The Lord's Day Morning

March 13, 2011

“What You Must Know About the Second Coming”
Luke 17:22-37

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 17 as we continue to work our way through the gospel together. And I want you to note just a couple of things about this passage before we read it together.

The first thing that I want you to notice as you look through it, we're going to be looking at verses 22 to 37, is that in some of your Bibles you may not have a verse 36, or in some of your Bibles verse 36 may be bracketed or in italics. The reason that is, your English translators of your Bible are telling you that that verse is not found in some manuscripts. Now lest that cause you some problem, I want to let you know that that verse is found in the gospel of Matthew, so there's no question at play as to whether what is said in Luke 17:36 is Biblical or not — it is.

Secondly, I want to set your heart at ease. There is nothing in Luke 17:36 that is not a reiteration of what is said in Luke 17:35. It is utterly consistent with it. It is a matter of what text we ought to read. One of the things that the Lord has done for us is He has given us literally thousands of manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. More than any book that comes to us from the ancient world by magnitudes, by orders of magnitude. And one of the things that comes along with having those thousands of manuscripts is sometimes there are small variations within those manuscripts and scholars of the Greek New Testament have to wrestle with — What is the best manuscript reading? In this case, it ends up not mattering because the entire verse is found in another gospel in the original manuscript. But I want you to know that and I don't want you to be unsettled by that. And if you have any questions about that, I'd be delighted to talk to you about the service today. I'm sure Derek would as well or any other of our ministers.

The second thing I want you to see though, before we read the passage, is the context. If you’ll remember, go ahead and peek back to verses 20 and 21 because it's been over two weeks now. Before the Missions Conference, we were looking at John 17:20-21 and we parked on those verses thinking together about “What is the kingdom of God?” because that's a major theme in Jesus’ teaching, it's a major theme in the gospels, it's an important Biblical theme to understand. And so we parked on that theme and contemplated it together. But notice what prompted that discussion, especially verse 20. The Pharisees questioned Him, what? “When the kingdom of God was coming” — so they were asking Him questions about the timing of the coming of God's kingdom and they were apparently questioning Him about signs of the timing of the coming of God's kingdom because Jesus immediately answers them and addresses the question of signs. So they’re interested about the timing of the coming and the signs of the coming.

Now in this passage, Jesus turns to His disciples. He's answered the Pharisees, but now He turns to His disciples and He zeros in on them and He says, “Now look, there are some things that are very important for you to understand about the second coming.” So the words He's addressing now are not primarily in response to the Pharisees, rebuking them for their unbelief, but He's telling His disciples what they need to know about the second coming. And because we are disciples of Him through His disciples, we need to know what they needed to know about the second coming.

And there are three things in particular that I want us to look at today. I want to tell you what they are ahead of time so that you can't miss them. And the first one is this — Jesus wants His disciples then, and us now, to understand that His coming will be unmistakable. And I’ll explain to you why that's important. Secondly, He wants us to understand that we will not be ready for the second coming unless we understand His cross. We will not be ready for the second coming unless we understand His cross. His first coming precedes His second coming, and the work that He came to do in His first coming is absolutely essential to the second coming being good news for us.

And third, I think you’ll see here that Jesus is telling us that we are not ready for the second coming unless He is more important to us than the world is. If this world is more important to us than Jesus, we're not ready for the second coming. This passage says a lot of things, but those three things in particular I want us to zero in on.

Now again, before we read God's Word, let me give you just one more word of introduction to this because I really want you to be into the flow of argument in this passage and a good New Testament commentator says this in a very brief paragraph about the passage we're about to read.

“Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ question is followed immediately by a long discourse addressed to the disciples. Don't forget that — this is for disciples that Jesus is saying this. They too are concerned about what is to happen in the future. So His own disciples have questions about when the second coming is going to happen and what the signs are going to be. A time will come when they will long to see some visible evidence of the coming of the Son of Man but there will be nothing to see. It is true that people will spread rumors of the coming of the eschatological event — the coming of Christ — but the disciples must not be misled by them, for when the Son of Man appears, there will be no mistaking His appearance in glory, a glory that contrasts with His earlier suffering and rejection by this present generation. This same generation will give itself up to worldly, Godless living as in the days of Noah and Lot. It will pay no attention to the Gospel, and consequently, the day of the Son of Man will take it by surprise with all its sudden judgment and destruction. If that day brings the redemption of God's people, it also brings the judgment of the ungodly. Therefore, let the disciples not be attracted by worldly desires which may divert them from being instantly ready for the Son of Man. Even Lot's wife, though rescued from Sodom and Gomorrah, fell under the same judgment. Only those who are prepared to lose their lives will survive the judgment which will come and separate between men. It is as senseless to ask for a map of what will happen as it is to ask for a timetable. Just as the location of a corpse in the wilderness is obvious from the crowd of circling vultures, so the Son of Man will appear for judgment in an unmistakable manner and there will be no need to ask where He is.”1

Now that's his summarization of the passage that we're about to read. And I read that only to help you prepare to hear the reading of God's Word. And the most important thing we can do for that is pray, so let's pray together.

