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Bible Commentaries

Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

Luke 17

Verses 1-4

WE are taught for one thing in these verses, the great sinfulness of putting stumbling-blocks in the way of other men’s souls. The Lord Jesus says, "Woe unto him through whom offences come! It were better for him that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones."

When do men make others stumble? When do they cause "offences" to come? They do it, beyond doubt, whenever they persecute believers, or endeavor to deter them from serving Christ.—But this, unhappily, is not all. Professing Christians do it whenever they bring discredit on their religion by inconsistencies of temper, of word, or of deed. We do it whenever we make our Christianity unlovely in the eyes of the world, by conduct not in keeping with our profession. The world may not understand the doctrines and principles of believers. But the world is very keen-sighted about their practice.

The sin against which our Lord warns us was the sin of David. When he had broken the seventh commandment, and taken the wife of Uriah to be his wife, the prophet Nathan said to him, "Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme." (2 Samuel 12:14.) It was the sin which Paul charges on the Jews, when he says, "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you." (Romans 2:24.) It is the sin of which he frequently entreats Christians to beware:—"Give none offence, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God." (1 Corinthians 10:32.)

The subject is a deeply searching one. The sin which our Lord brings before us is unhappily very common. The inconsistencies of professing Christians too often supply the men of the world with an excuse for neglecting religion altogether. An inconsistent believer, whether he knows it or not, is daily doing harm to souls. His life is a positive injury to the Gospel of Christ.

Let us often ask ourselves whether we are doing good or harm in the world. We cannot live to ourselves, if we are Christians. The eyes of many will always be upon us. Men will judge by what they see, far more than by what they hear. If they see the Christian contradicting by his practice what he professes to believe, they are justly stumbled and offended. For the world’s sake, as well as for our own, let us labor to be eminently holy. Let us endeavor to make our religion beautiful in the eyes of men, and to adorn the doctrine of Christ in all things. Let us strive daily to lay aside every weight, and the sin which most easily besets us, and so to live that men can find no fault in us, except concerning the law of our God. Let us watch jealously over our tempers and tongues, and the discharge of our social duties. Anything is better than doing harm to souls. The cross of Christ will always give offence. Let us not increase that offence by carelessness in our daily life. The natural man cannot be expected to love the Gospel. But let us not disgust him by inconsistency.

We are taught, for another thing, in these verses, the great importance of a forgiving spirit. The Lord Jesus says, "if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him: and if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him."

There are few Christian duties which are so frequently and strongly dwelt upon in the New Testament as this of forgiving injuries. It fills a prominent place in the Lord’s prayer. The only profession we make in all that prayer, is that of forgiving "those who trespass against us."—It is a test of being forgiven ourselves. The man who cannot forgive his neighbor the few trifling offences he may have committed against him, can know nothing experimentally of that free and full pardon which is offered us by Christ. (Matthew 18:35; Ephesians 4:32.)—Not least, it is one leading mark of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. The presence of the Spirit in the heart may always be known by the fruits He causes to be brought forth in the life. Those fruits are both active and passive. The man who has not learned to bear and forbear, to put up with much and look over much, is not born of the Spirit. (1 John 3:14; Matthew 5:44-45.)

The doctrine laid down by our Lord in this place is deeply humbling. It shows most plainly the wide contrariety which exists between the ways of the world and the Gospel of Christ. Who does not know that pride, and haughtiness, and high-mindedness, and readiness to take offence, and implacable determination never to forget and never to forgive, are common among baptized men and women? Thousands will go to the Lord’s table, and even profess to love the Gospel, who fire up in a moment at the least appearance of what they call "offensive" conduct, and make a quarrel out of the merest trifles. Thousands are perpetually quarreling with all around them, always complaining how ill other people behave, and always forgetting that their own quarrelsome disposition is the spark which causes the flame. One general remark applies to all such persons. They are making their own lives miserable and showing their unmeetness for the kingdom of God. An unforgiving and quarrelsome spirit is the surest mark of an unregenerate heart. What says the Scripture? "Whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 John 3:18-20; 1 John 4:20.)

Let us leave the whole passage with jealous self-inquiry. Few passages ought to humble Christians so much, and to make them feel so deeply their need of the blood of atonement, and the mediation of Christ. How often we have given offence, and caused others to stumble! How often we have allowed unkind, and angry, and revengeful thoughts to nestle undisturbed in our hearts! These things ought not so to be. The more carefully we attend to such practical lessons as this passage contains, the more shall we recommend our religion to others, and the more inward peace shall we find in our own souls.

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Notes

v1.—[Then said he unto the disciples.] Let it be observed that our Lord here turns again to His disciples and specially addresses them, as He had done at the beginning of the last chapter. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus had been specially spoken to the Pharisees. Christ now turns away from them to his own followers.

It is not easy to trace the connexion between the beginning of this chapter and the end of the last. Yet the two chapters seem to contain a continuous discourse of our Lord’s without any pause, break, or intermission.—It is possible that our Lord may have had in His mind the stumbling block that conduct like that of the rich man towards Lazarus put in the way of weak believers, and meant to warn His disciples not to be discouraged if they met with similar treatment.—It is possible that our Lord may be referring again to His lesson about "faithfulness in little things" in the parable of the unjust steward, and be warning his disciples not to give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme.—Both these conjectures, however, may perhaps be needless. A great teacher, like our Lord, has an undoubted right to open up entirely new subjects at His discretion. Perhaps this is the case here.

[It is impossible...will come.] This expression means, that human nature is such, and the world is such, that it is useless to expect there will be no offences. There will be, as long as the world stands. Yet this does not lessen the guilt of those who cause them. Human infirmities are no excuse for the evil that is in the world, though they may explain its presence.

[Offences.] The Greek word so translated is rendered else where in the New Testament, "stumbling block,"—"occasion to fall,"—and "occasion of stumbling." (Romans 11:9; Romans 14:13; 1 John 2:10.)

