This chapter leads us to remember that Jesus is not only teaching and healing, but He is doing so on the way to Jerusalem, on His way to suffering and death for the sins of the world. And so He, in His very person, is bringing the kingdom of God into the midst of the people. The big question for all of them (and for all of us, as we enter into the journey too) is, are their (our!) eyes open to see Jesus for who He really is?
A few notes on specific texts this time around:
17:1 Luke makes distinctions between "disciples" and "apostles" (17:5). "Disciples" refers to the larger group of followers. That group includes the apostles (sometimes also called the Twelve) but the group called apostles doesn't include all disciples.
17:2 "little ones" refers not to young people (i.e. children or infancts) but to Jesus' disciples. It may specifically mean those who have been sometimes called "baby Christians"; those who are new to the faith and "spiritual infants". Of course, we need to remember that in a sense, here in Luke 17 before Jesus' death and resurrection, none of His disciples are fully mature.
17:3-10 Keep in mind that this is connected to what's come before. The hypocrisy of the self-righteous lurks at the door of the apostles as well, especially if they were to have as strong of a faith as they wanted and were able to do things like commanding nature (17:5-6). Therefore, as they carry out their calling—which for them includes great visible things like healings and exorcisms (remember 9:1-6)—they must pay attention to themselves (17:3) so they don't get puffed up with pride (17:10).
17:11-19 A few points to notice here:
- The emphasis on "seeing": Jesus sees the lepers (17:14), then tells them to go "show" themselves to the priests (so they would fulfill Torah: Leviticus 13), then the one turns back after he saw he was healed (17:16). This physical seeing is connected to spiritual seeing—seeing Jesus for who He is (in other words, having faith).
- In contrast to the healing of another leper (5:12-15), these men are healed only after they start to journey to the priests (17:14b). In a very real way, they are healed here by grace through faith (17:19b; see also Eph. 2:8-9).
- The one who returns is a Samaritan, which is noteworthy (17:16b). This implies the other nine were Jewish, and perhaps is an example of the "blindness" of so many religious people to the truth of who Jesus really was. There is great irony here too: the Samaritan—who would not normally worship in Jerusalem anyway—worships Jesus, giving thanks to Him as if He were God (which of course He is, but it's notable that the only one who worship Him as such isn't of the nation of Israel).
- This section is bookended by the theme of journeying; Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (17:11), and then He calls this healed man to also go on his way (17:19).
17:20-21 Multiple times, Jesus had rebuked those who demanded signs from Him. Again, more irony: Jesus was giving them signs, but they refused to "see" those ones, instead wanting to "see" what they themselves considered to be appropriate signs of the kingdom. But the kingdom is in fact right there in the midst of them (17:21b) in the person of Jesus Himself! (Notice also that this statement is assuredly refering to the kindgom being inside themselves as people, as some have taken it to mean. We don't find God's kingdom of grace by looking within ourselves; we find it by looking at Jesus.)
17:22-37 The theme of seeing is continued here, with special emphasis on the time that is to come. There is "His day" (17:24) when Jesus will appear (17:30). But again, remember the context: Jesus is saying this before His suffering and death (17:25) so the language here isn't of "return" like we would think about it in our days. And our days are the days like those of Noah (17:26), sometimes called "the time of the church". These are the days the began with Jesus' ascension and the day of Pentecost and will continue until He returns "in His day".
A footnote to this section: 17:34-35 is often used as a "proof text" that there will be a "rapture", where Christians will be mysteriously taken out of this world and non-Christians will be left on it, and those left will be wondering what's going on. But that's not the Scriptural teaching at all, and even earlier in this chapter, we hear that everyone will see what's happening on that day (17:24). Especially when we consider all of Scripture's teachings about that day, it is clear that this idea of a "rapture" isn't a Biblical teaching. When the Son of Man appears, all will know it, and there won't be a period of time when Christians are taken out of this world and non-Christians are left to wonder what's next. Judgment will happen at one time for everyone (e.g. Matthew 25:31-46).