The Bible

 

Luke 17

Study

              |

1 And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come!

2 It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.

3 Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

4 And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.

6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would obey you.

7 But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat;

8 and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?

9 Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded?

10 Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.

11 And it came to pass, as they were on their way to Jerusalem, that he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee.

12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off:

13 and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed.

15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God;

16 and he fell upon his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

17 And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

18 Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?

19 And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

20 And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.

22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.

23 And they shall say to you, Lo, there! Lo, here! go not away, nor follow after [them]:

24 for as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall the Son of man be in his day.

25 But first must he suffer many things and be rejected of this generation.

26 And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

27 They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

28 Likewise even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

29 but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all:

30 after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed.

31 In that day, he that shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away: and let him that is in the field likewise not return back.

32 Remember Lot's wife.

33 Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose [his life] shall preserve it.

34 I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

35 There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

36 [There shall be two men in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.]

37 And they answering say unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body [is], thither will the eagles also be gathered together.

  

Commentary

 

Exploring the Meaning of Luke 17

     

By Ray and Star Silverman

Increase Our Faith

1. And He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that offenses will not come, but woe [unto him] by whom they come.

2. It were better for him that an ass’s millstone were set around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.

3. Take heed to yourselves; and if thy brother sin against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

4. And if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, ‘I repent,’ thou shalt forgive him.”

5. And the apostles said to the Lord, “Add to our faith.”

6. And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

The lesson of the mulberry tree

The story of the rich man and Lazarus contains powerful lessons, not just for the Pharisees but for the disciples as well. It is easy to imagine the disciples listening in, hanging on every word, unclear about details, but getting the gist of what Jesus wants them to know. And the gist is this: Jesus is telling them to love people, to reach out to the poor, and do their very best because it is in this life that they will make the choices that determine their eternal destiny.

As the lessons continue, Jesus says to His disciples, “Offenses must come, but woe to him through whom they do come” (Luke 17:1). Jesus is here referring to the fact that spiritual trials are a part of life, and cannot be avoided. In other words, “offenses must come.” Or, to put it another way, we cannot be reformed and regenerated without undergoing some form of spiritual combat. And yet, we do not have to succumb. Even though we may be sorely tried, there is always enough grace given—if we are willing to receive it—to sustain us in the trials of life. What this means, then, is that offenses will come to us. This cannot be avoided. But they need not come through us.

To put it simply, in the course of our spiritual development, we will face inner challenges. Destructive habits and attitudes will inevitably rise up, endeavoring to rule over us. These are the “offences” that “must come” to us. It’s all part of the journey. Simply having negative thoughts and feelings cannot harm us. But if we accept these thoughts and feelings, dwell on them, and even act on them, they not only come to us, but they also come through us. This is what leads to human misery, not only for ourselves, but also for others. And that’s why Jesus says, “Woe unto him through whom these offenses come.” 1

Jesus’ warning about the necessity of offenses is a reminder that we should not be deterred when offenses come. Rather, we should see them as a necessary part of the journey, and not allow them to discourage us. Anyone who embarks on the spiritual journey must be prepared to complete the voyage, fully aware that, at times, it may lead through rough waters.

The beginning of every spiritual journey starts with learning truth and then making an effort to live according to that truth. No matter how simple the truth or how meager the effort, this is the start of the greatest journey we will ever take. At first, we will take baby steps, moving forward in faith, uncertain and unsure, but innocently trusting that God will guide us and strengthen us. These tender efforts and initial beginnings are the “little ones” in us. They are the first and most preliminary stages on the path of regeneration.

Once we begin, we are not to turn back, no matter what tribulations come. To succumb, to turn back, would lead us into an even darker place than the one we were in before we began. Turning back would be a denial of the tender affections that got us started, those states of innocent trust in the Lord. Jesus refers to this denial as an offense against “the little ones” in us. Therefore, Jesus says, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2). 2

This means that we need to be extremely careful as we begin our spiritual journey, paying careful attention to anything that would oppose those “little ones” in us. As a specific example, Jesus focuses on forgiveness. He especially wants His disciples to be aware of resentments, grudges, and hard-hearted feelings because they are diametrically opposed to the tender feelings associated with forgiveness. As Jesus puts it, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Jesus then adds, “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:4).