[Woe unto him, &c.] This woe has probably a wide application. It includes all who cause Christ’s people to stumble and be discouraged, from the fiercest persecutor, like Nero, down to the least inconsistent believer.

v2.—[A mill-stone hanged about his neck, &c.] This is a proverbial expression. Anything is better than to give offence to a believer and make him stumble.

[These little ones.] This expression means here "believers." They are God’s children, and as tenderly cared for by him, as the little infants in a man’s family. (See Mark 9:42.) It is probable that our Lord pointed to some of the weak and unestablished followers who accompanied him and the twelve apostles. There are always many who are "babes in Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:1.)

v3.—[Take heed to yourselves, &c.] The connection of this verse with that which precedes it is, again, not very clear. It would seem to imply that the "offences" of which our Lord had just been speaking, were such as are specially occasioned by the want of a charitable and forgiving spirit among Christians. It is like John’s expression, "he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." (1 John 2:10.)

[Rebuke him.] This expression shows the Christian duty of plain, straightforward, faithful dealing with those who injure us. To say that of a brother behind his back which we are not prepared, if needful, to say before his face, is not the conduct of a true servant of Christ.

[If he repent, forgive him.] This expression is remarkable. It doubtless cannot mean, that we are not to forgive men unless they do repent. At this rate there would be much bitterness constantly kept alive. But it does mean that when there is no repentance or regret for an injury done, there can be no renewal of cordial friendship, or complete reconciliation between man and man.

v4.—[Seven times in a day.] Here, as in other places, we cannot doubt that the number "seven" must be taken indefinitely. It means, "very frequently," "very often." (See Matthew 12:45; Matthew 18:22; Luke 8:2; and Luke 11:26. See also 1 Samuel 2:5; Ruth 4:15; Isaiah 4:1; Psalms 12:6; Micah 5:5.

Verses 5-10

LET us notice, in these verses, the important request which the apostles made. They said unto the Lord, "Increase our faith."

We know not the secret feelings from which this request sprung. Perhaps the hearts of the apostles failed within them, as they heard one weighty lesson after another fall from our Lord’s lips. Perhaps the thought rose up in their minds, "Who is sufficient for these things? Who can receive such high doctrines? Who can follow such a lofty standard of practice?" These, however, are only conjectures. One thing, at any rate, is clear and plain. The request which they made was most deeply important: "Increase our faith."

Faith is the root of saving religion. "He that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6.) It is the hand by which the soul lays hold on Jesus Christ, and is united to Him, and saved. It is the secret of all Christian comfort, and spiritual prosperity. According to a man’s faith will be his peace, his hope, his strength, his courage, his decision, and his victory over the world. When the apostles made request about faith, they did wisely and well.

Faith is a grace which admits of degrees. It does not come to full strength and perfection as soon as it is planted in the heart by the Holy Ghost. There is "little" faith and "great" faith. There is "weak" faith and "strong" faith. Both are spoken of in the Scriptures. Both are to be seen in the experience of God’s people. The more faith a Christian has the more happy, holy, and useful will he be. To promote the growth and progress of faith should be the daily prayer and endeavor of all who love life. When the apostles said, "increase our faith," they did well.

Have we any faith at all? This, after all, is the first question which the subject should raise in our hearts. Saving faith is not mere repetition of the creed, and saying, "I believe in God the Father,—and in God the Son,—and in God the Holy Ghost." Thousands are weekly using these words, who know nothing of real believing. The words of Paul are very solemn, "All men have not faith." (2 Thessalonians 3:2.) True faith is not natural to man. It comes down from heaven. It is the gift of God.

If we have any faith let us pray for more of it. It is a bad sign of a man’s spiritual state when he is satisfied to live on old stock, and does not hunger and thirst after growth in grace. Let a prayer for more faith form part of our daily devotions. Let us covet earnestly the best gifts. We are not to despise "the day of small things" in a brother’s soul, but we are not to be content with it in our own.

Let us notice, for another thing, in these verses, what a heavy blow our Lord gives to self-righteousness. He says to His apostles, "When ye shall have done all these things which are commanded you, say we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."

We are all naturally proud and self-righteous. We think far more highly of ourselves, our deserts, and our character, than we have any right to do. It is a subtle disease, which manifests itself in a hundred different ways. Most men can see it in other people. Few will allow its presence in themselves. Seldom will a man be found, however wicked, who does not secretly flatter himself that there is somebody else worse than he is. Seldom will a saint be found who is not at seasons tempted to be satisfied and pleased with himself. There is such a thing as a pride which wears the cloak of humility. There is not a heart upon earth which does not contain a piece of the Pharisee’s character.

To give up self-righteousness is absolutely needful to salvation. He that desires to be saved must confess that there is no good thing in him, and that he has no merit, no goodness, no worthiness of his own. He must be willing to renounce his own righteousness, and to trust in the righteousness of another, even Christ the Lord. Once pardoned and forgiven, we must travel the daily journey of life under a deep conviction that we are "unprofitable servants." At our best we only do our duty, and have nothing to boast of. And even when we do our duty, it is not by our own power and might that we do it, but by the strength which is given to us from God. Claim upon God we have none. Right to expect anything from God we have none. Worthiness to deserve anything from God we have none. All that we have we have received. All that we are we owe to God’s sovereign, distinguishing grace.

What is the true cause of self-righteousness? How is it that such a poor, weak, erring creature as man can ever dream of deserving anything at God’s hands? It all arises from ignorance. The eyes of our understandings are naturally blinded. We see neither ourselves, nor our lives, nor God, nor the law of God, as we ought. Once let the light of grace shine into a man’s heart, and the reign of self-righteousness is over. The roots of pride may remain, and often put forth bitter shoots. But the power of pride is broken when the Spirit comes into the heart, and shows the man himself and God. The true Christian will never trust in his own goodness. He will say with Paul, "I am the chief of sinners."—"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Timothy 1:15; Galatians 6:14.)

