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In Luke 17:28-33 Jesus gave another illustration to explain the coming of the Son of man. Keep in mind that this was in response to the Pharisees’ question in verse 20. The coming of the Messiah will be like the dawn, where the sky will gradually become brighter as the sun rose from morning to noon.
His coming will be unexpectedly destructive at first, even as the flood unexpectedly destroyed men in the days of Noah. Yet even as Noah’s flood prophesied of the flood of the Holy Spirit, so also the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah represents the cleansing baptism of fire that will sweep the earth. Both water and fire are powerful metaphors for the Holy Spirit.
As this next illustration shows, His coming will be similar to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet with both Noah and Lot, Jesus offers a way to escape the destruction. Luke 17:28-30 says,
28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot; they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building, 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed [apollumi, “complete breakdown”] them all. 30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of man is revealed [apokalupto, “to unveil or uncover”].
As in Noah’s day, we see the people of Sodom going about their normal business, unaware of pending disaster. This seems to be the main focus of Jesus’ warning, for this lack of awareness is mentioned twice. Although the Pharisees were looking for the coming of the Son of man (Luke 17:21), they will be taken by surprise, because they were not observing with a proper heart or mindset.
The name Lot means “veil or covering.” Jesus saw Lot as a prophetic veil or covering over Sodom, and when that veil was removed, the city was destroyed at the time of the unveiling of the Son of man. In other words, the unveiling of Sodom coincides with the unveiling of the Son of man in some way.
We must also take note that Sodom was divinely protected as long as Lot was there. This did not mean that Sodom was a righteous city, but only that it would not be judged until Lot had left town.
Recall that Lot had chosen to live in Sodom on account of its prosperity (Gen. 13:10, 11). His Uncle Abram had given him first choice, either to remain in Canaan or to move to Sodom. Theoretically, if Lot had chosen to live in the land that God promised Abram, he might have been the inheritor of the promises of God. This was not in the divine plan, of course, but nonetheless, Lot was given this choice. So we read in Gen. 13:12, 13,
12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.
Lot’s choice to live among great sinners for the sake of prosperity only brought disaster to him and his family. First, he was taken captive by the king of Shinar and his allies in Gen. 14:12, and Abram’s household had to rescue him (Gen. 14:14-16). At that point Lot ought to have discerned that there was a downside to living in Sodom. But when he was set free, he returned to his former life and prospered until God destroyed the cities of the plain.
The reason for Sodom’s judgment is given in Gen. 18:20, 21,
20 And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. 21 I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
We see that some people in these cities filed complaints in the divine court about the wickedness of their own neighbors. God then came down to “visit” the cities. As we have seen already, a divine visitation is an investigation of allegations to see if charges are true. In this case, we are not told who filed the complaints, but it appears that Lot was one of them. Yet he did not leave the city in time to keep all of his goods. Perhaps he did not really believe that God would answer his complaint. He did not understand, and so he lost nearly everything.
The story tells us that three “men” (Gen. 18:2) came to Abram while on their way to investigate Sodom’s complaint. After being entertained by Abram, two of them went to Sodom, while the third remained with Abram to negotiate mercy for the city. We read in Gen. 18:22,
22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord [Yahweh].
Abram’s negotiation was with Yahweh, but the two “men” were later revealed to be “angels” (Gen. 19:1), who visited Lot in Sodom. Yahweh agreed to spare the city if the angels could find just ten righteous men living there (Gen. 18:32). They failed to find ten righteous men, and in fact some of the city’s “gays” threatened to assault them (Gen. 19:5). When these were struck with blindness (Gen. 19:11), there was no further need to continue the investigation.
The angels then told Lot to evacuate the city immediately with his family. Lot took his two daughters with him, although their husbands refused to leave (Gen. 19:14). Even Lot hesitated, so the angels had to grab them by the hand and pull them away (Gen. 19:16).
Lot then found an excuse to remain nearby in the small suburb of Zoar. His reluctance to leave—in spite of his righteousness and faith—is astounding. Furthermore, we read in Gen. 19:26,
26 But his wife, from behind him, looked back; and she became a pillar of salt.
In spite of his poor choices and reluctance to leave Sodom, 2 Peter 2:7 calls him “righteous Lot” and says in verse 8 that he “felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds.” That was true enough, but it is also apparent that he lived there voluntarily, even though he could have moved away at any time. No one had forced him to live under Sodom’s oppression. He was willing to endure oppression and live in an atmosphere of wickedness on account of the prosperous life style that Sodom had afforded him.