The disciples are amazed. Forgiveness is a radical idea for them. It would be hard enough to forgive someone once, but seven times in one day seems impossible. Even if that person would say, “I repent” every time, it would still be beyond their comprehension. Knowing that this is going to be extremely difficult, requiring much greater faith than they have, the disciples turn to Jesus and say, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). 3

Like the disciples, we may sometimes feel that our faith is weak and that we need to have God increase it. But the reality is that God’s presence is always with us, and that it is possible to experience greater and greater faith. We only need to believe that we can do His will if we pray for the power to do so. As Jesus says, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6).

The mulberry tree in this parable refers to false principles in our mind—false principles that we can root out and send back to hell (plant in the sea) by simply speaking the word of truth. After all, Jesus says, “If you have faith as a mustard seed,” all you need to do is say to this mulberry tree, “be uprooted,” and it will be cast into the sea. It seems, then, that plucking the tree from the ground and planting it in the sea is accomplished through a spoken word. But the idea of a “spoken” word is not to be taken too literally.

More deeply, the words, “Say to this mulberry tree,” refer to the power of our thoughts. When a right understanding of spiritual principles are at work in our mind, these thoughts can wield tremendous power. It is not about the power to pluck up physical trees, but rather the power to pluck up false principles and cast them far from us (“plant them in the sea”). While it does us no good to pluck up physical mulberry trees or move physical mountains, it does us a world of spiritual good to remove false ideas from our mind and replace them with truth from the Lord’s Word. This parable, then, is not about uprooting and removing mulberry trees. It’s about uprooting and removing those things that impede the reception of spiritual life as it flows in from the Lord. 4

All of this is related to the seeming impossibility of forgiving a brother who sins repeatedly, even when that brother continues to say, “I repent.” When the disciples hear this, they sense that it will take much greater faith than they currently have. Therefore, they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.”

A practical application

The statement, “Increase our faith,” which is also translated, “add to our faith,” is a prayer for the opening of our understanding. It is a prayer for a proper understanding so that we may know God’s will and do it. For example, if we have been hurt deeply, we might falsely believe that we can never forgive that person. This false idea must be uprooted. And this is precisely what Jesus does through the lesson of the mulberry tree. The mulberry tree of false belief must first be uprooted so that the Lord can “increase our faith”—that is, expand our understanding. As a practical application, then, the words, “increase our faith, Lord,” could be used as a daily prayer for enlightenment. It is to pray, “Lord help me to cast out this false belief and this self-centered thought so I can learn what is true. Heavenly Father, increase my faith and expand my understanding.” 5

The Unprofitable Servant

7. “But which of you, having a servant plowing or shepherding, will tell him straightway when he comes in out of the field: ‘Go along, recline [to eat]’?

8. But will he not rather tell him, ‘Prepare [something] with which I may sup, and having girded yourself, minister to me till I have eaten and drunk, and after these things thou mayest eat and drink?’

9. Does he have thankfulness for that servant because he did the things that were ordered him? I think not.

10. So likewise you, when you have done all things that are instructed you, say, ‘We are useless servants; we have done that which we ought to do.’”

As we have seen, the Gospel According to Luke continues to focus on the opening of our understanding. It begins with the words “having had perfect understanding,” and consistently returns to this theme. It is like a recurring melody in a great symphony. Over and over again, Jesus takes His disciples aside to instruct them and to “increase their faith” by perfecting their understanding. This begins, however, by casting out false beliefs. Like the mulberry tree in the previous episode, false beliefs must first be uprooted before true beliefs can be implanted. This is how faith can grow. In brief, faith can be increased according to the increase in our understanding of truth. Instead of praying for the faith that surpasses understanding, we can pray for the understanding that deepens our faith. 6

Rewards and punishments

The instruction of the disciples continues in the next episode. Jesus has already spoken to them about the nature of forgiveness. This time, Jesus will be teaching them about rewards and punishments. For the disciples, one of their oldest beliefs, perhaps the most deeply rooted of all, is the idea of reward. A brief survey of Hebrew scriptures easily demonstrates that the relationship between God and His people was seen primarily as a system of physical rewards for good behavior. For example, when God called Abraham, He promised to bless him and make his name great. This blessing was to be in the form of sheep, oxen, donkeys, servants, land, and innumerable descendants (Genesis 12:16;13:15,16). In addition, their livestock would increase abundantly, and their farmlands would yield crops bountifully (Deuteronomy 30:11,12). Their only requirement was to obey God’s commandments.

Their idea of God, then, is a distant, divine Being who demands strict obedience. Those who are obedient will be rewarded richly, abundantly, and copiously—but primarily physically. And this is always dependent upon their external behavior. As it is written, “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord and have not wickedly departed from my God” (2 Samuel: 22:21-22). The disciples, then, having been raised in that tradition, retain the idea that God will reward good behavior with prosperity and punish bad behavior with poverty. For them this seems to be an unambiguous teaching. Simply put, if they obeyed God’s commands, they would prosper; if they disobeyed God’s commands, they would perish.