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Notes

v5.—[The Apostles said.] Both Stier and Alford remark, that this is the only instance we have of the "apostles," as a body, saying anything to our Lord, or making any request. Yet I venture to doubt the correctness of the remark. I think it a high probability that in Matthew 17:19, and Acts 1:6, those who spoke to our Lord together were the "apostles."

[Increase our faith.] The literal rendering of the Greek word here would be, "add to us faith,"—that is "give us more faith." The reason why this request was made, I have given in the exposition. It follows a discourse extending from the beginning of the fifteenth chapter, and containing no less than five most important parables, beside other things. No wonder that the disciples said, "Increase our faith."

v6.—[As a grain of mustard seed.] This is a proverbial expression for something very small and insignificant in size.

[Say...sycamine tree...plucked up.] This is a proverbial expression, apparently common among the Jews, for doing great works, and overcoming apparently insuperable difficulties. Paul’s expression is like it, "though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains." (1 Corinthians 13:2.) Major remarks, "When the Jews intended to extol any of their doctors, they said of him, that he plucked up mountains by the roots." Whether the tree mentioned is a mulberry tree, or a sycamine, commentators are not agreed.

[Which of you, &c.] Our Lord’s object in this and the three following verses appears to be, to check any idea of merit or worthiness in the disciples’ minds. However great their faith might be, and however mighty their works, they were not to suppose they would have any claim on God, or any right to His favour.

v7.—[Feeding cattle.] The Greek word so rendered does not necessarily mean feeding cattle. It might as well have been sheep. The Greek word for "shepherd" is the substantive from which it is taken.

[By and by.] The Greek word so rendered is translated in seventy-five other places in the New Testament, "immediately,"—"straightway,"—" forthwith," and in only one place "by and by." (Luke 21:9.) It admits of doubt whether the expression "by and by" did not mean something more immediate, at the time of our own Bible translation, than it does now. It certainly seems so in the expression, "The end is not by and bye." (Luke 21:9.)

It is questionable whether the verse altogether is rightly stopped in our version, or whether the word "by and by," or "immediately," should not be connected with the expression "go and sit down," &c. It would then be "which of you will say unto him, when he is come from the fields, immediately go and sit down to meat." This construction seems more natural and in keeping with the next verse.—The expressions "immediately," or "by and by," and "afterward," are evidently meant to be in contrast to the other.

v8.—[Gird thyself.] The garments of people in Eastern countries are generally loose and flowing. Before doing anything requiring bodily exertion, the first thing necessary was to "gird up the loins," or tie the garments tightly round the waist, after gathering them up.

v9.—[I trow.] The Greek word so rendered, is generally translated "think," or "suppose," in a sentence like that before us. The word which our translators have used here they have not used anywhere else in the Bible.

v10.—[Say, we are unprofitable servants, &c.] The doctrine laid down by our Lord in this verse is plain and evident to any impartial reader. He overthrows entirely all idea of creature-merit. When we have done all that Christ commands, we have done no more than our duty. Yet even what we do is only from grace given to us, and not from natural strength. And even then in what we do there are countless imperfections. To talk therefore of merit or claim to God’s favour, in the face of such a verse as this, is absurd and preposterous.

In the fourteenth article of the Church of England this verse is very properly used as an argument against the Romish doctrine of works of supererogation.

The Greek word translated "unprofitable," is only used in one other place, in the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:30.) Major renders it, "Servants who have conferred no benefit." It may be doubted whether it does not mean even more, "worthless, valueless."

The words of Hooker are worth reading on the doctrine of this verse. "We acknowledge a dutiful necessity of doing well: but the meritorious dignity of doing well we utterly renounce. We see how far we are from the perfect righteousness of the law. The little fruit which we have in holiness, it is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound. We put no confidence in it at all. We challenge nothing in the world for it. We dare not call God to reckoning, as if we had Him in our debt book. Our continual suit to Him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities, and pardon our offences." (Discourse on Justification, s. 7.)

The contrast between what we must say of ourselves, "we are unprofitable," and what Christ will be graciously pleased to say at the last day, (Matthew 25:21, and Matthew 25:34-40) is very striking.

Verses 11-19

LET us mark, firstly, in this passage, how earnestly men can cry for help when they feel their need of it. We read that "as our Lord entered into a certain village there met him ten men that were lepers." It is difficult to conceive any condition more thoroughly miserable than that of men afflicted with leprosy. They were cast out from society. They were cut off from all communion with their fellows. The men described in the passage before us appear to have been truly sensible of their wretchedness. They "stood afar off;"—but they did not stand idly doing nothing. "They lifted up their voices and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." They felt acutely the deplorable state of their bodies. They found words to express their feelings. They cried earnestly for relief when a chance of relief appeared in sight.

The conduct of the ten lepers is very instructive. It throws light on a most important subject in practical Christianity, which we can never understand too well. That subject is prayer.

How is it that many never pray at all? How is it that many others are content to repeat a form of words, but never pray with their hearts? How is it that dying men and women, with souls to be lost or saved, can know so little of real, hearty, business-like prayer? The answer to these questions is short and simple. The bulk of mankind have no sense of sin. They do not feel their spiritual disease. They are not conscious that they are lost, and guilty, and hanging over the brink of hell. When a man finds out his soul’s ailment, he soon learns to pray. Like the leper, he finds words to express his want. He cries for help.

How is it, again, that many true believers often pray so coldly? What is the reason that their prayers are so feeble, and wandering, and lukewarm, as they frequently are? The answer once more is very plain. Their sense of need is not so deep as it ought to be. They are not truly alive to their own weakness and helplessness, and so they do not cry fervently for mercy and grace. Let us remember these things. Let us seek to have a constant and abiding sense of our real necessities. If saints could only see their souls as the ten afflicted lepers saw their bodies, they would pray far better than they do.

