Living Between the Advents (Luke 7:18-23)Series: The Gospel and the Kingdom
The more you read Isaiah the more it becomes apparent that he probably addressed many of his oracles to various leaders in Jerusalem — priests, prophets, princes, kings, judges and rulers. From Isaiah’s perspective, a large part of what is wrong in Jerusalem and in the world is a top down problem. Unjust laws and judgments were cast by judges and rulers (Isaiah 10:1-2). Priest and prophet were full of alcohol (Isaiah 28:7-8). It should be no surprise then that a large portion of the promises Isaiah offers are also top down solutions. God would come in judgment. A king would be full of wisdom and reign in righteousness. The injustice-and-war-torn people would see a great light while the wicked would be trampled down. Listen to some of what these weak, tired and exploited people of Israel heard as they listened to Isaiah and other prophets.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Is. 9:6–7 ESV)
“The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem. They will strike Israel’s leader in the face with a rod. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace.” (Mic. 5:1–5 NLT-SE)
“The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet.” (Mal. 4:1–3 NLT-SE)
People anticipated the healing, the rule, and the judgment God’s king would bring for hundreds of years. And finally Luke tells us that the angel Gabriel brought the good news to a virgin in Bethlehem. “You will conceive... and bear a son... . And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign ... forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33) When Mary and Elizabeth met to share the joy of their conceptions together, Elizabeth’s baby — John — leapt for joy in the womb upon Mary’s arrival. What follows in the next four pages of Luke is the births of John and of Jesus and account after account of people praising God in awe and wonder at what he was doing in their day. Finally, Israel would be consoled. Jerusalem would be redeemed by a ruler who would rescue them from their enemies.
When Jesus preached, he proclaimed that the poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted would one day laugh and be satisfied. He proclaimed that the rich, full, laughing, and popular would one day be hungry and weeping. He healed the sick and even raised a widow’s only son from the dead. People were being freed from Satan’s oppression in all sorts of ways. People went nuts. Fear seized them all. They glorified God. The report about Jesus spread throughout the whole area.
Now, Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptizer, wasn’t afraid to confront sin in high places. Herod was an Edomite ruling over Israel, and of all things, John called him out for breaking God’s marriage laws: he had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herod didn’t like that, so he locked John up in prison. John was the one who proclaimed that Jesus would do what the prophets foretold — gather the righteous into the barn like wheat and burn up the wicked like chaff. And yet, he was poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted. He wasn’t receiving any of the comfort and rescue Jesus had promised. Naturally, when John heard the report about everything Jesus was doing, he had some questions. What follows in Luke 7:18-23 is vital as we think about what it looks like to live between the two advents — between the birth of Jesus and the coming of Jesus in the clouds.
Shall We Look for Another? (Luke 7:18-23)
John hears about all these things in prison and he wants to know, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Hold up. John is the one who prepared the way for Jesus. John baptized Jesus. He saw the Spirit descend on Jesus. He told his followers, “Jesus must increase and I must decrease.” And now that he hears Jesus doing all these amazing things, he asks if he is the one to come? But considering what the prophets said, do you understand John’s challenge? If Jesus is really the one who will take away sins, crush the wicked, end oppression, and reign eternally in righteousness, what is John — the first follower Jesus ever had — doing in prison for following Jesus? This makes no sense!
And yet Jesus replies by telling him what he already knew: blind are seeing, lame are walking, lepers are cleansed, dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them. “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” We don’t have time to look at it, but these are all things Isaiah foretold would be blessings of the age to come. These were all signs that God had drawn near to his people.
So why is John in prison? Simply put, the healing and news of God’s kingdom had started to come, but not its justice. Signs of Jesus power to bring the restoration of God’s kingdom were all there, but not the full salvation and restoration itself because that was not the intention of his first coming. Full salvation and justice requires that all enemies be put under Jesus’ feet which means time is up for everyone. Notice the distinction the Hebrew writer draws between the purpose of Jesus’ first appearing (advent) and his second appearing.
“But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb. 9:26–28 ESV)
The prophets spoke of a day when God would come, deal with sin, rescue the righteous and crush the enemies. The challenging aspect of reading the prophets is this: we are obsessed with timing, but they rarely were. We know now that there’s a first coming and a second coming and that the purpose of those two comings are vastly different. We know now that in his first coming he was born to die like a lamb and redeem people from sin. We know now that in his second coming in the clouds he will come like a conquering king to save us and crush the wicked. We know now that there is at least 2,000 years or more between his first and second comings. These things are not apparent in the prophets. Language about the first and second comings are all mixed together in the prophets — and that was pretty confusing for John and many others.
