Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Kingdom of God - Part 2

Luther Preaches Christ
And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire 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!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:22-25).

Jesus, having answered the Pharisee’s question regarding the coming of God’s kingdom in a most remarkable way, he turns to his disciples. Jesus seems to be telling his disciples that one day soon they are going to want to hear the wonderful and enigmatic things he teaches them face to face as he is now doing, but this will not be possible because he will be gone. Right now he is in the midst of them, but soon he will be seated at the right hand of God the Father. He will go from the midst of them, to the cross, to the tomb, to the resurrection, to his position of power and glory at the Father's side. And, from his position at the Father’s side, he will one day return to judge the living and the dead. There is much that must happen, however, between that day and the one during which Jesus teaches his disciples. 

Jesus makes this point to the scribes and Pharisees when they ask him why his disciples did not fast, as those of John the Baptist did. "Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them" Jesus asked in reply[1]? When Jesus, the bridegroom, goes away, the disciples, who are the guests in his metaphor, will most certainly fast (Engelbrecht, 2009). Jesus explains to the disciples elsewhere, however, that he is not simply planning to abandon them when he rises from the grave and ascends to heaven. He promises to send the Comforter - the Holy Spirit - to be with them, and to clothe them with power, and to recall to their minds all that he has taught them[2]. This is so that they can, in turn, record it in the pages of what we today call the New Testament scriptures.

Jesus, in the previous verses, had been addressing the Pharisees, who were questioning him about the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees' questioning of Jesus does not seem to be legitimate, but designed to get Jesus to say something that they could use to get him in trouble, as on other occasions[3]. In keeping with his method, he spoke somewhat enigmatically to the masses, and explained those sayings and parables to his disciples[4]. The 'they' to whom Jesus seems to be referring is, in the narrow context of this conversation, the Pharisees and, more broadly, all false teachers who reject the Christ. 

What is Jesus warning the disciples about when he tells them not to go out or follow the people who say, “Look, there!” and “Look, here!”? Jesus is warning them not to abandon their faith, which he has built in them by his word. Lenski writes: 

They [false teachers] will imagine that they see plain indications and signs of Christ’s immediate coming. They will pose as prophets, even as manifestations and incarnations of Christ, and call the true disciples to flock to their standards “here” or “there”. Jesus warns, “Do not go away or pursue after,” leave not your faith in the words which Jesus has spoken, do not chase after these false leaders and the promises they make. This warning has often been disregarded, will often be so, but should not be so by us (Lenski, 1946).

For as 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).

When Jesus talks about the day of the Son of Man he is talking about his second coming to judge the world[5]. Lightning is a useful comparison, as Our Lord has repeatedly instructed us that his coming will be swift and sudden[6]. This is the contrast Jesus makes with the physical, political kingdom for which the Pharisees longed, and even the disciples expected the Messiah to establish. There will be no ambiguity when Christ returns. As lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. Kretzmann describes the second coming of Jesus in this way: 

In one moment He will shine, with all the glory of His splendor, from this quarter under heaven unto that; He will be visible to all people of the earth. But before this glorious consummation there will be a long time of waiting and watching for the believers, with a sore trial for their patience. First of all the great obligation rests upon the Lord to suffer in the great Passion, to be rejected by the present generation. Christ must bear His cross first, and His Church, the members of His kingdom, will become partakers of this suffering, before the great day of glory dawns (Kretzmann, 1921).

Lenski also writes: 

The Pharisees needed to be told that the kingdom is within, is spiritual; to this the Lord adds for the sake of his disciples that, after the spiritual work of this kingdom is done, it will come suddenly, like lightning, in judgment on the world…The visible glorious consummation of the kingdom must wait in toto until the spiritual work has been completed…his coming and the consummation of the kingdom will occur in such a manner that we need go nowhere – it will be instantaneously visible over the whole earth just as a lightning flash lightnings [sic] out of one part of heaven and shines to the other part and lights up the entire sky (Lenski, 1946).

But why did Jesus have to suffer and be rejected? This question must certainly have been going through the minds of the disciples who, at this point, still had a more Pharisaic understanding of God’s kingdom, and the work of the Messiah. 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Jesus endured poverty, contempt, and persecution in his earthly life[7]. He was born in poverty[8]. The tyrant Herod tried to murder him in his infancy[9]. All throughout his earthly ministry people derided him, rejected him, tried to throw him from cliffs, and stone him[10]. Ultimately he suffered the greatest agony of body and soul under Pontius Pilate, dying on the cross[11] (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, 1986). 

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:14-17).

Jesus endured suffering, humiliation, and death voluntarily for one purpose – to redeem mankind. Luther, in his explanation of the second article of the Apostle’s Creed, sums up Jesus’ purpose, and man’s relationship to him, beautifully and succinctly: 

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, 1986).

Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world[12], laid down his life voluntarily[13], in obedience to God the Father’s will[14], so that man and God could be reconciled[15]. St. Paul writes that it was through the obedience of the one man, Christ, so that the many – mankind – were made righteous[16]. In fact, scripture tells us that Christ, the sinless one, became sin for us, so that we sinners might become the righteousness of God[17]. Christ was our substitute. He took our place under God’s judgment against sin. By paying the penalty of our guilt, Christ…made satisfaction, for our sins (Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, 1986). 

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

This is the message all mankind needs to hear, and upon which the Christian church must remain focused in this time between Christ's first and second coming. Many have gone off crying, “Look, there!” as Jesus predicted, seeking mystical experiences, secret truths, or special revelations. Jesus, the Word made flesh, directs the disciples and believers today, to the place where his promises are found – his word. Christians need to hear this word – Law and Gospel – regularly, and gather around those pledges of the forgiveness Christ has won for us – Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is by Word and Sacrament that he works to grant us repentance[18], create faith in us, is among us, and to deliver to us the forgiveness he won for us by his death and resurrection[19].


Engelbrecht, R. E. (Ed.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Kretzmann, P. E. (1921). Popular Commentary of the Bible (Vol. 1). St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

Lenski, R. C. (1946). The Interpretation of St. Luke's Gospel. Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press.

Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. (1986). Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House.

End Notes

[1] Luke 5:33-35

[2] John 16:4-15

[3] Mark 8:11-13

[4] Matthew 13:34-36

[5] Matthew 25:31-32; 2 Corinthians 5:10

[6] Matthew 24:27; Acts 1:11; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 1:7

[7] 2 Cor. 8:9; Matthew 8:20; Isaiah 53:3; John 8:40

[8] Luke 2:7

[9] Matthew 2:13

[10] Luke 4:29; John 8:59

[11] John 19:16-18; Mark 15:21-41

[12] John 1:29

[13] John 10:17-18

[14] Luke 22:42; John 5:19

[15] Genesis 3:15; 1 John 3:8

[16] Romans 5:19

[17] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[18] 2 Timothy 2:5

[19] John 15:5; Romans 6:3-5; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 3:21