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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 17

 

 

Verse 1-2

Causing Stumblingblocks For Children (17:1-2).

The first warning is against putting causes for stumbling in people’s way, especially in the way of weak disciples and believing children.

Analysis.

a And he said to his disciples, “It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come (Luke 17:1 a).

b But woe to him, through whom they come! (Luke 17:1 b).

b It were well for him if a millstone was hung about his neck and he were thrown into the sea (Luke 17:2 a).

a Rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble (Luke 17:2 b).

Note how in ‘a’ occasions of stumbling will come, and in the parallel they should beware of making little ones stumble. In ‘b’ there is a woe on those who do cause others to stumble, and in the parallel it is declared that it would be better to drown themselves quickly rather than do so.

Luke 17:1-2, ‘And he said to his disciples,

It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come,

But woe to him, through whom they come!

It were well for him if a millstone was hung about his neck and he were thrown into the sea,

Rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.’

It is first stated that life and a sinful world is such that it is impossible to avoid occasions of stumbling. They must necessarily come because of what people are. But the point here is to warn against being the cause of such stumbling. The word used here is skandala which indicates the stick which causes a bait trap to function. It is a warning against ‘entrapping’ people, in this case disciples, into temptation and wrongdoing, by false teaching and bad example.

One example of such a stumblingblock is found in chapter 16. The Pharisees might scoff at Jesus’ views about wealth, but wealth was unquestionably a stumblingblock to many (Ezekiel 7:19). It certainly was to the rich man in the preceding story (Luke 16:19-31). It will be to the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-26). It takes a special kind of person to be both wealthy and truly spiritual, which is why Jesus spoke so forcefully concerning it. Thus the Pharisees caused others to stumble by their attitude to wealth, even when they did not stumble themselves. Let the disciples beware that they do no do the same.

Another stumblingblock can arise from the example we set to others. Paul warned against allowing what we eat or drink to become a stumblingblock to others (Romans 14:21). We may know that food offered to idols is nothing, and we may be able to control how much we drink, but the more we are used in Christian service the more our example is watched and copied, and the more we therefore have to think about how our actions might affect others. We will not be comfortable in that Day if an alcoholic declares that it was our example that started him on his way to ruin. To the non-believer it sounds incredible that we should think like this, for to them their right to do what they like is all, but the Christian thinks differently, for he has to give account to his Master.

A third way of causing people to stumble would be by false teaching. They must ensure that they are not being led astray like the Pharisees were seen to be in Luke 16:14-18, and as a result of it leading astray those who looked to them for guidance. They must beware of the hypocritical ways (leaven) of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1).

Jesus treated the matter of causing others to stumble so seriously that He declared a ‘woe’ on a person who did it. Indeed He says that it would be better for that person to be instantly drowned than for them to cause a weaker person to stumble. Being a Christian teacher and guide is no light matter. We must study to show ourselves approved to God, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The millstone was the top stone used for grinding in the mill. It would have a hole in it and could thus be tied around the neck. If it were a large stone, as it would regularly be, the person would sink instantly. The emphasis is on a swift drowning (it was a severe warning, not actually intended to be carried into effect). See for a slightly different example Jeremiah 51:63. Being cast into the sea is an indication of judgment, compare Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23.

It should, however, be noted that if such rough treatment is preferable to the alternative, then the alternative must be pretty gruesome. We should not treat lightly the idea of God’s punishments. On the other hand the severity of the punishment must be seen in the light of the fact that to the repentant forgiveness is available.

‘Rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.’ Clearly anything is seen as better than causing the weak to stumble, either by what we say or what we do. ‘Little ones’ or ‘lesser ones’ (mikron) might indicate children, or weak disciples, or the poor. ‘These’ suggests that they were present and could be indicated. But there could well have been children who were with their parents among the disciples, whom He uses as an object lesson. But all classes of ‘weak ones’ are in the end to be included. For the strong must have a regard for the weak (Romans 15:1). For although Jesus valued children, He also valued the weak (compare Isaiah 42:3). The parallel in the section chiasmus favours the idea that it is little ones who are mainly in mind, for in the chiasmus it parallels the bringing of children to Jesus (Luke 18:15-17). Compare also Matthew 18:5 where it is clearly indicated that the millstone treatment is recommended for those who cause child believers to go astray.


Verses 1-10

The Disciples’ Responsibility Towards God’s People And The Warning Not To Get Above Themselves Because Of What They Will Accomplish (17:1-10).

Some have spoken here of ‘separate sayings’ but there is no reason why this passage should not be seen as a unity. It is a string of connected sayings of a type regularly put together in Jewish teaching. It first warns against putting a cause for stumbling in front of the weak, which is fairly similar to the Old Testament warning against doing the same with the blind (Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:18), and this is followed by the need to be ready to forgive weaker brothers and sisters, a failure in which might well cause a weaker person to stumble. This is then seen as making the Apostles aware that their own faith is weak, which results in a desire for increased faith. And it is at this point that they receive the assurance that their faith is large enough to accomplish what God wants to accomplish, because even faith the size of a mustard seed is sufficient for that.

Nevertheless their cry for increased faith is a welcome sign of growing humility. But Jesus is well aware that what they are to accomplish in the future, the planting of the Kingly Rule of God among the nations, might give the Apostles a sense of superiority, so He follows all that he has said with a warning not to get above themselves because they are able to do these things. They are not to see it as making them super-saints. They must keep in mind that they will only be doing what it is their duty to do, and that therefore all the glory must go to God. Having learned the secret of overcoming riches in the previous chapter, they are now to learn the secret of overcoming pride in their accomplishments.


Verse 3-4

The Need To Forgive Readily (17:3-4).

Jesus also stresses the need to forgive readily those who recognise their faults. Being unwilling readily to forgive could easily result in causing the weak who have sinned, and sense that they are unforgiven, to stumble and fall away. Such people often need to be made to feel welcome so as to help them to get over their weakness. In such cases being unforgiving can only cause hurt and resentment, and be a stumblingblock to the person who senses that he is not forgiven. And yet it is not always easy to forgive. That is why in the Lord’s prayer we are reminded that we should forgive, because we have been forgiven. This is a reminder that we too are weak. And if we consider how much has been forgiven to us, we will find forgiving far less difficult.

Analysis.

a Take heed to yourselves (Luke 17:3 a).

b If your brother sin, rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him (Luke 17:3 b).

b And if he sin against you seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to you, saying, I repent (Luke 17:4 a).

a You shall forgive him (Luke 17:4 b).

In ‘a’ they are told to take heed to themselves, and in the parallel they are to forgive. In ‘b’ they are to rebuke a sin in a brother and if he repents to forgive him, and in the parallel the same is to be true if he sin seven times in a day.

Luke 17:3-4,

Take heed to yourselves,

If your brother sin, rebuke him, and if he repent, forgive him.

And if he sin against you seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to you, saying, I repent,

You shall forgive him.

