In Luke 17:22-30 lightning is a metaphor for the Second Coming of Christ. Just as lightning is visible, quick, and unexpected, Jesus’s Second Coming will be too. In Acts 1:11 the angels said Jesus would return from heaven the same way that He ascended to heaven: bodily and physically for all to see.
Table of contents
- First, Like Lightning, the Second Coming of Christ Will Be Visible
- Second, Like Lightning, the Second Coming of Christ Will Be Quick
- Third, Like Lightning, the Second Coming of Christ Will Be Unexpected
Contrast allows things to stand out. For example, when the moon is out during the day, we can’t see it very well, because it is close to the color of the sky. But we can see the moon very well at night, because its white and gray color stands out so sharply against the black night sky. Similarly, lightning stands out incredibly well against the night sky, because of its bright white color against the black background. Jesus chose lightning as a metaphor for His Second Coming:
Luke 17:22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.
Jesus was going to be gone from the disciples and they were going to long to see Him. But he said they would not be able to, because they would not be alive when He returned.
Maranatha was the common greeting among Christians in the early church. It is an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming” or “come, O Lord.” The desire the disciples would have to see Christ is the same desire we should have. Many New Testament verses encourage us as believers to have this desire. Here are a few:
- 1 Corinthians 1:7 As you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10 Wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead.
- Titus 2:13 Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ
- Jude 20 Waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
There were going to be people claiming that Jesus had returned, and he did not want His disciples misled into thinking that He had returned in some secret or mysterious way that was concealed from the world. Because, the truth is, there will be no mistaking when Jesus has returned. There are three reasons it is very fitting to compare Jesus’s Second Coming with lightning.
First, Like Lightning, the Second Coming of Christ Will Be Visible
The disciples would not need to believe people who said, “Look, there!” or “Look, here!” because the Second Coming will be as visible as lightning that lights up the whole sky. In the Amplified Bible, Luke 17:24 reads, “For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, gives light to the other part of the sky, so [visible] will the Son of Man be in His day.” There will be no mistaking when Jesus returns. It will be universally visible.
Acts 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Despite everything Jesus had taught, there were two things the disciples did not understand that led to their question in Acts 1:6:
- They didn’t understand that Jesus would leave them.
- Jesus spiritually established His Kingdom in His First Coming, and He was going to physically establish His kingdom at His Second Coming. But the disciples thought He was going to physically establish His kingdom now.
But one thing the disciples were not confused about was that there would be a physical kingdom established on the earth:
This mirrored what Christ taught and what the Old Testament predicted. Otherwise, [Jesus] would have corrected them about such a crucial aspect of His teaching.John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, page 1432.
Jesus told the disciples they didn’t need to worry about the timing of His Second Coming. Instead, they needed to worry about remaining faithful until that time (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit would come upon them and empower them to be His witnesses throughout the world. This is still the mission today as we preach the gospel and send missionaries all over the globe.
The cloud that received Jesus is the glory cloud, or Shekinah, that represented God’s presence receiving His Son into heaven. This is the cloud that went with the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 13:20–22). This is the same cloud God spoke to Moses from (Exodus 33). To make it simple, the words a cloud took [Jesus] out of their sight means God the Father.
More than likely, the two men in Acts 1:10 were angels. It seems like they had to show up, because the disciples would have stood here staring into heaven until Jesus returned. The angels clearly said Jesus would return from heaven the same way that He went to heaven (Acts 1:11). He ascended to heaven bodily and physically, so He is going to return from heaven bodily and physically for all to see.
Preterism Is the Belief That the Future Is in the Past
Preterism is based on the Latin preter, which means “past” It is the eschatological or prophetic view that the end times were fulfilled in 70 A.D. when Rome attacked Jerusalem. One important distinction is there are two groups.
Partial preterism is the belief that most of the book of Revelation and the Olivet Discourse, such as the Rapture, Tribulation, Antichrist, and mark of the beast, were already fulfilled. But they still look forward to the Second Coming of Christ to physically establish His kingdom on the earth.
Well-known partial preterists would be R. C. Sproul, Kenneth L. Gentry, Gary DeMar, and Hank Hanegraaff (the Bible Answer Man).
In terms of denominations, the Orthodox Presbyterians (OPC) and the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA)are partial preterists.