It is important, however, to understand that the history of the children of Israel parallels the history of human development. For the most part, rewards and punishments serve as primary motivations for children. They will behave well if they are promised a reward; and they will refrain from wrongdoing if they are threatened with a punishment. This is fine as a beginning. Eventually, as they grow and mature, we expect them to move on to higher motives. As people grow beyond childhood, we expect them to do good because it is good—not because they will be rewarded; we expect people to avoid wrongdoing because they care for other people, not because they are afraid of getting caught or being punished. This is the kind of maturity that uses intelligence to understand what is true, and then exerts effort to do what is good. 7

Jesus begins the lesson about rewards and punishments with a question. He asks His disciples, “Which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’?” (Luke 17:7). In asking His disciples this simple question, Jesus is inviting them to put themselves in the place of the master who has a servant. According to the understanding of the disciples, it would be entirely out of place for the master to prepare a meal for the servant—even if the servant had been working all day in the fields. Servants, by definition, must serve their master. They are not to be served. Jesus begins by simply reminding them of what they already believe.

Jesus then continues with another question. He asks, “But will the master not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’?” (Luke 17:8). Jesus’ question is about the current beliefs that involved the relationship between a master and a servant. According to custom, the servants may eat, but only after they have completed their chores, and only after the master has already been served. Moreover, since this is a servant’s duty, there is no expectation that the master should thank him. As Jesus puts it, “Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not” (Luke 17:9).

This is where the story begins to take on a deeper meaning. Jesus is using the parable about the master and the servant to introduce His disciples to a new understanding of what it means to serve. He knows that the mindset of His disciples is steeped in the idea that they will get physical rewards for keeping God’s commandments. At the very least, God will say, “Thank you.” Not just that, but God will demonstrate His gratitude by rewarding them with physical prosperity and material blessings. Jesus, however, gently leads them away from this false belief by telling them that the master will not be thanking the servant for merely doing his job. That’s why Jesus asks, “Does the master thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded him?” And then He answers His own question by saying, “I don’t think so.”

While earthly rewards are fine, and can serve an important use, the higher truth is that the spiritual rewards that accompany selfless service far outweigh any material rewards we could ever receive. When we are not thinking about obtaining an earthly reward, whether it be money or gratitude or praise, we experience—in the very act of serving—the blessings of heaven. These blessings flow in, unabated, because there is nothing of self-love, pride, or conceit to block them. It is for this reason that Jesus adds, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:10). Seen this way, Jesus is saying, “Be grateful that you have an opportunity to serve. In selfless service you will experience the joy of heaven.”

The parable about the unprofitable servant, then, is about rewards. Jesus is preparing His disciples to go out and preach the gospel. But they should know, beforehand, that they should not expect external rewards. It’s as if He is saying, “Just do your job. And as you do so, sincerely and diligently, with no thought of reward, you will experience intrinsic rewards that are far greater than those that come with riches, high honors, and positions of power. Therefore, whatever you do, do it not for a reward, but simply from love, and you will experience the joys of heaven.” 8

A practical application

Imagine that there were a few things in your life that you absolutely hated to do. Let’s suppose they include mopping floors and raking leaves. Then imagine that you meet an old friend whom you haven’t seen in years. Your friend was once full of life, but now has a terminal illness and is confined to a wheelchair. Every day your friend is getting weaker, unable to do the most menial tasks. When you get back home, you are struck with a new realization and a dramatic shift in the way you see your life. You have a new appreciation for doing even the most menial tasks. The thought comes, I don’t have to mop the floor; I get to mop the floor. I don’t have to rake the leaves; I get to rake the leaves. In other words, you get to do those things that used to annoy you. But now you do them gladly, with appreciation for the fact that you can. Lifting your thoughts a little higher, you transfer this attitude to your spiritual life. You realize that you don’t have to keep the commandments. Instead, you get to keep the commandments. Moreover, you no longer keep them out of a sense of duty and obligation, but rather you keep them out of a deep feeling of gratitude and love.” 9

The Grateful Leper

11. And it came to pass as He went to Jerusalem, that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.

12. And as He entered into a certain village, there met Him ten leprous men, who stood afar off;

13. And they lifted up [their] voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us!”

14. And seeing [them] He said to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And it came to pass, in their going away, they were cleansed.