‘Take heed to yourselves’ connects these verses directly to the idea in Luke 17:1-2. There is no more important attitude towards young believers than to be able to forgive them. That does not, however, mean dealing lightly with sin. If a brother or sister sins then their sin must be drawn to their attention, not in a hypercritical or censorious way, but gently and lovingly in the same way as we would want them to do it to us. Nevertheless they must be shown that it is wrong. Sin must not be condoned. The verb used can mean ‘To speak seriously about, or to warn in order to prevent an action, or in order to bring one to an end’. But then if they acknowledge their sin and change their heart and mind about it they are to be forgiven. Back biting or the nursing of grudges is thus forbidden. In Matthew Jesus amplifies the idea to include seeking the help of others where the person fails to repent (Matthew 18:15-17).

And the same applies if they sin seven times in the day. This is not a number to be counted so that once we reach seven we can stop, it is really saying, ‘as often as it happens’. The point is that continual forgiveness must be available, just as we need continual forgiveness from God. Thereby they will be strengthened and raised to continue to go forward (instead of stumbling even more) and we will be blessed and forgiven for our own sins.

But to put others before ourselves by avoiding being a stumblingblock, and to forgive others continually for what they do against us, are not easy things to do. They require faith in the One Who holds all things in His hands. That is certainly how the Apostles saw it, for they then turned to Jesus and asked Him in the light of all this to increase their faith. Note the change from ‘disciples’ to ‘Apostles’. There were many disciples, only twelve Apostles. The Apostles rightly saw that they had a special responsibility for all the disciples who followed Jesus.

The Power of Little Faith Combined With A Great God Which Will Plant the Kingly Rule of God, And The Need For Humility In The Service Of One Who Gives Such Power (Luke 17:5-10).

What Jesus has just required of His disciples in Luke 17:1-4 has made the Apostles appreciate that spiritually they are lacking. So with absolute confidence in their Maser they ask Him to give them increased faith. He had previously given them faith to preach, heal and cast out evil spirits. Now they are asking for more faith so as to enable them to walk without causing others to stumble, and so as to enable them to continually forgive, to say nothing of the other attributes that they are going to need. They want to be men of such faith that they do not fail God.

Jesus therefore points out that what they need is not a greater faith, but faith in a greater God. If their recognition of the greatness of God is sufficient they will be able to do remarkable things, for they have been chosen for that very purpose.

But while guiding them in this Jesus recognises the dangers for them in what He now says of overweening pride, and thus seeks to bring home to them the need to recognise that they will only have the power that He is describing because they are doing what they are commanded to do, and that they do it as servants and not as masters.

Analysis.

a The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

b And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this sycamine (mulberry) tree, ‘Be you rooted up, and be you planted in the sea, and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).

c “But who is there of you, having a servant ploughing or keeping sheep, who will say to him, when he is come in from the field, ‘Come straightway and sit down to meat’,” (Luke 17:7).

d “And will not rather say to him, ‘Make ready that on which I may sup, and gird yourself, and serve me, until I have eaten and drunk, and afterwards you will eat and drink?’ ” (Luke 17:8).

c “Does he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded?” (Luke 17:9).

b “Even so you also, when you shall have done all the things that are commanded you” (Luke 17:10 a).

a “Say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done that which it was our duty to do.’ ” (Luke 17:10 b).

The request for increased faith, if answered, may well open the gate to false pride. Thus in guiding them in the way of faith Jesus carefully reminds them that they are servants who are merely doing their duty. What they will be able to achieve they will be able to achieve because of that fact. They will therefore have nothing to boast about in it.

Note in ‘a’ that they request a greater gift of faith, and in the parallel they are to acknowledge that they are thereby only servants doing their duty. In ‘b’ they are promised that their faith will such that they will be able to command the sycamine tree to replant itself in the sea, and in the parallel He reminds them that they will only be able to do so because they themselves are under command. In ‘c’ he questions whether a servant expects his master to serve him, and in the parallel he questions whether a servant expects to be thanked. Central to all in ‘d’ is his responsibility to serve his master.


Verse 5-6

‘And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”

And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed,”

You would say to this sycamine (mulberry) tree, ‘Be you rooted up, and be you planted in the sea,’

And it would obey you.”

The plea for increased faith is by ‘the Apostles’ in contrast with ‘the disciples’ in Luke 17:1. The Apostles are growing in their awareness of the importance of their position, and of their own weakness for the task. They feel therefore that they need their faith to be made stronger. But Jesus, who sees much further ahead, wishes to bring home to them that it is not the strength of their faith that matters. What matters is the One in Whom they have faith. If their faith is in the right Person, and they see Him for what He is and recognise their own position within His purposes, then even the tiniest faith will accomplish mighty things. But in order for this to be so they must be people of a forgiving spirit. We should note in this regard that in the passage in Mark which deals with a similar subject exercising faith and forgiveness are closely connected (Mark 11:23-25).

Their appeal for increased faith arouses in Jesus a desire to prepare them for the future that lies ahead. For He knows that they will not always just be ministering among a small group of spiritual ‘babes in Jesus’ in Palestine who need to be tended, and guided over obstacles (Luke 17:1-2), and forgiven when they fail (Luke 17:3-4). They will shortly be facing the greater task of going out to the world with the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God.

This sudden introduction of words which transcend their context has been noted earlier, compare Luke 10:17-22; Luke 12:49-53. We have another example here.

So now is the time for them to stop looking at their own faith and to recognise that they serve the One Who can do great things, and because He has chosen them, will do even greater things through them. For as they serve God in obedience to His commands even the tiniest of faith will accomplish the impossible. If they have faith as small as a mustard seed they will be able to command a ‘sycamine tree’ to be rooted up and replant itself (phuteuo) in the sea.

At a minimum this is telling the Apostles that in the future they are going to do wonderful things. There would be no point in it otherwise. And aware of this he is concerned that they do not as a result become proud and arrogant. That is why He follows up this statement with a parable on humbleness of service. But there is probably more to it than that as we now see.

For in the Old Testament the replanting of a tree is regularly symbolic of the establishment of a nation (see Psalms 80:8 (kataphuteuo); Psalms 80:15 (phuteuo); Isaiah 5:2 (phuteuo); Jeremiah 2:21 (phuteuo); Ezekiel 17:3-15 (phutos), Ezekiel 17:22-24 (kataphuteuo); Luke 19:10-14 (phuteuo)).