Lord, this is Your Word. Every word of it proceeds from the mouth of God, and in this passage, every word comes from the lips of our Lord Jesus. So when the world says that any teaching in this passage is repugnant to it, grant that the heart of every believer would say, “But these words are the words of my Lord. These are the words of the One who bled and died for me. I believe them; I embrace them.” Grant that that would be our heart. But Lord, if there are those here who have not embraced the Savior, who stand off from Him, who question Him, who do not believe Him, by Your Spirit today, convince them of who He is and grant that they would believe. And edify us all in the reading and hearing of Your Word. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“And He said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot — they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all — so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.’ And they said to Him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The Pharisees had asked Jesus about the timing of the coming of the kingdom. They wanted to know when it was coming and they wanted to know what He thought the signs were that they ought to look for. Having responded to the Pharisees, Jesus now turns His attention to His disciples and He says, “I don't want you to be focused and fixed on the things that they are focused and fixated on. When you think about the coming of the kingdom, when you think about My second coming, I want you to be thinking about different things. I want your preoccupation to be in a different place. I want your hearts to be concerned with deeper, more soul-affirming and refreshing things than the Pharisees are locked in on.” So what are the things that we ought to be thinking about? How should we think about the ultimate coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of His kingdom? Well, Jesus points us to three things in this passage and I want to look at those with you very briefly today.

First, He points to the fact that the coming of the kingdom will be unmistakable. Second, even while talking about the coming of the kingdom in the future, He points His disciples to the cross and to His present suffering. And He says to them, “They won't understand the coming kingdom unless they understand the significance of His present suffering.” And third and finally, He points them to living a life in which the kingdom and the Savior is more valuable to us than this world and worldly possessions and worldly prestige and worldly comforts and temporal blessing. Let's look at those three things together.

The first thing that I want you to see that Jesus said about His second coming is — you will not be able to miss it. You will not be able to miss it. You know, over and over and over through Christian history, and especially for some reason in the last two centuries, there have been people who have denominated themselves as prophecy experts, who spend their lives informing the people of God about the precise nature of the timing of Jesus’ return and the events of the end times and what to watch for. And from time to time, even though Jesus said no one knows when He will come, they will even predict its date. Someone on the way out of the sanctuary this morning handed me a tract that she had received at Kroger this week, announcing that May 21, 2011 will be the day when Jesus returns again. The man who is making that prediction, by the way, has predicted three other times the return of Jesus Christ, beginning back in 1984. Last I checked…he's missed.

So why all this preoccupation with the timing of Jesus’ return? It's just like the Pharisees. It's just like the Pharisees. And Jesus says here, “Look, you should not be preoccupied with signs because no one will miss when I come. It will be the most public event in the history of the world.” You all remember last Tuesday night when the big thunder and lightning storms were rumbling over our city? Sometime at “o-dark-thirty,” Sarah Kennedy ended up in our bedroom because the whole house was shaking. And Jesus is saying, “When I come, it will be like that for the entire world, and every man, woman, and child will know that I have returned. There will not be need for a newscaster to get on and say, ‘Reports are that a second coming may be occurring.’ Everybody will know.” That's the whole point of what He says. Look at His words here, for instance in verse 24. “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day.” You will not be able to miss it. Just like when the lightning flashed on Tuesday night, it was as bright as day for the seconds that those lightning bolts lit up the sky. And then the other two illustrations that He gives of Noah and the flood. No newscaster had to say, “It's raining,” when Noah's flood came. No newscaster in Sodom and Gomorrah had to say, “It's raining fire and brimstone.” Everybody knew.

