WHEN WILL THE KINGDOM OF GOD COME?
SERIES: JESUS, SAVIOR OF THE LOST
By Ron Ritchie
During our prayer time last Sunday morning we were asked to pray for a Christian
man named Joe who was dying of cancer. Two of his brothers were at the service,
during which communion was served. After the service they asked me if I
would go with them to Stanford University Hospital that afternoon to serve
communion to their brother. At the hospital, Joe's wife and children, his
mother, father and his four brothers and their families gathered around
his bed. We were standing in the presence of death. The only sound breaking
the deafening silence came from the medical support systems hooked up to
his body. I read a passage on communion from the scriptures, and I offered
the elements to Joe. We prayed for him and for the whole family. Then the
silence descended again. Suddenly, his mother began to pray: "Our Father
who art in heaven..." Everyone in the room, believer and non-believer
alike, joined in: "hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will
be done on earth as it is in heaven..." The cry of her confused and
pained heart was to the God of the universe to come and rid the earth of
sin, death and decay. Christians and non-believers alike hungering for the
loving, righteous King of heaven to invade the earth, defeat the evil one's
kingdom of darkness and death, and set up his own kingdom of righteousness.
In our passage today, Luke 17: 20-37, the Pharisees ask Jesus the same question
that was prayed by the grieving family in that hospital room: When is the
Kingdom of God coming?
I. The Kingdom is in your midst
Luke 17: 20-21
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom
was coming, He answered and said to them, "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."
Jesus was on his way to the Holy City where he would be finally rejected
as the Messiah by the chief priest (John 19:14,15) and crucified. Since
chapter 15 verse 1, he had been ministering to both open-hearted sinners
and closed-hearted Pharisees. According to the Harmony of the Gospels, between
Luke l7:19 and 17:20, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Jordan River to
Bethany, and there he raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. This
caused fear in the hearts of the chief priest and Pharisees in Jerusalem.
They thought, "If we let him go on like this, all men will believe
in him. Then the Romans will take away both our place and our nation."
Caiaphas, the high priest, prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the
nation and for the children of God who were scattered abroad . . . "So
from that day on they planned together to kill Him." (John 11.) Jesus
then went from Bethany, northward to Ephraim, then east again to Perea.
There he was confronted by more Pharisees who asked him a very important
question, one that was crucial both for themselves and Jesus' disciples.
"When is the Kingdom of God coming?" they wanted to know.
Let's begin by trying to understand what exactly the Pharisees and the Jews
meant by these words "the kingdom of God." The OT declares that
God, the eternal King of the Universe, watches over the whole earth and
all the kingdoms of men. Kings and kingdoms rise and fall at his command.
As the Judge of all the world, God reigns in righteousness and justice over
the affairs of mankind. And he is the King of Israel, a people whom he chose
to be his special possession in order to offer salvation to the Gentile
nations who were living in spiritual darkness. In time, as the nation of
Israel multiplied, they were allowed by God to select a human king who would
represent God's rule over them. Eventually David, a man after God's own
heart, arrived on the stage of world history. Around 1,000 BC, he united
the twelve tribes of Israel into a nation. Israel continued to prosper under
the leadership of his son, King Solomon, and it become the jewel of the
Then, because of their rebellion against God's kingly rule, the nation went
into decline. For the next 1,000 years, the Jews were ruled by the Assyrians,
Babylonians, Persians and Greeks. (In this context in Luke, they were under
the rule of the Romans.) But, based on the foundational prophecy of 2 Samuel
7:1-17, their hope lay in the words which God uttered to Nathan the prophet,
addressed to King David: "When your days are complete and you lie down
with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant (seed) after you, who
will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom....and your house
and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established
forever." This promise of God, which was reinforced by the prophets
over the next thousand years, motivated many of Israel's spiritual leaders
to build theological models of what that kingdom would look like. The leaders
of the conservative Qumran community who lived on the western shores of
the Salt Sea (they were the keepers of the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls)
hoped that God would come in kingly power to lead them to victory over their
oppressors (1 Qm. 6:6; 12:7).