The sycamine, probably the black mulberry tree, was a large tree, common in the Shephelah, with very strong and enduring roots, and that had a very long life. It was the equivalent in Palestine to the cedar in Lebanon, and the oak in Bashan. It was seen as immovable and almost indestructible. Moreover the coming Kingly Rule of God has been likened to a similar mighty tree in Ezekiel 17:22-24 (in that case a cedar). Furthermore the Kingly Rule of God has already been likened in Luke to a mustard tree which grew large from a mustard seed (Luke 13:19), while Israel is likened elsewhere to the vine, the olive tree and the fig tree when fruitfulness is in mind. So a mulberry tree (sycamine) would be a suitable picture of the strong, expanding and firmly rooted Kingly Rule of God, for it was a common tree in Palestine and often spoken of alongside the olive and the vine, and seen as the recognised Palestinian equivalent of the cedar, even if a little inferior to it (1 Kings 10:27; 1 Chronicles 27:28; 2 Chronicles 1:15; 2 Chronicles 9:27; Psalms 78:47; Isaiah 9:10 in LXX). Being ‘planted in the sea’ could represent being established among the tumult of the nations. For the sea is regularly seen as representing the nations. See Psalms 65:7; Isaiah 17:12-13; Daniel 7:2-3; Revelation 13:1; compare Isaiah 57:20. Thus the thought here may be either of transplanting the new Israel and setting it among the nations, or of transplanting the Kingly Rule of God from its beginnings in Palestine and setting it among the nations. In the context of ‘faith like a grain of mustard seed’, which has previously been linked with the growth of a tree representing the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 13:19), the thought of the transplanting of a strong and powerful and enduring tree may well be an expansion on that idea.

Here then the mulberry tree may be seen as representing the Kingly Rule of God, as the vine and the fig tree can also do (John 15:1-6), the mulberry tree being cited here because of its being a symbol of strength and permanence (when the vine and fig tree are called on it is to illustrate fruitbearing, not permanence). The idea is thus that just as they are to nurture the infant new Israel by preventing stumblingblocks (Luke 17:1-2) and by a constantly forgiving relationship towards those who are genuine believers and repent of sin daily (Luke 17:3-4), so they will also establish the mulberry tree of the Kingly Rule of God among the tumult of the nations. And He wants them to know that they do not require increased faith for this purpose, just confidence in a mighty God. Compare here Acts 4:24-30. It is a declaration that the faith that they already have is sufficient for the task in hand.

This rooting up and replanting of the Kingly Rule of God is clearly depicted in Acts where Jerusalem is finally rejected and replaced as the source of the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God by Syrian Antioch (Acts 12-13; Acts 21 - see our commentary on Acts).

Note On How This Contrasts With Mark 11:20-25.

In Mark 11:20-25 we have a passage with a similar emphasis on what a little faith can do, but there the picture is of the ‘casting’ of a mountain into the sea, rather than that of ‘replanting’ a tree there. In the context of the cursing of the fig tree, which represents God’s curse on Jerusalem for rejecting the Kingly Rule of God, the disciples are told there that by their faith they will be able to cast a mountain into the sea. In context the mountain is the Temple mount. The casting of it into the sea thus refers to its being subjected to the tumult of the nations as a result of its resistance to the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God as revealed in its behaviour towards Jesus and its persecution of His followers. We can compare here what He would say shortly concerning the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13; Luke 21:20-24). It is the negative side of what in this statement in Luke is the positive side.

End of note.


Verse 7

“But who is there of you, having a servant ploughing or keeping sheep, who will say to him, when he is come in from the field, ‘Come straightway and sit down to meat’,”

Jesus is well aware, however, that power as well as wealth can corrupt people and prevent them from keeping their minds on things above, and He therefore introduces a parabolic saying in order to counteract this, a saying which reminds them that what they will accomplish will be accomplished because they are men under orders, they are servants who are only doing their duty. What will be accomplished will all be of God.

Note the contrast between the servant here and the ones in Luke 12:37. There the master will serve them, but here the servant is kept firmly in his place. They teach two different lessons. What master, asks Jesus, who has a servant who is ploughing or keeping sheep (both of which have been said to be occupations of those who are establishing the Kingly Rule of God - Luke 9:62; Luke 15:3) will invite his servant on returning to the house to immediately sit down and eat with him? They must therefore beware of putting themselves on a par with God and with Jesus.

This was another danger of Pharisaic teaching, for they often gave the impression that they considered that they had put God under an obligation (modern Christians can do the same). Thus there own teachers had to warn them, ‘do not be like slaves who minister to the master for the sake of receiving a bounty’, and ‘if you have wrought much in the Law do not claim merit for yourself, for this is the end to which you were created’.


Verse 8

“And will not rather say to him, ‘Make ready that on which I may sup, and gird yourself, and serve me, until I have eaten and drunk, and afterwards you will eat and drink?’ ”

Will the master not rather tell the servant to get the meal ready, and serve it up to the master and his family, until they are satisfied, and only then be able to eat and drink? The servant will be made to acknowledge that he is a servant. He is not invited to the formal meal. This austerity of grace (he is still fed) is so unlike much of what is said elsewhere about God’s bounty (Luke 12:37; Luke 22:29-30), that it demands a special context like it has here.

However, overall this is one of Jesus’ constant stresses, that just as He has come as the Servant of the Lord, so must they recognise that they too are servants, and that the highest honour is found in serving (Luke 22:25-27). It is in direct contrast with man’s view that he indicates his superiority by being served.


Verse 9

“Does he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded?”

Indeed this is so much so that the servant will not even expect to be thanked. He will recognise his place. He is merely doing what as a servant is his duty. It was a generally held view that servants must be kept in their place. But while we should certainly thank those who serve us in any way, it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that we do not deserve God’s thanks. For He is our Creator and Redeemer, and all the gratitude is due from our side. The wonder is that He uses our frail services in the accomplishment of His mighty purposes. After all He could just as well achieve them without us. So we not only do no more than it is our duty to do, but our success is also wholly due to His gracious working.


Verse 10

“Say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done that which it was our duty to do.’ ”

They are to say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done that which it was our duty to do.’ Thereby they will be saved from the dangers of pride and arrogance (1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 2:16), and of thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think (Romans 12:3). By ‘unprofitable’ is meant that they render a full service in accordance with their contract but do nothing above that which gives their master more than his due and thus merits extra reward.

Note how in the section chiasmus (above) this is paralleled with the story of the Pharisee who does think that he does his duty and is very proud of the fact, in contrast with the one who comes humbly seeking mercy, and is thereby justified (Luke 18:9-14).

One Grateful Ex-Leper and Nine Less Grateful Ones (Luke 17:11-19).

This story follows aptly after the previous one, for there the transplanting of the Kingly Rule of God among the nations was in mind, and here we have a multiplying of what occurred in the incident in Luke 5:12-15, the cleansing of skin-diseased persons who symbolise Israel in its sin, expanded by the inclusion of a Samaritan, ‘this stranger’, to include the wider world. Already non-Jews are coming back to God and entering under the Kingly Rule of God! The transplantation of the Sycamine tree has begun.

Skin disease was held in horror by all, and skin diseased men and women were seen as to be avoided. In both Jewish and Samaritan Law they were expected to avoid human company, except for their own kind, and to call ‘unclean, unclean’ so as to warn people to keep away from them (Leviticus 13:43-46). For in both Jewish and Samaritan Law skin disease rendered them permanently ritually unclean. They could neither live among men nor approach the Dwellingplace of God. And any who came in contact with them became ‘unclean’ and unable to enter the Temple until they again became clean.

