Luke Chapter 17:20-39

There is a lot of text to cover here. Here we get to a prelude to Luke’s version of the coming “apocalypse”, or day of wrath, or however you wish to describe it. This is kind of an odd bit coming here, or at least an odd place to put something like this. It follows hard on the heels of the Ten Lepers. I suppose one could argue that the intent of this passage in this location is meant to illustrate what will happen to those like the nine who did not return to give thanks, although their place is taken over by Pharisees. They are the ones who initiate the conversation about the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Is that question unique to Luke? Is he the only evangelist who puts this question into the mouths of people around Jesus? I don’t recall it, at least not in so many words, but I suppose there are different versions of it, or many and various ways to couch the implication of the question to evoke Jesus’ response.

What is, perhaps, more interesting is the placement of the reference to Noah. This occurs in Matthew as well, and Kloppenborg includes this as part of Q. But there is a “but” here; Matthew has this reference in the context of his version of the coming wrath, and it’s all together in his Chapter 24. Luke, OTOH, splits this off from his main narrative of the apocalypse. which will come in Chapter 21. This is sort of a teaser, or perhaps the trailer for the main story that is to come. What this means is that one of them, Matthew or Luke, changed the order of the Q material. It may have been Matthew moving it to be part of the longer apocalypse story, or Luke who removes it from the longer apocalypse and places it here. I mention this because the handling and organization of the Q material presented in the Sermon on the Mount is a major prop for the pro-Q argument. Why would Luke mess with this masterful arrangement if he’d read Matthew? Perhaps because Luke tended to rearrange the material he had, whether in the form of Q, or in Matthew’s gospel. More will be said on this later.

As a final note, I forget who said it, whether Ehrman, or Crossan, or someone else, but apocalyptic writing is the last resort of the downtrodden. Sure, we’re your chattel now, but just you wait. OUR GOD is gonna come and clean your clock and teach you a lesson. Him and my big brother. So you better watch it, buster. Honest. I mean it. So anyway, here what Luke has to say about the End Times, or the Time of Retribution, or whatever you wish to call it.


20 Ἐπερωτηθεὶς δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν Φαρισαίων πότε ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς καὶ εἶπεν, Οὐκ ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ μετὰ παρατηρήσεως,

21 οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν, Ἰδοὺ ὧδε: ἤ, Ἐκεῖ: ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν.

Having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God is coming, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with observable things (more literally, observations). (21) Nor will they say, ‘Look here’, or ‘look there’, for the kingdom of God is within you.”

This finishes Jesus’ response to the Pharisees, so we can pause here a moment.  “The kingdom of God is within you”. The problem with that perfectly legitimate translation is that “you” is plural. If Jesus had said, “within you(singular)” the meaning would be crystal clear, that each of us carries the kingdom within ourself, as in we carry it in our hearts, or in some such metaphorical manner. It is within me, it is within my friend and my sister and each of us individually. But it’s within us plurally, as a group, as a plural number of us. So do we take this in the distributive sense, as it’s within each of you and you and you? This, in fact, is how the Liddell and Scott understands this usage. They have a specific entry referring explicitly and specifically to this passage, rendering is as “within your hearts”. So where is the problem?

The problem, such as it is, is that this is most frequently rendered as “in your midst”. To me, this is sort of saying that there are three people sitting in a triangle, and the kingdom is sort of sitting there on the grass in between them all. It is in their midst, which is a way of saying “it is in the middle of the three of them, but not specifically within any one of them”. At least, that is how I would understand “midst”. Or is that a needlessly strict understanding of “midst”? What else does it mean, if not “in the middle of all of you”? So my point is that I really do not agree with the “in your midst” translation. It lacks, IMO, the personal implication of what is in the Greek. And if we check the Latin, the Vulgate says intra vos, which is a pretty literal rendering of the Greek. “Within you”, again as in, “within your heart”, i.e. And, for those keeping score at home, the KJV comes in with what I would consider the authoritative reading, of “within you”. It is the modern translations that go astray. I wonder why?

I will be quite honest: I’m more than half-way through the third gospel and like three epistles, and the number of times that reading the original has made a tremendous difference can probably be counted on two hands. Or at least two hands and two feet. But this, I think, is definitely one of them.