Let us mark, secondly, in these verses, how help meets men in the path of obedience. We are told that when the lepers cried to our Lord, He only replied, "Go show yourselves to the priests." He did not touch them and command their disease to depart. He prescribed no medicine, no washing, no use of outward material means. Yet healing power accompanied the words which He spoke. Relief met the afflicted company as soon as they obeyed His command. "It came to pass that as they went they were cleansed."

A fact like this is doubtless intended to teach us knowledge. It shows us the wisdom of simple, childlike obedience to every word which comes from the mouth of Christ. It does not become us to stand still, and reason, and doubt, when our Master’s commands are plain and unmistakable. If the lepers had acted in this way, they would never have been healed. We must read the Scriptures diligently. We must try to pray. We must attend on the public means of grace. All these are duties which Christ requires at our hands, and to which, if we love life, we must attend, without asking vain and captious questions. It is just in the path of unhesitating obedience that Christ will meet and bless us. "If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine." (John 7:17.)

Let us mark, lastly, in these verses, what a rare thing is thankfulness. We are told that of all the ten lepers whom Christ healed, there was only one who turned back and gave Him thanks. The words that fell from our Lord’s lips upon this occasion are very solemn: "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?"

The lesson before us is humbling, heart-searching, and deeply instructive. The best of us are far too like the nine lepers. We are more ready to pray than to praise, and more disposed to ask God for what we have not, than to thank Him for what we have. Murmurings, and complainings, and discontent abound on every side of us. Few indeed are to be found who are not continually hiding their mercies under a bushel, and setting their wants and trials on a hill. These things ought not so to be. But all who know the church and the world must confess that they are true. The wide-spread thanklessness of Christians is the disgrace of our day. It is a plain proof of our little humility.

Let us pray for a daily thankful spirit. It is the spirit which God loves and delights to honor. David and Paul were eminently thankful men.—It is the spirit which has marked all the brightest saints in every age of the church. M’Cheyne, and Bickersteth, and Haldane Stewart, were always full of praise.—It is the spirit which is the very atmosphere of heaven. Angels and "just men made perfect" are always blessing God.—It is the spirit which is the source of happiness on earth. If we would be careful for nothing, we must make our requests known to God not only with prayer and supplication, but with thanksgiving. (Philippians 4:6.)

Above all, let us pray for a deeper sense of our own sinfulness, guilt, and undeserving. This, after all, is the true secret of a thankful spirit. It is the man who daily feels his debt to grace, and daily remembers that in reality he deserves nothing but hell,—this is the man who will be daily blessing and praising God. Thankfulness is a flower which will never bloom well excepting upon a root of deep humility!

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Notes

v11.[Passed...midst... Samaria...Galilee.] There is some difficulty about this expression. The usual road in travelling from the north of Palestine to Jerusalem, would be through Galilee first and then through Samaria. The most probable solution is that our Lord travelled along the boundary between Samaria and Galilee, to the river Jordan, and then followed the course of that river down to Jericho, at which city we find Him in the next chapter.

v12.[Lepers, which stood afar off.] It should be remembered that, by the law of Moses, lepers were cast off from all society, and regarded as outcasts, who might not dwell with others. We read in Leviticus, "He shall dwell alone: without the camp shall his habitation be." (Leviticus 13:46.)

v13.[Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.] We know not what degree of knowledge or faith these lepers possessed. It is probable that they only knew our Lord as a worker of mighty miracles of healing, whose fame was spread over the land.

v14.[Show yourselves unto the Priests.] The meaning of this direction will be obvious to all who are familiar with the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Leviticus. The priests were specially appointed by God to be the judges of all leprous cases, and to decide whether the leper was clean or unclean, cured or uncured. Moreover there was a special injunction to attend to the rules laid down in Leviticus about leprosy in the book of Deuteronomy: "Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you." (Deuteronomy 24:8.)

A Jewish leper would doubtless catch at our Lord’s direction to "go to the priests," and accept it as a hint that he would hear good tidings on showing himself to them.

It has been doubted whether our Lord meant only the Jewish priests, in giving this direction. Some have thought that He meant the Samaritan leper to go to the Samaritan priests on Mount Gerizim. This however appears exceedingly improbable. There is no clear proof that the Samaritan priests undertook the decision of leprous cases. Above all, there is nothing in the Gospels to show that our Lord ever recognized the Samaritan priests.His words addressed to the Samaritan woman, "Salvation is of the Jews,we know what we worship,ye worship ye know not what," (John 4:22.) appear to contradict the idea.

The Roman Catholic inference from this verse, that our Lord intended there should be a Christian priesthood, and that sinners deriving spiritual relief were always meant to go to a priest, is utterly baseless. There is nothing whatever in the verse to warrant it. So long as the ceremonial law lasted, and the Levitical priesthood continued, all its requirements were to be observed. The veil was not yet rent. The true sacrifice was not yet offered. The Old Testament dispensation had not yet passed away. In commanding lepers to go to the priests, our Lord simply declared His respect for the ceremonial law, so long as it lasted.

v15.[One of them...turned back...glorified God.] Let the likeness between this man’s conduct and that of Naaman the Syrian, when he was healed, be carefully noted. (2 Kings 5:15.) Burgon gives the following apt quotation: "The nine others were already healed and hastening to the priests, that they might be restored to the society of men, and their life in the world: but the first thoughts of the Samaritan are turned to his deliverer. He had forgotten all, in the sense of God’s mercy, and of his own unworthiness."

v16.[He was a Samaritan.] Let it be noted that though a Samaritan, this man had been allowed to associate with Jewish lepers. Affliction, misfortune, and persecution drive men together, and make them forget points of difference, which in time of prosperity and ease are thought very important.

v17.[But where are the nine?] The Greek words so rendered might perhaps be translated more literally, "But the nine,where are they?"

v18.[This stranger.] The Greek word used here means literally "one of another nation," and only occurs here. It is a strong expression, and shows clearly that our Lord did not recognize the Samaritans as anything more than Gentiles.

v19.[Thy faith hath made thee whole.] Alford remarks here, that this making whole was "in a higher sense than the mere cleansing of his leprosy. The making whole of the nine was merely the beholding of the brazen serpent with the outward eye. He beheld with the eye of inward faith. This faith saved him;not only healed his body, but his soul."

