Luke 17. Advanced Instruction For the Disciples.
Key Notes: Sins against children. Forgiving over and over. Where is the Kingdom? One taken; the other left.
Jesus placed large demands for self-surrender in the way of disciples in Lk.14, saying that nothing may stand between Him and us. He relieves our fears in Lk.15 by making us understand that it is God who is seeking disciples. And He cares more for His lost children than we care for our lost keys.
In Lk.16 the disciples might rejoin with the question about how discipleship then operates, and Jesus' first answer is in the use of money, using the two parables about making friends with the unrighteous mammon to win people to the Kingdom. The first component of self-surrender is the stewardship of money. When we come to Lk.17, we await further instructions for disciples.
17:1–2 We are surprised to see Jesus warning disciples against leading others into sin. This is not the question of being tempted, but of being the tempter, especially of "little ones". He said it would be better to be dead than to cause such a one to stumble. All children’s workers must be carefully screened, for moral as well as spiritual integrity. Every mother and father must treat their children with holiness and dignity. Incest is a heinous crime against the innocent. It leaves the victim with decades of distress, often self-destructive behavior, with warped ideas about love and family, especially fathers.
17:3–4 He then reminded them that when they are sinned against, they are to forgive over and again so long as the offender asks forgiveness.
17:5–6 The disciples perceived that they lacked faith in order to carry out these tasks and asked Jesus to increase their faith. He did not offer an answer except to say that they did not have a grain of power-faith, and quickly went on to another parable. He appears to have dismissed their request for more faith as being irrelevant to the discussion.
17:7–10 The parable of the plowing servant asks the question "when have we done enough?" Can't the servant expect to be treated to supper after working all day in the fields? Hadn't Jesus already promised that diligent servants would have their dinner served to them? (Lk.12:37). Here He advises them that the least we can do is to do our duty, and we may not be proud about it.
17:11–19 On the way through a mixed Hebrew and Samaritan community, Jesus was confronted by ten lepers who begged for healing. He sent them off to the priest (to be declared cured) and on the way, they were in fact cured. One returned praising God and thanking Jesus. It was a Samaritan. Presumably the other nine were Jews. This is another evidence of God's care for non-Jews, and their greater responsiveness.
17:20–21 He was asked by a Pharisee when the Kingdom of God was coming. Jesus gave an answer as He had given before: "The Kingdom has come upon you." (Lk.11:20.)"The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you."
That is, Jesus is King, and His followers are the Kingdom. Their task is to bind Satan, deliver people from his grasp, saving some even from the grave, as a testimony that the Kingdom is present. The Kingdom someday will rule the world and has already begun its work. The final destruction of Satan, sin and death is its goal, but this awaits the consummation of the Kingdom.
Then He turned to the disciples and gave them several more pieces of information:
17:22–25 Jesus' return will be delayed, and the believers will long for His coming. But His coming will not be secret, rather out where the whole world can see it. Before that, though, He must be rejected and killed.
17:26–30 The situation prior to His return will be similar to that at the time of Noah and the Flood, or Sodom and Gomorrah—evil society with business as usual.
17:31–37 When He returns, the believers should run and not look back, remembering Lot's wife. Believers will be taken out of the world silently and mysteriously. The last statement is difficult: the unbelievers will be left to the vultures?
In Matt.24, we see that the prophecy has two end-points, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD by the Roman legions, and the final great battle when Christ returns. The disciples remembered what Jesus said about the abomination of the holy place and the siege of Jerusalem and they ran, escaping the destruction in 70AD.
Note on the phrase "one will be taken and the other left". Jesus says his followers will be taken out of the world separately before the End. We believe that Paul is saying the same in IThes.4:17:
"... then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we always be with the Lord." This event is called the "Rapture". There are many issues that have been raised about how and when this will happen, but the student will have to go to other Scripture for the details.
The passage taken as a whole, is an advanced set of lessons for disciples.
•Beware of becoming the tempter! This message comes as a shock. What disciple will be a tempter? It is unthinkable. Unfortunately, it is all too common. Those tempted are most likely to be of one's own house-hold. Preachers may totally neglect their families. Fathers may drive their children to exasperation with unrealistic demands. Parents may tolerate sins in their children which were worse in themselves. They may simply neglect to protect children from the wicked in the society. Parents may abuse their own children physically or mentally. We must take heed to ourselves.
•The command to offer forgiveness again and again to a repentant associate is so important that it is made the criterion for our being forgiven. (Matt.6:14). It appears that forgiveness is required especially when there is repentance, since we understand that God's forgiveness applies especially to those who repent.
When there is no repentance, we must nevertheless find a way to personal peace, so that we are not at the mercy of anyone who wishes to offend us. When we say "___ ___ made me angry / made me sick / made me act like a fool" we are giving our lives into another's control. We must be under the Holy Spirit's control.
•More faith? Jesus implies that not more faith, but more devotion to duty, more obedience is required. If we compare our efforts in preparing for a secular activity with our efforts in preparing for a church activity we can see how weak our work for God is. When we have done it all, we can only say we have done our duty.
•Gratitude comes up as an issue just after we are resolved grudgingly to increase our service our God. The drudgery of hard work tends to make us less than grateful. Gratitude is a response of the newly converted--and the recently blessed.
•The final message for disciples is taken from the case of Lot's wife: never look back. On another occasion, Jesus said "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for the Kingdom of God." (Lk.9:62). Israel looked back to the luxuries of Egypt, and died in the wilderness. We should always look up and ahead.
None of these admonitions is simple, like reciting the Ten Commandments.
Be more diligent in service for God.
Never look back.
Who has the spiritual strength for these demands? In the next lesson we will see if Jesus will help us with the answer.