The Pharisees’ Observation
Luke 17 comes 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.
Observing Jesus’ Symptoms
The second 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.
The Greek word paratereo, translated “observed,” is actually a medical term that Luke used deliberately to show that the Pharisees’ intent was to examine Jesus to find out what was wrong with Him. From Luke’s perspective, the Pharisees were looking for symptoms (“signs”) to help them diagnose Jesus’ spiritual disease. They were not there to heal or cure Jesus, but to pronounce Him incurable and thereby justify their wish to pronounce Him unclean and excommunicate Him.
Jesus tells them that the Kingdom of God is not to come by looking for “signs to be observed,” that is, by looking for symptoms of Jesus’ doctrinal illness. One cannot say, “Look, here it is! I found this symptom!” or “There it is! I have discovered pride as the root of His spiritual sickness!”
The Kingdom is Among You
The Kingdom of God is wholeness and health, and Jesus, whose name means “salvation” and also “full health,” was there in their midst, if they had had eyes to see.
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. The Greek word entos could mean “inside,” but the context shows us that it ought to be read “among; 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’ answer.
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.
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 some weeks later when, at His trial, the high priest adjured Him to speak the truth (Matt. 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. Matt. 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 Matt. 21:13, rendering the same decision that Jeremiah had made earlier in Jer. 7:11. The temple had become a den of robbers—where robbers hide from the law and are safe from its judgments.
This verdict was followed by the curse upon the unfruitful fig tree (Matt. 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 (Matt. 21:41). Again, this was followed by the parable of the wedding feast which the people refused to attend. Matt. 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 and 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 (Jer. 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 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 and a thousand-year rest. Jesus did not refute this view.
The Law of Resurrection
Jesus then spoke about “the days of the Son of Man” in Luke 17:22. This drew attention to the fact that the Ancient of Days, with “the hair of His head like pure wool,” would walk into the divine court, sit upon the throne of fire (Daniel 7:9), and raise the dead for judgment. This is according to the prophetic law, which says in Lev. 19:32,
32 You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
In other words, when the Ancient of Days (“the aged”) walks into the court room, all will rise as the law commands. This refers to the general resurrection of all the dead, great and small, referenced in Rev. 20:11-15. Resurrection is a sign of respect for the aged and for the word which he speaks. Hence, the dead will rise at the appearance of the white-haired Ancient of Days.
The First of the Days
In Luke 17:22, Jesus does not seem to be speaking of the great Day of Judgment at the resurrection of all the dead, for He says they will long to see it, but “you will not see it.” If all the dead are raised for judgment (Rev. 20:12), then how is it that “you will not see it”?
It appears that Jesus was telling this to His disciples, but yet He was still addressing the Pharisees who had asked the original question. We often do this when addressing one person in the presence of another. In essence, we can speak to two people at the same time. So while He was giving a positive lesson to His disciples, He spoke loud enough for the Pharisees to hear. The Pharisees, then, “will not see it” by their critical observation. They will not see Jesus as the Messiah, nor will they see “one of the days of the Son of Man.”
Which “one of the days” will they not see? Once again, we must understand that Jesus was not speaking Greek when He talked with the Pharisees. It was translated into Greek for a Greek-speaking audience. The Hebrew word echad means either “one” or “first.” It is translated “first” in Gen. 2:11 and 8:5. It is likely that we should understand Jesus’ statement to mean, “the first of the days of the Son of Man.”
When seen in this light, this would draw a distinction between the first and second of such days, which caused John to distinguish between the first and second resurrection in Revelation 20. The Pharisees would not “see” the first resurrection of the overcomers, which event introduces the great Sabbath Millennium “Day” which they hoped to see. To see that day, they would have to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and follow Him.
Instead, as this implies, the Pharisees would see the second great day, when they stand before the Great White Throne. Luke 17:23 says,
23 And they will say to you, “Look there! Look here!” Do not go away, and do not run after them.
Since their diagnosis of Jesus was incorrect, their diagnosis of the Kingdom was equally incorrect. If they could not correctly read the signs that they saw whenever Jesus healed someone, then how could they possibly be correct in reading the signs of the Kingdom?
Jesus then explains why we should not respond to the Pharisees’ call to look here or there for the Kingdom. Luke 17:24, 25 says,
24 For just as the lightning [astrape] 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. 25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
There is a question as to whether Jesus was referring to lightning or the sun itself. The Greek word is astrape, which can mean either lightning or the gleam of a lamp or candle. It literally means a shining of light, or illumination. Luke 11:36 says, “as when the lamp illumines [astrape] you with its rays.”
In other words, the word astrape does not have to be a great flash of lightning. It can be anything that brings light, even the light of a candle. Matt. 24:27 is a parallel passage that gives us more clues,
27 For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.
Does lightning always flash from east to west? Obviously not, but the sun dawns in the east and moves through the sky toward the west. The Emphatic Diaglott renders this,
27 For as the lightning emerges from the East and shines to the West; so will be the presence of the Son of Man.
If we understand this to be a reference to the sun, then it is easy to see how the sun “emerges from the East and shines to the West.” This happens every day. But it is unlikely that lightning will emerge from the East and shine to the West.
The Dawn of a New Day
When Hosea prophesied of the coming resurrection, he too spoke of this as the dawn of a new day. Hosea 6:1-3 says,
1 Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. 2 He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him. 3 So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn…
The coming of Christ, accompanied by the resurrection of the dead, is not like an instantaneous flash of lightning, but is pictured as the dawn of a new day. Psalm 57:8 says, “I will awaken the dawn.” In other words, the dawn of a new day, when men rise from sleep, prophesies of resurrection.
Perhaps this dawn is prophesied also in Prov. 4:18,
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.
So perhaps we ought to understand Jesus’ words in Luke 17:24 to mean:
“For just as the sun dawns in the East and moves across the sky getting brighter and brighter as it moves West, so will the Son of Man be in His Day. But first He must suffer rejection and death (night).”
Jesus was telling us not to look for His coming as a flash of lightning, but as a gradual dawning of the day. The pattern is seen in Jesus’ own resurrection on the third day, but it also applies to the start of the third millennium from Christ, for a day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8). While Jesus’ resurrection occurred in a short period of time on the third literal day, the next fulfillment would take place “after two days” (Hosea 6:2), or at the start of the third millennium.
The third millennium from Christ is where we find ourselves at the present time. In the two-day interim we have seen the Pentecostal Age. Pentecost stands between Passover and Tabernacles, and the timing of the Pentecostal Age (the “two days”) is prophesied by the two loaves offered to God (Lev. 23:17).
We are now near the dawn of this new day, which begins with the (first) resurrection in Rev. 20:4-6. In 1999 we reached the end of two millennia since the birth of Christ. In 2033 we will reach the end of two millennia since His death and resurrection. In 2035 we will come to the next Jubilee year.
Somewhere in this time period we ought to see the first of the days of the Son of Man arrive which will start the great day of a thousand years. The Son of Man will set the earth free from the rule of the beast systems and gives the earth its great Sabbath rest. It will be the “day” when the law will go forth from prophetic Zion (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2).
The Pharisees, however, will not “see” this first day, for they will not be part of the first resurrection, which is only for those who are called to reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6). The only solution is for the Pharisees—and others—to repent and to stop assuming that Jesus had a doctrinal disease that needed to be diagnosed. Only those who recognize Jesus as the Christ and the King will be eligible to see that day.
Those who repent and turn to Christ as individuals are part of the greater body of people represented by the lost coin and the lost sheep that were found. They are the prodigals and Lazarus. These are the ones who will go to “Abraham’s bosom” as their reward in the end.