Recently, we have discussed the idea, on the blog and on the podcast, that Luke 17 is not about the rapture nor the end of the world. In Luke 19, I have the opportunity to reinforce this position and even though the chapter is not particularly about this topic, I think it is worth taking a moment to reflect on it.
Jesus was a celebrated Rabbi as He walked about the countryside proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing people. According to the late Dr. Ken Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes), It was an honor for a Rabbi to visit a village, almost as though he where the presence of God Himself. In the honor/shame culture of first century Palestine, the way that you would receive a guest of honor would be to go out down the road and greet him before He ever arrived in the city and escort Him into the city. I was raised in a much more casual environment than that of first century Palestine, nevertheless, when we had guests coming to visit from out of town, me and my siblings would ride our bikes up and down the neighborhood road waiting to see our guests car appear on the horizon. When they finally arrived, we more or less escorted them to our house on our bikes. It was more chaotic and less thoughtful and not required by our culture, but it was a cartoon version of what the crowds were doing for Jesus in Luke 19 as they go out of the city to greet Him and then to escort Him into the city. This is the same kind of thing that Paul is referring to in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 when he says that “those who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up with them, among the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” The point of "meeting the Lord in the air" in this way is then to escort King Jesus into the world in which we live, not to meet Jesus halfway in order to turn around and head back to heaven. Even speaking this way is taking the metaphor to literally. Heaven, after all, is not really "up" there, as though we could travel to it if we had the fuel for the journey. Heaven is God's sphere within God's creation. It is more or less parallel to our sphere of earth. The promise of the scriptures is that one day earth and heaven will be one (Revelation 21:1-4). We worship Jesus in the present and anticipate His full presence in the future by the offering of a holy life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And in this way, we are going out to greet Jesus and to escort Him into our present world and into God's future for the world. We should be excited for that day and eagerly anticipating it. There is more to be said on the subject, but for now I just wanted send out a forerunner to meet this argument halfway as we pass through Luke 19 and are escorted into the climax of Luke’s Gospel.