One last note. The idea of the kingdom being within us is an extension of the admonition not to look here, or look there, for it. Both are part of the same idea.

20 Interrogatus autem a pharisaeis: “Quando venit regnum Dei?”, respondit eis et dixit: “Non venit regnum Dei cum observatione,

21 neque dicent: “Ecce hic” aut: “Illic”; ecce enim regnum Dei intra vos est”.

22 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς, Ἐλεύσονται ἡμέραι ὅτε ἐπιθυμήσετε μίαν τῶν ἡμερῶν τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἰδεῖν καὶ οὐκ ὄψεσθε.

23 καὶ ἐροῦσιν ὑμῖν, Ἰδοὺ ἐκεῖ: [ἤ,] Ἰδοὺ ὧδε: μὴ ἀπέλθητε μηδὲ διώξητε.

24 ὥσπερ γὰρ ἡ ἀστραπὴ ἀστράπτουσα ἐκ τῆς ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανὸν εἰς τὴν ὑπ’ οὐρανὸν λάμπει, οὕτως ἔσται ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου [ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ αὐτοῦ].

He said to his disciples, “The days are coming that you will yearn for one of the days of the son of man to see and you will not see (you will long to see the son of man, but you will not see him). (23) And they will say you, ‘Look there’, or ‘look here’; but he will not come nor should you follow him. (24) For as the lightening lightens from the one under the sky to the one under the sky it shines, so will be the son of man on that day.

The Greek in that last verse is a bit odd. Nor is the Latin much help, because it follows the Greek pretty closely, and neither of them seem to match the English translations of (more or less) “lightening flashes from one part of the sky to the other”. There may be some sort of idiom involved that persons more adept in Greek & Latin can follow that are simply beyond me. Part of the confusion is that this verse is connected to the one before, with people saying “he’s here or there”, so it seems like the sense is that lightening flashes, and the son of man is seen here, and it flashes again the son of man is seen over there. Sort of a celestial strobe effect, with the son of man changing places in the time between the flashes. And “lightening lightens” is a very clumsy attempt to get across the fact that the words for both the noun and the verb are derived from the same root.

22 Et ait ad discipulos: “ Venient dies, quando desideretis videre unum diem Filii hominis et non videbitis.

23 Et dicent vobis: “Ecce hic”, “Ecce illic”; nolite ire neque sectemini.

24 Nam sicut fulgur coruscans de sub caelo in ea, quae sub caelo sunt, fulget, ita erit Filius hominis in die sua.

25 πρῶτον δὲ δεῖ αὐτὸν πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς ταύτης.

26 καὶ καθὼς ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Νῶε, οὕτως ἔσται καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου:

27 ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἐγάμουν, ἐγαμίζοντο, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθεν Νῶε εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν, καὶ ἦλθεν ὁ κατακλυσμὸς καὶ ἀπώλεσεν πάντας.

28 ὁμοίως καθὼς ἐγένετο ἐνταῖς ἡμέραις Λώτ: ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἠγόραζον, ἐπώλουν, ἐφύτευον, ᾠκοδόμουν:

29 ἧ δὲ ἡμέρᾳ ἐξῆλθεν Λὼτ ἀπὸ Σοδόμων, ἔβρεξεν πῦρ καὶ θεῖον ἀπ’οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἀπώλεσεν πάντας.

30 κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ ἔσται ἧ ἡμέρᾳ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἀποκαλύπτεται.

But first it must be that he (son of man) suffer much, and be rejected by this generation, (26) and accordingly it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man. (27) They ate, they drank, they married, they married until the day Noah went into the Ark, and the cataclysm (a straight transliteration of the Greek kataklysmos) came and destroyed everything. (28) It was similar in the day of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought at the market, they sold, they planted, they built. (29) But on the day Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from the sky (or, from heaven) and destroyed all. (30) Accordingly it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed (apokalyptai).  

I mentioned the placement of this in the introduction. The references to Noah and Lot occur in Matthew, but as a part of his “complete” version of the apocalypse. Why is it separated out by Luke? As a prefiguration? Is it, as such, as a literary device? Or is Luke just slavishly following the layout of Q, putting stuff where the compiler of Q left it?