The Pharisees had several models for what this kingdom would look like.
One was that the Messiah, who would come from the seed of David, would arrive
on the world stage with the power of a great army behind him. He would bring
the Roman Empire to its knees and then establish his political and spiritual
kingdom in the center of Jerusalem; and from there would flow righteousness
and justice to the nations of the world. This was how some of the Pharisees
thought the promise of God's eternal rule would be fulfilled (see Ps. 146:10;
Dan. 2:44; Psalms 86: 35-37). Few were looking for the Suffering Servant
of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. George MacDonald, the famous Scottish pastor
and writer of the last century, put it simply:
They were all looking for a King
To slay their foe and lift them high.
He came a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
When John the Baptist arrived on the scene as prophesied by Isaiah 40:3,
he announced to Israel that he was the forerunner of the Messiah. He had
been called by God to prepare their hearts for the long-promised Messiah:
"Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," said John (Matt
3:2). The Jewish people came out to the Jordan River by the hundreds to
confess their sins and be baptized by John (an outward symbol of an indwelling
readiness to receive their long-promised Messiah who would soon arrived
and baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire). Jesus himself was
baptized by John and was immediately taken into the wilderness to be tempted
by Satan for 40 days and nights. Following that trial, Jesus moved up to
Galilee and settled in the city of Capernaum, thus fulfilling the prophecy
of Isaiah 9:1-2. Matthew comments, "From that time Jesus began to preach
and say, 'Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matt. 4:17.)
During Jesus' ministry, his message contained a genuine offer to Israel
to bring in the kingdom if they would accept him as their Messiah. They
rejected him as their king, so his literal kingdom was postponed to a later
day. But his spiritual kingdom remained among the Jews, and then the Gentiles,
and continues up to this very day. "The kingdom of God is among you."
Now, as we have seen in our text, Jesus responded to the Pharisees' question
concerning the kingdom of God by saying, "The kingdom of God is not
coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!"
or, 'There it is!'" The kingdom he was speaking of was unlike any kingdom
the Pharisees were familiar with. They were always looking for some prophetic
sign, and yet when our Lord did signs and wonders, most of the Pharisees
missed or rejected the fact that he was the Christ. But they were still
hoping he would show them something they could see and touch: a marching
army, a political party, a citizen uprising, something observable. But they
missed the King, and they would certain miss seeing the kingdom.
And no one would announce the location of the kingdom. Jesus went on to
say, in effect, "Don't sit around hoping someone will tell your that
the Messiah and his Messianic kingdom have arrived on earth; that they know
who he is and what city he is in. That will never happen because "the
kingdom of God is in your midst." This spiritual kingdom, which our
Lord had already announced in Luke 11:20, was not predicted by the OT prophets.
This prompted some of the spiritual leaders of Israel to declare that Jesus
was casting out demons in the power of Satan, so they rejected him as their
Messiah. Our Lord, of course, answered this charge by saying, "But
if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come
upon you." (Luke 11:14-20.) But not all the Pharisees were hardhearted.
Earlier, Jesus said to a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who
was seeking to discover who Jesus was, "Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Now the
way one becomes "born again" is to believe that Jesus is the Son
of God, for "whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal
life." (John 3.) Failing to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the
Son of God, the Jews would be unprepared for the coming of the future physical
kingdom even if they saw it coming. The kingdom was not in the unbelieving
Pharisees' hearts, rather it was in their midst, standing in front of them
in the form of Jesus.
Ray C. Stedman in his book on the gospel of Mark, The Servant Who
Rules, defined the kingdom of heaven in these words:
"...we are surrounded by an invisible spiritual kingdom
with great forces, both of evil and of good, playing upon us. In that kingdom,
Jesus is Lord: Jesus reigns supreme. And that kingdom governs all the events
of history-all the events of our daily lives and circumstances, so that
when we are related to the kingdom of God, we are related to the ultimate
force which governs everything we are and have, and thus we are related
to reality...Jesus came to announce that the King is at hand, the One who
can master a life, put it in order, bring peace and harmony into it, and
supply a power which will produce a character no one else can rival...The
kingdom of God is at hand."