In the end, however, Lot’s attachment to Sodom caused him to lose most of his possessions, his sons-in-law, and even his wife. This is a sobering example of how even the righteous may lose much in the coming judgment on account of their attachment to Sodom. If they had known the time of the judgment, they could have removed themselves at a more leisurely pace, taking all of their possessions with them.
Luke 17:31-33 continues,
31 On that day, let not the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house go down to take them away; and likewise let not the one who is in the field turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to keep his life [lifestyle, way of life] shall lose it, and whoever loses his life shall preserve it.
This describes perfectly the lesson found in Lot’s case. Even as Lot was compelled to leave Sodom immediately and not take his goods with him, so also will it be at the unveiling of the Son of man. Furthermore, we are to “remember Lot’s wife,” who turned back for some reason. Jesus says, “likewise, let not the one who is in the field turn back.”
This implies that Lot’s wife not only “looked back” but also turned back, hoping to retrieve something that she had valued. Hence, when this judgment is repeated in the unveiling of the Son of man, those who are caught in modern “Sodom” should not hesitate to leave all of their goods behind and flee the city.
Better yet, all should seek understanding, so that they do not suffer loss in that day.
Matthew tells us that this entire passage was spoken in the context of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Matt. 24:15-18 is a parallel passage that says,
15 Therefore, when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak.
Matthew’s account gives us details that are omitted in Luke. Matthew specifically wrote his gospel to Jews in Judea, and so he made it clear that this was a warning for them to flee Jerusalem in the time of divine judgment. Luke’s account is abridged, because his gospel was directed toward a Greek audience where he and Paul had ministered for so many years.
When we combine the two accounts, we obtain a more comprehensive understanding of Jesus’ prophetic warning. It was a warning to Judea and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The day would come when the abomination of desolation would be “standing in the holy place,” and this would be the final sign to depart from the city.
The “abomination of desolation” is prophesied in Dan. 11:31 and again in Dan. 12:11. The first prophecy applies primarily to the second century before Christ, when Antiochus Epiphanes turned the temple in Jerusalem into a shrine to Zeus. The “abomination” in this case was the desecrated altar or the statue of Zeus erected in the temple, which brought about the “desolation.”
To be desolate means to be without inhabitant. In this case, the God of Israel was replaced by Zeus in the temple, and since idols are nothing, the temple was said to be desolate—devoid of God’s presence.
Yet Jesus treated this prophecy as having another fulfillment as well, either in His time or afterward. Jesus was the manifest presence of Yahweh, and when He came to His temple, He was rejected. His throne was usurped by the lawless chief priests, who then sat in the temple as if they were God. This is what Paul was talking about in 2 Thess. 2:3, 4,
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy [casting out] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed [unveiled, exposed], the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
In other words, the coming of Christ will not come until the “man of lawlessness” is exposed and cast out. Who is it that took his seat in the temple of God, usurping the place of Christ? It was the chief priest, or collectively, the religious leaders in Judea as a whole. This was the “abomination of desolation,” in the sense that their abominable actions was the cause of the temple’s desolation that was soon to come at the hands of Rome in 70 A.D. Paul says further in 2 Thess. 2:6-8,
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed [exposed]. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.
This “mystery of lawlessness” was held secret or hidden to most people in Paul’s day, though he had already discussed it privately with the Thessalonians earlier (2 Thess. 2:5). It appears that Paul did not want to commit this teaching to writing, as it was controversial, especially to the Jerusalem church.
Yet Jesus had told the people of Judea and Jerusalem that “your house is being left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:38). Why? Because of the “abomination” that was being set up in the temple. This was the antichrist, the man of lawlessness that had usurped the place of Christ, which occurred when the story of Absalom and David were replayed in the time of Christ.
The first-century Christians in Jerusalem remembered Jesus’ words when they saw the army of Rome approaching to destroy the city on account of its “abomination.” They escaped to Pella on the other side of the Jordan River after the Jews rose up and destroyed Rome’s 12th Legion at the feast of Tabernacles in 66 A.D. Rome finally laid siege to Jerusalem 3½ years later at Passover of 70 A.D.
There is yet a final destruction of Jerusalem that must occur, in which Jer. 19:11 will be fulfilled. The city has been destroyed many times, but the prophet says that Jerusalem will be destroyed so completely that it “cannot again be repaired.” Because the city exists today, we know that Jeremiah’s prophecy has not yet been fulfilled in its final manifestation.
This final destruction is no doubt the occasion where Jerusalem will be as Sodom and Gomorrah, as Jesus indicated in Luke 17:29. John too linked Sodom with Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8. Destruction will be sudden, and the inhabitants of the city will be as surprised as the people of Sodom were in the days of Lot. Yet God will give revelation to a few righteous men to leave the city before its destruction. If they leave reluctantly at the last minute, they will probably lose their possessions.