by Paul George
A Future Event
In contrast to Christ’s coming in verse 27 are the false Christs and false prophets of verses 23- 24, who are clearly individuals that can be physically seen. Christ’s return will be public and obvious to all. This cannot fit some “judgment-coming” through the Roman army. Regardless of what other biblical passages may teach in other contexts, the context of Matthew 24 only supports a bodily coming by Jesus, which has to be the future second coming.
Jesus specifically compares His coming in verse 27 to a lightning strike, the idea of suddenness, lightning clearly argues for an emphasis upon appearance. Further, the Greek word for “flashes” has the core meaning of “to appear, to make visible, or to reveal.” When referring to people it is always rendered “appear.” This is how it is used in verse 30: “then the sign of the Son of Man will appear. When this detail is combined with the fact that in both verse 27 and 30 the one appearing is called “the Son of Man,” which always emphasizes the human aspect of Christ, the clear conclusion is that Jesus is communicating His bodily return. The advent of the Messiah will not be of such a nature that you will be required to look here or look there in order to see Him. When Christ appears, it will be as the lightning, which as soon as it appears, suddenly announces its presence, when it takes place, it will all of a sudden openly display itself in a glorious fashion over the whole world.
What then is Matthew 24:27 saying? It is simply saying false teachers or counterfeit messiahs who make their deceptive claims in some wilderness or inner sanctum should not mislead people (24:26). They may even fortify their pretensions by fantastic miracles (24:24). The reason the Lord’s followers should not be drawn aside is that the coming of the Lord Jesus will be so spectacular no one will miss seeing it. It will be like a bolt of lightning streaking from one horizon to the other. Jesus is simply using an analogy or comparison. His Second Advent will be as obvious as a bolt of lightning. So will be the unmistakable and actual presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in His second coming to earth (Matthew 24:28-29).
We have seen in verse 27, which says, “For just as the lightning comes from the east, and flashes even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be,” that it emphasizes a global coming. False teachers will seek to localize Messiah’ s coming. It will be universally observed. No one will find it necessary to go anywhere in order to see Him, any more than it is necessary to move to a better vantage point in order to see the flash of lightning.
The teaching of this passage means that the second coming of Christ will be something that no human being, not even the anti-Christ, will be able to fake it. This will be an event that will not need to be reported in the news media; since God will accomplish this event in such a way, that everyone will know what has happened.
There are two main interpretations of this passage. One holds that it speaks of judgment of the unsaved. The other view sees a continuation of the theme of the context denoting suddenness and universality. Jesus speaks of a “corpse,” coupled with the expression of “eagles” or “vultures.” Taken literally, it means that wherever dead bodies are, the eagles or vultures will descend upon them. From a physical point of view, the vast carnage will result in this very thing. Symbolically, it can be related to the parallel passage in Luke 17:37 when the disciples asked, “Where Lord,” about the separation of the believers from the unbelievers at that time. He answered, “Where the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” This means that these two similar statements refer to the judgment to come upon the unbelievers who are not prepared to meet Jesus.
In verses 29-31, Jesus describes His return. The first thing Christ says is that His return will take place “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” This means that the events described in the rest of verses 29- 31 will occur immediately after the events of the tribulation.
Matthew 24:29 is not a new revelation by Jesus. Old Testament passages like Isaiah 13:9- 10 and Joel 2:31; 3:15 also refer to events that will occur “immediately after the tribulation,” in preparation for Christ’ s second coming as noted in Matthew 24:30. These Old Testament passages refer to the same future events that Christ describes in verse 29. In conjunction with the return of Jesus, Israel will be rescued from her tribulation by the Lord Himself (verse 31). It is clear that our Lord has quoted part of His declaration about the sun and moon in Matthew 24:29, “But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” from Joel 2:31. Both are speaking of the same time and events, the time immediately following the tribulation and in conjunction with Christ’s return. Therefore, it is interesting to take note of Joel 3:1- 2, which provides a “time text” saying that Joel 2:31 will occur “in those days and at that time” (Joel 3:1). In conjunction with this is described a time when the Lord will “restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem” (Joel 3:1), not judgment, but deliverance, as in Matthew 24. This event is said to be a time when the Lord “will gather all the nations” (Joel 3:1) in the valley of Jehoshaphat just north of Jerusalem. Further, it will be a time in which Israel will have been gathered from among the nations (Joel 3:2). This will be the time in which the sun and moon will be darkened.
Luke 21:24 says, “and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” This text provides an outline of the history of Jerusalem from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem until Israel’s redemption at the second coming (Luke 21:25- 29). The time in which the sun and moon will be darkened will follow the end of “the times of the Gentiles,” according to Luke 21:25. The fact that Matthew 24:29 is to come at the end of the times of the Gentiles, “immediately after the tribulation of those days,” makes it clear that it could not have happened in the first century.
Jesus’ statement in this passage contains four descriptive phrases. First, the darkening of the sun; second, the moon not reflecting its light; third, stars falling from the sky; fourth, a shaking of heaven powers.
