Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, the Lord Jesus replied:
"The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (verses 20,21 N.I.V.).
The New International Version puts a footnote on the word 'within' by giving as an alternative translation 'or among'. This is what the Authorised Version does too. Dean Alford's words are to the point here:
The misunderstanding which rendered these words "within you," meaning this in a spiritual sense "in your hearts" should have been prevented by reflecting that they are addressed to the Pharisees, in whose hearts it certainly was not. Nor could the expression in this connection well bear this meaning potentially, i.e. is in its nature, within your hearts. The words are too express and emphatic for this (Greek Testament Vol 1. p. 609).
Other translations are 'in your midst' (American Standard Version), 'within you' (Rieu), 'in your midst' (Moffatt), 'in the midst of you' (Cunnington), 'already among you' (T.C.N.T), 'in your midst' (Berkeley Version), 'in your midst' (Renaissance New Testament). 'You' is plural in the Greek, 'within you as a group', and let us not forget it, the King Himself was present. If the text had meant 'within each of you as individuals', then 'You' would have been the singular, sou. Thus we see that the phrase cannot mean 'in the hearts of the Pharisees'. At this very time they were plotting to murder Him.
Some of them, perhaps out of curiosity, asked Him when the kingdom of God would come (verse 20). This question is closely linked to His Second Coming in glory. God's kingdom could not be realised without the presence and rule of the King. He was indeed present, but was being rejected by the leaders and most of the people which would end in His crucifixion. Hence the realisation of His kingdom awaited His glorious appearing in the future when at last He would rule and control. This would be the 'days of the Son of Man' (verse 22) which some would seek and not find, and the Lord goes on to warn concerning false reports of His return (verse 23). This teaching is paralleled in Mark 13:21,22 and Matthew 24.
His Coming would be sudden, like a flash of lightning all over the sky which could be seen by all. It will catch people unawares, for they will be absorbed with worldly affairs, just as they were in the days of Noah and Lot when God's judgment suddenly fell on them (verses 26-29). The conditions of the last seven years of the age (Daniel 9) are graphically described in Matthew 24:3-30. This will be the period when the tyranny of the antichrist will be world-wide and great persecution and death will be the experience of believers living at this time, designated by Christ as 'the great tribulation' (Matt 24:20-22). Luke omits many of these details, but concentrates on the years just prior to the Coming of the Lord on the clouds of heaven in power and great glory.
This particular time, being of exceptional danger, means that believers should escape to the hills without delay (Matt. 24:15-17). In Luke 17, verses 34-36 are alike in meaning, but each refers to a different time of day or night. Men are in bed at night; women grind corn in the early morning; and workers are in the field during daylight. The Lord's Coming will be at different times of the day at different points on the globe. 'Taken' may mean taken away for safety and 'left' can mean left for judgment, but some interpret these words the other way round. The 'dead' body or corpse of verse 37 with the vultures (not eagles) preying on it is possibly that left after judgment.
The Lord Jesus concludes by asking:
"... when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (verse 8 N.I.V.).
For the most part the answer is 'no'. The New Testament knows nothing of the improvement of the world before Christ comes. This was an old idea which was based on wishful thinking.
The second parable of the chapter shows up the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a publican, or tax collector. The Pharisee prayed with (literally) himself. Although formally addressed to God, it was a soliloquy concerning himself, a complacent recital of his own virtues for his own self-satisfaction. It was all about himself from beginning to end. In fact he attempted to be holier than God's requirements, for one fast a year was required by the law (Lev. 16:29; Num. 29:7), but he fasted twice a week.
As a contrast, the tax collector, knowing his own unworthiness, showed no ostentation, and could not even look up to heaven, but kept beating his breast, saying, 'God, have mercy on me, the sinner'. Note the sinner; the Pharisee thought of others as sinners, because he was perfect in his own eyes; the tax collector thought of himself alone as the sinner, because he knew his failings. Which prayer did God hear? Christ's conclusion makes this quite clear:
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (verse 14 N.I.V.).
Luke is inspired to use the word which was to form the basis of the apostle Paul's ministry ê justified. Luke, a close friend and fellow traveller with the apostle, must have heard him expound the basic doctrine of justification by faith a number of times and it is one of the key-words of the epistle to the Romans. The word 'justify' occurs 5 times in Luke, twice in Matthew and not at all in Mark and John. The warning against pride and self-exaltation is also found in Luke 14:11.
The Evangelist now records the incident of children being brought to the Lord for His touch and blessing. The disciples, thinking the parents were intruding, rebuked them, but the Lord corrected them by saying:
"Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (verses 16,17 N.I.V.).
The Lord Jesus makes the child the model for those who seek entrance into the kingdom of God. But He does not say that the children are already in the kingdom without coming to Him. The invitation is not only to children, but to all who are child-like in their trust in Him. This same truth occurs in Mark 10:14 and Matthew 19:14.
