The Pharisees of Jesus’ time studied the Old Testament, and so they knew many wonderful truths from it. They also had many questions because the Old Testament had left many mysteries. They believed that God was going to come in power to establish the nation of Israel in a special, powerful way. They read their prophets and understood that a king would sit on the throne of David again. Some of the Pharisees wondered, did Jesus know when this was going to happen? Was He a part of the plan? As Jesus went around doing powerful miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, He reminded the nation of God’s great works of power in the past. So they asked Him when the Kingdom of God was going to come.
Jesus answered, “‘The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.’”
What did Jesus mean? Well, the Kingdom was standing right next to them in the Person of Jesus Christ! It had come in a way they had not imagined. Before this point, God had sent His faithful messengers, like Moses and King David and Elijah and Isaiah, to tell God’s people about His plans and to help the nation live in His will. But they were only messengers that pointed to God. Now God Himself had come. The Son of God was the Kingdom! Through His life, Jesus ushered in the first stage of God’s breaking into the cursed world. The mighty Prince of Heaven was invading the Kingdom of Darkness and opening the way for the Kingdom of Light! The reign of God on earth was already happening in the lives of those who were putting their faith in Christ! But the Pharisees refused to believe, so they could not see!
For those who did see the light of Christ, there were even deeper mysteries to learn. It was as if they had walked through a small, hidden gate and taken steps down a small, narrow road. But with each step, new, deep, rich wonders were revealed.
The privilege of learning the hidden mysteries of God’s plan would not be given to people who had no faith. That honor belonged to those who listened to what Christ said and believed. That little step of faith took them on the path to the good things of God that will always increase and have no end (see Isaiah 9:1-11).
The Lord’s disciples had taken those first steps. They had set everything aside to follow Him, even as the powerful men of their nation turned more and more hostile against Jesus. So Jesus began to unveil to them the hidden things about what would happen when the Kingdom of God came to earth in full glory:
“‘The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, “There he is!” or “Here he is!” Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in His day will be like the lightening, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’”
Wow. There is a lot of amazing information in those sentences. Jesus was giving a prophecy about the future. There were times ahead when people would long for the return of the Messiah. They would hunger for the days when He would rule in righteousness. People would even point to false Messiahs, claiming that they were the Christ. But the next time Jesus comes to earth, He will not come in secret, or as an infant. Nobody will have to wonder if it is Him because He will split the sky with the flashes of His glory! It will be just as the prophet Daniel described the coming of the Son of Man over five hundred years before Jesus told these things to His disciples:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His Kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.’”
Have you noticed how Jesus often called Himself the “Son of Man”? That was His way of pointing to these verses in Daniel. He was saying, “I am this very same Son of Man!” When Jesus described His return, He was making it clear that it would be a fulfillment of this prophecy.
These were the deep mysteries that God knew from before the creation of the world. He has always known exactly how it is going to end, and that Jesus will have complete victory. But the road to victory was going to take a turn that almost no one expected, not even His closest disciples. For centuries, the Jewish people had wondered about what would happen when the Messiah came, but nobody had guessed that He would come to die. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “‘But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.’”
For us, that is easier to understand, because we can look back and see what He did for us on the cross. But for His disciples, those words were confusing. They didn’t fit any of their hopes or dreams. The disciples couldn’t imagine a Conqueror whose victory came through the obedience of suffering. But the suffering wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus went on to describe what it would be like when He returned:
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
“‘It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.’”
Do you remember the story of Noah? For a hundred years he was building his ark. The people of earth knew that he was a righteous man, and he preached to them, warning them to repent. But instead, they ignored him. They kept on living in their sinful patterns right up to the very day it began to rain!
In the same way, Abraham had come to live in the Land of Promise with his nephew Lot. For many years, Abraham stood for the righteous ways of God, but the people of Canaan did not change their ways. They ignored the messenger, and when they least expected it, God’s good and holy judgment came in fire. Only Lot and his daughters were saved.
It is interesting that when Jesus described what the people were doing, He did not list a bunch of terrible sins. Marrying, planting, and building are all tasks that God gave the human race to do. Each of them can be holy acts of obedience. But when life is lived separate from God, even the wholesome duties of life can become a way of rebellion. Humans were created for God. The primary pursuit of life is to love Him…that’s what we were made for. The only right way to lean in life is to lean into Him. Otherwise we lean away, crossing the line into our own determination and pride. All duties must be done out of our desire to serve Him. Everything can be done as an act of holy devotion.
The disciples had left everything to move into that obedience, and because they did, they were learning the great, prophetic secrets of the centuries past and future. But the nation of Israel, from religious leaders all the way down to the most common of people, still had a choice to make. They had been given a breathtaking privilege. The Messiah had come to their generation. Would they honor that privilege by putting their faith in Him?