There are a number of indications in the Old Testament that Israel were seen as the equivalent of skin diseased persons. Isaiah could cry out, ‘We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6), a typical picture of a skin diseased person (even though uncleanness through menstruation was primarily in mind there), and some have seen in the Servant of Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:3-4 the picture of a skin diseased person as He bore the sin of others. Moreover the picture in Isaiah 1:5-6 of Israel as covered with festering sores could well have been that of a skin diseased person. And it was recognised that the worst fate that could befall a man who usurped the privileges of God’s sanctuary was to be stricken with skin disease ( 2 Chronicles 16:16-21). Never again could he enter the Temple of the Lord. So like the skin diseased man, Israel were unclean before God (Haggai 2:14) (It is true that in Haggai it is by contact with death. But being permanently skin diseased was seen as a living death, so the thoughts are parallel). This was no doubt why Jesus saw such healings of skin diseased people as evidence of the presence of the Messiah (Luke 7:22). Thus a skin diseased man was a fit depiction of Israel’s need and the world’s need.

So when ten skin diseased men approach Jesus for healing, including one stranger, we may well see behind it the intention of depicting not only Israel, but the world in its need, a need which can only be healed by the Messiah (compare Luke 7:22). There may also be intended a reminder of the fact that a greater than Elisha was here. Elisha had enabled the healing of a skin diseased man (2 Kings 5), and he also a ‘stranger’, although he had not done it by his word. Rather he had sent him to wash seven times in the Jordan. He had put him firmly in the hands of God, and God had healed him. And he, like the Samaritan here, had returned to give thanks. But here Jesus takes the healing on Himself. It is He Who heals them at a distance by His thought. The implication of this could be drawn by the reader.

We have become so used to healing miracles that probably not one reader stops in wonder at what happened here. Ten men whose lives were devastated by skin disease receive their lives back again, and all at a word from Jesus. His signs and wonders continue. And yet unquestionably in this section they are only mentioned because they have another lesson to teach. Here it is the widening of the success of the Kingly Rule of God, the importance of gratitude, and the centrality of faith.

Analysis.

a As they were on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee and as He entered into a certain village, there met him ten men who were skin diseased, who stood afar off (Luke 17:11-12).

b They lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13).

c When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And thus it happened that, as they went, they were cleansed (Luke 17:14).

d And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks, and he was a Samaritan (Luke 17:15-16).

c And Jesus answering said, “Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17).

b “Were there none found who returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?” (Luke 17:18).

a And He said to him, “Arise, and go your way. Your faith has made you whole” (Luke 17:19).

Note that in ‘a’ the men stood afar off an in the parallel the Samaritan is made whole by faith. In ‘b’ all call for mercy, while in the parallel only one returns to give glory to God. In ‘c’ all are cleansed, and in the parallel only one of those cleansed returns to give glory to God. And centrally in ‘d’ we have the stranger who returns to give glory to God and offering his thanks to Jesus.


Verse 11

‘And it came about that, as they were on the way to Jerusalem, he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee.’

When Luke gives a detailed introduction he regularly has a purpose in it. Thus the mention of being on the way to Jerusalem brings the shadow of His death over the narrative. It is as the One Who is going to bear the sins of many, and to bear our sicknesses and diseases, that He can heal these men.

As we have observed earlier Jesus making of His way to Jerusalem to die is not just a straightforward journey. Having been in the environs of Jerusalem twice He is now going along the border between Galilee and Samaria. This explains the presence of a Samaritan among the skin diseased men who are the subject of the passage. But Luke probably intends also by his presence to imply that the journey to Jerusalem will have effects that will go beyond Judaism. It is because He is on His way to die in Jerusalem that His journey takes Him to a position where He is midway between Samaria and Galilee, for that death will break the barriers between them.

‘On the way to Jerusalem’ has a sombre note to it. It is all part of His set purpose and expectancy to die in Jerusalem. This is indeed why He can offer cleansing.


Verse 12

‘And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men who were skin diseased, who stood afar off,’

Approaching a certain village (Luke’s source may not have known its name) Jesus came across ten men who ‘stood afar off’. They were skin diseased and therefore unclean and were thus forbidden to join themselves with crowds. They were outcasts from Israel, ever on the periphery of things. They did not have the forthrightness of the skin diseased man in Luke 5:12-15 who actually approached Jesus. On the other hand they were in fact were being more obedient to the Law. The men would, however, want to maintain their proximity to villages in order to receive alms from them. They had no other honest means of survival.

But Luke may well have intended a hint here that God’s mercy was available to those who are ‘afar off’ (compare Ephesians 2:13).


Verse 13

‘And they lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” ’

These men pleaded in loud voices for Jesus to show His compassion to them, acknowledging Him as ‘Master’ (Epistata - the One who stands over). This title is usually only used by Luke as spoken by disciples of Jesus, and the idea may be in order to demonstrate their interest in His message. It is one of the words Luke uses instead of Rabbi because of his Gentile readers.

Men crying to Jesus for mercy is a theme of the Gospels, for He is the compassionate and the merciful. Compare Luke 16:24; Luke 18:38-39; Matthew 9:27; Matthew 15:22; Mark 10:47-48.


Verse 14

‘And when he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And thus it happened that, as they went, they were cleansed.’

When Jesus became aware of them (an eyewitness touch) He commanded them to go to the priests to be examined, as though they were those who had been cured of their skin disease. We are reminded here of how Elisha commanded Naaman to go away and do something, rather than healing him on the spot. That too indicated a cleansing to come. It was calling on them for an act of faith. They still had their skin disease. But such was their faith that they went. And as they went they were healed. They were ‘made clean’. They thus no doubt then proceeded to go to the priests to obtain their certificate of cleansing, as Jesus had told them to do.


Verse 15-16

‘And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God, and he fell on his face at his feet, giving him thanks, and he was a Samaritan.’

But one of the men had not gone with the others. He was a Samaritan and would seek out his own priests. But as soon as he became aware that healing had taken place and that his skin disease had gone, he was so grateful that he forgot about seeking out the priest. And immediately turning back, and glorifying God with a loud voice, he came to Jesus, and falling on his face before Him, he gave Him thanks. Now that he was healed all he could think of was to express his gratitude to the Master. And he was a Samaritan.


Verse 17-18

‘And Jesus answering said, “Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? Were there none found who returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?”

Jesus was impressed by his attitude of thanksgiving and faith. When He asks His question about the nine He is not suggesting that they have done anything wrong. They are in fact only doing what He had told them. What He is doing is bringing out the great contrast between them and this man. They are being genuinely obedient. But what a difference there was with this man. To him thanking Jesus had been more important than obtaining a certificate of cleansing as soon as possible. (And only someone who has been ostracised for years can understand how important that was). All he wanted to do was glorify God and express his gratitude to the Master, and he could not wait to do it. He did it immediately.