The rule of God in heaven was now about to take place on earth because the
King had arrived in the flesh and was standing before his questioners. All
who willingly confessed their sins and accepted Jesus as the Messiah, allowing
him to rule over their hearts and lives, would receive all the benefits
of the kingdom. This was why, very early in our Lord's teaching ministry,
especially in the Sermon on the Mount, the people heard him say, "Blessed
are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are
those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5). This again was confusing to many
of the Jews because they thought the kingdom would be a physical, powerful
entity, but Jesus was speaking of a spiritual, invisible, kingdom within
the hearts of believers.
The first coming of our Lord and his kingdom was spiritual, invisible,
powerful, and it came with an offer for salvation to all those who placed
their faith in him as their Messiah. Paul would later remind his spiritual
family in Rome that "...the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking,
but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 14.)
The second coming of the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be in the
form as predicted by the OT prophets. He will come in great glory so that
every eye will see him. And once he sets up his kingdom of earth, he will
begin to judge all those who rejected him throughout the generations since
his first coming.
Time magazine chose Ted Turner, President of CNN, as their Man of the Year
last year. The magazine published the past and recent glories of his TV
company and the story of Turner's life. His father was a successful millionaire
businessman who committed suicide at 53 years of age. When Ted Turner reached
53, he felt that as his father had died tragically, it was his duty to die
tragically also. For Turner, life has been a struggle to master what he
calls his greatest fear-the fear of death. But he is alive and well, having
been stabilized by medication and psychiatric counseling, and loved by his
third wife, Jane Fonda. Once he was a practicing Christian, and planned
to be a missionary. But when he was 20, he watched his sister die a horrible
death from a crippling disease and that death "killed his faith in
God," according to the story. This man has a "locked-in"
view of God. Now the Pharisees also had a locked-in view of what the kingdom
of God would look like. When Jesus appeared in the form of a Servant instead
of a powerful king, they rejected him, just as Ted Turner rejected God when
God didn't correspond to his ideals during his sister's sickness and death.
He rejected the one and only living God and his gift of salvation in his
Son Jesus, thereby leaving himself open to the judgment of God.
When is the kingdom of God coming? It has come and is among us in the form
of Jesus, the Son of God. He came to offer eternal salvation to all who
place their faith in him, in a spiritual salvation incorporating all the
blessings of the kingdom: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
If you reject that person, and the gift of salvation, then you will discover
that when Jesus comes again, for you he will be coming in judgment.
II. The Son of Man is coming
And He said to the disciples, "The days shall come when
you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not
see it. And they will say to you, 'Look there! Look here!' Do not go away,
and do not run after them. For just as the lightning, when it flashes out
of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the
Son of Man be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected
by this generation. And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall
be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking,
there 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. On that day, let not the one who is on
the housetop and whose goods are in the house go down to take them away;
and likewise let not the one who is in the field turn back. Remember Lot's
wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his
life shall preserve it alive. I tell you, on that night there will be two
men in one bed; one will be taken, and the other will be left. There will
be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken, and the other
will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will
be taken and the other will be left. And answering they said to Him, "Where,
Lord?" And He said to them, "Where the body is, there also will
be vultures be gathered."
Here Jesus gives seven warnings to his disciples concerning his second coming.
1) There would be difficult days ahead. Verse 22: "The days shall come
when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man and you will
not see it." In a brief stroke, just as an artist paints a line across
a clean canvas, here Jesus lays out for his disciples the scenario for the
Age of the Spirit, the tribulation, and the second coming. In Matt. 24:29-31,
Jesus gathered together all the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos
and Zephaniah to explain the days of the Son of Man. He was referring to
the day when he will come back to this earth as King of kings to set up
his earthy kingdom as promised by God to David in 2 Samuel 17: "But
immediately after the tribulation... then the sign of the Son of Man will
appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and
they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power
and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet
and they will gather together His elect from the four winds from one end
of the sky to the other."
