Posted by: mattcolvin | November 20, 2011

Luke 17:20-37: Watched Pots and the UnRapture

Monday of the 22nd week after Trinity: Luke 17:20-37.

Jesus declares that “the kingdom of heaven does not come with observation.” Many believe that this means something like “A watched pot never boils.” But a more likely meaning hinges on the word τήρησις, which can mean “observance of commandments”. Remember to whom Jesus is giving this answer: the Pharisees, whose soteriology and eschatology were counter to Jesus’ own. They, like the followers of John the Baptist, were looking for the kingdom of Israel’s God. Unlike John and Jesus, however, they expected the kingdom to come — that is, for Israel’s God to rescue His people from foreign, Gentile rule and make her militarily and politically supreme — in response to their ostentatious and heightened Torah-keeping. Jesus is saying that this Pharisaic agenda is mistaken. It is not how the kingdom comes. And indeed, the kingdom is already εντός υμων — in your midst. (Not “inside you”, the preferred reading of the Gnostics, who made the kingdom an interior, subjective matter.)

This imminence of the kingdom should also color our reading of the next paragraph, with its predictions of what it will be like “in the day of the Son of Man.” It is also worth correcting the record on the matter of “one will be taken, and another left behind.” Contrary to the idea of the Rapture, this does not mean that “one will be whooshed up to heaven, and another will be Left Behind ™ to experience the horrors of the post-rapture Tribulation.” Jesus’ comparison with the days of Noah should condition our understanding of the two persons in one bed, and two women at one mill: He says that a flood came and destroyed them all. Again, in His comparison with the days of Lot, He says that “fire from heaven came and destroyed them all.” Thus, in the day of the Son of Man, we may reasonably expect that the ones “taken” are killed, and the ones “left behind” are allowed to live.

This imagery of destruction is frightening to the disciples, so they naturally inquire “Where, Lord?” His response is quick and rhetorical: “Where there is a dead body, there the eagles will gather.” Israel is the dead body. This place, Jerusalem, will be the scene of another destruction similar to that in the days of Noah and Lot. And this will happen partly because of the Pharisees’ way of thinking about the kingdom.

(Those of you who have read NT Wright will recognize that everything except the Greek bit about “observation” is just channelled from him.)


  1. […] kingdom of God does not come with ‘observance’. Matt Colvin suggests ‘observance’ here refers to Torah-observance. The kingdom doesn’t come through our ever […]

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