The Rule of God Is Within You | Luke 17:20-37

“The rule of god is within you.” Last week, as Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he came across ten men with skin diseases. He commanded these men to go into the city, the place they were forbidden to go, in order to show themselves to the priest. This was in direct opposition to the law of Moses which taught that the priest must go outside the camp to inspect a person with a skin disease in order to keep him from spreading diseases by heading into a town. Then when only one of these men, a hated Samaritan, a half-breed heretic, humbled himself and recognized that Jesus, not the temple or the priests, was the true source of his purity, Jesus exalted this man and declared him to be truly faithful to god.

It is right after this that we are told that some Pharisees began asking when god’s rule was going to come into the world. These men were likely asking this question because they knew Jesus had been teaching about god’s rule, they knew he was headed to Jerusalem where they believed god’s rule would come, and yet they continued to see him work against the laws they held so dear. Jesus answered them, “The rule of god is not arriving by keeping rituals closely. Nor will they say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’” The Pharisees believed that the rule of god would come when god’s people kept closely enough to the laws and rituals of the Torah—Jesus told them this was not true. On top of this, they believed that the rule of god would come as a government and institution of mankind, kicking out the opposing empires with violence in order to establish their own empire like Joshua, David, or Judas Maccabeus had—Jesus told them god’s rule would not come in such a way where they could point to such a visual establishment.

So instead Jesus told them, “The rule of god is within you.” The rule of god does not come when people observe the right rituals through religious organization. The rule of god does not create or consist of outward structures and institutions. The rule of god does not come through war, empires, or human authority of any kind. Instead, the rule of god comes through the transforming spirit of god, the divine breath of god that fills his people, one person at a time. Jesus had been filled with this divine breath at his own baptism and he had told his apprentices to pray to god because god gives “the divine breath to those who ask him.” As such, the rule of god was already present in the world when the Pharisees were asking this question, for god’s breath was filling and animating Jesus right in front of their eyes. Jesus had pointed to this presence of god’s rule earlier, saying, “If I am casting out deities by the finger of god, then the rule of god has arrived against you!” The rule of god was already in the world, manifesting itself as Jesus conquered the forces that were keeping people from submitting to god’s authority.

Hundreds of years before, god had spoken of his rule being within us through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit and breath within you; and I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit and breath within you and cause you to walk in my ways, and you will be careful to obey my commands.” The rule of god is not some sort of establishment that comes because people obeyed religious rituals accurately enough, instead Jesus and the prophets declare that the sign of the presence of god’s rule is people “who listen to and obey the word of god,” for their obedience shows that god is indeed ruling their lives.

This is why Jesus says there will be no sign of god’s coming rule “except for the sign of Jonah.” When god’s rule is present in the world there is nothing flashy or concrete to point to, there is only the preaching of god’s word through a lowly prophet and the transformed lives of the obedient. The rich man in Jesus’ parable, who ignored Lazarus on his doorstep, had not listened to this preaching from Moses and the prophets, for he had wanted something flashier and in the process had rejected god’s rule. The same goes for us, when god’s rule breaks into our own world there will be no immediate outward sign other than a preaching prophet and those who hear the word of god and do it.

Jesus continued, telling his followers, “The days will come when you will desire to perceive one of the days of the child of humanity and you will not see one. They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away or hunt after them. For as a bolt of lightning flashes from heaven into heaven, so also will be the child of humanity. But first, it is necessary for him to suffer many things and to be rejected by this generation.” “The child of humanity” is a figure from the prophet Daniel that represents all those who are truly human, living as god intends. The “days of the child of humanity” are the days when these faithful people are exalted and given god’s everlasting rule. Jesus tells his followers that there will be long periods of time when the faithful will not be exalted and will only be beaten down and oppressed. In those days they will have to be extremely patient in the midst of rejection and suffering—patiently waiting on god to establish his justice in his own time. In fact, Jesus describes the time of the child of humanity as a bolt of lightning—quick hitting, here one moment and gone the next, easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention and don’t know where to look, and you never know when the next strike might come.