And Jesus ends the passage by saying — when the disciples say, “Where, Lord? Where will we look for you?” He says, “You know when you’re in the desert and you see the vultures circling? You know where the corpse is.” Jesus is just saying in multiple different ways this is unmistakable. He's saying that, “My second coming is unmistakable so do not believe anyone who comes and claims to be Me because you won't be able to mistake it when I come. You won't need somebody to tell you, ‘I think that the Messiah might be here,’ or ‘I'm the Messiah!’ because you will all know when the Messiah has come.” And yet what have we seen over and over through the years? We've seen people say, “Here's my evidence that He's come,” or “I'm Him. Follow me to Jonestown.” And Jesus is saying, “Don't believe anyone who comes and claims to be Me because it will not be possible for anyone in the entire world to mistake My return. Everybody will know it. And therefore disciples, don't get hung up about signs. That's not what you need to be hung up about.” Instead, Jesus points His disciples to two things that He does want us to lock in on.

And the first of them, and this is my second point, the first of them you’ll see in His words in verse 25. “But first He” — speaking of Himself, the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ — “He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” In other words, Jesus is pointing His disciples to the cross. Isn't that fascinating? Even though He's talking about the end, even though He's talking about the coming of the kingdom, even though He's talking about His second coming, He's pointing them to the cross. Have you ever noticed how people that get all excited about eschatology and they love charts and they love intricate details and speculations about minutia in Daniel and in the book of Revelation — I literally once had a man walk up to me, now this is a layman — never studied theology or the text of the Greek New Testament or the Hebrew Bible — he actually walked up to me one Christmastime and introduced himself to me as, “The World's Leading Expert in the Little Horn of Daniel.” Thank you, nice to meet you.

Why is it that people who view themselves as prophesy experts don't care much about the Gospel and the cross? But when Jesus is talking about the coming of the kingdom, when He's talking about His own second coming, He directs His disciples back to His present suffering. And He says, “Don't forget disciples, I have come here to suffer and be rejected.” Why does Jesus say that? Because you’re not ready for the second coming unless you've reckoned with the cross. Jesus’ second coming is preceded by His first coming, and Jesus points His disciples to the cross which is the purpose of His first coming. His cross, His bearing of our punishment and the rejection that we deserved, is integral to the second coming being good news for us. Without the cross of Jesus and without our faith in Him and in what He has done for us, the second coming would be bad news for everyone. Without the cross, the coming of the King and Judge is not good news. With the cross, those who have trusted on the Savior who is coming as the King and Judge, for them, the second coming is good news. And Jesus is saying to His disciples, “You must reckon with the cross.”

But there's a third thing that He says as well. And He says it in striking words. And I'd like to direct your attention especially to verses 31 and following. “On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away” — what's the point? “When I appear, don't grab your stuff.” And then He goes on to say, “and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.” “Oh, no! My crops! Can't leave them behind! Got to grab some ears of corn!” And then He goes on to say, “Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” In other words, in that day when He comes, if your instinct is — what? — to hang on to this world – that says what about you? It says you never trusted in the Savior and valued Him and His kingdom above this world. When His coming comes, your instinct is — what? “Hang onto this world! This is what I really love! This is where my security really is! This is what I really believe in! This is what I really want!” And Jesus says, “If you do that, you will be judged because you've never really believed in Me and you've never loved Me more than you love the world.”

And then He goes on. Look at verse 34 — “I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” Look, Jesus is not talking about a secret rapture there. The event that He is describing here is the most public event in the history of the world. No human being will have ever experienced anything as public as this will be. So there's not a secret rapture going on. I know, you read the book, but what's going on here, Jesus is saying — “A great separation is going to occur when I come. One will be taken, taken by Me into My kingdom, and one will be left.” What's Jesus talking about? The sheep and the goats; believers and unbelievers; those who love this world and those who love the kingdom; those who love themselves and those who love God; those who trust themselves and those who trust Christ.

Our favorite Anglican bishop says about this passage, J.C. Ryle — “We should observe in these verses what a dreadful separation there will be when Christ comes again. Our Lord describes this separation with very striking pictures. In that night, there shall be two people in one bed and one shall be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding together and one shall be taken and the other left. The meaning of these expressions is clear and plain. The day of Christ's second coming will be a day when good and evil, converted and unconverted, shall at length be divided into two distinct groups. The wheat and the tares shall no longer grow side by side. The good fish and the bad fish shall at length be sorted into two piles. The angels will come forth and gather the godly together that they may be rewarded and leave the wicked behind to be punished. Converted or unconverted will be the only subject of inquiry. It will matter nothing that people have worked together and slept together and lived together for many years. They will be dealt with at the last according to their faith. Those members of the family who have loved Christ will be taken up to heaven. Those who have loved the world will be cast into hell. Converted and unconverted shall be separated forevermore when Jesus comes again.”