Verses 20-25

WE are taught, firstly, in this passage that the kingdom of God is utterly unlike the kingdoms of this world. The Lord Jesus tells the Pharisees that "it cometh not with observation." He meant by this that its approach and presence were not to be marked by outward signs of dignity. Those who expected to observe anything of this kind would be disappointed. They would wait and watch for such a kingdom in vain, while the real kingdom would be in the midst of them without their knowing it. "Behold," He says, "the kingdom of God is within you."

The expression which our Lord here uses describes exactly the beginning of His spiritual kingdom. It began in a manger at Bethlehem, without the knowledge of the great, the rich, and the wise. It appeared suddenly in the temple at Jerusalem, and no one but Simeon and Anna recognized its King. It was received thirty years after by none but a few fishermen and publicans in Galilee. The rulers and Pharisees had no eyes to see it. The King came to His own, and His own received Him not. All this time the Jews professed to be waiting for the kingdom. But they were looking in the wrong direction. They were waiting for signs which they had no warrant for expecting. The kingdom of God was actually in the midst of them! Yet they could not see it!

The literal kingdom which Christ shall set up one day will begin in some respects very like His spiritual one. It will not be accompanied by the signs, and marks, and outward manifestations which many are expecting to see. It will not be ushered in by a period of universal peace and holiness. It will not be announced to the Church by such unmistakable warnings, that everybody will be ready for it, and prepared for its appearing. It shall come suddenly, unexpectedly, and without note of warning to the immense majority of mankind. The Simeons and Annas will be as few in the last day as they were at the beginning of the Gospel. The most shall awake one day, like men out of sleep, and find, to their surprise and dismay, that the kingdom of God is actually come.

We shall do well to lay these things to heart, and ponder them well. The vast majority of men are utterly deceived in their expectations with respect to the kingdom of God. They are waiting for signs which will never appear. They are looking for indications which they will never discover. They are dreaming of universal conversion in the day of election. They are fancying that missionaries, and ministers, and schools, will change the face of the world before the end comes. Let us beware of such mistakes. Let us not sleep as do others. The kingdom of God will be upon men much sooner than many expect. "It cometh not with observation."

We are taught, secondly, in this passage, that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be a very sudden event. Our Lord describes this by a striking figure. He says, "As the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven: so shall also the Son of man be in His day."

The second personal advent of Christ is the real fulfillment of these words. Of the precise day and hour of that advent we know nothing. But whenever it may take place, one thing at least is clear,—it will come on the Church and the world suddenly, instantaneously, and without previous notice. The whole tenor of Scripture points this way. It shall be "in such an hour as ye think not."—It shall come "as a thief in the night." (Matthew 24:44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2.)

This suddenness of Christ’s second advent is a solemn thought. It ought to make us study a continual preparedness of mind. Our hearts’ desire and endeavor should be to be always ready to meet our Lord. Our life’s aim should be to do nothing, and say nothing, which could make us ashamed if Christ were suddenly to appear. "Blessed," says the apostle John, "is he who watcheth and keepeth his garments." (Revelation 16:15.) Those who denounce the doctrine of the second advent as speculative, fanciful, and unpractical, would do well to reconsider the subject. The doctrine was not so regarded in the days of the apostles. In their eyes patience, hope, diligence, moderation, personal holiness, were inseparably connected with an expectation of the Lord’s return. Happy is the Christian who has learned to think with them! To be ever looking for the Lord’s appearing is one of the best helps to a close walk with God.

We are taught, lastly, in this passage, that there are two personal comings of Christ revealed to us in Scripture. He was appointed to come the first time in weakness and humiliation, to suffer and to die. He was appointed to come the second time in power and great glory, to put down all enemies under His feet, and to reign.—At the first coming He was to be "made sin for us," and to bear our sins upon the cross. At the second coming He was to appear without sin, for the complete salvation of His people. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:28.) Of both these comings our Lord speaks expressly in the verses before us. Of the first He speaks when He says that the Son of Man "must suffer and be rejected." Of the second He speaks when He says the Son of Man "will be as the lightning which lighteneth out of one part of heaven unto another."

To see these two comings of Christ distinctly is of great importance to a right understanding of Scripture. The disciples, and all the Jews of our Lord’s time, appear to have seen only one personal advent. They expected a Messiah who would come to reign, but not one who would come to suffer.—The majority of Christians, in like manner, appear to see only one personal advent. They believe that Christ came the first time to suffer. But they seem unable to understand that Christ is coming a second time to reign. Both parties have got hold of the truth, but neither, unhappily, has embraced the whole truth. Both are more or less in error, and the Christian’s error is only second in importance to that of the Jew.

He that strives to be a well-instructed and established Christian, must keep steadily before his mind both the advents of Jesus Christ. Clear views of the subject are a great help to the profitable reading of the Bible. Without them we shall constantly find statements in prophecy which we can neither reconcile with other statements, nor yet explain away. Jesus coming in person the first time to suffer, and Jesus coming in person the second time to reign, are two landmarks of which we should never lose sight. We stand between the two. Let us believe that both are real and true.

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Notes

v20.[Demanded of the Pharisees.] Euthymius thinks that this question was asked in derision. It is as if the Pharisees said, "where is this kingdom you so often speak of? what likelihood is there of one so poor and lowly as you setting up a kingdom? How long are we to wait before this kingdom of your’s shall appear?"

I am not satisfied that this view is correct. Messiah’s kingdom was looked for by all Jews at the time when our Lord was upon earth. They expected the kingdom foretold by Daniel to appear. (Daniel 2:44.) The question before us appears to me nothing more than the natural question, which was uppermost in all Jews’ minds at the time when it was asked.