15. And one of them, seeing that he was healed, returned, [and] with a great voice glorified God,

16. And fell on [his] face by His feet, giving Him thanks; and he was a Samaritan.

17. And Jesus answering said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where [are] the nine?

18. There were not found any that returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner.”

19. And He said to him, “Stand up, go [thy way]; thy faith has saved thee.”

The lesson of the previous parable focuses on the duties of a servant. Through this parable, Jesus is teaching His disciples about their duty to keep the commandments without thought of reward, simply because it is their duty to do so. More deeply, Jesus is teaching an eternal lesson about true rewards—the rewards that are inherent in selfless service. Our primary motive, in whatever we do, should not be material prosperity or financial gain; nor should we be seeking to accrue honors or advance our reputations. Whenever we serve with no thought of reward, we will experience the spiritual blessings that are associated with doing good. When we let go of the lesser, we receive the greater. It is a fundamental spiritual law.

But the question arises, How can we get to the point where we no longer seek external rewards? The answer lies in the realization that the good we do is from God who works into and through us. To the extent that we can acknowledge this, we will no longer have the need to take credit for the good that we do; nor will we desire the praise and admiration of others. In brief, we do not seek any glory for ourselves because we realize that all glory belongs to God.

In the story which follows, Jesus illustrates another aspect of this new teaching. It is the story of ten lepers, all of whom are healed by Jesus, but only one of whom returns to thank Him. The one who returns is especially grateful. As it is written, “Now one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:16).

Significantly, this Samaritan is the only leper who returns and gives thanks. The incident causes Jesus to say, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). Jesus then turns to the one who returned in gratitude, and says to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19).

It should be noted that the other nine lepers were also cleansed, simply by following Jesus’ command. Jesus had said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests. And so it was that as they went they were cleansed” (Luke 17:14). Faith is demonstrated not just in the hearing, but also in the doing. Therefore we read, “As they went, they were cleansed.” And so it is with us. The healing process begins not just when we listen to God’s Word, but when we act on it. But in order for the healing to be complete, we must also return to acknowledge the source of our healing. We must acknowledge the One who heals us from every spiritual ill, and cleanses us from every spiritual failing. That is why Jesus has additional words of blessing for the Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus and glorify God. Jesus says to him, “Arise,” He says. “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

The episode of the ten lepers is a continuation of the stories about faith and how it increases in us. The nine lepers may have been cleansed of their physical afflictions. But the one who returned to praise and glorify God received a deeper healing, one that would continue beyond the grave. It was a healing of faith. In this regard it should be noted that the one who returned was a Samaritan—considered to be a despised “heathen”—and yet it was the Samaritan who demonstrated the greatest faith of all.

This is the kind of “increased faith” that Jesus has been teaching about in the two preceding episodes. It is this “increased faith” that recognizes the true source of all spiritual healing, and therefore gives glory to God. Like the leper who fell on his face before Jesus, whenever we humble ourselves and give thanks to the Lord, we open the way to experience the “kingdom of God.” 10

A practical application

While we should not expect to receive praise for what we do for others, we should always remember to give glory to God. This is not because God needs our praise, but rather because we need to come into that state of humility where we recognize that we can do nothing of ourselves. Gratitude to God, then, becomes an essential aspect of our spiritual life. We are to continually give the credit, the glory, and the honor to God with the understanding that all good is freely given and should be returned to its rightful owner. If someone praises us for good work we do, we can reply with a gracious “Thank you,” while inwardly acknowledging that God, the rightful owner, deserves all the praise and gratitude. Like the grateful leper who returned to thank and praise God, we should also remember to give credit to God. In return, God blesses us—without our even seeking it—with the treasures of heaven. 11

The Kingdom of God

20. And being questioned by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God comes not with observation.

21. Neither shall they say, ‘Behold, [it is] here! or, Behold, [it is] there!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

The previous episode was about the heavenly treasures that are in store for us when we perform useful services without any thought of reward. Whenever we choose to live in this manner, it is as though the Lord’s kingdom is already within us. It is fitting, therefore, that the subject of the kingdom of God should occur in the next episode. We read, “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, “See here!” or “See there!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). 12

This time Jesus is instructing the Pharisees. He is striving to move them away from their external orientation and their fixation on the material world, toward more internal, genuinely spiritual concerns. He wants them to understand that the kingdom of God is not something that they will see with their physical eyes, but rather something they can only experience with their spiritual senses. This is why Jesus tells them that “The kingdom of God is within you.”

