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The Pharisees' Question

Oct 04, 2014

Luke 17 is given to us in two parts. The first nineteen verses are instructions and advice to Jesus’ disciples, in view of their desire to follow Christ. In this role, they are seen to be identifying with the Lazarus company, the lost sheep and coin being found, and even the prodigal son returning to his father.

On the other hand, the scribes and Pharisees are seen playing the role of the older brother, the unjust steward, and the rich man with five brothers. The last half of Luke 17 is about them, because they are part of the broader company of evil figs in Judah and Jerusalem.

We have already studied the first half of Luke 17, where Jesus speaks of repentance, forgiveness, and an increase in faith, leading toward “Abraham’s bosom.” Then in Luke 17:20 we see instructions and prophecy about the fate of the rich man. It is an abridged version of Matthew 24 and 25, where Jesus prophesies judgment upon Jerusalem.

Seeing the Kingdom of God

The section begins with a question and a short answer in Luke 17:20, 21,

20 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; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The Pharisees had been watching Jesus with hostile intent for a long time, trying to trap Him by difficult legal questions (Luke 6:7; 14:1; 20:20). In each case Luke uses the Greek verb paratereo, where they were watching Jesus closely, not to learn something, but to find fault with Him. The best illustration of this is in Luke 20:20,

20 And they watched Him [paratereo], and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, in order that they might catch Him in some statement, so as to deliver Him up to the rule and the authority of the governor.

This bad attitude was present as well in Luke 17:20 when the Pharisees questioned Jesus in regard to the coming of the Kingdom. Dr. Bullinger tells us in his notes on this verse,

Observation = hostile watching. Gr. parateresis. Occurs only here. The verb paratereo is used always in a bad sense.

So Jesus’ answer, if it may be paraphrased as Dr. Bullinger tells us, was this: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed with hostile watching.” Luke chooses the word parateresis, the noun form of paratereo.

In essence, he was telling the Pharisees, “You will never see or find the Kingdom of God by watching for it with such hostile intent.”

The implication is that Jesus was the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and yet the religious leaders were looking for it elsewhere, here and there, without realizing that the Kingdom was right there in their very midst. Luke 11:20 says,

20 But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

The Kingdom was afar off only when Christ was absent or when the works of God were not being done. Looking at Jesus through hostile eyes blinded the Pharisees to the Kingdom right in front of them. John 3:3 confirms this,

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [gennaon anothen, “begotten from above”], he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

In other words, those who are begotten by the Spirit (John 3:8) are those who can see or understand the Kingdom of God, for the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to such believers.

The Pharisees were not begotten from above, for they showed no faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Instead, they were His opponents who followed Him with hostile intentions.

Most people interpret Luke 17:21 to mean that the Kingdom of God is in our hearts. But the Greek word entos could mean “inside,” but the context shows us that it ought to be read “in the midst of.” While it is certainly true on one level that the Kingdom of God is within the hearts of men, that was not the primary thrust of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.

In fact, this verse has been used to tell us that the Kingdom of God was within the heart of the Pharisees, since Jesus was speaking to them directly. But this view does not convey Luke’s intent. Faith in Christ was not in the heart of the Pharisees, but the Christ was certainly standing there in their midst. They were just too blind to “see” Him.

The Coming Kingdom

After giving a direct answer to the Pharisees, Jesus then turned to His disciples and gave them a longer explanation to the Pharisees’ question about when the Kingdom should come. We do not know if those Pharisees had walked away or if they remained to hear this longer answer.

Luke 17:22 begins,

22 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.”

The “Son of Man” was a messianic term, taken from Daniel 7:13, which says, “behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming.” Jesus referred to this verse when the high priest adjured Him to speak the truth (Matthew 26:63, 64). When we see this as part of Jesus’ answer about the coming of the Kingdom, it is clear that the Kingdom in that greater sense was a future event. Matthew 26:64 says, “hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Therefore, even though Christ’s presence in their midst meant that the Kingdom of God was a present reality, there was also a greater manifestation of the Kingdom yet to come. The context of Daniel 7:13 shows that it was to be fulfilled at the universal judgment at the Great White Throne. Yet, as we see, there are various levels of divine judgment to consider.

Jesus’ first appearance was a “visitation,” or a divine investigation of the charges being brought up against Jerusalem. He pronounced judgment upon Jerusalem in Matthew 21:13, rendering the same decision that Jeremiah had made earlier in Jeremiah 7:11. The temple had become a den of robbers—where robbers hide from the law of God.

This was followed by the curse upon the unfruitful fig tree (Matthew 21:19) and the parable of the vineyard, in which Jesus allowed the chief priests and Pharisees to set the level of their own judgment (Matthew 21:41). Again, this was followed by the parable of the wedding feast which the people refused to attend. Matthew 22:7 concludes,

7 But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.

This judgment from the throne of God came when God’s army (Rome) set Jerusalem on fire in 70 A.D. This destruction fulfilled most of the prophecies of Matthew 24, 25. But this was only one round of divine judgment, for the city was rebuilt. Since Jeremiah had prophesied total destruction, after which the city would NOT be rebuilt (Jeremiah 19:11), it is plain that there would come another round of destruction upon the city.

Hence, the judgment must again be pronounced upon Jerusalem, which I believe will occur around the time of the first resurrection (of the overcomers). The final judgment—this time to judge the entire world—will come in another thousand years at the general resurrection of the dead.

The days of the Son of Man can be viewed, at least on some level, in each of these times of divine judgment and/or resurrection. But from the context in Luke 17, it appears that Jesus was referencing to what the people knew as the Messianic Age. They saw this as the Great Sabbath, a day being a thousand years. It was the seventh millennium from Adam. Jesus did not refute this view.

To be continued.

This is the first part of a mini-series titled "The Pharisees' Question." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Pharisees' Question

This is part of the nintieth part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones