Luke 17 - Duty, Thankfulness and the Kingdom
A. Forgiveness, faith and duty.
1. (1-2) The danger of stumbling another.
Then He said to the disciples, "It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones."
a. Jesus, through the account of Lazarus and the rich man, has made it clear that eternity is for real, and no one from beyond will come back to warn us. It is all the more imperative how we live and show Jesus to others on this side of eternity, because right now counts forever.
b. It is impossible: It is inevitable that people be offended, but woe to the person through whom those offenses come. What does Jesus mean when He speaks of offenses?
i. The Greek word used here is skandalon, and it comes from the word for a bent-stick - the stick that springs the trap or sets the bait. It also was used for a stumbling block, something that people trip over.
ii. In the Bible, sometimes a skandalon is good - such as the way that people "trip" over Jesus, and are offended at the gospel (Romans 9:33, 1 Corinthians 1:23, Galatians 5:11).
iii. But among brothers in Jesus, a skandalon is bad. It can be false counsel (Matthew 16:23), and it can be leading a brother into sin by your "liberty" (Romans 14:13). Division and false teaching brings a skandalon among God's people (Romans 16:17).
c. Woe to him through whom they do come: Essentially, Jesus is saying: "People are going to take the bait - but woe to you if you offer the hook. People are going to trip up - but woe to you if you set the stumbling block in their way."
i. It would better for such a one to die a horrible death, such as having a millstone hung around your neck and being thrown into the sea.
ii. This is a lesson that the church learned the hard way in trying to help God to curse the Jewish race for their rejection of the Messiah; the curse came back on the church worse than ever. If someone seems ripe for the judgment or discipline of God, let God do it. Get out of the way. God doesn't need you as an instrument of His judgment, only as an instrument of His love
d. 1 John 2:10 explains the solution to being a skandalon to others - love: He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. If we love our brother, we will not bring an offense into their life.
2. (3-4) If someone stumbles you, deal with it and forgive them.
"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him."
a. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him: When someone sins against you, you should not pretend that it never happened. You need to rebuke that brother in love.
i. Love is the rule here; we obviously can't walk around keep a record of every little offense committed against us. One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is longsuffering (Galatians 5:22), and we need to be able to suffer long with the slights and petty offences that come our way in daily living. Ephesians 4:2 says that we should love with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love. Don't be too sensitive; bear with one another.
ii. But in love, when we are sinned against in a significant way, we must follow Ephesians 4:15 as the pattern: we need to speak the truth in love. Love isn't going to other people about it; love isn't bottling it up inside of you. Love is getting it straight with the person who sinned against you.
b. Jesus challenges us: if he repents, forgive him. There is no option. When the person who offended you repents, you must forgive them.
i. What do we do with the person who has never repented? Do we forgive them? In a sense, we can not forgive them without doing violence to the whole idea of what forgiveness is all about. God does not forgive us apart from repentance; and when we are forgiven, all relationship is restored with Him. Are we more forgiving than God is?
ii. Even if you can't forgive someone because they won't repent, you also can not harbor the pain and bitterness of the offense in your heart. You must do what Jesus did in Luke 23:34 when He prayed Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do - you must commit your heart to God in heaven, loving your enemy and praying for them.
iii. Joseph is another marvelous example of this. When he told his brothers who had hated him and sold him into slavery you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20), he didn't come to that realization at that moment. That was the state of his heart for a long time; but relationship could only really be restored after the brothers had repented and Joseph spoke healing, forgiving words to them - and backed it up with actions.
c. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, "I repent," you shall forgive him: Though real forgiveness can't happen until there is repentance, we are not permitted to judge another's repentance. If someone had sinned against me seven times in a day, and kept asking me to forgive them, I might think that they were not really sincere. Yet Jesus commands me to still forgive them and restore them.
3. (5-6) Great faith is needed to get along with people like this.
And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." So the Lord said, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
a. Increase our faith: On this occasion, the disciples are extremely perceptive. They recognize that great faith in God is needed to get along with people in this forgiving, non-offending way.
b. If you have faith as a mustard seed: We usually think of faith as being exercised with dramatic, miraculous works. That may be true, but the greatest miracles of faith have to do with the restoration of relationships.
i. The roots of the mulberry tree were thought to be extraordinarily strong; it was thought that this tree could stay rooted for six hundred years.
ii. You may have unforgiveness and bitterness that is deeply rooted within you; it may be like one of those trees that sends down deep, strong roots. But through faith, Jesus can rip those roots clean out; it can be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea.
iii. "No duty required of men and women more grates upon flesh and blood than this of forgiving injuries, nothing that the most of people find harder to put in practice; so as indeed where there is not a root of faith, this fruit will not be found." (Poole)
c. As a mustard seed: The faith that we must have is a faith that has more to do with what kind of faith it is than with how much faith there is. A small amount of faith - as much as a mustard seed (a very small seed) - can accomplish great things, if that small amount of faith is placed in a great and mighty God.
i. Little faith can accomplish great things; but great faith can accomplish even greater things. What matters most is what our faith is in, the object of our faith. "The eye cannot see itself. Did you ever see your own eye? In a mirror you may have done so, but that was only a reflection of it. And you may, in like manner, see the evidence of your faith, but you cannot look at the faith itself. Faith looks away to itself to the object of faith, even to Christ." (Spurgeon)
4. (7-10) We can't put God into debt to us; anything we do for Him is small repayment for His work in our life.
"And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"
a. We are unprofitable servants: The kind of attitude Jesus is speaking about is not a false humility, the kind of attitude that says "I'm no good at anything"; it is not an admission that we do nothing good or pleasing to God.
b. We have done what was our duty to do: This is realizing that we are forever in God's debt; an understanding that our work for Him is never done.
i. This is why it is so important for Bible teachers to emphasize what the Bible itself emphasizes - what God has done for us. When we realize all that God has done for us in Jesus, we want to serve Him out of gratitude.
ii. When our hearts are right, we live and act as if we are happy to have the privilege of being allowed to serve God.
c. Not enough Christians have this attitude today. Instead, many today often want to project a "super-Christian" image that makes them anything but unprofitable servants. We only think that we are better than others are when we look to man, not Jesus.
i. Every Christian is a "super-Christian" in Jesus. Truly spiritually mature believers will not be proud or arrogant about their spiritual "level."
ii. If anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. (Galatians 6:3-4)
B. The cleansing of ten lepers.
1. (11-14) The healing of the lepers.
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed.
a. As He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers: It was not unusual for these lepers to congregate with one another. They were outcasts from society at large, and had no company other than other lepers.
b. Go, show yourselves to the priests: It is remarkable that Jesus asks them to go to the priests while they are still lepers. This was truly stepping out in faith, like putting on the new man even when we still look and feel like the old man.
i. Of course, this is exactly what we are called to do as followers of Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
c. And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed: Just as God blessed the faith of the lepers to step out as the new man even when the feel like the old, so will He bless our faith.
2. (15-19) Only one out of ten of the lepers return to give thanks.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
a. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God: Only one came back to give thanks; and he was the unlikely one - a Samaritan. And, though he was only one, at least he was very loud about his thanks!
b. Were there not ten cleansed? Jesus missed the nine who did not return to give thanks. He wondered where they were. Jesus also notices our lack of gratitude.
i. We would think that everyone who would pray would also praise God; but this is sadly not always the case. What possible excuse is there for this?
ii. We can always find reason for gratitude before God. Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator, was robbed of his wallet once. He wrote in his diary that night all the things he was thankful about:
- First, that he had never been robbed before.
- Second, that though they took his wallet, they did not take his life.
- Third, because even though they took it all, it wasn't very much.
- Finally, because he was the one who was robbed and not the one who was robbing
c. Your faith has made you well: There was an extra healing for this tenth leper. When Jesus said this, He likely meant God's work within the man's heart. The other lepers had whole bodies, but sick hearts.
C. The coming of the kingdom.
1. (20-21) If you want to know about Jesus' kingdom, get to know the King.
Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
a. When He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come: We can just imagine a hostile Pharisee coming to Jesus, and demanding Him to either "put up" and produce the Kingdom of the Messiah, or to "shut up" and stop claiming He was the Messiah.
i. In Jesus' day, just like our own, people were longing for the coming of the Messiah. They knew the prophesies in the Old Testament which spoke of the glory of the coming Messiah; they wanted that kind of life and earth now.
b. The kingdom of God does not come with observation: Jesus made it clear to the Pharisee asking the question that you won't find the kingdom of God through a hostile questioning of Jesus. The ancient Greek word translated observation is better-translated, hostile examination. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their hostile, doubting eyes are unable to see or receive the kingdom of God.
i. The verb from which the word observation comes from is used often in the New Testament and in the lxx; it means "hostile observation."
c. For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you: Where will they find the kingdom of God? Jesus tells them that the kingdom is right in their midst! Within you could be better translated in your midst or among you. The kingdom of God was among them because the King was among them!
i. This is not some mystical revelation by Jesus that in some seed form, the Kingdom of God is within everyone in a New Age sense. After all, Jesus would not have told Pharisees that the kingdom of God was within them. His statement calls attention to Himself, not to man.
ii. Like many today, the Pharisees said they wanted the Kingdom of God to come; but you don't want the Kingdom if you reject the King.
2. (22-24) Jesus' kingdom won't come immediately in the disciple's day.