This is an important moment in Luke’s narrative. Up to this point, the Pharisees have displayed nothing but contempt and hatred for Jesus, plotting in secret to murder Him. Nevertheless, Jesus still asserts that even the Pharisees have the capacity to receive heaven into themselves. This is because God’s love and wisdom is constantly flowing into everyone—into saints and into sinners, into lepers and Samaritans, and even into Pharisees. Therefore, when Jesus tells the Pharisees that “the kingdom of God is within you,” He is saying that heaven is not “on high,” nor is it coming in the future. Rather it is a state of mind they can come into right now, at this very moment, to the extent that they put away selfishness and choose to live according to the truth that God gives to them—especially the truth that all the good they do is from God. In brief, they could enter heaven the moment they choose to let heaven enter them. 13

Although the Pharisees persistently refuse to receive the love and the truth Jesus offers, the capacity to receive these heavenly qualities is still within them. In the same way, the capacity to receive the kingdom of God is in everyone, and is never taken away. 14

The Son of Man

22. And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you shall long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you shall not see.

23. And they shall say to you, ‘Behold here!’ or, ‘Behold there!’ Go not away, nor pursue.

24. For just as the lightning that flashes out of the [one part] under heaven shines to the [other part] under heaven, so shall also the Son of Man be in His day.

25. But first He must suffer many things, and be rejected by this generation.

26. And even as it came to pass in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man.

27. They ate, they drank, they wed, they were given to be wed, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

28. Likewise also as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built;

29. But the day Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all.

30. According to these things shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

31. In that day whoever shall be on the housetop, and his vessels in the house, let him not come down to take them away; and he that is in the field, let him likewise not turn around to what [is] behind.

32. Remember Lot’s wife.

33. Whoever shall seek to save his soul, shall lose it; and whoever shall lose it, shall preserve it alive.

34. I say to you, In that night two [men] shall be in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

35. Two [women] shall be grinding [grain] together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

36. Two [men] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”

Turning to the disciples, Jesus now talks about the Son of Man. Interestingly, His choice of language is almost identical to the choice of language He used when speaking to the Pharisees, but with an important difference. To the Pharisees He said that the kingdom of God does not come with outward observation. If people were to say, “See here!” or See there!” they must not believe it, for the kingdom of God is within them.

Jesus has a similar message for His disciples, but with a different emphasis. To them He says that when they desire to see “the Son of Man,” people will tell them, “Look here!” or Look there!” (Luke 17:23). In the same way that He told the Pharisees to stop looking for outward signs of the kingdom, Jesus tells the disciples not to listen to people who say that the Son of Man is here or there. Rather, Jesus tells them that the Son of Man will come as “lightning that flashes out of one part of heaven and shines to the other part of heaven” (Luke 17:24).

The term “Son of Man” refers to the truth Jesus came to offer. This is the divine truth that can illuminate the mind like lightning flashing across a dark sky. Jesus knows that His words will eventually make an impression on the disciples. It will, however, take time. They will often be confused, contentious, even doubt-filled, but flashes of enlightenment will come; the lightning of Jesus’ wisdom will flash across the dark sky of their minds, and they will begin to have glimpses of the truth. 15

Jesus then warns His disciples that the road ahead will not be easy. Jesus knows that He will become a living representative of what people will do to the truth that He came to offer. They will treat the truth in the same way that they have treated Jesus. It will be despised, condemned, and rejected. As Jesus puts it, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:25). This, of course, is nothing new. It was true also in the days of Noah when the voice of truth came to warn people of the looming destruction. But the people were heedless of the truth. As Jesus puts it, “They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27). 16

The lesson of Noah is quite clear. Without truth we will drown in a sea of falsity. It was similar in the days of Lot: “They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17:28). But they did not heed the voice of truth, spoken through the angels who came to them, saying, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere on the plain. Escape to the mountains lest you be destroyed” (Genesis 19:17). And because they did not heed the voice of truth, they all perished. As Jesus puts it, “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:29).

Jesus reminds the disciples of these stories of destruction to let them know that something similar is happening in their own time. The voice of truth is once again among them, and once again people are not listening. They continue to look back to the belief systems of a bygone era, which now hold them in captivity and will soon bring about their ruin.

In the midst of these destructive, self-serving belief systems, Jesus arrives to bring new truth—truth that could lift them, like Noah, above the floods of false belief, and lead them, like Lot, out of the heat of Sodom-like self-love. This is the “lightning” Jesus refers to. It is the Son of Man—the Divine Truth—which comes to reveal a new understanding of God, a new way of loving one’s neighbor, and a new understanding of life’s purpose. As Jesus puts it, “Even so will it be in that day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30).