[Cometh not with observation.] This expression is interpreted two ways.—Some think, with Schleusner and our marginal reading, that our Lord meant, "it cometh not with outward pomp or show."—Others think, with Parkhurst and our own translators, that our Lord meant, "it cometh not in such a way that men shall be able to observe it."—It comes quietly, noiselessly, and unnoticed, except by those who, like Simeon and Anna, are waiting for it in a right state of mind. I decidedly incline to this last view.

One word of caution must be added. Our Lord did not mean us to understand, that there were no "signs" whatever of this kingdom, which any intelligent believer could perceive, and that it was useless to observe the signs of the times. In another place He rebukes the Jews for "not discerning the signs of the times." (Matthew 16:3.) He only meant that such signs as the carnal Jews expected, would never be seen. Those who waited for such signs would wait in vain.

The kingdom of which our Lord speaks here, evidently includes both His present spiritual kingdom and His future glorious kingdom.

v21.[Neither shall they say, Lo here! &c.] This expression is only an amplification of the preceding one. There were to be no signs of the kingdom of God so clear, plain, and unmistakeable, that all men would be able to point at them and say, "Behold, the kingdom of God is come."—Neither the first spiritual kingdom which began under the Gospel, nor the second glorious kingdom which shall begin at the second advent, were intended by God to be ushered in by such clear unmistakeable signs, that no one could fail to see them, and no room be left for unbelief.

Those who maintain that all prophecies in the book of Revelation were meant to be fulfilled so manifestly that no one could doubt their fulfilment,—and that Revelation is therefore entirely unfulfilled as yet, because interpreters of it have hitherto not explained it satisfactorily, would do well to mark our Lord’s language in this verse. It appears somewhat damaging to their theory.

[The kingdom of God is within you.] This expression again is interpreted two ways. Some hold with our translators, that the word "within" means, "in your hearts and consciences. The kingdom of God is an inward and spiritual thing, and not an external and visible thing."—Others hold with our marginal reading, that "within," means "among you." The kingdom has already begun in the midst of your nation. My disciples have already joined it and become its first subjects. While you are waiting, my spiritual kingdom has already been set up. I decidedly adhere to this last view.

v22.[He said unto His disciples.] Let it be noted that our Lord here turns away from the Pharisees and addresses His own disciples.

[The days will come, &c.] This expression is somewhat obscure. Stella thinks it refers to the time of our Lord’s second advent, and that it describes the misery of the unconverted in that day, desiring to have one day of Gospel offers granted to them, when it is too late.—I rather regard it as describing the whole state of the believing church, during the interval between the first and second advents of Christ, and specially the state of the apostles, and our Lord’s immediate followers after His ascension. How much they would long for one of the happy days, when they had their Master visibly among them, we can easily conceive. The expression is like that in Matthew, "The days shall come when the bridegroom shall be taken away, and then shall they fast." (Matthew 9:15.)

v23.[They shall say, see here, &c.] This verse contains a warning to the disciples not to be moved by rumours of Messiah having come in glory, and the kingdom having been set up. Such rumours, we know from history, abounded from the time of our Lord’s ascension till the taking of Jerusalem. False Christs and false prophets were continually arising. The warning is unquestionably meant to apply to the times immediately preceding the second advent. False Christs, false prophets, and pretenders to divine commission may be expected in the latter days, and believers must be on their guard against them.

v24.[For as the lightning &c.] In this verse our Lord declares distinctly that His second advent, when it does take place, will be so sudden, so clearly-marked, and so unmistakeable, that true believers shall at once recognize it as the coming of their King. It will not be a slow, gradual event. It will come on men in a moment.

That our Lord in this verse meant nothing more than the march of the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem, is, to my mind, an unsatisfactory and improbable interpretation.

v25.[First must he suffer.] Our Lord here asserts that great truth which His disciples and all the Jews were so exceedingly slow to see. He must first suffer and afterwards reign. He must first endure the cross, and afterwards, at His second advent, wear the crown.

[Rejected of this generation.] I am strongly disposed to think, that both here and in Luke 21:32, Mark 13:30, and Matthew 24:34, the word translated, "generation," means this nation or people of the Jews, and not merely the men who were living when our Lord spoke. Those who wish to see this view, and the quotations in favour of it, will find it set forth in Ravanelli Thesaurus, under the word "generation."

Verses 26-37

THE subject of these verses is one of peculiar solemnity. It is the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. That great event, and the things immediately connected with it, are here described by our Lord’s own lips.

We should observe, for one thing, in these verses, what a fearful picture our Lord gives of the state of the professing Church at His second coming. We are told that as it was in the "days of Noah," and in the "days of Lot," "so shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed." The character of those days we are not left to conjecture. We are told distinctly, that men were entirely taken up with eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting, building,—and would attend to nothing else. The flood came at last in Noah’s day, and drowned all except those who were in the ark. The fire fell from heaven at last in Lot’s day, and destroyed all except Lot, his wife, and his daughters. And our Lord declares most plainly that like things will happen when He comes again at the end of the world. "When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them." (1 Thessalonians 5:3.)

It is hard to imagine a passage of Scripture which more completely overthrows the common notions that prevail among men about Christ’s return. The world will not be converted when Jesus comes again. The earth will not be full of the knowledge of the Lord. The reign of peace will not have been established. The millennium will not have begun. These glorious things will come to pass after the second advent, but not before. If words have any meaning, the verses before us show that the earth will be found full of wickedness and worldliness in the day of Christ’s appearing. The unbelievers and the unconverted will be found very many. The believers and the godly, as in the days of Noah and Lot, will be found very few.