Then 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. And they will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day."
a. 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: When Jesus left this earth, the days came when Jesus' disciples - both near and far off - would long for the Messiah's return.
b. And they will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Satan would know how to take advantage of that longing; there would be many who claimed to be the Messiah who would come before Jesus actually returned. It is essential that these false Messiah do not deceive us.
c. David Koresh, Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and many, many others have all claimed to be the Messiah. Many Orthodox Jews thought that a Brooklyn Rabbi named Mendel Schneerson was the Messiah, and Messianic fervor heated up in Israel. Yellow billboards were erected across Israel with the slogan PREPARE FOR THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH. Bumper stickers and electric signs on cars said the same thing, and one group took out a full page ad in the New York Times announcing "The Time for Your Redemption Has Arrived."
i. Dr. Charles Fineberg, a noted Jewish-Christian scholar, says that in the course of Israel's history since the time of our Lord, sixty-four different individuals have appeared claiming to be the Messiah.
d. For as the lightning that flashes: The return of Jesus will be seen by all, just as lightning that flashes across the sky is seen by all. This is despite what some groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses say - that Jesus returned "secretly" in 1915.
3. (25) Jesus' kingdom cannot come until He finishes His work on earth.
But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
a. But first He must suffer: There is a tendency in all followers of Jesus to skip the cross and go straight to the Kingdom of God; but the Kingdom of God can't come until the King goes to the cross.
b. Why should it be Jesus who rules and reigns? Because He has fulfilled His own word, and we are called to follow Him in the same way.
i. If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. (Mark 9:35)
ii. Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. (Matthew 20:26)
c. Jesus can only come again in glory because He came first in humility and submission unto death.
4. (26-30) The coming of the King will be a great surprise.
"And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed."
a. And as it was in the days of Noah: By showing the similarity to Noah's day, Jesus describes a world that is functioning in a "business as usual" way when He returns. People ate, drank . . . married wives, they were given in marriage - things carry on just as they were.
b. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: In the same way, as it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah before the destruction of those cities, so it will be before the coming of Jesus. Life will be pretty much business as usual, until sudden destruction and judgment comes.
i. Significantly, there are other passages of Scripture that seem to show that Jesus will return to an earth that will be anything but business as usual.
ii. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor shall ever be. (Matthew 24:21)
iii. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (Revelation 6:15-16)
c. Which will it be? Business as usual, or hell-on-earth? The two distinct "phases" of Jesus' coming, separated by some period of time, explain the seemingly contradictory conditions which describe the condition of the world at the return of Jesus.
d. Jesus' use of the accounts of Noah and Lot as pictures of His coming shows us something important: in each case, God delivered His people, then He brought down judgment.
i. And, in each case, only those who sought after God were ready. Are you ready?
5. (31-33) Prepare for the coming of the King by not being attached to this world.
"In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."
a. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away: When Noah's flood came, you could imagine people trying to vainly keep their possessions safe while they themselves perished. Even so, if you are ready for Jesus' coming, you won't be concerned about all the stuff you leave behind. Your heart won't be on what you have in house, but on what you have in heaven.
b. Remember Lot's wife: Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt as she and her family escaped from Sodom; it was because she looked back (Genesis 19:26). Will you be caught looking back at what is left in the world?
i. The awesome reality is this: God will give us what we really want. When we really want the things of this world, God will let us have them - for a while. But when we really want the things of God, God will also let us have them - forever.
ii. The good news is that His people do want these things, even though they battle against the flesh regarding them. God will finish what He has begun in you!
6. (34-36) When Jesus comes, some will be taken suddenly and others will be left behind.
"I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left."
a. In that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left: This passage is often applied to the rapture, a term applied to Jesus' coming for His people in the midst of a business as usual world.
i. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
b. One will be taken and the other left: You won't have time to prepare for the rapture - it will come suddenly and at an unexpected moment. The way to be ready is to be ready now.
c. Two men in one bed . . . Two women will be grinding together: Significantly, Jesus points to the fact that it is day in one part of the world while it is night on another; at the same time some are sleeping at night, others are working in a field. God will come for His people all over the earth at one moment.
d. Just as in the days of Noah and Lot, when Jesus comes, some will be taken out of the way and others will remain and be judged.
7. (37) All this will happen at the time when judgment is ripe.
And they answered and said to Him, "Where, Lord?" So He said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."
a. What does Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together mean? William Barclay says this was a common proverb meaning that a thing would happen when the necessary conditions were fulfilled.
b. Geldenhuys on the saying about the eagles: "where the spiritually dead people are, there the judgment will be executed". "Where that which is ripe for judgment is present, there also will the judgment take place."
c. Are the conditions ripe for judgment in our day?
i. The Bible describes certain political, economic, spiritual, social, and military characteristics regarding what the world will be like before His return - suffice it to say that these conditions are amply set today - the stage is set.
ii. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 tells us what the world will be like in the last days: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! Does this sound like today?