Bible for Thinkers

Liberals love the Bible, too. We just look at it differently. This is a place to discuss the Bible where you don't have to check your brain at the door. There are many ways to see it, and many ways to have it come to life.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Kingdom of God in Luke 17:20-37

This passage is a bit long to write out here, so I will leave you to your own devices to find a Bible and read Luke 17:20-37. I am working from the NRSV translation.

There is a lot here, and things that can be confusing. In the first paragraph, Jesus says that
'the Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed," (v. 20) and just four verses later says, "For 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 sounds pretty observable to me. The passage goes on to end with some of the verses given to support the notion of The Rapture, when he talks in verses 34-35 about two being in a bed or grinding meal and one will be taken and the other left. This section also has the famous verse (33) saying that those who seek to save their lives will lose it and those who lose it will keep it.

I spent most of my teens and early 20's immersed in literature about the End Times, not realizing that the scenarios about those times so common to the Christian Right (then it was Hal Lindsay's Late Great Planet Earth; today it is the Left Behind series), were put together by a British guy named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). You can read about that at There was no notion of The Rapture before him. In any case, because our culture has been so steeped in his Dispensationalism, it's hard to hear the passage without all that baggage.

For instance, it is entirely possible that the bit about one being taken and the other left could be referring to the upcoming time of persecution. Jesus is talking here to his disciples, and there are certainly other places where Jesus warns them that life is not going to be easy, even though they are carrying what is supposed to be Good News for the world. One taken and the other left could well mean that the authorities will come into people's homes and places of work and snatch one person away to prison or death...which of course is what happened.

Another thing to note is that the first paragraph, the one that ends with "The Kingdom of God is among you" (or sometimes translated "within you") is spoken to the Pharisees, while the longer section about the day of the Son of Man is spoken to the disciples. My take is that The Kingdom of God is embodied in the person of Jesus. The Pharisees of the time had a much different expectation, and Jesus is pointing out their error.

I think a similar error occurs frequently today. People come and talk to me, wondering where God is in the midst of their suffering. They tell me about caring friends and family who bring them meals, send cards, call, or help in other ways. They tell me about skilled doctors and nurses or helpful programs. "But where is God?" they ask. I find I want to answer, "The Kingdom of God is among you. God sent you that card yesterday and brought dinner the day before. God sat and cried with you last Thursday and is listening to you even now." God is made known in the flesh...incarnation.

But then, as Jesus talks to his disciples, the talk shifts from the Kingdom of God to the Son of Man. There is much debate about that title and what it means. I won't go into all of that, because I'm not sure it is helpful. Here is a more general view of what I think Jesus is saying.

I think the message is not to get caught up in worrying about it. Disciples of Jesus, at least, will not have trouble knowing it when they see it. Don't go running off on wild goose chases. When somebody says, "Sell your house and come stand on this mountain with me because the end is coming next Tuesday," don't bite. In the moment, do what you need to do and don't dally.

That, at least, is my own response to End Times issues. I lost many years so focused on exactly what would happen that I was no good to the present moment. What will happen at the end is immaterial, in a way. It is going to be the way it is going to be, whether I have it figured out ahead of time or not. And unlike knowing what will happen with the stock market, since we're talking about the end of all things, there is little material use in knowing the details.

What is useful, I think, is the recognition that we are part of a finite creation. At some point, there will be an end, and we will find that it comes with both justice and mercy. We, as Christians, are to live as if life matters and as if God cares about what happens on earth. We are to be faithful stewards of Creation, keeping it well for the day when God will ask for an accounting. The next chapter gives us some ideas about what will be important in that accounting...perseverance, humility, childlike trust, giving to the poor, healing others. What will be, will be.


At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you,Anne

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very helpful. I was reading my bible and was stuck on Luke 17 verse 37! I think your insight has given me what i was seeking.


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