Jesus continued, “As it happened in the days of Noah, so also it will be in the days of the child of humanity. They were eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage, till the day Noah entered into the wooden box and the flood came and destroyed all things. Likewise it happened in the days of Lot—they were eating, drinking, trading, selling, planting, and building, but the day Lot came out from Sodom it rained fire and divine incense from heaven and destroyed all things.” The days of the child of humanity are a time when god’s judgment will come upon the world to set things right and rescue the faithful from the world’s corruption, just as god rescued the families of Noah and Lot. God’s justice for his faithful people means that mankind’s rebellious endeavors will come crashing down.

In the days of Noah god saw the wickedness, violence, and greed of mankind and regretted making humanity. God then prepared Noah to build an ark that would rescue him and the rest of the creation from a flood that was going to wipe out all of man’s wickedness. In the days of Lot the great cities of Sodom and Gomorrah lived in luxury and did not help the poor or offer hospitality to the stranger. God led Lot’s family out of these cities as they were destroyed by fire from heaven. In both of these scenarios the people of the world refused to recognize that their way of life was leading them to destruction and they went on living their usual, self-serving lives—eating, drinking, marrying, trading, selling, planting, and building—up until the day everything collapsed around them in total destruction.

Jesus tells us, “It will be similar to these on the day the child of humanity is unveiled. If, on that day, someone is upon the roof with his stuff in the house, do not go down to take it. Likewise, if someone is in the field, do not turn back for the things behind.” Jesus tells us that similar judgment continues to come upon our world in every generation and it coincides with the revealing of those who are living truly human lives. We ourselves need to be ready like Noah and Lot. Jesus’ advice is simple and startling—abandon absolutely everything—do not take any possessions and do not go back for anything. Jesus warns us, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever seeks to preserve her life, will destroy it. But whoever destroys it, will come to life.” Lot’s wife hesitated when leaving Sodom and looked back, this hesitation cost her her very life. Just like Jesus has been teaching throughout the gospel, we must abandon everything and destroy the lives we have made for ourselves if we are to be rescued from the coming judgment and destruction—we must abandon houses, property, possessions, and even family, not hesitating or longing to go back.

Jesus continued, “I say to you, on that night two will be upon one bed, the one will be taken and the other will be set free. Two will be grinding grain together, one will be taken but the other will be set free.” Here, Jesus was not talking about some sort of so-called “rapture” where people will magically disappear. He was talking about the concrete destruction that was coming upon his own generation and that continues to come in every generation. Jesus’ followers were confused as well and asked, “Where, lord?” They too wondered where exactly these people would be taken.

Jesus responded, “Where the body is, there also the eagles will gather.” The eagle was unmistakably the primary symbol for the Roman Empire and was plastered all over their military standards. Jesus was saying that Rome was to be the vehicle by which god’s judgment and destruction was going to play out in that generation. Those willing to abandon everything and let their lives be destroyed would be set free from the destruction while those who clung to wealth, possessions, property, and the lives they had made for themselves would be taken captive or killed. This is what happened to those in 70 AD who refused to abandon Jerusalem, they were killed or taken into slavery by the Roman Empire. All those who continue in the ways of the world will face destruction, for both sides of the world’s squabbles are absolutely wrong—those who opposed Rome and stood to fight them were destroyed and those who stood with Rome were also destroyed in a pile of dead bodies and eagles. Jesus calls us to side with neither.

God’s rule is already in our world. Whenever anyone hears the word of Jesus and obeys, there god is ruling and his kingdom has come. We must abandon our attempts to establish god’s rule in the world through political or ecclesiastical structures—such things have nothing to do with god’s rule and only lead to destruction. The only thing we can do to establish god’s rule is to listen to the word of Jesus and live it out right now in our everyday lives. This will mean a lot of patient suffering as we await god’s justice. This will mean leaving everything behind and destroying the lives we have made for ourselves as god steps into our world to set things right. So do not seek god’s rule through the structures of our world and do not be fooled by those who make such claims, for as Jesus says, “The rule of god is within you.” Amen.

-Pastor Luke

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