Full Preterism Is Heretical
Full preterism is the belief that ALL future events, such as Jesus’s Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment, are in the past. In the case of the final judgment, they believe it is still is in the process of being fulfilled. Many full preterists believe that we are living in a form of the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 21 and 22.
Even though partial preterists and full preterists would seem to be close together eschatologically, because they are both preterists, there is actually a world of difference between the two. There is so much difference that partial preterists are within the realm of Orthodox Christianity, but because full preterists deny a future Second Coming of Christ and future resurrection of the dead, they are outside the realm of Orthodox Christianity. In other words, full preterists are heretics. I couldn’t find any recognizable, respected full preterists or full preterist denominations.
Second, Like Lightning, the Second Coming of Christ Will Be Quick
Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John
The “things that must soon take place” refer to the events described in the following chapters. Preterists cling to these words and date the writing of the book of Revelation earlier than 70AD, so that they can say the events describe what occurred in 70 A.D. There is strong evidence to support the book of Revelation being written in the last decade of the first century around 95 AD, near the end of Emperor Domitian’s reign (81-96), and well after Rome attacked Jerusalem. In other words, Revelation couldn’t describe events in 70AD.
The word for “soon” is tachos, and it means, “quickness, speed.” It is related to our word tachometer:
- Acts 12:7 An angel…struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly (tachos).” And the chains fell off his hands.
- Acts 22:18 “Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly (tachos).”
There is another Greek word used to refer to something happening in the near future:
Revelation 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for THE TIME IS NEAR.
The Greek word for “near” is engys.
Revelation 1:1 is not referring to WHEN Jesus will return (soon after John wrote this). It is referring to HOW Jesus will return (quickly). The NKJV has an asterisk that says soon can also be translated as “quickly” or “swiftly,” and the HCSB says what must QUICKLY take place.
Revelation 3:11 I am coming soon (tachos). Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
Again, Jesus says he’s returning quickly.
Revelation 22:6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon (tachos) take place.”
The angel told John that the events in Revelation would quickly take place. This is largely referring to the judgments in Revelation 6-19 that are quickly unleashed. People won’t have time to prepare. Similarly, when Jesus returns, He returns quickly like lightning striking. People won’t have time to prepare.
Suffering and Then Glory
Luke 17:25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
Jesus said He “must suffer” versus should suffer or will suffer, because it was God’s sovereign plan so He could redeem sinful man.
Jesus was telling the disciples about the glory of His Second Coming, but He wanted them to get the order of events correct (Luke 17:25). It is suffering and then glory:
Luke 24:26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and [then] enter into his glory?”
There are at least three separate recorded instances in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus telling the disciples that He would suffer and be rejected, but they never understood.
Jesus’s Second Coming Is Associated with Two Familiar Accounts of Judgment
Jesus moves back to talking about His Second Coming by using two of the most familiar accounts of judgment in all of Scripture to prepare people.
First, the Days of Noah
Luke 17:26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.
When Jesus returns it will be like the days of Noah, which makes me think about wickedness:
Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
But interestingly, when Jesus discusses Noah’s day, he doesn’t mention wickedness. He describes some of the most basic and common behaviors: eating and drinking (not alcohol), marrying and being given in marriage. It’s almost like Jesus is trying not make the people sound bad.
Second, the Days of Lot
Luke 17:28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
When Jesus returns it will be like the days of Lot, which also makes me think of wickedness. Sodom has become a metaphor for wickedness. When we want to talk about wicked places, we say they are like Sodom. But when Jesus mentions the activities in Sodom, He doesn’t mention anything wicked. Instead, again, He mentions moral activities: eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 1 There’s no mention of homosexuality or the activity that led to Sodom’s destruction. We wouldn’t even know that Jesus was talking about a wicked place if not for the mention of Lot.
Third, Like Lightning, the Second Coming of Christ Will Be Unexpected
Jesus associated Noah and Lot’s days with His Second Coming, but didn’t mention their wickedness because He is emphasizing how unexpectedly the judgment came. The people in Noah and Lot’s days were completely unprepared. They were doing everything people would normally be doing: eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, and planting and building.