The narrative now shifts to a detailed picture of what will take place “in that day” and “in that night” when the Son of Man comes. As it is written, “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in his house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise, the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Again, Jesus reminds them of the end that befell those who “looked back,” and the doom that came upon those who clung to the material objects that were in their households. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is referring to our tendency to “look back” to the old belief systems that can no longer sustain us.

The phrase “look back” relates to the understanding which has the capacity for “seeing” higher truth but, unfortunately, looks back to one’s own way of seeing reality, especially when self-interest is involved. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures when speaking about those who should be leading and protecting the people, “His watchmen are blind and ignorant…. They are shepherds who cannot understand. They all look back to their own way, every one of them for their own gain” (Isaiah 56:10-11). 17

When higher truth comes into our life—the coming of the Son of Man—we are not to look back. It may feel as though we are giving up something that has become an essential part of who we are. This is because we so often define ourselves by our acquired and customary belief systems. Letting go of those habitual patterns of thought might feel like we are losing a part of ourselves—even dying. Jesus, however, urges us to go ahead and give them up, even if it feels like the loss of life. As Jesus puts it, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33).

Interestingly, this reference to “losing one’s life” continues the series of “losses” beginning with the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Those stories about loss were followed by the parable of the unjust steward who lost his livelihood and the story about the rich man who feasted sumptuously every day, but failed to give to the poor. Therefore, he lost his life. In this case, Jesus speaks about the importance of giving up that which we think is our very life—the false beliefs that we have about happiness, especially the idea that the whole of happiness consists in material blessings. In this regard, if we stubbornly cling to false beliefs, we will lose our opportunity to experience a life that is truly spiritual. But if we let go of those false beliefs, choosing instead to receive higher truth, our life will be preserved. 18

The importance of intentions

As Jesus approaches the end of this series of warnings, He adds three more predictions about coming catastrophes. As He puts it, “In that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-36).

In order to understand these words, we need to realize that Jesus is not speaking about events that will take place in time and space. Rather, He is speaking about spiritual realities: “Two men in one bed” is a scriptural phrase that stands for the idea that two people can have the same doctrine, but apply it differently—one in a way that favors self-love, the other in a way that favors love to God and to the neighbor. In sacred scripture a “bed” represents a person’s belief system, the place where the mind rests. 19

Similarly, two women can be grinding meal together. Although they are both doing similar work, their intentions may be quite different; one may have good intentions, while the other has selfish intentions. This can also be true for two men who are working together in the same field. One might be governed by good motives while the other might be governed by self-serving motives. In each of the three cases, whether it’s two men in one bed, or two women grinding meal, or two men working in a field—those with good intentions and noble motives will be “taken” by God, while those with selfish intentions and corrupt motives will be “left behind.” Being “taken by God” means that they will experience heavenly states; being “left behind” means that they will be left to suffer the consequences of their own self-centered decisions. 20

What we see in each case is the all-important doctrine of intentionality. In the end, it is our intentions that matter, not our understanding of doctrine or the uses we perform. Above all, we need to ask ourselves, “What is in our heart?” “What affections rule?” and “What are our deeper motives?” Our intentions—heavenly or hellish—will ultimately save or condemn us; they will determine our heaven or our hell. 21

A practical application

It is often said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This is usually taken to mean that it’s important to follow through on our plans and realize our dreams. But we need to look deeper. Intentions matter. We can do all the good in the world, but if we do it for selfish reasons, it does us no good. Therefore, as a spiritual practice, set an intention to subordinate self-will so that God’s will can work through you. It might be as simple as intending to care for a child or help a friend. Your intention is to allow the Lord to be present through you. This happens when you pray for and manifest the Lord’s qualities (kindness, consideration, understanding, etc.). Notice what happens.

The Gift of Rationality

37. And they answering said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body [is], there the eagles will be gathered.”

This series of episodes begins with a highly pertinent question asked by the Pharisees: “When will the kingdom of God come?” And it ends with another significant question, this time asked by the disciples: “Where will it take place?” Their questions are about time and space. But when we look more deeply, these temporal/spatial questions are no longer relevant. The time is now; and the place is here. The kingdom of God is within us, and the Son of Man is coming to us at this very moment to save us from the destructiveness of our self-centered, materialistic states—states that are so harmful that they can be compared to a dead, decaying body. It is for this reason that Jesus ends this episode with the memorable but disturbing words, “Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (Luke 17:37).