That's what Jesus is saying in this passage. And I want you to understand that this is the Jesus who loves you and who bled for you and who died for you who says this. This is not a mean person saying this. His words about the judgment are not words from a person with a shriveled heart in a shrill voice casting down stones of unwarranted condemnation upon innocent people. These are the words of the Savior who gave His whole self for you, begging you to listen to what He's saying. He's saying, “When I come, the judgment comes with Me.” And listen to His voice. What does He say to you? He says, “Please, remember Lot's wife! When the fire fell on Sodom, she looked back because she loved this world more than she loved God and the deliverance that had been provided!”

You know there are people who will tell you in the name of enlightenment and kindness that there is no hell and there is no judgment. I watched the professor of Union Seminary talking about Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, in which he espouses something like universalism. I watched her say, “Scholars have long known that Jesus wasn't concerned to condemning people to hell.” Well you know that's real interesting, because last I checked in my Bible, nobody talked about hell more than Jesus. And others say, “Jesus didn't talk about hell in relation to us, the disciples. He used that when He was talking to the wicked religious leaders of His day.” Well you know it's real interesting that Jesus is addressing this not to the Pharisees but to His disciples. And why is He addressing it to them? Because He loves them. Because He doesn't want them to go to hell.

You know, A.A. Hodge said, “A man who believes in hell will not shut up about it, but will speak with all tenderness,” and that's exactly what Jesus is doing. He's saying, “Don't go to hell! Don't go to hell with your arms around the world! Believe Me! Trust Me! Love Me, and I’ll take you to Myself! But if you love the world, you’re going to go where the world goes, and I don't want you to go there!” That's exactly what Derek was telling you as he read 1 Timothy 2 today – the Father's kindness. “I don't want you to get what you deserve! I want you to get what you don't deserve! I want you to get mercy! Don't pick what you deserve!”

You know Richard Baxter said a really wise thing a long time ago. Let me just read it to you. “There is a great deal of difference between the desires of heaven in a believer and in an unbeliever.” I mean what unbeliever that you have ever met who even thought there was a remote chance that there was a place called hell who wouldn't choose heaven over hell? But what Baxter is saying is, the way a believer wants heaven is different from the way an unbeliever wants heaven. Intriguing isn't it? What does he say? “The believer prizes heaven above this world. The unbeliever prizes heaven only over hell. To the ungodly, there is nothing that seems more desirable than this world, and therefore he only chooses heaven over hell but not heaven over this world. And therefore he will not have heaven upon such a choice.” Do you hear what Baxter is saying? He's saying exactly what Jesus is saying here. “If your arms are around your stuff, if your arms are around your crops, if the place that you really belong is in this world, you’ll get what you want and it won't be heaven.”

You all have been so kind to Anne since she lost her dear Claudia and we had the privilege of being there when Sinclair Ferguson preached Claudia's funeral at First Presbyterian Columbia. And in the midst of that funeral he did something that was very bold and very pastoral. Claudia had many friends and family for whom she had been praying for many years that they would come to faith in Christ. And many of them were sitting in that room for that funeral, some of whom have not yet come to faith in Christ. And Claudia had confided in her pastor her prayers and tears for her unconverted loved ones. And in the middle of the funeral he said, “Claudia would want me to say to you that she wants to see you again but that she cannot see you again unless you trust her Savior. And she would want me to tell you that she has been praying for some of you in this room that you would come to trust her Savior, but that she is with Him and you cannot come to see her unless you come to Him in faith now, but that if you come to faith in Him now you can come to see her.” It was a bold and pastoral thing for him to do.

That's exactly what Jesus is doing here. He is saying, “I want you to be with Me, but you cannot be with Me if you love this world, if you do not love Me more than you love this world and if you do not trust Me.” What He's saying is, “Right now counts for forever. What you love now shows you who you believe in and what you worship and where you’ll be with the great divide comes at His coming. And that,” He says to His disciples, “is what I want you to think about when you think about the second coming.”

May God grant us to listen to Jesus. Let's pray.

O Lord, this is a word that every single one of us needs to hear. So we ask grace, that You would open our eyes to love You, to trust You, to believe You, so that You will take us to be with You forever when You come. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now would you take your hymnals out and turn with me to the Wesley hymn, Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending, number 318?

Derek will be preaching tonight on 2 Samuel 17 and what it is to walk by faith when you don't know the end of the story. I need that word and I know you do too. Let's end the day together. And for all of you here today, if by faith you trust in Jesus Christ, you will not only hear this word of blessing now, you will hear it on the last day.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus the Messiah.