In my opinion, it’s not that they misunderstood the promises of the prophets. They thought the promises were coming now by the sword. They misunderstood the timing — they thought full restoration and salvation of the prophets was coming now, but Peter later says that’s reserved for the day when Jesus comes from heaven (Acts 3:21). They misunderstood the means by which salvation would come — Peter pulled out a sword in the garden, but Jesus told him to put that away. His kingdom is not of this world and it is not coming by the sword in our hand.
John’s challenge was that he didn’t understand that the fulfillment of all the prophets would require two advents: first, being born in humility to die for sins like a lamb; second, coming in glory to conquer like a king. John didn’t misunderstand the content of Jesus’ promises; rather, John was looking for Jesus’ first coming to fully complete the promises of the second coming.
So why did Jesus heal some sick if he wasn’t going to heal all sick, raise all dead and cast out all demons? What was his intention? There’s more we could say, but in part, these were signs of something powerful: that God and his rule were with Jesus. Consider Luke 11:14-23 as a blue print. Jesus was casting out demons and some slandered Jesus saying he was using the power of Satan — or Beelzebul, the prince of demons — to cast out demons. Jesus says that’s ludicrous. Why would Satan fight against his own kingdom? No, Jesus explains he is using the power of God. He explains the true significance of what that means in Luke 11:20-22.
(ESV) “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (NLT-SE) “For when a strong man is fully armed and guards his palace, his possessions are safe— until someone even stronger attacks and overpowers him, strips him of his weapons, and carries off his belongings.”
The world lies under the power of the evil one. The chaos and curses of sin and of Satan’s kingdom are evident. But if it is by the finger of God that Jesus is casting out demons — and even reversing the curses of sin and Satan in his healings — then that means God’s kingdom had come upon them. God’s kingdom has invaded the territory of Satan in the person of Jesus. Satan is the strong man being overpowered. His belongings are being carried off. The world is being taken back for God and his people. Jesus’ miracles were not arbitrary magic tricks to prove his divinity — they were in part signs of his power to overcome Satan and reverse the curse that has devoured the earth. In his signs he wasn’t healing every human, he was giving the world a foretaste of glory divine — a time when all the faithful will be raised to life and all maladies will be healed.
Living Between the Advents
So, until that day, how should we think and live between the advents of Jesus?
1. We will rejoice. The invasion of God’s king and kingdom upon the territory of Satan have begun. Hebrews 10:12-13 puts it really well when it describes where we are at in the story of redemption. Hebrews 10:12–13 NLT-SE, “But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet.” Jesus’ reign has been inaugurated and he’s waiting for all enemies to be put under his feet. In our life we will see evidence of God’s reign. The good news of his kingdom still sounds out. People’s lives are being changed by it. Some enemies are converted, some are crushed. The kingdoms of earth pass away one by one, but we can rejoice because the kingdom of God still remains and one day all enemies will be crushed and we will share in glory.
2. We will weep. Satan and the kingdoms of this world have been put on notice. The times of living in ignorance are up. It is time to kiss the king or perish in his wrath. But Scriptures warn us that the kingdoms of this world and the reign of Satan won’t go quietly. As John sees Satan being overcome and cast from heaven to earth, he issues a fearful warning. Revelation 12:11–12 (ESV), “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” We must call them to kiss Jesus’ feet, but the world isn’t done having its day. If they killed Jesus, what will they do to us? John was the first to rejoice over Jesus’ coming, but he was also the first to die for proclaiming it. After Paul was stoned he got up and encouraged the saints “in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22 NLT-SE) But even while we weep in suffering, we rejoice. Paul tells us we don’t only rejoice in hope of sharing the glory of God, we rejoice in our sufferings because suffering leads to endurance, character and hope. Remember that while you suffer the trials of this age. Weeping now forms a character that will be rescued to laugh in the final day.
3. We must endure. Luke 7:23 (ESV), “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” That is the key message of this interaction between John’s messengers and Jesus. Jesus is the one to come. Though he has come, he is still yet to come. And we must not be offended by him while we wait. As an evangelical preacher Tim Keller pointed out in one sermon, John is not like the criminal next to Jesus on the cross. The criminal demanded that if Jesus really was the Christ he would save them and himself. But John asks a question, “Are you the one to come?” He doesn’t demand, “If you really are the one to come, spring me from prison now.” John had to learn to accept that in this age, sometimes you are doomed to suffer. As John warns in Revelation 13:9–10 (NLT-SE), “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.” In this age, sometimes the prayers to rescue Peter from prison are answered in the affirmative and sometimes the prayers to rescue John the Baptist and James are answered with a “not yet.” As one preacher put it, sometimes we need to realize that what we are really praying for is the last day, kingdom come, Jesus in the clouds, the day of justice.
All the promises of God find their yes in Jesus, but we must be sober-minded until the final day — mourning, rejoicing and enduring. Until then, let us read the gospels with hope. Jesus’ first advent prepares us for the last advent. Read about God with us in the Gospels, for it will heighten our anticipation of God with us in the age to come.