The original question posed by the Pharisees was, "When is the Kingdom of God coming?" (verse 20). The long section from the end of verse 20 to verse 37 is Jesus' answer, first to the Pharisees (verses 20-21) and then to His disciples (verses 22-37). His reply to the Pharisees is rather curt: "You won't be able to discern the coming of the Kingdom because you haven't recognized that I am its chief representative, though I have been among you."
In His longer explanation to His disciples, Jesus goes into quite a bit more detail about the timing and conditions of establishing His Kingdom. First, He says, do not be deceived when people tell you Christ has come (verses 22-23). We will know very well when He returns; it will be like a flash of lightning that everyone will see (verse 24). However, before this can happen, Jesus must be tortured and crucified as man's Redeemer (verse 25). From our vantage point, which the disciples did not have, we know that this condition has already been met at Golgotha or Calvary.
Then He gives details about the conditions in the world when He returns. It will be as it was in the days of Noah and Lot (verses 26-30). He highlights two major signs of the end here:
1. He will come suddenly when people do not expect Him to return. Most people will be going about their normal activities, unaware of the times.
2. When He returns, society will be degenerate and wicked just as it was before the Flood came and before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 6:5-7; 18:20; 19:1-11).
Luke 17:31-33 shows that, for His disciples, His coming will result in a test of faith. They will have to be willing to leave everything behind—their homes, their possessions, even their loved ones—in order to obey the call of God. Lot's wife turned back in longing for what she had left behind, and God's judgment fell swiftly upon her. We may have to be willing even to give up our lives for salvation, because in trying to save our physical lives, we would have to renounce our beliefs.
Verses 34-36 illustrate three scenes of judgment. These show that Christ will judge us individually, and despite how close we may be to another—a spouse, a neighbor, a co-worker—our obedience and good works will not deliver anyone else (see Ezekiel 14:12-20). We will have to prove ourselves to the righteous Judge of all (Acts 17:31; Romans 14:10).
Finally, the disciples ask Jesus where these things will take place (Luke 17:37). His reply is better translated in the Revised English Bible: "Where the carcass is, there will the vultures gather." This seems somewhat enigmatic, but if we take what He says literally, He implies that He will return at a place of great carnage. This would parallel the scenarios prophesied in Zechariah 14:1-5 and Revelation 19:11-21 (see especially verses 17-18, 21b).
All through this section Jesus is describing real circumstances, real people, and real places. He speaks of a literal Kingdom to be established at His return "with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30).
Since the context of Luke 17:21 is Christ's second coming, and Jesus is speaking in great detail about the time, place, and conditions of His return, we must see His Kingdom as a literal government—just as real as any government of man. We cannot divorce "the Kingdom of God is among you" from this larger topic. Doing so distorts the true meaning of a literal, soon-coming Kingdom ruled by Jesus Christ that will grow to fill the whole earth after His return.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is the Kingdom of God Within You?
In Genesis 19, angels literally pull Lot and some of his family out of Sodom before it is destroyed. It is the evilest of places, the world in all its “glory,” as it were, and Lot's wife wants to return to it, just as some of the Israelites later wanted to return to Egypt, to the world.
Is our "stuff" bad? Only if we put the wrong priority on it. If we are puffed up and vain about our car, home, clothing, phone, or whatever, then yes, it can be wrong. If God were to say to us, “Come here,” and we responded, “Hang on a sec, let me grab my phone,” then I would say, “Remember Lot's wife.”
Just before Lot's wife reached her place of safety—though she had made some effort to escape the impending disaster—Lot's wife disobeyed the angel's command and looked back. "She became a pillar of salt" (Genesis 19:26).
Why did she look back? The context does not specifically give a reason, but she probably had an inordinate love for the world and the material things she had in Sodom. Obviously, Lot was a wealthy man who had enough livestock and servants to cause a problem while he lived with Abraham (Genesis 13:5-7). He and his wife may have had a palatial house with many fine furnishings, servants to do her bidding, fine clothes, sumptuous food, and frequent entertainment.
Also, Lot had achieved prominence among the citizens of Sodom beyond his wealth. Genesis 19:1 shows him sitting in the gate of the city, a place usually reserved for the elders and judges. Lot's wife may have been reconsidering her decision to forsake the privileges of her high social status and her prominent friends.
Maybe she just loved the ways of this world more than God. John writes:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:15-17)
There may be more to it, however, than we have thought. Most people assume that Lot had only two daughters, but this is not the case. He says to the Sodomites, "See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man" (Genesis 19:8). He had two unmarried daughters. Later, in verse 14, he "spoke to his sons-in-law, who had married his daughters," meaning he had other married daughters who were not virgins. Finally, the angels tell him, "Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here" (verse 15), implying he had daughters elsewhere.
Since Lot and his wife had more than two daughters, they left more than just material possessions in the city. When God rained down fire and brimstone upon Sodom, their married daughters and sons-in-law—and possibly grandchildren—perished with the rest of the city's populace. What a poignant and tragic test of their faith!
Thus, when Lot's wife fled for little Zoar, her wealth, her house, and her social circle were not the only things on her mind. Those concerns were insignificant beside the certain death of her flesh and blood. Perhaps she did not believe that God would follow through on His threat. As a loving mother, her emotions for her doomed family in the city clouded her ability to make proper decisions.
Jesus makes a pertinent comment in this regard in Matthew 10:37-39:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Though it goes against our human nature, God requires us to have more allegiance to Him than to the members of our own families. For His disciples, leaving family members behind to do God's will may be the most common hardship that they have to face as they come out of this world (Revelation 18:4). Perhaps this is why He reminds us to "remember Lot's wife." The day may soon come when we will have to heed God's warnings without hesitation to flee again.
"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" (Luke 17:31). When God commands His elect to flee to a place of safety, many of us will be required to entrust family members to God's mercy. Without doubt, this will be one of the greatest tests of our spiritual lives. We will know that before us lie life and hope and behind us death and destruction, just as Lot and his family experienced in fleeing Sodom.
Ted E. Bowling
Remember Lot's Wife
Jesus draws on the stories of Noah and Lot to warn that, even though life seems to be relatively normal, when God brings the judgment, it will be sudden and complete. Because God is just, there will be indicators and warnings. But when He decides that the time is ripe for Him to intervene, it will happen with breathtaking speed. If we are warned to flee, we dare not linger or look back, like Lot's wife.
David C. Grabbe
Where the Eagles Are Gathered
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 17:32: