our depth of commitment to Jesus, we redefine forgiveness so that we are able to do it.  Rarely do we truly forgive as Jesus intended nor with the the frequency or priority that He places on it.  Rarely.  In fact, we’ve probably done so much damage to the concept few of us really understand it any more.

Boundaries is a book and a teaching by Henry Cloud and John Townsend in which they teach how to set appropriate boundaries in our relationships with others and ourselves.  It’s actually quite biblical.  Few have read it.  Many use the term, and most misuse the term.  Boundaries have become our favorite method of “side-stepping” forgiveness.  We don’t forgive because we can’t let someone violate our boundaries.  Or we redefine forgiveness so that we can say we have forgiven yet not violated our boundaries.

The reality is that we have set up walls and Cloud and Townsend taught that boundaries are to be fences; fences with gates.  The truth is that Cloud and Townsend teach about forgiveness in the book and how to forgive with appropriate boundaries.  The reality they point out is that unless we forgive, we actually keep stuff that isn’t ours inside our boundaries.  Forgiving is setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries.  But we fear and the fear supersedes the teaching of Jesus in Scripture.

The word forgiveness in Greek is “aphiemi”, which has a basic meaning of “to send away”.  It’s used for cancelling debt (to send the amount owed away), leave (to go away), abandon (to leave someone), send away, to divorce (to send away a wife/spouse), and to forgive.  Think about the irony in that forgiveness is the same word used for divorce.  The meaning is really derived from what is being sent away.  And I believe Jesus teaches pretty clearly what we are to send away in order to forgive.

Matthew 18 has Peter asking how many times should he forgive, suggesting 49 times.  Jesus pushes the number to 490.  But He also ties forgiveness to being forgiven by God.  That was probably as unexpected as the 490.  In Matthew 6, in explaining the Model Prayer, Jesus says that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven.  So in Luke we see this simple summary of Matthew’s expansion in chapter 18.  Someone repents seven times, forgive seven times.  Think that through.  That would mean we would forgive repeat offenders.

Forgiveness isn’t simply something that we should do because it’s ‘good’.  Forgiveness is something we should do because it’s necessary.   Forgiveness is necessary for us to be disciples of Jesus.  What else do you think Jesus meant when He said that we would not be forgiven if we don’t forgive?  However you answer that, the answer has to include not being His disciple.  In such a case, repentance would be to forgive the person we had refused to forgive. In that case forgiveness would be ours as well.  Forgiveness is tied to repentance so closely as to be dependent. But it’s often our own repentance rather than another’s.

I believe Jesus calls us, as His disciples, to send away our resentments.  Resentments are kept on the roll-call of grievances we hold against others.  These resentments define other people in our minds and hearts.  Other people, like we us, grow and develop, and deepen their walk with Jesus.  That roll-call of grievances refuses to permit Jesus to define them for us.  We only see them as they were, not as the Holy Spirit is transforming them now.  We refuse to acknowledge their growth.

Such a view doesn’t prevent them from growing, but it does make their growth more difficult; to the degree of our continued proximity to them.  So you have a good idea of the severity of this problem, check out verses 1 and 2 of this chapter.  It would be better for the unforgiving one to swim with a millstone.  And I suspect that for us who struggle to forgive, it is a lot like swimming with a millstone.  Jesus calls us to send the rock away and swim freely with our fellow forgiven disciples.

So, that’s one view through a knothole.  What do you see and learn from these verses?