And Jesus was especially impressed by the fact that the one who wanted to glorify God and give Him thanks in this way was ‘a stranger’, that is, not of the Jewish religion. He was one of those excluded from the inner courts of the Temple by the notice that forbade access to ‘strangers’. And yet he had been the first to come to the inner courts of God. This is the second non-Jew of whom Luke has stressed Jesus’ great admiration for his attitude (compare Luke 7:9). No doubt Luke wanted his Gentile readers to appreciate the fact.

“Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” Perhaps Luke wants us to remember the woman with her ten coins, of which one was lost. Here is the one coming back to the Saviour. And the nine? They typify those who being already ‘found’ do not experience quite the same joy and gratitude as the one who realises just how great his debt is. Of course they were grateful, Jesus had had compassion on them. But their gratitude has become more formal. No wonder they caused less joy in Heaven.


Verse 19

‘And he said to him, “Arise, and go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” ’

Then He turned to the man and declared that his faith had ‘saved him’, had made him whole. Thus it is made clear that non-Jews also could find salvation through faith in Jesus. The idea is not that the other nine were not saved. It is in order to stress that this ‘stranger’ was saved.

The Future Glorious Appearing of The Son of Man (Luke 17:20-25).

The Pharisees are aware of Jesus’ continual teaching concerning the coming of the Kingly Rule of God and approach Him to ask Him when it is coming. But their problem is that they are looking for the wrong thing. It is their view that the Messiah, once he has come, will in some way overturn the Romans, and will then establish Israel as a free, independent nation whose influence will reach out to the world, with them in overall authority. Thus they are looking for the establishment of a physical kingdom on earth of a type like other kingdoms (the kingdom of Herod, the kingdom of Philip, and so on). They have failed to recognise that much of what the prophets had promised could not in fact be fulfilled in a physical kingdom, and that Jesus had come bringing something better, the everlasting Kingdom promised by the prophets.

In His reply Jesus will bring out firstly that the Kingly Rule of God is already here and is being entered by those who believe in Him and follow Him, and secondly that the finalisation of that Kingly Rule will take place when He comes in glory. Thus they can be sure that any Messiah who comes in any other way is false. Such a one will not be the Son of Man as revealed in Daniel 7:13-14.

The passage can be analysed as follows:

a Being asked by the Pharisees, when the Kingly Rule of God is coming, He answered them and said, “The Kingly Rule of God is not coming with observation, nor will they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the Kingly Rule of God is within (or ‘among’) you” (Luke 17:20-21).

b He said to the disciples, “The days will come, when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it” (Luke 17:22).

c “They will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ ‘Lo, here!’ Go not away, nor follow after them” (Luke 17:23).

b “For as the lightning, when it lightens out of the one part under the heaven, shines to the other part under heaven, so shall the Son of man be in His day” (Luke 17:24).

a “But first must He suffer many things and be rejected of this generation” (Luke 17:25).

Note that in ‘a’ the earthly aspect of the Kingly Rule of God is stressed, and in the parallel it is dependent on the earthly suffering and rejection of the Son of Man. In ‘b’ there will be days when men desire to see the day of the Son of Man and will not see it, and in the parallel when His Day comes it will be in splendour as bright as lightning. And centrally in ‘c’, once He has suffered, men are not to go looking for Him here on earth, (because when He does come it will be in glory that is revealed to the whole world). The centrality of this emphasises its importance. The purpose of this passage is finally in order to warn His disciples that in the coming days after He is gone they are not to be so overburdened with their task that they welcome some pseudo-Messiah.

But within it also we have a summary of Jesus’ teaching concerning the present Kingly Rule of God and the glorious appearing of Himself as the Son of Man, which can only take place after He has suffered. It is in the light of this that all His previous teaching must be seen.


Verse 20-21

‘And being asked by the Pharisees, when the Kingly Rule of God is coming, he answered them and said, “The Kingly Rule of God is not coming with observation, nor will they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the Kingly Rule of God is within (or ‘among’) you.” ’

The Pharisees pressed Him as to when the Kingly Rule of God over the world was coming, and Jesus declares that it is already there among them. He wants them to recognise that it is not something that will be established in outward form, with a king, and courtiers, and an army, and a judicial authority. No one will be able to point and say, ‘look here it is’ or ‘there it is’. For it is not visible in that way. Rather it is being built up as the hearts of men are being changed. Those who are looking to the King and are already submitting to the Kingly Rule of God as introduced by Him, have already entered under that Kingly Rule. Those who turn from Him and reject His message and do not submit to His authority remain outside the Kingly Rule of God. So the Kingly Rule of God is now within the community of Israel, invisibly but effectively. But not all Israel is a part of it.

Yet there is a sense in which it is visible. Jesus could say to His disciples, ‘Heal the sick and say that the Kingly Rule of God is come near to you’ (Luke 10:9). It had come near in their being there preaching in the cities, and in their manifesting divine power there (Luke 10:11; compare Luke 7:22-23). But it would not be with an outwardly constituted authority. It would be apparent to all who recognised that God was at work among them through the power of Jesus. This is the same emphasis as is given in Acts (see Acts 2:22; Acts 2:36; Acts 4:10-12; Acts 4:29-30; Acts 8:12-13)

Indeed its presence had just been revealed in the healing of the ten skin-diseased men. For here among them they had seen a whole and complete group of men who represented the condition of the world in its need, and they had been wholly restored. How could the Pharisees then ask for the Kingly Rule of God to be revealed? Why it had just been revealed in the best way possible! And Jesus’ presence and the continual manifestations of power through Himself and His disciples continually revealed it (Luke 11:20). And its power and influence would now spread throughout the world (Luke 9:5-15; Luke 12:49; Luke 13:18-21; Luke 14:23-24; Luke 16:16; Luke 17:6).

Note on ‘the Kingly Rule of God Is Within (Among) You.’

1) This could mean that it is active within individuals, and that that is where the Kingly Rule of God is to be found. Each man, as it were, is to be aware of the Kingly Rule of God within him. Now of course it is unquestionable that there is truth in this. It was the word acting within men that brought them into the Kingly Rule of God. But nowhere else is the Kingly Rule of God so described. It is always spoken of as something much larger which has to be entered. So while undoubtedly capturing individual hearts is a part of it, the concept of the Kingly Rule of God was vaster far than could be restricted to the individual heart. It is a combination of all those captured hearts under God.

2) This could mean ‘is within you’. In this case ‘you’ would represent Israel. It is here within Israel. This was certainly true. It was like a nut within the shell, the leaven within the dough. This would therefore include 1). above, with the seed growing in many hearts, and yet also take into account the wideness of the concept as willing to take in the whole of Israel if they would respond. The Kingly Rule indicated the totality of those in whose hearts the seed had produced its fruit.

3) It could be translated ‘the Kingly Rule of God is among you’. This is a perfectly feasible translation, and can be seen as very much like 2). except possibly without the same emphasis on the internal working. The idea is then that ‘the Kingly Rule of God is being built up among you’, of which you need to be aware.

4) It can be taken as signifying that the Kingly Rule of God is among them in the presence of Jesus the King. There is no doubt that the presence of Jesus did indicate the presence of the King, and therefore of the Kingly Rule, but Jesus is probably seeking to convey more than that. He wanted them also to recognise that along with Him were others who had come under the Kingly Rule of God.