There is nothing wrong with these activities. The problem was the people were so absorbed with their everyday lives that they were completely unsuspecting when the judgment came. The problem wasn’t the physical earthly things they were doing. The problem was that they had no concern for anything spiritual or heavenly. Similarly, people will be completely preoccupied with their earthly affairs when Jesus returns.
This is why most of Jesus’s parables about His Second Coming present Jesus returning unexpectedly and surprising people. Using just Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told the parable about the thief who broke into the man’s home unexpectedly:
Matthew 24:43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
He’s coming unexpectedly. Don’t let Him catch you unprepared. Right after this, Jesus told the parable of a servant who didn’t expect his master to return:
Matthew 24:50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Pretty serious punishment for being surprised by his master. The point is, he wasn’t a believer, because he gave no thought to his master’s return. Jesus told the parable of the ten virgins, but five were foolish and unprepared when the bridegroom arrived:
Matthew 25:10 While [the foolish virgins] were going to buy [oil], the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
All about Jesus coming unexpectedly, so we must be ready. Outside of the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament also repeatedly tells us Jesus will return unexpectedly by comparing His Second Coming with a thief:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2 The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night…4 But you are not in darkness…for that day to surprise you like a thief.
- 2 Peter 3:10 The day of the Lord will come like a thief.
- Revelation 3:3 I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
- Revelation 16:15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)
Why of all things Jesus could compare himself with, does He choose a thief? That’s not what’s happening. Instead, He compares the way He will return with the way a thief will rob people. A thief does not announce his arrival. He comes when it is unexpected.
The same is true with Jesus. The only way to be on guard against a thief is to live in constant readiness. And the only way to be prepared for Jesus’s return is to live in constant readiness.
Jesus’s First Coming Was for Salvation and His Second Coming is for Judgment
The flood was an account of judgment AND salvation or judgment:
Luke 17:27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when NOAH ENTERED THE ARK, AND THE FLOOD CAME AND DESTROYED THEM ALL.
You can read about salvation and judgment in the verse. Noah entered the ark. It was salvation for eight souls: Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their three wives.2
The flood came and destroyed them all. It was judgment for the rest of the world.
It could have been salvation for even more: 2 Peter 2:5 says, “Noah was a herald of righteousness.” Noah was preaching to the ancient world leading up to the flood, but they weren’t listening. They were too busy with their earthly lives.3
Sodom was also an account of salvation and judgment. It was salvation for Lot and his family (at least until his wife looked back). It was judgment for the rest of the world.
So often this is the case that salvation and judgment are mixed together. When the Canaanites were judged, Rahab and the Gibeonites were saved. When the Amalekites were judged, the Kenites were saved:
1 Samuel 15:6 Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
People love to focus on the salvation without the judgment:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For GOD DID NOT SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO CONDEMN THE WORLD, BUT IN ORDER THAT THE WORLD MIGHT BE SAVED THROUGH HIM.
People quote this as though there is no judgment or condemnation. But this is only talking about Jesus’s first coming. Similarly:
John 12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I DID NOT COME TO JUDGE THE WORLD BUT TO SAVE THE WORLD.
Again, this is only about Jesus’s First Coming to save people from their sins. But in Jesus’s Second Coming He comes into the world not as Savior, but as Judge. There is an incredible duality to Christ, which is almost difficult to harmonize:
- In the First Coming He is the Lamb, slain for the sins of the world providing salvation.
- In the Second Coming He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah who devours His enemies providing judgment
We create an idol when we think only about Christ as the Lamb, which is to say we think only about His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. We must also think about Christ as the Lion, which is to say we must also think about His wrath, anger, and justice.
If We Don’t Want to Be Taken by Surprise
Even if Jesus isn’t returning next week, next month, next year, or perhaps even in our lifetimes, we should live like He is because regardless of when He returns, we are going to meet Him. It could be when he returns during our lifetimes, or it could be the day of our deaths. But we will meet him, and we want to be ready. And living like we can meet Him at any moment is the only way to be ready.
- There’s no mention of marrying and being given in marriage because Sodom was known for its homosexuality and had no regard for marriage.
- Peter saw the flood as an illustration of the salvation found in Christ:
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
- Similarly, prior to Jesus’s Second Coming there will be many warnings during the Tribulation: the 144,000, the three angels flying around the globe, and the two witnesses on the earth. But nobody will listen to them.