Puritan Board Freshman
The following quote is clipped out of a paper I wrote on Matthew chapter 24. I would like to interact with others on some of the themes and points that I bring up here. I've bolded and underlined some of these themes and points.
"Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. "Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matt 24:23-28 NKJV)
Knowing that as the tribulation of those days worsens more false saviors will come forward, Jesus again warns his disciples. People desiring an escape will look to flee to these deceivers even in remote places. But to these deceivers with their false promises and false signs Jesus warns his disciples not to go. Jesus’ coming was not going to be with false signs and promises of victory over Rome; rather a clear and precise strike of judgment. The gospel of Luke is helpful in bringing a fuller understanding to Jesus’ words. In a separate conversation with his disciples from the one on the mountain, Jesus speaks of his (“as lightning”) coming in more detail. Luke records this conversation in Chapter 17 of his gospel.
When Jesus was asked about the coming of the kingdom of God he replied, “the kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, ‘See here it is’ or ‘See there!’”(Luke 17:21). Clearly the kingdom of God is seen and comprehended through they eyes of faith and only by those with a regenerate heart. But, in a seemingly contradictory statement a couple of verses later, Luke records Jesus saying, “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day [coming]” (Luke 17:24). This is not a contradiction. The Kingdom of God itself will not be observable in the flesh, but the signs that accompany its coming will be as observable as lightning.
Jesus begins to tell his disciples about the details of the observable signs. He speaks of the Judgment of the flood in Noah’s day, how it came suddenly and destroyed the people (vs 26-27). He speaks of the Judgment of Sodom when fire came down from heaven and destroyed them all (vs 29). Explaining that observable judgment (like lightning) will also accompany his own coming, he say’s, “Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30). The disciples, after hearing of this coming judgment and the examples of those taken away in judgment, ask “Where Lord?” Jesus gives them the answer “Where the dead body is (The dead body is a reference to Jerusalem ) there the eagles will be gathered together (to execute judgment ).” Thus, Christ’s coming, “as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west,” is observable for all to see in his judgment against Jerusalem.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Matt 24:29 NKJV)
Christ here speaks of his coming immediately following the tribulation of those days (i.e., the trouble of wars, famines, pestilences, false prophets, etc). There was not going to be a rest of days or years after the trouble of those days, nor a time of repentance given to apostate Israel, but, rather, an immediate and decisive execution of judgment. Jesus cloaks the language and description of this judgment in the apocalyptic language similar to one of the prophets of old. The prophet Isaiah spoke judgment against the ancient city of Babylon in such language:
The burden against Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw . . . Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. (Isaiah 13:1, 9-10 NKJV)
The apocalyptic judgment language of the scriptures often speaks of changes in the heavens at the destruction of, or changing of, empires and nations. In Isaiah’s time it was the city of Babylon which would be judged, In Jesus’ time it was to be Jerusalem. A city and a people who may have been influential, powerful, or a light to other nations, when destroyed was then considered darkness. Like the sun and moon failing to shine, so are the destroyed city and its people. Like the stars falling from the heavens, so the princes and rulers of that city fall and are no more. When something so major, so catastrophic, as an entire nation, city and people being destroyed, it is thought that the “powers of the heavens” are shaken. For the ancients believed that the powers of the heavens were what controlled the happenings of the nations; God’s wrathful judgment shakes even them.
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Matt 24:30-31 NKJV)
Here many readers of the gospel think that Jesus is giving his disciples another sign to look for, like a picture in the sky, or a visible/physical symbol. This is a mistake because Jesus had already established what the sign of his coming was going to be (i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple). The “sign” in this passage is a revelation, or proof, of Christ himself in heaven. A literal Greek word translation of this verse is of some help here, “and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven” (Matt 24:30 YLT). If the sign given (as lightning from one side of heaven to another) of Christ’s coming is the judgment against Jerusalem, then this verse speaks of the signs signification. One cannot (by very nature of what a sign is) confuse a sign with the actual thing that it signifies (e.g., a stop sign is not the physical action of stopping). The destruction of Jerusalem is the sign that signifies that Christ is ruling in heaven. The second part of this verse (“coming on the clouds of heaven”) makes this point much clearer .
Witnessing Christ’s judgment is seeing the evidence of Christ’s rule from heaven, at the right hand of God, coming on the clouds of heaven. This “coming on the clouds of heaven” is a reference to both Christ’s taking his position on the throne of heaven, and his ruling from that throne in the execution of judgment. Jesus, again speaking like one of the Old Testament prophets, cloaks his language in Hebraic apocalyptic imagery. Daniel, in similar language, speaks of the Messiah coming on the clouds of heaven as taking his seat at the right hand of God; being given dominion, glory, and a kingdom to rule over.
"I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. (Dan 7:13-14 NKJV )
Jesus himself when speaking on another occasion made reference to his “coming on the clouds” as evidence that he is the Christ; sitting at the right hand of God and ruling with power in executing judgment.
And the high priest arose and said to Him, "Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?" But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him,"I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!" Jesus said to him, "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matt 26:62-64 NKJV)
Luke, recoding the same event that Matthew does, is very helpful and clears up some of the apocalyptic language. Luke is writing to a gentile audience and he takes the liberty to interpret some of Jesus’ Hebraic utterances so that they can understand.
As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, 67 "If You are the Christ, tell us." But He said to them, ". . . Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:66-69 NKJV)
Luke leaves out the apocalyptic utterance “coming on the clouds of heaven” and simply gives us the basic meaning of that utterance (i.e., sitting at the right hand of God with power). There are some nuances in the Hebraic language and imagery of “coming on the clouds”, but the clearest use of the language in scripture concerns the ability and power to execute judgment from heaven. The Old Testament records God himself coming on (literally “riding on”) clouds to judge nations. This power was given to Christ, and he reveals this in his coming with power and glory in judgment against Jerusalem.
When the people of that generation see the execution of Christ’s judgment, the complete destruction of the temple and city, they also see that Jesus is the Christ, ruling from heaven