It would appear probable that 2). is what Jesus has in mind, thus incorporating both 1) and 3) and illustrating the parables of the seeds and the leaven, while we may see 1) and 3) as giving the necessary differentiations for the full understanding of 2). This does not exclude 4). Indeed it was the presence of the King that made possible the whole. So in the end all aspects are required for the total picture.

End of note.


Verse 22

‘And he said to the disciples, “The days will come, when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you will not see it.” ’

Then Jesus turned and spoke to His disciples. He did not want them to think that it was all quite as simple as that. While the Kingly Rule of God was here among them as He had just declared, it did not mean that the King would continue to be permanently among them as He now was. It did not mean that success was just around the corner, and that the going would be smooth (like it on the whole appeared to be at the moment) and that the whole world would respond. These were exciting days, ‘the days of the Son of Man’ on earth, but He was not now introducing ‘the days of the Son of Man’ on a continuing basis. There was to be a break in ‘the days of the Son of Man’. The Son of Man (note here the clear association of the Son of Man (Luke 17:22) with the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 17:20-21) for it is the Son of Man Who receives the Kingly Rule of God - Daniel 7:13-14) was to be taken from among them, for His days among them would cease. Soon they would look around and would not see Him. ‘His days’ among them will then no longer be enjoyed. Normality will have been disrupted. And thus in the future there were to be many days when they would long to see Him, and He would not be there. They would even begin to doubt whether He really was ruling, and even possibly be in danger of following impostors because they so yearned for His presence.

This warning was necessary. The disciples were already building up the picture in their own mind of His soon coming triumph. They probably believed that by means of His extraordinary powers, of which they had only had a glimpse, He would shortly act in order to establish His Kingly Rule, after which they would then take up their places under His Kingly Rule, seated at His side and sharing His authority (Mark 10:35-41). But if they thought like that their confidence would soon be shattered. For it would not happen. So He wanted them to recognise that those ideas were not based on a sound foundation. Rather they must realise that days of uncertainly lay ahead, days of trial, days when they will find things difficult to understand, days when the Son of Man has been taken from among them (Luke 17:25) and they will long for the days when He had been among them. They would long for the outward manifestation of His Rule by His presence among them and would not see it. They were not to look for a snug establishment of His Kingly Rule.

‘The days will come --.’ Compare Isaiah 39:6 where it refers to uncertain future times some time in the distance.

‘The days of the Son of Man.’ These will shortly be compared with ‘the days of Noah’ and ‘the days of Lot’ (Luke 17:26-27). In both the latter cases everyday affairs like eating and drinking were carrying on, and then suddenly all came to a climactic end. And ‘the days’ took place before the climactic end. It will be like this with the days of the Son of Man. Here He was eating and drinking with them, but the days will end equally climactically, first in His suffering (Luke 17:25) and then in His glorious appearing (Luke 17:24). And in between those two events would be days when they looked back wistfully and longed for the days of the Son of Man that they had enjoyed, and they would look forward to the day of the Son of Man that was coming. And hopefully it would spur them on. But those days could never be retraced.

For what they will miss is Him. They would never forget the days that they had spent with Him, and their hearts would delight in that day when once more they would see Him face to face, but meanwhile they would have to go on. And the grave danger was that in their desire to have Him again they might fall prey to a false Messiah. So let them remember His words now, that no Messiah who appears on earth can be the true Messiah, for when He does return it will be unmistakable. It will not be as a Messiah on earth. It will be like the transfiguration a hundred times over.

By this Jesus is preparing them for the hardness of the future. It needed to be made clear to them that in future they must not look for normal days or days of straightforward living like those enjoyed by the majority of men, nor even like those who enjoyed such lives in the days of Noah and the days of Lot. And sometimes in the hardness of the future they will look back and long for one of ‘the days of the Son of Man’, one of these days when He walked with them on earth and they enjoyed His fellowship and love, days that they will remember so vividly, days when all seemed to be going forward so smoothly, but they must recognise that they will not again see such days, for He is not coming back in that way. Rather they must look on ahead and recognise that their lives in the future are to be anything but smooth and normal, awaiting His coming in glory. They must thus serve on against all odds until suddenly and climactically the Son of Man will come. The road ahead is going to be tough.

Had we not had the comparison with the days of Noah and the days of Lot, which are vividly described in their normality (Luke 17:26-27), we might have seen ‘the days of the Son of Man’ as referring either to the judgment on Jerusalem (see Luke 17:31) or to the period after His coming in glory. But the comparison with the days of Noah and Lot makes clear that that cannot be so. It must thus refer to the present days in which He is among them, the days in which they have settled into a period of contentment with things as they are. These are ‘the days of the Son of Man’, the days of His powerful and successful ministry on earth, when He forgives sins (Luke 5:24), lives among them eating and drinking (Luke 7:34), establishes the new Laws of His Kingly Rule and declares the principles of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), and has nowhere to lay His head (Luke 9:58). Days that they share with Him. And when inevitably in days to come they look back on these days in their worst moments, and say, ‘If only we could get back to things as they were then’, they must remember His words now.

Note on The Days of the Son of Man.

If we are to take Luke seriously this phrase must be interpreted in its context, and not just as suits our theories. Let us consider what we know about them.

o The first thing we know about them is that they will not go on permanently, for the disciples will one day long to see one and will not see it. Thus there will be a period in the disciples’ lives which will not be the days of the Son of Man. They will be either looking back to them, or looking forward to them. The ‘days of the Son of Man’ are thus not just all the days leading up to His second coming.

o We know also that He has revealed to them that He will be away from them and will return at His second coming as the Son of Man (Luke 12:35-48).

o We know from the comparison with the days of Noah and the days of Lot that the days of the Son of Man will be before the final climactic event (Luke 17:26-29).

o The climactic events connected with the days of the Son of Man are His coming suffering (Luke 17:25) and His coming in glory (Luke 17:24).

The only days which fit in with all these facts are His days with them on earth. In the excitement of second coming teaching the days of Jesus’ life on earth can seem almost secondary, but of course they were not. They were huge. They were in a sense the most primary days of all. For it was during those days that He fulfilled the Father’s will to the uttermost (Hebrews 10:5-10) and accomplished the redemption of mankind and gave His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). These were the days of the Son of Man supreme as He forgave sins, re-evaluated and expanded on the Laws of Moses, and went on to offer Himself, as the Son of Man, as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). They were also the days in which He ‘ate and drank’ among us as the Son of Man (Luke 7:34), ideas connected with both ‘the days of Noah’ and ‘the days of Lot’. They were the days of endurance which the son of man in Daniel 7 had to undergo prior to His approach to the throne of God.

But why then does He speak of them in the future tense in Luke 17:26? The answer is that He does not. It is the climax of those days that He speaks of in the future tense, a climax that has not yet come. The climax of His days of suffering which will be the foundation of all the rest.