Such a suggestion should be seen as risible even at first glance. To suggest, to think, that the author of The Good Samaritan or The Prodigal Son didn’t have the literary chops to know how to organize his material is ridiculous. When Luke does something like this, he does it with purpose aforethought. This has to carry through to the discussion of Q, but, of course, it doesn’t. The focus is on how badly he mangled the Sermon on the Mount. Now, saying, that, I seem to recall Mark Goodacre, a prof at Duke, suggested something along the lines of Luke not liking long stories. Goodacre is one of the few people I’ve run across who is willing to take a stand against Q; but I do recall that his suggestion that Luke likes to keep things more concise was met with a wave of derision and what bordered on outright dismissal. This is a topic on which I need to do much more research; so, for this particular moment at least, I will drop the topic of Q and move on. Yes, I show forbearance. 

As for the actual content, this is a direct throwback to Jewish culture. As such, it fits in nicely with the Jewish slant that Matthew is said to have.  Thus, one has to admit, it is the sort of thing that a Jew like Jesus would be familiar with, and so would use as an example. As such, it is honestly very difficult to gainsay this inference and argue that it does not show Jewish heritage. One question this raises, however, is how often did Jesus actually make references to the HS in Mark? The quick answer is: not that many. The hard copy Greek NT that I have (wonderful little book, btw; Bible Society, ca 1912 or thereabouts; it’s still around) has book, chapter, & verse to all the HS cites that are made. In Mark, most of the cites are to other Gospels, some to Acts, and some to epistles. In the first half of the gospel, I came up with about a dozen refs; of those, perhaps eight are things Jesus said. That’s 75%, which is a high number; however, even a glance at the margins of the pages, the cites in Mark are sparse while the margins in the gospel of Matthew are crammed with cites. Which indicates, IMO, that the author of Matthew spent a lot of time poring through the HS to find relevant passages, or passages that could be made to fit in a Procrustean Bed* sort of way. It seems, for example, that Matthew made up the story of the Slaughter of the Innocents to use a passage from Jeremiah about the wailing coming from Rama. Or the fight to Egypt so he could use the line from Hosea that YHWH called his son from Egypt. Indeed, he placed Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem so he could use a quote from Micah. Or that he put Jesus in Nazareth because Isaiah said “He will be called a Nazarene”.

Now, all that being said, it is worth noting that Matthew did not include the bit about Lot. Regardless, there is no purchase to be gained by parsing this out in terms of Q; Luke added another example of destruction, whether he got the first from Matthew or from Q really can’t be deduced from the evidence. Luke is going one up on someone. To my mind, it makes more sense that he would go up on Matthew, who was familiar to some members of his audience, rather than going one-up on Q, because one has to wonder the extent to which the general public would have been familiar with Q, assuming it existed. Since it, allegedly, disappeared without a trace, we have to suspect the answer is that the general public– in the sense of those listening to the gospels–was not terribly aware of Q.

We shouldn’t pass this by without mentioning the fire and brimstone. In English, brimstone is another word for “sulphur”, the element. It’s yellow, and burns, and lets off a rather foul odor. Pitch has a high sulphur content, so it tends to smell pretty awful when it burns. If you check the Latin below, you will see that the Greek translates to sulphur. This is the only time this word is used in any part of the NT– with the exception Revelation. 

*Greek myth, exploits of Theseus. In his journey Theseus comes across a man named Procrustes who offered food and lodging to travelers on the road. The main selling point Procrustes offered was a bed, that was the perfect size for any and all. Well, turns out, if the traveler was too sort, Procrustes stretched the traveler until the latter was long enough. Too tall? No problem. Just lop of the excess. Of course Theseus overcame the man and left him a victim of his own bed. Not sure if he was too short or too tall.

25 Primum autem oportet illum multa pati et reprobari a generatione hac.

26 Et sicut factum est in diebus Noe, ita erit et in diebus Filii hominis:

27 edebant, bibebant, uxores ducebant, dabantur ad nuptias, usque in diem, qua intravit Noe in arcam, et venit diluvium et perdidit omnes.

28 Similiter sicut factum est in diebus Lot: edebant, bibebant, emebant, vendebant, plantabant, aedificabant;

29 qua die autem exiit Lot a Sodomis, pluit ignem et sulphur de caelo et omnes perdidit.

