"The Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God was coming." Luke 17:20
When is the Kingdom of God going to come? Many people have asked this question but we haven't always meant the same thing by it. When our country was maybe less vulgar, a bully on a playground might say "I'm going to kick you into kingdom-come", which is a polite way of saying "I'm going to kill you." But the Kingdom of God is not something we arrive in when we die. The Kingdom of God is coming on earth as it is in heaven and those who have died in Christ are going to be raised to life to live on earth on that day; a new heavens and a new earth, but earth nonetheless. When the Pharisees in Luke 17 ask Jesus "When is the Kingdom of God coming?", they were not asking about when the world would end. Quite the opposite, they were asking about when God's rule and reign would finally and fully be established on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, when is the world going to be made right and so begin again to function in the way it was designed? Jesus had been announcing all along that the Kingdom of God was arriving and He was displaying signs that it was really happening by healing the sick and casting out demons. "But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you!" Luke 11:20. At the same time, the Pharisees, as well as Jesus, understood that while initial victories may have been won, the war was not over. God's people were still enslaved under Roman oppression and there was still much wrong to be made right. The Pharisees wanted to know when this job was going to get finished.
What exactly prompted this question by the Pharisees at this point? Jesus had been announcing the Kingdom of God to the poor, to tax collectors, to prostitutes and to wayward sons. He had also been announcing the Kingdom to Pharisees and priests and to older, dutiful, if not self-righteous, brothers. The issue at hand has been the places of honor at the table. It seems that all who have been invited to the Kingdom feast, have been invited to sit at the same table. This will never do for those who perceived themselves to be in a superior position before this Kingdom announcement was made. It could hardly be the case (it is imagined) that when the Kingdom of God was announced, those who declared most loudly that they had wanted it to come and who prided themselves on being prepared for it, should find themselves in a position of lesser prestige and power once it arrives! I believe that what the Pharisees are asking in essence is: "When is this Kingdom going to look the way that we expected it too look?" Jesus answers by saying that it is already happening in front of them. It simply is not going to look like what they expected. The problem the Pharisees faced concerning the Kingdom of God was a problem that we share ourselves. The reason that we don't often recognize the work of God when it is taking place before our eyes is due to the fact that our sickness is much greater than we ever imagined. We expect God to fix our world with a few military moves, maybe the assassinations of tyrants, the bombing of certain countries and some refining of our democratic system and we will be in good shape, right? Wrong. The heart of man is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). The Pharisees wanted the rest of the world to be corrected but they had little room for their own reformation. This is a modern problem for Christians and Non-Christians alike. The true formula for revival is recognizing our need for it, regardless of religious associations. The Kingdom of God is not an announcement for a particular group of people, however you define them. The Kingdom of God is a reality that has come crashing into our world, upsetting our power games, exposing our selfish and wicked hearts, and setting up God's order for the world. And in this new world order, the least shall be the greatest. Sometimes this seems to be translated in the public imagination as: the careless, the foolish, the sloth, the cowardly, the addicted, and the moral failures, shall be the greatest, but that is a mistake. Jesus hasn't come to say that bad is good and good is bad. Jesus has come to set the world right. It's just that there is a whole lot more wrong than we imagined and it cannot be relegated to "those people". Prostitution is wrong and so is pride. Stealing is wrong and so is greed. Jesus has come to deal with all of it and that is why both guilty parties are graciously offered a seat of equal importance at the Kingdom table, because it is an equal grace that is being granted. Besides the fact that the table itself doesn't look like what the Pharisees imagined, the Kingdom is also not coming in the way that the Pharisees imagined. It was coming like a mustard seed planted in the ground and slowly growing to fill the whole earth. Jesus is inaugurating the Kingdom and one day, He will bring it to it's consummation. In the meantime, however, the Pharisees and all those who resist Jesus' Kingdom movement will know that God has vindicated Jesus on the day that Jerusalem is surrounded and sacked by the Roman army. Why? Because this will be the final and fatal result of Israel continuing her own agenda for the Kingdom of God. Jesus has come into their world prophetically declaring that His way of bringing the Kingdom was God's way and that the way the nation was headed was not God's way and it would lead to disaster. When that prophecy is vindicated, the Pharisees will know the answer to their question but it will be too late. In that day, they will look in vain for their heroic messiah, and he will not appear. That is what I believe is happening in Luke 17.
This is an extremely serious warning and it was not what the Pharisees were looking for in an answer. But it is the answer that Jesus gives because He wants the Pharisees too, to be saved. The Pharisees' vision of the Kingdom of God could not bring deliverance to them as a nation, nor could it fulfill the vocation of Israel to be the light of salvation to the world. Many of us Western Christians also have deeply flawed views of what the nature of the Kingdom of God is like. And our flawed visions may also lead us into tragedy. After all, the wages of sin is still death. We need to be challenged once again with Jesus' vision of the Kingdom so that we are not misled into actions that deny our vocation to be the light of the world and which bring ruin upon our own heads. The Kingdom of God has come on earth as it is in heaven, but it still might not look the way we imagined it. Let us look to Jesus to renew our vision as we continue to read the Gospels.