Other suggestions for the meaning of the term are:

o That they signify the same thing as ‘the days of the Messiah’ signifying the period after His return. But there is a great deal of difference between what the Scriptures say about the days of the Son of Man and the days of the Messiah. For in Daniel 7 the days of the son of man are days of suffering, when with His people He suffers under the hand of the beasts, days which then lead up to His approaching the throne of God and receiving His Kingly Rule. Furthermore such an interpretation would not meet the criteria mentioned above, and thus can only be held if the phrase is taken totally out of its context and we assume that Luke was simply throwing phrases together without thinking about them.

Some would support this position by translating ‘the first of the days when the Son of Man is revealed’, which is undoubtedly a possible translation, but that ignores the clear parallel in Luke 17:26. It also raises the question, 1) why in that case Luke does not use the singular, and 2) as to why they will not see it, for surely the point of Luke 17:24 is that they will see it.

o Some see it as indicating the days immediately preceding His return ‘in which the signs of His imminence are made clear’. These would fit all the criteria but there is no obvious reason why these should be specifically called ‘the days of the Son of Man’ in contrast with any other days prior to His coming, for He was present with them as the Son of Man in His days on earth as He makes very clear, and He would promise that He would continue with them to the end, ‘lo, I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20). Nor is it clear what kind of signs would indicate His imminence. There has been so much tribulation in the world that it is difficult to see what kind could indicate the time of the end.

Some see ‘the days of the Son of Man’ as indicating His special days of Messianic revelation such as the transfiguration, the resurrection, the ascension, the appearances to Stephen and Paul, etc. but that is surely being too technical.

End of note.


Verse 23

“And they will say to you, ‘Lo, there!’ ‘Lo, here!’ Go not away, nor follow after them,”

Nor are they to be deceived by any who claim to be reintroducing those days and claiming that they are again setting up ‘the days of the Messiah’ in this physical world. For when He does return it will not be ‘here’ or ‘there’. Thus such people must not be heeded. Compare the similar phraseology in Luke 21:8, ‘Take heed that you are not led astray, for many will come in My Name saying, ‘I am the one’, and ‘the time is at hand’. Do not go after them.’ So any earthly claimants to Messiahship are to be rejected out of hand, for the final conclusion to the days of the Son of Man will not be introduced in that way. It will not be something earthly. In the chiasmus this warning is the central point. Central to all, He is saying that He is warning them not to be taken in by false claimants to Messiahship, and that it is a warning that must be heeded. They must recognise that what is now in mind in the future is not some small earthly series of events, but God’s mighty working from Heaven. The future Kingly Rule of God is to be heavenly not earthly.


Verse 24

“For as the lightning, when it lightens out of the one part under the heaven, shines to the other part under heaven, so shall the Son of man be in his day.”

For when He comes He will be revealed in splendour and glory (compare Luke 8:29) in the same way as the lightning lights up the whole heavens. There will be no mistaking it. Every eye will see Him, and those also who pierced Him (Revelation 1:7). The splendour and glory of His appearing will be manifested to all (Luke 9:26; Luke 21:27).

Thus any future activity of the Son of Man once He has been take out of the world by suffering, will be cosmic. He will rise as the Lord of glory, He will be in Heaven as the Lord of glory, and He will return as the Lord of glory. By this He is building on all the claims that He has made up to this point and adding to them. He is revealing His unique God-likeness.


Verse 25

“But first must he suffer many things and be rejected of this generation.”

But He must first suffer on earth. That He is unquestionably speaking of Himself now comes out (although those who had heard His inner words to the disciples earlier could hardly have doubted it). For He now declares that before that glorious appearing must come the times of suffering. For He Himself (the Son of Man - Luke 17:24; compare Luke 9:22) must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. First He must be manifested in suffering and then He will be manifested in glory. So this is the way in which the days of the Son of Man must end, in the Day of suffering that will culminate in the Day of glory. And for the disciples, in between the suffering and the glory, will be the days of longing for the days of the Son of Man, both past and future.

The Crucifixion and Coming of The Son Of Man In Glory Will Issue In The Final Judgment and The Final Consummation (Luke 17:26-37)

In the Section chiasmus this parallels Luke 17:20-21. It expands on the idea of the Kingly Rule of God being among them by pointing out that one day will come the great day of separation between those in the Kingly Rule of God and those who are not. In that day those in the Kingly Rule of God will be take out from among those who are not, and then those who are left will be judged.

Analysis.

a As it happened in the days of Noah, even so will it be also in the days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26).

b “They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27).

c “In the same way even as it occurred in the days of Lot. They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:28-29).

d “In the same way will it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he that will be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away, and let him that is in the field similarly not return back” (Luke 17:30-31).

e “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).

d “Whoever will seek to gain his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

c “I say to you, In that night there will be two men on one bed, the one will be taken, and the other will be left” (Luke 17:34).

b “There will be two women grinding together, the one will be taken, and the other will be left” (Luke 17:35).

a “And they answering say to him, “Where, Lord?” And he said to them, “Where the carcase is, there will the vultures also be gathered together” (Luke 17:36-37).

Note that in ‘a’ the scene is set and in the parallel we are given the end solution. In ‘b’ some were saved and some were destroyed, and in the parallel the same applies. In ‘c’ we have the same situation connected with Lot and the same parallel. In ‘d’ men must do the opposite of normal and in the parallel the same applies. In ‘e’ central to all is the injunction to ‘Remember Lot’s wife’ who preferred the worldly city of Sodom to security with God and perished. The previous passage had centred on ‘remember that there will be false messiahs’. Here the warning goes even deeper, ‘remember Lot’s wife’.


Verse 26

“And as it happened in the days of Noah, even so will it be also in the days of the Son of man.”

Here the ‘days of Noah’ undoubtedly refer to the days prior to the day that Noah left the world and entered the Ark as the next verse makes clear. We would therefore expect the parallel phrase ‘the days of the Son of Man’ to signify the days prior to the climactic events that happened to Him, the days that led up to Him too leaving the world. The future tense in the latter case need indicate no more than that the days of the Son of Man are not yet complete, and the climax is yet to come. It is especially that climax that is in the future.


Verse 27

“They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.”

And what happened in ‘the days of Noah?’ They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage. In other words life seemed to be going on as normal. They continued blissfully unaware of Noah’s activities in their midst. They ignored both his building of the Ark which condemned the world (Hebrews 11:7) and the proclamation of his word among them (2 Peter 2:5). They were complacent in their sin. And then Noah entered into the Ark and the flood came and destroyed them all.

‘They married, they were given in marriage.’ This may especially have in mind Genesis 6:1-4, in which case it means that they not only ate and drank, but also that they engaged in the deepest sin. On the other hand the comparison with Lot might suggest that it is simply referring to the everyday things of life. This last view would seem to be confirmed by the use of a similar phrase in Luke 20:34-35 where the point is made that marrying and giving in marriage is something that happens on earth, but not in Heaven.

If we compare this with what has previously been said in Luke 17:22-25 what does it tell us? What we have described here is a period during ‘the days of Noah’ when the majority were living in blissful unawareness, even while the presence of Noah preaching among them was ignored. They simply continued in sin, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. And then came the climax. The one who had been among them went into the Ark, and the final result was that Judgment came on them. This suggests that we must see the comparative ‘days of the Son of Man’ as representing a similar period of unawareness while Jesus was preaching among men, followed by His being taken away, in His case by suffering, death and resurrection (Luke 17:25), resulting finally in His coming in final Judgment (Luke 17:24), this last following a period during which His own have bewailed His absence (Luke 17:22).

If we add to this that the Son of man was accused of eating and drinking among men (Luke 7:34) along with public servants and sinners, the parallel is even clearer. This means then that the event which follows ‘the days of the Son of Man’ is the crucifixion, resurrection, enthronement and coming again, all seen as one activity, which is how God saw them. By this He ‘entered the Ark’ and made possible salvation for all those who would follow Him. It was for all those who would follow Him without looking back (Luke 17:31 compare Luke 9:57-62), and for all those who would ‘enter the ark’ with Him by taking up the cross and following Him (Luke 17:33 with Luke 9:23-24).


Verse 28-29

“In the same way even as it occurred in the days of Lot. They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.”

A second example is now given, the days of Lot, which is ‘in the same way’, thus again being compared with the days of the Son of man. They ate and they drank, they participated in all the activities which made up their lives, firmly establishing themselves in the world, but when Lot was taken out of Sodom (because his heart was grieved at their utterly sinful behaviour - 2 Peter 2:7-8) fire and brimstone came down from heaven and destroyed them all. Once again we have the eating and drinking, which parallel the life of the Son of Man and those in the world in His day, and the ‘going out’ which parallels His crucifixion and resurrection when He too was taken out of the world. From that moment on the final judgment on the world was determined. We can compare here ‘the days drew near for Him to be received up’ (Luke 9:51) which also includes more than just the crucifixion.


Verse 30

“In the same way will it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed.”

But here in the second example there is possibly a greater emphasis on the final Judgment depending on how we read the ‘day that the Son of Man is revealed’. This may be in contrast with ‘the days of the Son of Man’, with more emphasis thus being placed on the final judgment


Verse 31

“In that day, he that shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away, and let him that is in the field similarly not return back.”

The first illustration of the urgency of these days is to picture it in terms of escaping from catastrophe without looking back. Then there will be no time in which to go down and pack, or remove furniture (a common picture of escaping refugees), there will be no time to return to the city from the countryside. All will happen immediately. The point is not the giving of advice on what to do, but in order to indicate the speed at which all will happen. There will simply not be time for anything. And there is also the suggestion that they were not to have their hearts set on earthly things to which their thoughts would instinctively turn when they recognised that the end of all things had come (as Lot’s wife did with Sodom). It is not a question of logical thinking, it is a question of what will spring into their minds at such a catastrophic moment.

Interestingly a similar picture is drawn of those who would be faced with the catastrophe which would face Jerusalem in 70 AD (Mark 12:14-18), a precursor of the final Judgment, words which Luke deliberately omits, possibly to avoid confusion.


Verse 32

“Remember Lot’s wife.”

The second illustration is Lot’s wife.’ She did look back. Unlike Lot, her heart was in Sodom and not with God. She was reluctant to leave. And she became an example of all who are judged. Thus those who would be ready for that day must ensure that their hearts are not like hers. There must be no reluctance to leave, and that will only be so if all their hearts are set on Him.


Verse 33

“Whoever will seek to gain his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life shall preserve it.”

The third illustration is between those who cling to their lives of sin, like Lot’s wife, and thus perish, and those whose hearts, like that of Lot, are on the righteousness of God (2 Peter 2:7-8), in New Testament terms those who take up their cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:24 with 23).

So two examples of those whose eyes are to be fixed on God in Luke 17:31 are followed by the example of the one whose eyes were fixed on sin in Luke 17:32, and in this verse the two are contrasted. Furthermore these examples, which are very much in terms already applied to the disciples, emphasise the continuity between the disciples and those who will be alive in the ultimate day of Christ’s return. For between the Day of suffering and the Day of glory such tests may come again and again. In these three warnings we can see His instructions, not only for the time of the end, but also as those which are to be followed throughout the whole preceding period as they make themselves ready for that Day.


Verse 34

“I say to you, In that night there will be two men on one bed, the one will be taken, and the other will be left.”

We now have a final statement of the climactic events which will take place, and typically of Luke, one refers to men and one to women. They equally participate in both blessing and judgment.

The first example is of two men, probably father and son, or two brothers, sharing a mattress, which was a common feature of those days when shared warmth could be important and space was lacking. They would, however, each be covered by their own cloaks. On that night one would be taken and the other left. Here we have a vivid example of what is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and of the division in families described in Luke 12:52-53. The Lord has come for His own.


Verse 35

“There will be two women grinding together, the one will be taken, and the other will be left.”

The same picture is now applied to women grinding in the mill together, the one turning the stone, the other pouring in the grain. Very often this would be mother and daughter, or two sisters. But the one will be taken and the other left. No more vivid picture could be given of the ‘invisibility’ of the Kingly Rule of God, for no one, apart from the individuals, and they might be wrong, could be sure who was under the Kingly Rule of God and who was not (compare Luke 17:21).


Verse 36-37

“And they answering say to him, “Where, Lord?” And he said to them, “Where the carcase (body) is, there will the vultures also be gathered together.”

This then raised the obvious question among His listeners. Where then would they be taken? The reply is a vivid one. The vultures gather to their food supply, and in the same way the people of God will be gathered to the One on Whom they feed, the One Who gave His body that they might become one with Him and live by their partaking of Him as the bread of life (Luke 22:19; John 6:35; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). This is a picture of those who have ‘come’ and ‘believed’ (John 6:35). We might not have used this picture of Jesus, but He clearly had no problem with it. After all He was quite ready to use the pictures of ‘an unrighteous steward and ‘an unrighteous judge’ as pictures of His Father. And like many of Jesus’ parables it could give an immediate meaning, with a deeper meaning in it once more was known.

Some see the question as referring to those that are left. But it is difficult to see why that was a problem. They were left where they were. The puzzle was as to what happened to those who were taken.

Others would, however, soften the interpretation, taking the question as meaning, where will this take place? They therefore take it to mean ‘at the place of carnage’, or that ‘where the conditions are fulfilled, there the revelation of the Son of Man will take place’, or that ‘like vultures they would go to their natural gathering place’, or that ‘where the dead body of human nature is, there the judgments of God will come’, or that ‘doom will fall inevitably on those who are left’, or ‘where the spiritually dead people are, there the judgment will be executed’. Some point out that the picture is similar to that in Revelation 19:17-18, while others would see ‘the eagles’ as referring to Roman eagles. But the verse does seem to suggest that the picture points to those who will be taken, and that the question is asking where they would be taken.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 17:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/luke-17.html. 2013.

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Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
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