Jesus is using powerful imagery to warn about the destruction in store for those who refuse to listen to the Son of Man when the truth of His teaching flashes like lightning across their minds. Those who are unwilling to be led by that truth, but prefer instead to “look back” to their selfish reasonings, will be like birds of prey devouring decaying bodies. Instead of being lifted up on eagles’ wings to experience higher states of understanding, their selfish reasonings will bring them down and prevent them from seeing the big picture. Although they could soar on high with spiritual sight comparable to the vision of an eagle, they remain in their lower, self-centered beliefs, seeing nothing in front of them except objects on which they can feed.

Herein lies both our tragedy and our triumph. Each of us is given the gift of rationality. We can abuse that faculty, using it to justify our selfish interests through cunning and clever reasoning. Or we can use that gift as it is intended, enabling us to see higher truth so that we might be led by it, live according to it, and experience the kingdom of heaven. The choice is always ours. 22

Footnotes:

1. Arcana Coelestia 8430:2: “People uninformed about human regeneration suppose that people can be regenerated without temptation…. But let it be known that nobody can be regenerated without temptation, and that everyone suffers very many temptations, one following after another. The reason for this is that regeneration takes place to the end that one’s old life may die and a new, heavenly life may be instilled. From this one may recognize that conflict is altogether inevitable; for the old life stands its ground and refuses to be snuffed out, and new life cannot enter except where the old life has been snuffed out. From this it is evident that fierce conflict takes place between mutually hostile sides, since each is fighting for its life.”

2. Heaven and Hell 281: “In the Word, ‘little ones’ … signifies the state of innocence … and innocence is being willing to be led by the Lord.” See also Apocalypse Explained 1182:3: “The words, ‘To cause one of the little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble’ signify to pervert those who acknowledge the Lord. It being ‘better that a millstone be hanged about his neck,’ signifies that it is better to be ignorant of any good and truth, and to know only evil and falsity…. The reason why this is better is that to know goods and truths and then pervert them is to be guilty of profanation.”

3Arcana Coelestia 6561: “It was ingrained that they should never forgive, but should hold as an enemy everyone who had in any way injured them, and they then thought it allowable to hate him, and to treat him as they chose, even to kill him.”

4Apocalypse Explained 815:10: “That these things are not to be understood according to the words, is evident from this, that it was said to the disciples, that if they had faith as a grain of mustard seed, they would be able to pluck up mountains and mulberry trees, and cast them into the sea … when, nevertheless, it is not of divine order to … pluck up a mountain and a tree from their place, and cast them into the sea…. Those who are in faith from the Lord ask for nothing but what conduces to the Lord’s kingdom and their own salvation. Other things they do not desire; for they say in their hearts, ‘Why should we ask for anything that is not of such use?’”

5Apocalypse Explained 815:10: “In the spiritual world … the love of evil sometimes appears as a mountain, and the faith of falsity from evil appears as a mulberry tree. An angel can, by faith from the Lord, root up both and cast them into hell.”

6Arcana Coelestia 5232: “There are two things which make a person spiritual, and consequently make a person blessed in the other life, namely, charity and faith. This is because charity is goodness and faith is truth. Charity has reference to the will, and faith has reference to the understanding.” See also True Christian Religion 349: “Faith in its compass is a complex of truths … and the essence of faith is truth. It is truth in its own light. Therefore, just as truth can be acquired so also can faith. Who cannot go to the Lord if one wants to? Who cannot collect truths from the Word if one wants to? And every truth that is in the Word or from the Word, gives light; and faith is truth in light.”

7Arcana Coelestia 9982: “To believe that they will be rewarded if they do what is good, is not hurtful to those who are in innocence, as is the case with little children and with the simple; but to confirm themselves therein when they are grown up is hurtful. This is because people are initiated into good by looking for reward, and they are deterred from evil by fearing punishment. But insofar as they come into the good of love and of faith, they are removed from having regard to merit in the good which they do.” See also Divine Love and Wisdom 427: “Wisdom is doing what is good because it is good, and intelligence is doing what is good because it is true.

8Arcana Coelestia 4788: “Those governed by good are moved by an affection to do good for its own sake and without thought of reward. To them being allowed to do good is itself the reward, for doing good gives them feelings of joy.”