A rich young ruler now approaches Christ and asks the same question as the lawyer in 10:25, 'Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Both Mark and Matthew record this episode (Mark 10:17; Matt. 19:16). The reader is referred to Luke 10:25 for the comments there. The Lord would have the man think, so He asks him, 'Why do you call Me good?' (verse 19). The word 'good' is never found as a title of a Rabbi. The young man could say with truth that he had scrupulously observed the ten commandments though he may have had a superficial view of what the commandments embodied. Christ pointed out that although his observing the law was correct, there was one thing lacking, and this had been stressed by Christ on other occasions, self-renunciation and putting the Lord first in everything. Denying self was essential for entrance into the kingdom of God and enjoying the life that accompanied it (Matt. 16:24). Christ said to him, 'Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me' (verse 22).
The young man was very rich, possibly a multi-millionaire. The challenge was tremendous and he went away very sad. We are not told whether he finally was able to face it or not, but it looks as though he was unable to make the great sacrifice.
The Lord's comment after this was 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God'. The word for 'needle' means a surgeon's needle, and this is probably a current proverb for the impossible. The Talmud twice speaks of an elephant passing through the eye of a needle as being impossible. Riches can have the effect of making people independent of God, and blunting any desire for spiritual things. This is what makes it difficult for a wealthy person to fulfil what was necessary to enter God's kingdom.
Peter, always ready to be the spokesman, said to Christ, 'We have left all we had to follow You'. This was probably not uttered in a boastful spirit, but stating a true fact. The apostles had definitely renounced the ties of this world to follow the Lord, which the rich young ruler seemed unable to do. The Lord Jesus now assures Peter and the other disciples that this will not be forgotten by God, Who is the righteous Judge. He said:
"I tell you the truth ... no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life." (verses 29,30 N.I.V.).
God will be in no man's debt. Any loss endured for Him will be amply rewarded both now and in the future Messianic age in resurrection, when Christ's rule will be paramount. But this is where so many fail. It is hard indeed to put the Lord's claims before all earthly ties in this life.
The Lord then takes the Twelve apart and for the third time predicts His death ê this time with more detail.
But the disciples failed to understand. They could not comprehend a dead Messiah! (verses 31-34). This ran counter to all their hopes and beliefs.
Verses 35-42 record the healing of the blind beggar. The three Synoptic Gospels record the incident, but in some respects the accounts differ. Mark and Luke have one blind man; Matthew has two. Matthew and Mark place the miracle when Christ was leaving Jericho; Luke has it when the Lord was approaching the city. The unbelieving mind loves to point out these seeming discrepancies, but when we know all the facts we find that there are no discrepancies at all. It is clear that there was no copying one another.
The main city of Roman Jericho (the remains of which have been discovered) was occupied by poorer Jews, and lay about a mile east of Herod's winter headquarters, also called Jericho. This contained the palace, fortress and houses of Herod's wealthy friends. The miracle evidently took place between the two Jerichos, hence the approaching and departing depends upon which town one is referring to, and of the two men, one was more prominent than the other (Bartimaeus, Mark 10:46) and there is no reason why Mark and Luke should not concentrate on one of them. The Lord was addressed as 'the Son of David', which showed that the beggar recognized Him as the Messiah. Some tried to stop him calling out, but he shouted all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' (verse 39). This was a cry of real faith, for the Lord stopped, and after asking what he wanted, the man said, 'Lord, I want to see', and immediately his sight was restored and he commenced to follow the Lord, praising God for the wonderful answer to his request. And we are told that all the people praised Him too (verse 43).
The Lord Jesus was now inside the Roman Jericho, with a crowd following Him. One of the chief tax collectors named Zacchaeus had evidently heard a lot about Him, and because of this, wanted to see Him. Unfortunately he was a short man, and his view was obstructed by all the people around him. So he ran ahead and seeing a fig -- mulberry tree, he climbed up it. Fortunately for him, this was a wide-open tree with low branches which he could easily climb. When Christ reached the spot, he looked up and said, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today'. Zacchaeus obeyed straight away and welcomed Him. Now this tax collector was a rich man (verse 2) and had evidently got his wealth by extortion and robbing other people. He must have been convicted of sin as he looked on the Lord Jesus, realizing that nothing could be hidden from Him.
The people standing around knew his character and muttered to themselves 'He has gone to be the guest of a "sinner"'.
But Zacchaeus showed true repentance by his words to the Lord:
"Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (verse 8 N.I.V.).
He knew that this was required by the Mosaic law (Exod. 22:1; Num. 5:6,7). Restitution is a good proof of a change of heart. Christ said, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (verses 9 & 10) and He knew that there was a sinner in that house who would respond. This account is again peculiar to Luke.