Luke 17

The latter part of the previous chapter, verse 14 to the end, was spoken to the Pharisees: at the beginning of this chapter the Lord again addresses His disciples. The rich man had stumbled over his possessions into hell, and now the Lord tells His disciples that, the world being what it is, "offences," or occasions of stumbling are inevitable. The great thing is to avoid being an "offence" to anyone else, to even the least important. The consequences are so serious that anything is better than that.

Yet this does not mean that we should never speak to our brother for fear of stumbling him. The very opposite: if he should go astray into sin, we are to rebuke him, and immediately he repents forgive him; and this, even if it should repeatedly happen. We might imagine that we should run the risk of stumbling him by rebuking him, but we should really do so by not rebuking him. It is of course assumed that the rebuke is administered not in human anger but in the power of Divine love.

Teaching such as this made the disciples feel that they needed to have their faith increased. The Lord's reply seems to infer that it is not a question of the quantity of faith but of its vitality. A mustard seed is very small but it is alive! Live faith accomplishes results of a supernatural order. Many a time have heavy paving stones been forced up by tender sprouts, proceeding from live seeds embedded beneath them. Even vegetable life has powers which appear miraculous, and much more so faith which is living. Nevertheless no faith that we have and no service that we render gives us any kind of claim upon God. We can never accomplish more than it was our duty to do. This seems to be the truth inculcated in verses 7-10.

The Lord was now on His way to Jerusalem, and we come to the touching incident concerning the ten lepers. All of them had some measure of faith in Him, for they appealed to Him as Master and they obeyed His direction to go to the priests, in spite of the fact that there was at the moment no change in their condition. Yet when the cleansing reached them nine of them continued their journey to the priests, so as to complete their ceremonial cleansing at the earliest moment. Only one deferred the ceremonial part in order to give the first place to his Benefactor. The Jewish mind was more bound by what was ceremonial: the poor Samaritan was free to render praise and thanksgiving to the Saviour in the first place and receive his ceremonial cleansing afterwards. Sovereign mercy had been dispensed, and he got lifted above the customs of the law by a glimpse of the Person who dispensed the mercy. In result he got the assurance of being made whole from the Lord's own lips, with the acknowledgement that his faith had been the instrument of it. This was worth far more than any assurance he could get from the priests. Intelligent faith always puts Christ first.

In verses 20 and 21, Luke sets the obtuse unbelief of the Pharisees in contrast with the faith of the Samaritan. They only thought of the kingdom of God arriving with outward show, so as to be observed of all. The Lord told them that it was not at that time coming in that way, but that already it was amongst them, inasmuch as He-the King-was in their midst. The kingdom was amongst them for He was amongst them. The Pharisees were quite blind to this, but the Samaritan had evidently got a sight of it, hence his hurried return to give thanks at His feet.

In verse 22, Jesus again turns to His disciples, speaking of "the days of the Son of Man," and of course it is the Son of Man who is to take the kingdom, when the hour does arrive for its public establishment, as had long before been made known in Daniel 7: 13, 14. Now they, like the Samaritan, had faith and already saw the power and authority of God vested in the Lord Jesus. They would also in due season see the Son of Man revealed in His glory, and of this verse 30 speaks as well as verse 24. But meanwhile His rejection was going to supervene, and the sayings reported to the end of the chapter were evidently addressed to them as representing saints who should be here until the time in which He is revealed in glory. Many there have been who have desired to see one of His days, and have not seen it.

As the time of His advent approaches two things will become prominent. First, there will be much activity on the part of the powers of evil. Imposters will present themselves in this place and in that, as verse 23 indicates. Second, there will be on the part of men generally absorption with the things of earth. In the days of Noah and of Lot men were absorbed in their pleasures, their business and their schemes; consequently judgment caught them unawares and they all perished. Thus it will be in the day of the revelation of the Son of Man.

The great thought embodied in verse 33 occurs no less than six times in the Gospels, and the Lord seems to have uttered it on four different occasions. The context here makes it very striking. Men immerse themselves in the things of earth seeking to save their lives. In result they only lose them. The believer is to let go these things in favour of the far greater things that are revealed to him. He preserves his life, as will be very manifest when the Lord comes. Lot's wife illustrated this principle. The angels pulled her body out of Sodom, but her heart was still there. She lost everything, and her own life as well. We do well to remember her.

Those who are on earth when the Lord comes will do well to remember her also. If they do they will not think of attempting to retrieve their stuff from the house, or to return from their field. That day will come with the swiftness of an eagle's swoop. Just as the eagles congregate wherever their prey is found, so the judgment of God will reach all who are subject to it. The kingdom, when established, will be marked by discriminating judgment against evil. The sinner will be taken in judgment, and the righteous left to enjoy the blessing, no matter how closely they have been associated together. Had the Pharisees realized that the public establishment of the kingdom would involve this, they might not have wished to raise the question as to when it would come.

It is worthy of note that the three cases mentioned by the Lord in verses 34-36, suppose night-time, early morning and full day-time respectively. When He comes men will be instantaneously arrested in all parts of the earth, just as they are.