I don’t like arguing or debating eschatology. I think it is a colossal waste of time. I take a huge risk in even posting this, but it’s about Jesus and the Bible, so I think I’m okay.
In Luke 17, Jesus gives one of his many messages about the kingdom being “already” and “not yet.” In verses 20-21, he says that the kingdom “is not coming with signs to be observed” (v. 20b). Then he says “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (v. 21b). The first thing Jesus says is interesting. It’s something that Christians who think they can predict Jesus’ return because of earthquakes, hurricanes, and wars should at least take note of. The second thing Jesus says means, “I’m here. The kingdom is about me. You are looking at the kingdom.”
The confusing part comes in verses 22-37. It would seem fair to me to say that Jesus is talking about his Second Coming. Anyone who stops by this blog often knows that I don’t believe in any kind of a pre- or mid-tribulation rapture. Each time Jesus talks about “the coming of the kingdom” in the Gospels, it’s plain that he’s talking about the Day of his coming when he’ll set up his eternal kingdom after the judgment.
For those of you who don’t know what the rapture is, here’s a rundown:
It is a secret coming of Jesus before, during, or after the great tribulation (which could be a literal 7 year period or not) in which he takes believers up to heaven (“raptures”) with him prior to his Second Coming. Scriptures used to support this view include Matthew 24:41-42, Luke 17:34-35, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
The part I have a problem believing is that the verses that are used to describe this “secret coming” are all in the context of Jesus’ self-described Second Coming. Let’s just focus on the Luke 17 passage for time and space’s sake. In verses 34-35, Jesus says, “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding [at the mill] together. One will be taken and the other left.” If you have read the popular Left Behind book series, you can picture this. Two people are standing together. One disappears and is apparently with Jesus, and the other stands there dumbfounded. Verses 34-35 in Luke 17 comes after 12 other verses describing the day of the Son of Man (v. 24). This appearing will not be private. Actually, it is going to be quite alarming. It’s going to be quite public. It’s going to be loud and frightening (if you aren’t on Jesus’ team). There will not be anyone on earth who doesn’t know what’s going on. Jesus gives us plenty of evidence as to why this is the case.
The first is that Jesus says, “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (v. 24). That seems very prolific to me. It seems that everyone would notice a lightning flash that covers the sky.
Secondly, Jesus describes this day as the day when the rains came when Noah built the ark (vv. 26-27). Everyone was “eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage” (v. 27). These weren’t sins. Jesus simply says, “It’s going to be a normal day — like today — when I return.” Further, the fact that rain covered the earth is something to pay attention to. People died because of it. They knew what was going on.
Thirdly, Jesus compares his day to the day when Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to a crisp (vv. 28-32). Everything was status quo in Sodom, Jesus says. People did their daily activities. Then, “fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all” (v. 29b). That was an event that was seen from miles and miles away. The people in the city knew very well what was happening.
Finally, Jesus gives a very bizarre answer to a seemingly appropriate question from the disciples. They asked, “Where, Lord?” They wanted to know where all of this was going to take place. Jesus said, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (v. 37). If you are like me, you probably have no idea what that means. But after consulting some commentaries, the meaning became clear. Instead of over-spiritualizing this answer from Jesus, let’s take it at face value. When vultures swirl in the air over a dead corpse, you can often see them from a long way off. Think of any Westerns you’ve watched recently that have had this scene. There’s a dead cow or horse or person in the desert. The vultures gather over it, squawking at each other to decide who will dive in first. It’s pretty public. They don’t make any apologies. They aren’t trying to be sneaky. So Jesus says of his coming — that day when one will be taken and one will be left, “It’s going to be plain to everyone where this is happening. Everyone’s going to be able to see it. Don’t worry about missing it. It’ll be impossible to miss, because on that day, I’ll be on center stage.”
More than anything, this passage awakens and stirs a desire in me for Jesus to return. O, what a glorious day that will be when our Lord and Savior ushers in the kingdom in a way that is eternal and complete. The kingdom of God is in our midst, yes, but it is not in our midst totally and finally. That day is coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
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