April 1: Luke 17:20-37

In the previous daily note, I looked at the Son of Man saying in Luke 12:40; today, I will be examining Luke 17:20-37 (esp. verses 22-37), which also contain several references to the “Son of Man”, and likewise have an eschatological emphasis.

Luke 17:20-37

These verses represent a block of sayings dealing with the end-time. They provide a rather clear example of the way that the Gospel-writers utilized and shaped the early Gospel tradition. Many of the verses in this section (vv. 23-24, 26-27, 33, 34-35, 37) are also to be found in the Gospel of Matthew, though in a different location (primarily the “Eschatological Discourse” of chapter 24 [corresponding with Lk 21]) and order. This strongly suggests that the two authors (of Matthew and Luke) independently included separate sayings (so-called “Q” tradition), each within a distinct narrative framework. Moreover, this would seem to indicate that the Discourse in Mark 13/Matt 24/Lk 21 is similarly built up of thematically related sayings and teachings, rather than representing a complete sermon delivered on a single occasion. We may outline the section as follows (“L” indicates material unique to Luke among the canonical Gospels):

    • Lk 17:20-21—saying regarding the coming of the Kingdom of God (L)
    • Lk 17:22-37—sayings regarding the coming of the Son of Man
      • v. 22—”the days of the Son of Man” (L)
      • vv. 23-24—”the Son of Man in his day” (Matt 24:23-27) + the saying of v. 25 (L)
      • vv. 26-29—”the days of the Son of Man”, with Scriptural illustrations:
        • vv. 26-27—the days of Noah (Matt 24:37-38)
        • vv. 28-29—the days of Lot (L?)
      • vv. 30-33—”the day the Son of Man is revealed”
        • vv. 31-32—warning related to vv. 26-29 (L?)
        • v. 33—additional expository saying (Matt 10:39)
      • vv. 34-35, 37—concluding declaration/warning (regarding the coming of the Son of Man)
        • vv. 34-35—illustration from daily life (Matt 24:40-41)
        • v. 37—final saying, framed as an answer to the disciples’ question (37a) (Matt 24:28)

Thus we see that there are five sayings (or groups of sayings)—the first four specifically relating to the Son of Man. We will examine these in turn.

Luke 17:22—To begin with, note that in vv. 20-21, Jesus was responding to the Pharisees; here, in the narrative context, he is speaking to his disciples (“And he said toward the learners…”). Here is the saying:

“The days will come when you will set (your) heart/desire upon one of the days of the Son of Man, to see (it)—and you will not gaze (upon it)”

The longing or desire could be understood either: (a) as an earnest wish/hope to see the fulfillment of pious expectation [cf. Lk 2:25, 38; Mk 15:43], or (b) as a longing for salvation and deliverance from tribulation. The connection with vv. 20-21 would suggest the former, the setting of the sayings that follow would perhaps indicate the latter (cf. Matt 24:22). The phrase “one of the days of the Son of Man” is a bit peculiar. There are two possibilities: (1) it is a stylistic variation related to the similar phrases in vv. 24ff, or (2) it should be taken literally. This will be discussed below at the end of the note.

Luke 17:23-25—Vv. 23-24 has a parallel in Matt 24:23-27, and is a warning against verbal/anecdotal reports that the end has come (or is coming), through visible signs (“see there! see here!…”), similar to the teaching Jesus gives to the Pharisees in verses 20-21. In Matthew, the context more specifically relates to claims that the Messiah (“Anointed”, Xristo/$/Christ) has come (Matt 24:23-24). It appears that Luke may have compressed and generalized sayings corresponding with Matt 24:23-24, 26. The Son of Man saying in Lk 17:24 is very close to that of Matt 24:27:

“For as the flashing (lightning that is) flashing radiates out of the (one place) under the heaven into the (other place) under (the) heaven—thus will be the Son of Man [in his day]”

The idea is that one will not have to rely on reports that the end has come; when the Son of Man appears, marking the arrival of the end-time Judgment of God, it will be as clear and obvious (and dramatic) as lightning flashing across the sky, instantly from one place to the next. Possibly the author has appended here in verse 25 a separate saying of Jesus to the point that the Son of Man first must suffer (and die) before appearing in glory later on (cf. Lk 9:22, 43-45). It seems somewhat abrupt and intrusive in context, but its purpose—to avert the (mistaken) notion that his arrival in Jerusalem would usher in the end-time Judgment—corresponds with Jesus’ own teaching (Lk 9:20-22; 19:11ff, etc).

Luke 17:26-29—Vv. 26-27 are close to Matt 24:37-38, comparing the “days of the Son of Man” with the “days of Noah”:

“And (even) as it was in the days of Noah, thus will it (also) be in the days of the Son of Man” (v. 26)

The comparison is based on a similar situation: people were busy with all of the affairs of daily life, when suddenly the Flood came and destroyed everything (v. 27, cf. Genesis 7). In the Lukan version of this saying, Jesus adds the similar example of the “days of Lot” (vv. 28-29, cf. Gen 19:1-29). Both Scriptural illustrations refer to the sudden coming of the Judgment of God upon humankind. It is possible to take the Son of Man saying in v. 30 as the conclusion of these verses—

    • Days of Noah—so also the Days of the Son of Man (v. 26)
      —the people ate, drank, etc. until the Flood came and destroyed all (v. 27)
      —the people ate, drank, etc. until the Fire came and destroyed all (vv. 28-29)
    • Days of Lot—so also the Day the Son of Man is revealed (v. 28a, 30)

However, it could just as well be taken with the verses that follow, as I treat them here.

Luke 17:30-33—The Son of Man saying is in verse 30:

“It will be according to the same (thing)s on the day in which the Son of Man is uncovered [i.e. revealed]”

The warning and exhortation of vv. 31-32 is an exposition of the Scripture passage referred to in vv. 28-29—the story of Lot (Gen 19) and, specifically, the example of his wife (19:17-24). On the surface, the illustration would suggest that one should rush to escape the judgment when it comes; but the message really has more to do with people occupying themselves with ordinary human affairs in the face of the coming judgment. This is clear from vv. 27-28 as well as vv. 34-35; at various points in the Gospels, Jesus teaches that following him must take precedence even over the most (seemingly) urgent and important daily affairs (cf. Lk 9:59-62; Mark 10:21-22; Matt 6:25-33 pars, etc). In early Christian thought, the teaching (and ideal) of self-denial and abandonment was rooted, to a large measure, in the belief and expectation that the end was near (1 Cor 7:29-31, etc). The saying in Lk 17:33, parallel to Matt 10:39, as well as the earlier saying in Lk 9:24, here sets the requirement of self-denial and sacrifice in following Jesus specifically in the context of the end-time Judgment.

Returning to the Son of Man phrases in particular, we can see the variation in their expression:

    • “one of the days of the Son of Man” (v. 22)
    • “the Son of Man [in his day]” (v. 24) {some early MSS do not have the bracketed words}
    • “the days of the Son of Man” (v. 26)
    • “the day in which the Son of Man is revealed” (v. 30)

There does not appear to be any real difference in meaning between these four phrases, which indicates that the variation is stylistic—due to the creative expression of the author and/or Jesus himself. This also applies to the unusual “one of the days of the Son of Man”. However, if one were to take that expression literally, what might it signify? Possibly “one of the days” is an intensive expression, perhaps indicating something like: (a) just to catch a glimpse of his coming! or (b) to see him come right away!—though this is highly uncertain.

Luke 17:20-37, and especially the difficult saying in verse 21, will be discussed further in an upcoming note. The eschatological image of the Son of Man coming as part of the end-time Judgment will also be discussed further in several of the upcoming notes in this series.

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