9. Arcana Coelestia 9193:8: “A life of charity consists in doing the commandments from love.”

10Arcana Coelestia 1999: “True adoration or humility of heart entails prostration before the Lord face-downwards on the ground as the natural action resulting from it. Indeed, humiliation of heart entails the acknowledgment of oneself as being nothing but uncleanness, and at the same time the acknowledgment of the Lord’s infinite mercy towards such.” See also: Arcana Coelestia 8678:2: “So far as people can humble themselves before the Lord, and so far as they can love their neighbor as themselves, and, as in heaven, above themselves, so far they receive the Divine, and consequently are so far in heaven.”

11Arcana Coelestia 5957: “The Lord desires a state of humility in a person for that person’s sake, because the Lord can flow in with heavenly good when that state exists in a person.” See also Heaven and Hell 9:“In their wisdom, the angels say that everything good and true comes from the Lord, including life itself…. Since this is their belief, it follows that they decline all thanks for the good that they do…. They say that doing good for one’s own sake cannot be considered good because it stems from self-love. But ‘doing good from the Divine … is the kind of good that makes heaven.’”

12Arcana Coelestia 4279: “People are so created that when love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbor constitutes their life they are a heaven in miniature. Consequently, such people have the Lord's kingdom within them, as the Lord Himself teaches in Luke, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’”

13Arcana Coelestia 8153: “Heaven is not on high, but is where the good of love is, and this within man, wherever he may be.” See also Heaven and Hell 420: “Everyone is born for heaven, and people are accepted into heaven who accept heaven into themselves while in this world.”

14Conjugial Love 230: “People have the faculty of elevating their understanding into the light of wisdom, and the faculty of elevating their will into the heat of heavenly love. These faculties are never taken away from anyone.”

15Arcana Coelestia 4334:7: “The ‘coming of the Son of Man’ is the divine truth which will then be revealed.” See also Apocalypse Explained 644: “Lightning signifies enlightenment from the influx of divine truth.”

16Arcana Coelestia 2813:”By the ‘Son of Man’ is meant the Lord as to divine truth, or as to the Word in its internal sense, which was rejected by the chief priests and scribes, was shamefully entreated, scourged, spit upon, and crucified…. Therefore, it is manifest that it was the divine truth which was rejected by them, shamefully treated, scourged, and crucified. Whether you say ‘the divine truth,’ or ‘the Lord as divine truth,’ it is the same; for the Lord is the Truth itself, as He is the Word itself.”

17Arcana Coelestia 3863:4: “In the internal sense, the word ‘seeing’ means the understanding…. Also, ‘seeing’ in the internal sense means faith received from the Lord, as is clear from the consideration that interior understanding has no other objects than those of truth and good, for these are the objects of faith. This interior understanding … dwells in the light of heaven, which light is in obscurity as long as a person dwells in the light of the world.”

18Heaven and Hell 408: “The greatest happiness is what [many] powerful people are seeking with their power and what [many] rich people are seeking with their wealth…. Heavenly happiness, however, is a heartfelt wishing better for others than for oneself, and serving others for the sake of their happiness with no thought of reward, simply out of love.”

19Apocalypse Revealed 137: “A bed symbolizes doctrine because of its correspondence; for as the body rests in its bed, so the mind rests in its doctrine… The two men in one bed are two who share the same doctrine, but not the same life.”

20Arcana Coelestia 4334:8: “The words ‘two will be in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left behind’ refer to those who are governed by good and those who are governed by evil; the former will be saved, and the latter condemned.” See also Arcana Coelestia 4334:9: “The words, ‘Two women grinding at the mill, one will be taken, and one will be left behind,’ refer to the future salvation of those who know the truth, that is, who are motivated by good, and the future condemnation of those who know the truth, but who are motivated by evil.”

11Conjugial Love 527 “In the spiritual world I have met with many who in the natural world had lived in the same way as others, dressing finely, faring sumptuously, doing business for gain like other people, attending dramatic performances, jesting about amatory matters as if from lust, besides other like things; yet in some the angels condemned these things as evils of sin, and in some they did not account them as evils; and the latter they declared guiltless, and the former guilty. To the question why they did so, when yet the people had done the same things, they answered that they view all people from their purpose, intention or end, and make distinction accordingly; thus, that those whom the end excuses or condemns, they excuse or condemn, for all in heaven have good as an end, and all in hell have evil as an end.”

22Arcana Coelestia 3900:10: “For wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. This signifies confirmations of falsity by means of reasonings.” See also Arcana Coelestia 3901: “By ‘eagles’ are signified a person’s understanding [rationality]. When it refers to forms of good, it signifies true rationality; but when it refers to forms of evil, the word ‘eagles’ signifies false rationality, or reasonings.”