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The Timing of the Coming Kingdom

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Luke 17:20–37

Jesus taught us to look forward to His coming and the establishment of His righteous kingdom on earth. At the same time, we should warn unbelievers of the judgment that will accompany His return and urge them to believe in Christ and not make faulty assumptions.


In 1879, George De Long and the crew of the USS Jeannette sailed into the Arctic Ocean. They were searching for an open polar sea, believed to be surrounded by a ring of ice. They thought that if they could make it through the ice barrier, they would find smooth sailing at the North Pole. They never found that open sea, of course, because it did not exist. It was a popular theory of the time, and De Long assumed it was true.

When his ship became trapped in the ice, the crew abandoned the vessel and set off across the ice. Some made it to Siberia and survived. Others, including George De Long did not.[1] Let me tell you, historical events like these have a way of reminding us that following wrong assumptions can be dangerous—and even deadly.

The Pharisees and religious leaders in Israel had made the wrong assumption about Jesus. They were convinced He was not the Messiah; they also assumed that they were guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom since they were related to Abraham. Well, these assumptions were not only dangerous, but they were deadly wrong.

Here they come again, attempting to trap Jesus with some difficult questions. In Luke 17:20 they ask Jesus “when the kingdom of God would come.”

In one sense, this is a great question, since Jesus has been preaching that the kingdom is at hand. But their rejection of Jesus leads us to interpret their question this way: “If You are really the king, isn’t it about time we saw Your kingdom? At least show us another kingdom miracle!”

Jesus’ answer is, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.” Furthermore, He says in verse 21, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

They think they have a reservation for the front row in God’s kingdom; Jesus tells them they are not going to see the kingdom at all if they continue to reject the King who is standing in the middle of them. They don’t need a miracle; they need to accept Him as the Messiah.

Now remember, the kingdom Jesus has been announcing is His kingdom rule on earth for a thousand years. This is the kingdom He offered to Israel. But the nation as a whole has rejected Him and as a result, that kingdom will arrive at Christ’s second coming, following seven years of tribulation on the earth.

And with that, Jesus turns to His disciples. They have been listening in and no doubt have some questions of their own, so Jesus gives them some private tutoring on the subject of His coming kingdom.

First, He explains the timing of the kingdom’s arrival:

“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.” (verses 22-23)

Jesus is predicting that they will long for His return and the establishment of His earthly kingdom, but they will not see it—not yet. In the meantime, Jesus warns them to not be deceived by those who insist the kingdom has arrived. Jesus says that His coming will be obvious and undeniable. Look at verse 24: “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.”

That is a reference to His glorious second coming. But here in His first coming, there is a cross to suffer. Jesus declares in verse 25, “He [the Messiah] must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” 

So, with regard to the question of when the kingdom will come, Jesus says it is still a way off in the distance. First comes His own suffering and a time when the disciples will desire His coming but will not see it. The precise time of Jesus’ second coming and the establishment of His kingdom on earth is not disclosed to them—or us. However, when it arrives, like a thunderstorm, nobody is going to miss it.

The Lord then goes on to describe the conditions on the earth when He returns:

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.” (verses 26-29)

In both cases—the days of Noah and the days of Lot—people were going about their daily routines. They were eating, drinking, marrying, building, buying, and selling. And they ignored the preaching and the warning of coming judgment, until that judgment came suddenly upon them. And Jesus says here in verse 30, “So will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”

Now this encouragement is specifically for those who will come to faith in Christ during the end-times tribulation—those difficult and dangerous days while the antichrist is ruling. The Lord is telling them to be prepared and ready for the arrival of King Jesus as He returns to establish His thousand-year kingdom on earth.

Jesus then continues in verse 31:

“On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.”

In other words, when the Lord returns, some will be prepared; others will not. Here He pictures those who are so attached to the things of this world—their possessions—that they have ignored the Lord and all His warnings. They are unsaved, still putting earthly concerns above spiritual concerns.

Jesus then says in verse 32, “Remember Lot’s wife.” She was so enamored with what Sodom held for her, she could not detach herself from it.

She is the perfect example of the warning Jesus delivers in verse 33: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” Jesus used very similar wording back in Luke 9:24, where He connected this concept with taking up one’s cross and following Him. He is saying here, “Don’t wait till it is too late. Choose to follow Me now. If you are concerned only with preserving your life and living your life for whatever you can get out of it, then you are really not following Me.”

Jesus concludes His teaching on the coming kingdom by emphasizing that it will be a time of judgment. Some will be taken and others left, He says here in verses 34-35. He’s not describing the rapture by the way. Remember, Jesus is talking about His return after the tribulation to establish His kingdom. The ones “taken” here are those taken away to judgment, and the ones left are the believers who are now able to enter His kingdom.

Now the disciples want to know where these people are taken away to in judgment. “Where, Lord?” they ask in verse 37. That is, where do they go? Jesus answers, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” This is a metaphor describing the place of terrible judgment.

The Pharisees assumed there was a place waiting for them in God’s kingdom. Yet, they were unwilling to follow the King. The lesson is one for all people: Don’t assume you have a position in the kingdom if you reject the King, Jesus. What have you done with Jesus? Reject Him, and judgment is coming. Be prepared to see Him. Believe in Him as your Savior and Lord. Follow Him today.

[1] This story is recounted at length in Hampton Sides, In the Kingdom of Ice (Doubleday, 2014).

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