Just as the unprepared were destroyed by the Flood, so also, the unprepared will be overtaken with destruction when Jesus returns in glory.
Jesus compared the final years before the “coming of the Son of Man” to the period leading up to the Great Flood. “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be.” Some take this as a prediction of a return to the same conditions that existed in Noah’s time, the repetition of the moral anarchy and violence that prompted God to send the floodwaters. The final days will be marked by chaos and catastrophes.
This interpretation ignores the literary context and the point of the analogy. The fuller version of his saying in Luke compares that future period to both the “days of Noah” and the “days of Lot” to stress the same point:
- (Luke 17:26-30) – “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. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise, even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all: after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed.”
His point was that no one except God knows the timing of that day, and therefore, we must always be prepared for his sudden arrival. The analogy with the “days of Noah” illustrates the point. Jesus said nothing about the return of gross sin, violence, or terrestrial upheaval. Whether such things do occur in the end-times was not his point.
Instead, just as before the Flood, men will go about their daily routines, “eating, drinking, marrying, planting, building, buying and selling.” This describes everyday life, not chaos or egregious sin. Men will go about their business as if nothing untoward is about to happen, despite the testimony of preachers of righteousness – (2 Peter 2:5, “If God did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness…).
At the time just before the Flood, the error of men was the failure to heed the call for repentance issued by Noah. Humanity went about its business as if judgment would never occur, right up until destruction fell upon them. The analogy stresses the indifference of men to the warning of inevitable judgment, not the wickedness of that generation. Only Noah and his family believed God “about things not yet seen” and, therefore, prepared the ark – (Hebrews 11:7).
For the rest of humanity, the Flood arrived without warning. Likewise, the sudden arrival of the “Son of Man” will catch many off their guard. The conditions described by Jesus portray normalcy, not chaos.
In Luke, Jesus stated that the kingdom would not come “with observable signs” (paratérésis), which translates a Greek word used by medical practitioners for diagnosing diseases from observable symptoms, as well as for making close astronomical observations.
Unlike any disease or the movement of the planets, the timing of Christ’s arrival cannot be calculated by discerning the significance of cosmic signs. When the Son arrives, it will be like “lightning flashing out of the one part under heaven and flashing into the other part under heaven”; sudden, unmistakable, and visible to all.
Jesus added the illustration from the “days of Lot.” Before the “Son of Man” arrives in glory, people will go about their regular affairs, “eating, drinking, marrying, being given in marriage, buying, selling, planting and building.” But in Lot’s time, fire fell from heaven suddenly and destroyed Sodom, so also, “will it be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.”
Later, Jesus warned against becoming too comfortable in this life. Disciples must take heed:
- “Lest at any time their hearts are overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and so that day comes upon (ephistémi) them unexpected (aiphnidios). For just as a snare shall it come upon all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch, therefore, and pray always to be accounted worthy to escape (ekpheugō) all these things.” – (Luke 21:34-36).
The Apostle Paul used this same saying of Jesus in his letter to the Thessalonians to make a similar point:
- (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3) – “For yourselves know accurately that the day of the Lord is coming thus as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then unexpected (aiphnidios) destruction comes upon (ephistémi) them as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (ekpheugō).”
“Unexpected” (aiphnidios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in these two passages. According to Paul, the “Day of the Lord” will arrive when it is least expected, “just like a thief in the night.” Humanity’s claim to have established “peace and safety” points to times of normalcy, not chaos, upheaval, or violence. Likewise, Peter warned of the coming time when:
- “Scoffers walking after their own lusts who will scoff; Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation!” – (2 Peter 3:2-4).
In times of global catastrophes, even atheists tend to believe something “apocalyptic” is imminent. But during times of normalcy and prosperity, the human temptation is to assume life will continue as usual, with little anxiety about the end of the age and no motivation to prepare for it.
Jesus painted a picture of normalcy for the period prior to his return, not one characterized by global catastrophes and moral anarchy. The unprepared will be overtaken by the sudden and unexpected “arrival of the Son of Man.”
That was the point of his analogy. No one knows the day or hour of his coming, and no one can calculate it. That day will arrive suddenly and without warning, “like a thief in the night,” therefore, his followers must always remain prepared for its sudden arrival.
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