30 Secundum haec erit, qua die Filius hominis revelabitur.

31 ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὃς ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ δώματος καὶ τὰ σκεύη αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, μὴ καταβάτω ἆραι αὐτά, καὶ ὁ ἐν ἀγρῷ ὁμοίως μὴ ἐπιστρεψάτω εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω.

32 μνημονεύετε τῆς γυναικὸς Λώτ.

33 ὃς ἐὰν ζητήσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ περιποιήσασθαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν, ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ ζῳογονήσει αὐτήν.

34 λέγω ὑμῖν, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ ἔσονται δύο ἐπὶ κλίνης μιᾶς, ὁ εἷς παραλημφθήσεται καὶ ὁ ἕτερος ἀφεθήσεται:

35 ἔσονται δύο ἀλήθουσαι ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, ἡ μία παραλημφθήσεται ἡ δὲ ἑτέρα ἀφεθήσεται.

36 καὶ 37 ἀποκριθέντες λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Ποῦ, κύριε; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οπου τὸ σῶμα, ἐκεῖ καὶ οἱ ἀετοὶ ἐπισυναχθήσονται.

On that day, one will be upon the (ie, roof of) the house, and his belongings will be in the house, do not go down to take it up, and one will be in the field (and) in the same way let him not turn back. (32) Recall the wife of Lot. (33) The one seeking to preserve his life it will be destroyed, and the one who will destroy it will live it. (34) I say to you, that night will be two upon a single couch; one will be taken up and the other will be left behind.  (35) Two (women) will be grinding upon the same (millstone?), the one will be taken you and the other will be left.” (36) And (37) responding, they said, “Where, lord?” He said to them, “Where the body, there also the eagles will be gathered.”

Numerous points to discuss. Let’s get some of the minor ones out of the way. Due to the gendered grammar of Greek, we know there are two men on the couch; presumably they are eating because that is how they dined. In the same way, we know that there were two women grinding– presumably at the same millstone, but I don’t know enough about how these tasks were done in First Century Galilee. Eventually, this became a specialized profession, resulting in the surname “Miller”, but at the time of Jesus my impression is that a village would have numerous smaller ones that were used in common. But don’t cite me as an expert who knows that kind of thing.

More interesting is the verse before: the one seeking to save his life. The word used is psyche, which we are told means “soul”. Well, it does, but it often means life. We saw this in both Mark and Matthew, both of whom have this axiom in their gospels. I know we discussed this when we ran across it in Mark; I have always seen it translated in that context as soul: what shall it profit…gain the world, lose one’s soul? We discussed whether “soul” was the proper translation. In English, there is a very big difference between losing one’s life and losing one’s soul; not so much in Greek. where the same word can– and does– have both meanings. In Mark, translating as “soul” had metaphysical, or salvation aspects whereas it obviously gains one nothing to acquire the world and die a physical death. In all three gospels, when Jesus says, as he does here, that whoever would save his psyche will lose it, all the translations render it as “life”. Context is everything. And, btw, back in Luke 9, when he gives his version of Mark’s question about gaining the world, Luke renders it as “what shall it profit…gain the world…and lose oneself?” That very much eliminates the ambiguity, and makes me wonder if we have to rethink the consensus translation of Mark’s question.

The idea of one being taken while the other was left is the basis for the idea of the Rapture. The title of the series of novels called Left Behind, will certainly corroborate that. Beyond that, we’ve discussed much of this when we read Matthew, and we will discuss more when we get to Luke Chapter 21.

31 In illa die, qui fuerit in tecto, et vasa eius in domo, ne descendat tollere illa; et, qui in agro, similiter non redeat retro.

32 Memores estote uxoris Lot.

33 Quicumque quaesierit animam suam salvam facere, perdet illam; et, quicumque perdiderit illam, vivificabit eam.

34 Dico vobis: Illa nocte erunt duo in lecto uno:

unus assumetur, et alter relinquetur;

35 duae erunt molentes in unum: una assumetur, et altera relinquetur ”.

(36) 37 Respondentes dicunt illi: “ Ubi, Domine? ”. Qui dixit eis: “ Ubicumque fuerit corpus, illuc congregabuntur et aquilae ”.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 3, 2019, in Chapter 17, gospel commentary, gospels, Luke's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: