On a particular occasion some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come (17:20). In His answer, He both conceals and reveals the answer; it’s one of those “he who has eyes to see” kind of answers. He says that the coming of the Kingdom isn’t really something that you can observe; it’s just there ”because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Jesus Himself was the embodiment of the Kingdom.
Then, to the disciples but not to the Pharisees, Jesus tells them quite a lot more, but He isn’t exactly addressing the same question…
“The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.” (17:22)
In the remainder of this passage, Jesus is telling the disciples about the coming of the Kingdom in its consummation upon His second coming. There are difficult times ahead for the disciples, and for all of His followers, and they will wish for His return, but they will not have it yet.
There will be rumors and people will say that He has returned, but they will be wrong, for when He returns, everyone will know because His Second Coming will be sudden and not in secret (17:23-25).
When exactly will He return?
Nobody knows, yet every generation was sure theirs would be the one to see it, including our own, yet all have been mistaken so far. Jesus would suffer at the hands of the generation living at that time, in fact He was heading to Jerusalem for just that purpose, then He would rise from the grave and be taken to heaven, and the Kingdom of God would enter a new phase as the church. In Jesus’ day, He embodied it, in our day it is embodied in His Body, the church. Then, at a time as yet unknown, He would return to judge the Nations and the Kingdom would be consummated in eternity… and when this will happen, will be a surprise.
Just as in the days of Noah, everyone will be surprised. Just as in the days of Lot, everyone will be surprised (17:23-29). Things will be moving along as always; business as usual: Then Judgment. Over the centuries that have followed, many have speculated, books have been written, sermons have been preached, claims have been made, videos and movies have been sold… and every single one has been wrong. He will come when we do not expect it.
When He does come, it will be for judgment. Verses 30-35 describe the Final Judgment; one is taken to the Kingdom, one is left for judgment. Why do I say this so clearly, you ask? Simple, because the context requires it. He is talking about a) the Kingdom (v. 20) and b) His coming (v. 22).
Finally, the disciples ask “where” (17:37). It is apparent they have been confused by His mention of one being “taken” and the other “left”; where were they taken; where were they left?
Who came blame the disciples for being confused, when scholars have been fighting over the answer to that for centuries; this is a tough text to understand, and many see it quite differently than I do, and if you are one of those, that’s perfectly all right. I’ve approached simply by following the rules of grammar and context, recognizing that this passage is chock full of apocalyptic elements that are found throughout the Scriptures, and many others apply different methods of understanding it. One day we’ll all find out, and most likely we will all have gotten some parts right, and some parts wrong, so let’s not go crazy about this now, for He will come when and where He comes.
“Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”