There are several passages that we look at to give us a deeper understanding of Jesus’ return. Luke 17 is one of them. In this chapter, it’s the Pharisees who first ask Him about the coming Kingdom of God, rather than His disciples who do so in Matthew 24. Jesus’ cryptic response is that it will come in ways they don’t expect and not necessarily visible initially to the naked eye.
Of course, the religious leaders at that time were looking for their Messiah to be a military conqueror of the Romans. That was far from God’s intent in His first visit as the incarnate Jesus.
The text doesn’t say this explicitly, but it appears that Jesus’ next description of His return was strictly to His disciples, and that the Pharisees were no longer present. This discussion about the end times seems to be at a different point from when the disciples had brought up the magnificence of the temple, which prompted Jesus’ response in Matthew. In this instance, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem and happens shortly after he heals the ten lepers.
As in the parallel text, Jesus warns His disciples not to be deceived by false Christs. Speaking of His 2nd Coming at the end of the Tribulation, He says in Luke 17:24 that all upon the earth will see His return:
“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.”
That will be a day that no one can miss.
But first, before that fearsome and glorious day, many signs will occur. The times will be similar to those of Noah’s and Lot’s days. For the people living then there was a type of normality. As we look upon this prophecy today and see the condition of the world, it’s apparent that normal may not mean normal in the sense we might have described it in the past.
In speaking of Noah and of Lot, we know that there was great depravity around them. The earth in Noah’s time had been filled with such wickedness, because of the transgressions of the sons of God and their Nephilim offspring corrupting all of mankind, that God had no option other than to destroy everyone except the righteous Noah and his family. Times may have been normal, so to speak, for the earth’s inhabitants, but they were by no means without significant perversion.
The same applies to Sodom and Gomorrah. The immorality and degradation of all humanity in those cities was a normal way of life for those people. However, it was not normal in any sense of the word in relation to how God expected man to live.
What is the parallel to Noah and Lot besides the debauchery of the times? It is how Noah and Lot were rescued out of those circumstances prior to God raining down destruction.
Some commentators have suggested that Jesus’ description of what will happen in Luke 17:31 refers to His 2nd Coming:
“On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back.”
It certainly could be that; I’m not dogmatic about what I’ll next suggest by any means, but let’s look at this a different way.
Perhaps this refers to the desolation of abomination with the Antichrist’s unholy sacrifice in the temple at the midpoint of the Tribulation. Perhaps it means the end of the Tribulation when the angels of God gather up and separate the tares from the wheat, i.e. the wicked from the good.
However, perhaps it refers to the Rapture, and something very few people have suggested (I actually know of only one other person who has proposed this interpretation, so it’s very much out of the mainstream). Let’s add the next two verses in Luke 17:32-33 for our discussion:
“Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”
What do we know about Lot’s wife? Our presumption is that she still had an attachment to the worldly life and the fleshly existence she knew in Sodom and Gomorrah. As a result, with God knowing her heart, she was still effectively a part of those cities and didn’t want to depart. This led to God turning her into that pillar of salt. She looked back, lusted after her former life rather than desire to escape it, and God gave her the consequences.
Stick with me. The next verses, Luke 17:34-35, appear to refer to the Rapture in how people will suddenly disappear:
“I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”
(Some Bible translations add verse 36: “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”)
What if Jesus is saying that at the Rapture, those who should and could be snatched away will have a choice? What if, in that moment when Jesus comes on the clouds, the archangel shouts, and the trumpet sounds, that God will allow people to choose whether to depart from the earth or to express their fleshly desire to remain – just like Lot’s wife? Rather than a wholesale snatching of believers away, perhaps God will allow those who have been pre-Tribulation Rapture skeptics and others (i.e. carnal believers) who love life on earth to stay if they wish? After all, don’t we always say that God never forces us to do anything that we don’t want to do? In our free will choices, we can always reject God’s way. Is this passage actually conveying that truth?
The final verse in Luke 17:37 could pertain to this idea:
And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
What will happen to those who go into the Tribulation? There will be much death. Could it be that in this scenario that those who choose this path become meat for the vultures?
What I’m not saying in this framework is that these who remain aren’t saved or that they wouldn’t still end up in heaven. I’m also not applying a works-based salvation to this concept. It becomes a heart issue. Does someone love the Lord and want to be with Him, or is his love divided between heaven and earth? Perhaps experiencing some of the Tribulation is a necessary wake-up call for someone to wholly love God and for him to have the believing loyalty that He requires of us?
I don’t know the answer to this alternative interpretation of this passage as to whether this is what God intends. What I try to do is read and interpret God’s Word as best I can. Sometimes He has a deeper meaning than that which we see on the surface. I think it’s healthy to ask questions rather than to simply go with the narrative that has always been. As long as we keep the true doctrine of the Word, some of these other more obscure passages can certainly be open to a different interpretation. Do we always read while in the box, so to speak, or can we sometimes jump out of the box to consider another method of understanding?
In the end, we know God’s love for us is beyond our understanding. And He gives us His best, even if we don’t always understand why or how.