Let us take heed to ourselves, and beware of the spirit of the world. It is not enough to do as others, and buy, and sell, and plant, and build, and eat, and drink, and marry, as if we were born for nothing else. Exclusive attention to these things may ruin us as thoroughly as open sin. We must come out from the world and be separate. We must dare to be peculiar. We must escape for our lives like Lot. We must flee to the ark like Noah. This alone is safety. Then, and then only, we shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger, and avoid destruction when the Son of man is revealed. (Zephaniah 2:3.)

We should observe, for another thing, in these verses, what a solemn warning our Lord gives us against unsound profession. He says to us, in immediate connection with the description of His second advent, "Remember Lot’s wife."

Lot’s wife went far in religious profession. She was the wife of a "righteous man." She was connected through him with Abraham, the father of the faithful. She fled with her husband from Sodom in the day when he escaped for his life by God’s command. But Lot’s wife was not really like her husband. Though she fled with him, she had left her heart behind her. She wilfully disobeyed the strict injunction which the angel had laid upon her. She looked back towards Sodom, and was at once struck dead. She was turned into a pillar of salt, and perished in her sins. "Remember" her, says our Lord,—"Remember Lot’s wife."

Lot’s wife is meant to be a beacon and a warning to all professing Christians. It may be feared that many will be found like her in the day of Christ’s second advent. There are many in the present day who go a certain length in religion. They conform to the outward ways of Christian relatives and friends. They speak the "language of Canaan." They use all the outward ordinances of religion. But all this time their souls are not right in the sight of God. The world is in their hearts, and their hearts are in the world. And by and bye, in the day of sifting, their unsoundness will be exposed to all the world. Their Christianity will prove rotten at the core. The case of Lot’s wife will not stand alone.

Let us remember Lot’s wife, and resolve to be real in our religion. Let us not profess to serve Christ for no higher motive than to please husbands, or wives, or masters, or ministers. A mere lean-to religion like this will never save our souls. Let us serve Christ for His own sake. Let us never rest till we have the true grace of God in our hearts, and have no desire to look back to the world.

We should observe, lastly, in these verses, what an awful separation there will be in the professing Church when Christ comes again. Our Lord describes this separation by a very striking picture. He says, "In that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left."

The meaning of these expressions is clear and plain. The day of Christ’s second advent shall be the day when good and evil, converted and unconverted, shall at length be divided into two distinct bodies. The visible Church shall no longer be a mixed body. The wheat and the tares shall no longer grow side by side. The good fish and the bad shall at length be sorted into two bodies. The angels shall come forth, and gather together the godly, that they may be rewarded; and leave the wicked behind to be punished. "Converted or unconverted," will be the only subject of enquiry. It will matter nothing that people have worked together, and slept together, and lived together for many years. They will be dealt with at last according to their religion. Those members of the family who have loved Christ, will be taken up to heaven; and those who have loved the world, will be cast down to hell. Converted and unconverted shall be separated for evermore when Jesus comes again.

Let us lay to heart these things. He that loves his relatives and friends is specially bound to consider them. If those whom he loves are true servants of Christ, let him know that he must cast in his lot with them, if he would not one day be parted from them for ever.—If those whom he loves are yet dead in trespasses and sins, let him know that he must work and pray for their conversion, lest he should be separated from them by and bye to all eternity. Life is the only time for such work. Life is fast ebbing away from us all. Partings, and separations, and the breaking up of families are at all times painful things. But all the separations that we see now are nothing compared to those which will be seen when Christ comes again.

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Notes

v26.—[As it was in the days of Noe, &c.] The whole passage, from this verse down to the end, applies exclusively to the second personal advent of Christ, when He shall come to set up His glorious kingdom. The Pharisees had inquired about Messiah’s kingdom. The disciples themselves thought much of it, and were full of ignorant expectations. Our Lord thought it good to show them that Messiah’s kingdom in glory would be a far more solemn event than they supposed, and that it would find the vast majority of mankind utterly unprepared. Instead of indulging in carnal speculations, and looking for carnal rewards, they would do well to study an unworldly frame of mind, and to take heed that they were ready for the kingdom in heart and life. Its setting up would be attended by such a sifting and separation as they had not considered. For that day of sifting they would do well to prepare.

Let it be noted, that our Lord speaks of Noah’s days as an illustration of the days of His own second advent, in the 24th chapter of Matthew. But the discourse which He delivered then was delivered on a totally different occasion from that before us. It is plain therefore that He used the illustration twice.

To apply the conclusion of this chapter, as many do, to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, appears to me an unwarrantable and violent straining of Scripture.

v27.—[They did eat, they drank, &c.] These expressions would perhaps be more literally translated, "They were eating, they were drinking," &c. It was the habit of living, in which they were absorbed.

[Noe entered into the ark, &c.] Let it be noted, that both here and in the two following verses, our Lord speaks of the history of Noah’s ark, and of Lot and the destruction of Sodom, and of Lot’s wife, as real, true historical facts. The idea of modern sceptics, that the events recorded in Genesis are nothing better than myths and fables, finds no countenance here. Specially let it be observed, that the modern notion of Neologians, that Sodom was destroyed by an earthquake, is completely overturned here. Our Lord expressly asserts, that "It rained fire and brimstone from heaven." It is a dangerous thing to be wise above that which is written.

v31.—[He which shall be upon the house-top, &c.] This expression is remarkable. It is exactly like that which our Lord uses upon another occasion, where He is foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, and the miseries of its sieges, both the siege when the Romans took it, and the siege foretold by Zechariah (Zechariah 14:1-21,) which is yet to come. Yet in the passage before us there is no reference whatever to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The whole passage is exclusively confined to the second advent of Christ, and the circumstances attending it.

What then are we to understand by the language which our Lord uses, both in this verse and the five which follow it?