All of his disciples would face heavy persecution and eventually their own
untimely death by the sword of Rome. They would find themselves longing
to experience just one of the many wonderful days that the Son of Man would
bring to this wicked and fallen world, but during their lifetime they would
not see the coming of the the Kingdom as prophesied in the OT. Christians
also in every generation in the Age of the Spirit, or the Church Age, will
face many difficult days before the second coming of the Son of Man in all
2) Watch out for false prophets. Verse 23: "And they will say to you,
'Look there! Look here!' Do not go away, and do not run after them."
In light of our longing to see our Lord's return, we will be open to be
deceived by false prophets. It is interesting that Jesus told the Pharisees
that the no one would tell them that the spiritual kingdom was coming because
it was spiritually present in him. But the second coming will be visible,
powerful and literal. In light of that reality, many false prophets will
claim that Jesus and his kingdom have come to earth. But, says Jesus, "See
to it that no one mislead you. For many will come in My name saying, 'I
am the Christ,' and will mislead many." (Matt 24, Luke 21.) Don't chase
those elusive, prophetic butterflies.
3) No one will miss the Lord's second coming. Verse 24: "For just as
the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines on the
other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day." When
the Son of Man does come in all his glory and power, it will be as sudden
and alarming as lightning racing across the night sky. No one can predict
that streak of lightning, but every eye will see it and be amazed at its
power and suddenness.
4) They needed to stay within God's plan of redemption. Verse 25: "But
first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation."
The kingdom of God would not be established on this earth, according to
the promises of God to David, within a few months of our Lord's life on
earth. Why? Because Jesus would tell his disciples in even more graphic
detail after he had finished his sermon on the Mount of Olives: "You
know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to
be delivered up for crucifixion." (Matt 26:2.) After his death, burial
and resurrection, Jesus laid out his plan of redemption in and through his
disciples and every believer until the Father tells him when to come again:
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore
and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father
and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded
you; and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
5) As in the days of Noah (26-27). Jesus continued to teach his disciples
that his physical, literal and visible kingdom would come to earth at a
time when men and women would not expect it. Just as in Genesis 6, the whole
world was absorbed in wickedness, yet they continued doing all the normal
events of daily life-eating, drinking, marrying etc. That wicked generation
was so self-absorbed and corrupt that God said he "...was sorry that
He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart. But Noah found
favor in the eyes of the Lord, for he was a righteous man, blameless in
his time, and he walked with God."
So Noah was commissioned to do two things over the next 120 years: Preach
a message of warning and hope to a wicked generation, and build an ark so
that the righteous would be rescued from the coming worldwide judgment of
the flood. All who placed their faith in God would be saved, but all who
rejected his warning would perish. The people of Noah's generation mocked
his message and his ark, but then came the day when God closed the door
of the ark and the flood destroyed that wicked generation. Peter wrote to
his flock, " For if God ...did not spare the ancient world, but preserved
Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a
flood upon the world of the ungodly ...then the Lord knows how to rescue
the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment
for the day of judgment" (1 Peter 2.) Peter went on to encourage believers
who were surrounded by mockers of the Lord's second coming by saying, "Know
this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking...saying,
'Where is the promise of His coming?" They failed to remember that
God keeps his word. He did so with the flood, and he will do so with our
Lord's second coming. So as God's people we are encouraged to continue to
walk in godliness in the midst of a mocking world, knowing that Jesus is
coming again in glory, judgment and righteousness to set up his kingdom
6) As in the days of Lot (28-29). The Lord then placed before his disciples
a second well known but often forgotten example of God's judgment and mercy.
The wicked people of Sodom (Genesis 18-19) lived as if there was no God.
They thought they would never be held accountable to anyone for their sins.
However, there is a God, and he said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah
is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave." God judged their
evil, but just before he rained down fire from heaven, he sent two angles
to rescue Abraham's nephew, Lot, and his family. We discover 2,000 years
later, in the letter of 2 Peter, a commentary on Lot's heart, which is not
revealed as clearly in Genesis account: "And if God...condemned the
cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having
made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; and if
He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled
men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among
them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless
deeds)" (2 Peter 2). It will be the same setting when Son of Man is
revealed. Conditions in this world will be the same as in the days of Noah
and Lot because, as the prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is more deceitful
than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord
search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to
his ways, according to the results of his deeds." (17:9-10.) So it
doesn't matter which generation you live in. Each human being is given the
opportunity to accept God's gracious gift of salvation, offered thought
his Son Jesus, or else face the judgment of God at his second coming.
The second coming of Jesus Christ involves 1) an invisible coming to the
world for his church just before the great seven-year tribulation (1 Thess.4:17).
This is symbolized by God's rescue of Noah and Lot and their families before
the judgment of the world by the flood and Sodom by fire. 2) At the end
of the seven-year tribulation, the Lord will come in power and glory and
all the world will be able to see him. At that time he will judge the sheep
(new believers during the tribulation), and the goats (unbelievers) (Matt.25:31-46),
and Israel will be judged, as well as restored to serve and worship Jesus
as their Messiah for a thousand-year reign on earth.
7) On that day . . . Verses 30-36: "...let not the one who is on the
housetop and whose goods are in the house go down to take them away; and
likewise let not the one who is in the field turn back." At the end
of the Great Tribulation, that day in time when mankind will be living just
as if Jesus were never coming back, despite the many warnings in history,
prophecy, preaching and spiritual signs, the Lord will return and bring
them to judgment. Believers are encouraged to not be weighed down with the
things of this world, but to have a heart to meet him as their Lord and
Savior when he comes again.
Then comes the warning: "Remember Lot's wife." When she turned
back towards Sodom, in the midst of the destruction of that city that had
captivated her heart, she turned into a pillar of salt. "For whoever
seeks to keep his life shall lose it and whoever loses his life shall preserve
it alive." On that night when the Lord appears in the heavens and every
eye shall see him and every lip shall confess him as Lord, it is then that
the judgment will begin. Only the Lord knows the heart of each man, woman
and child. If two men are sleeping in one bed, for example, or two women
are grinding grain, when our Lord returns, he will take the believer to
be with him and the unbeliever will remain on earth to face the judgment.
Our Lord's conclusion (verse 37). "And answering they said to Him,
"Where, Lord?" And He said to them, "Where the body is, there
also will the vultures be gathered." The disciples wanted to know when
all this world judgment would begin, and our Lord replied, "Where you
see a dead body you will find the vultures gathered to eat it." Jesus
had come to the spiritual conclusion that Israel was now a lifeless corpse,
so it was time for the judgment on that nation. That judgment began in 70
AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Judgment will continue against Israel
and the nations through the persecution in the tribulation; then Jesus will
come again in power and glory to set up his physical kingdom on earth. Israel
will be restored (Rom.9-11). He will reign for a thousand years as King
of kings in justice and righteousness. The great White Throne Judgment will
follow, then the first earth and the heavens will be destroyed by fire.
Following this will be the creation of the new heavens and the new earth
prepared for all who love him (Rev. 20-21).
On Monday I will be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ at a memorial
service for the family and friends of Joe Collins. Joe's physical life on
this earth was cut short last Thursday because of cancer. But he did not
fear death, because he had established a personal relationship with Jesus
Christ as his Lord and Savior. Now he lives in the very presence of God.
Joe's life on earth was a gift from God and his physical death was a gift
from God. God will use it to sober all who attend that memorial service
and remind them that we all must walk through the valley of the shadow of
death one day. And one more time, our Lord will say to all who attend, "The
Kingdom is among you. Receive me as your Lord and Savior and receive the
gift of eternal life now."
When will the Kingdom come? Fortunately, the "Kingdom is still among
us" in the form of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. He offers the gift
of salvation to all who desire to have him become their Lord and Savior.
This invitation is open until the very moment when he will come again and
set up his physical kingdom on earth. Then all who have rejected him will
stand before him as their Judge and be sent into the second death, hell
forever. "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day
of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2.) Don't put it off. Remember the days of
Noah and the days of Lot, and especially remember Lot's wife. Accept God's
gift of salvation as presented in his Son Jesus Christ before he comes again
as the Judge of all the earth.
Catalog No. 4265
Ron R. Ritchie
January 12, 1992
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