The most probable solution appears to me to be this. Our Lord desired to teach His disciples that His own second advent in glory would not be a time of carnal ease to everybody as the Jews thought, but a time of trial to men’s religion, and of sifting and separation to the visible church.—It would be ushered in by such a period of tribulation and suffering, that none but those who were sitting loose to the world, and ready to give up everything for Christ’s sake, would come out of it unscathed.—It would be a time when believers must give up all thought of worldly goods, and beware of lingering and looking back to the world. Nothing but singleness of eye, wholeness of heart, and unworldliness of spirit would abide the fire of that day.

The verse before us, in short, appears to me a proverbial expression. It shows the sort of thing which Christians must not do, and the sort of spirit which they must beware of, if they would come safely through the day of the Lord’s appearing.

The house-tops in Eastern countries, be it remembered, are generally flat, and much used by the inhabitants. The stairs were often outside, and a man need not come down through the house to flee away. Moreover he might flee over the flat roofs of his neighbours houses, and thus escape, in any sudden time of danger.

Whether in all this there may not be some reference to that future siege of Jerusalem, which is so closely connected with our Lord’s second advent (Zechariah 14:1-21,) I am not prepared to decide. There is perhaps a deeper and fuller meaning in the verse than has yet been discovered. There are to be circumstances attending the second advent of Christ, in all probability, of which at present we have very inadequate conceptions, and which perhaps are mercifully withheld from us now, because we could not bear them.

v33.—[Whosoever shall seek, &c.] This verse appears to point out that there will be a fiery trial of men’s religion at the time of Christ’s second advent, and that none will come through it safely, but those who are prepared to give up everything, even life itself, for Christ’s sake.

[Preserve it.] The word so rendered is very peculiar. It means literally, "to bring forth alive." It is only found in one other place in the New Testament. Acts 7:19.

v35.—[Two women...grinding together.] This expression may seem strange to an English ear at first hearing. It is an exact description of what may commonly be seen in Eastern countries. Major quotes the following passage from Dr. Clarke. "Scarcely had we reached our apartments at Nazareth, than we beheld two women grinding at the mill, in a manner most fully illustrating the saying of our Saviour. They were preparing flour to make bread, as is always customary when strangers arrive. The two women seated on the ground held between them two round flat stones. In the centre of the upper stone was a cavity for pouring in corn, and by the side of this an upright wooden handle for moving the stone. One of the women with her right hand pushed this handle to the women opposite, who again sent it to her companion, thus giving a rotatory and very rapid motion to the upper stone. Their left hand was all the while employed in supplying fresh corn, as fast as the bran and corn escaped from the sides of the machine." See Exodus 11:5; Isaiah 47:1-3.

v37.—[Where Lord?] The question of the disciples appears to show that they were entirely perplexed by the words which our Lord had just spoken. The answer they received seems intended to keep them purposely in ignorance of our Lord’s full meaning. At present they were not able to bear it.

[Wheresoever...body...eagles...together.] This is a dark and mysterious saying, and has greatly perplexed all commentators. That it refers to the well-known power of the vulture-tribe, to discern carcases, whether by eye or by smell, is allowed by all. (Job 39:30.)—That it is a proverbial saying, signifying the gathering of things which from any cause have an attraction one to another, is also allowed.—But when we come to the precise application of the saying, we find great variety of opinions. The parallel expression in Matthew, (Matthew 24:28,) contains a Greek word for the body, which means a "dead body." The word used in the verse before us, does not necessarily mean a dead body. In other respects the two passages are alike.

1. Some think that "the eagles" mean the saints. This is by far the commonest opinion. It is held by Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Theophylact, Euthymius, Luther, Calvin, Brentius, Bullinger, Bucer, Gualter, Beza, Pellican, Flacius, Musculus, Paræus, Piscator, Cocceius, Jansenius, Quesnel, Du Veil, Cornelius à Lapide, Calovius, Suicer, Ravanell, Poole, Trapp, Cartwright, Pearce, Leigh, Wordsworth, and Burgon.

The meanings these writers attach to "the body," are exceedingly various. Suffice it to say that some think it means "heaven,"—some "Christ,"—some "the Church,"—some "the Lord’s Supper,"—and some "the judgment."

2. Some think that "the eagles" mean the Roman armies, whose military ensign was the eagle, and "the body," Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. This is the view of Hammond, Lightfoot, Whitby, Doddridge, Burkitt, Bengel, Gill, Parkhurst, Scott, A. Clark, Major, Davidson, Stier, and Barnes.

Matthew Henry, with characteristic kindliness, seems to think that this interpretation and the former one may both be correct at the same time.

3. Some think that "the eagles" mean false prophets. This is the view of Aretius and Arias Montanus.

4. Some think that "the eagles" mean all mankind, and "the body," the judgment day. This is the view of Barradius, Stella and Maldonatus.

5. Origen thinks that "the body" means the Church, and "the eagles gathered together," the unanimous consent of doctors and early fathers.

6. Chemnitius thinks that "the eagles" mean Christ Himself.

7. Heinsius thinks that the whole sentence is only a figurative prediction of the extreme rapidity of Christ’s second advent. He shall come as rapidly as eagles come to a carcase.

8. Alford thinks that "the eagles" mean the angels of vengeance, and "the body" the whole world.

I cannot undertake to decide amidst so many conflicting judgments. I only venture the opinion that, looking at the context, the eagles are more likely to be emblems of the angels who will be employed at our Lord’s second coming, than of anything else. The verse immediately preceding that before us speaks of the separation between the just and the unjust which shall take place at our Lord’s appearing. In that separation we are distinctly told elsewhere, the agents employed shall be the angels. (Matthew 13:49.) Is it too much, then, to conjecture that our Lord’s simple meaning is, that wherever "His body" is, His professing Church, there the angels shall gather together at the last day, and sever the wicked from the just, in order to give to each his appointed place?

It is, however, very probable that all the interpretations, hitherto proposed, will prove at last incorrect, and that the true one may yet remain to be discovered at the second advent. That our Lord purposely meant it to be regarded as a mysterious saying is very evident.

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Bibliographical Information
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ryl/luke-17.html.