In the Bible, the sun is used as a symbol or figure of speech and not a reference to the physical sun 164 times. There are five possible uses of the sun as a symbol in the Bible (Genesis 37:9; Psalm 84:11; Jeremiah 15:9; Malachi 4:2; Revelation 12:1). In Genesis 37:9 and Revelation 12:1, the sun is a symbol for Jacob, the father of Israel. Psalm 84:11 says, “the Lord God is a sun and shield,” comparing an attribute of God to the sun. Jeremiah refers to the death of a mother with seven sons by an invading army as, “Her sun has set while it was yet day” (15:9). Malachi describes the coming Messiah as One Who is “the sun of righteousness,” who “will rise with healing in its wings” (4:2). As anyone can see, about 97% of the time the sun refers to the physical sphere that shines faithfully in the sky. In five instances of symbolic use, none refers to a universal catastrophe. There is no Biblical support that the sun, moon, and stars are symbols of some other natural event. Instead, the context of Jesus’ statement support the role of the sun, moon, and stars as physical phenomena accompanying our Jesus’ return.
It makes sense that the heavens and earth are physically affected by man’s sin at the end of history, just as nature underwent physical change when man fell at the beginning of history. Revelation notes the magnitude of the shaking of the heavens and the earth in judgment. Noah’s flood had physical effects on the universe. The sun did not shine over the land of Egypt while at the same time shine in the land of Goshen during the ninth plague (Exodus 10:21-29). The sun literally stood still for half a day in Joshua 10. The Lord caused the sun to go backward 10 degrees in the days of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20). Darkness fell over the whole land of Israel about the sixth hour until the ninth hour during the crucifixion of our Lord (Luke 23:44-45). When He died, the sun refused to shine (Luke 23:45). When He comes again it will not shine (Matthew. 24:29).
Jesus said, “the moon will not give its light.” This makes good physical sense that if the sun has been darkened, the moon will not shine, since the moon does not generate its own light, as does the sun, but it simply reflects the light of the sun. Since the sun has been darkened, then this would mean in a physical cause and effect that the moon would also be darkened.
The third of the four events that will take place “immediately after the tribulation of those days” will be “the stars will fall from the sky.” These events are all in preparation for the second coming that is described in verse 30, a heavenly blackout that will provide a perfect background for the brilliant arrival of Jesus Christ back to planet earth to set up His thousand-year rule.
A number of commentators see the falling stars as meteorites. The falling stars are what cause the people of the earth to hide in caves (Revelation 6:12-17). There is also the claim the falling stars refer to angels who fell with Satan in the past. The similarity of this verse to Daniel 8:10, where “the host of heaven” is an apparent reference to angels. In Revelation, a star is pictured as an angel (9:1).
The final phrase of verse 29 says, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Is this phrase to be taken literally, like the three previous phrases, or does it mean something other than what it says? Do powers of the heavens refer to angelic entities or to the physical universe?
The same basic phrase is used in all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:26). The phrase “powers of the heavens” most likely has the idea of “the sun, moon, and stars. Thus, the Lord describes the astronomical bodies being shaken as the earth is in an earthquake. The “powers of the heavens” is never used of angelic beings in the Bible, nor does the context support such an understanding. Since the first three phrases relate to the entities that fill the sky, Jesus is saying that, whatever the powers of the heavens may be, they are subject to God. At the time of the return of Jesus to this earth, their power will be disturbed. These “powers of the heavens” also appear to include God’s decree of stability by which these celestial objects currently function with regularity.
Most commentators recognize that the shaking of the heavens in this passage is an allusion from Haggai 2:6 which says, “For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘ Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.'” What does this passage mean? We have a divine New Testament commentary that we can look to in Hebrews 12 that tells us what it means; God will once more shake not only the earth, but also the heaven. This denotes the removing of those things that can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things, which cannot be shaken, may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.
The writer of Hebrews contrasts the first shaking of the earth, a physical one, at the Exodus with a future shaking, which will include the heavens as well. He too has in mind Haggai 2:6. The future shaking will be much greater than the past shaking since it will include the heavens as well. Since the first shaking at the Exodus was physical then it follows that the second shaking will also be a physical one, just as Jesus describes it.
Matthew and Mark do not record Jesus’ statements about the human response to these great events, but Luke does. Luke mentions the moral signs of men’s anguish in spite of the deceits and pretensions of that day. Luke tells us Jesus said, “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25- 26). Luke is the only one who calls the activity in the sky involving the sun, moon and stars a sign. One of the purposes to which God gave in His creation of the sun, moon, and stars would be for “them to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14b).
From this point, the prophecy takes a wider range, and passes beyond the narrow limits of the destruction of Jerusalem to the final coming of the Son of Man.
The second coming of Christ will be an event that has multiple aspects and phases to it. Jesus will not just appear in the sky, a multitude of specific events that will take place in the process of this advent. Jesus, in Matthew 24:30 continue to note some of the events that will take place at this time in history. One of the important events will be “the sign of the Son of Man” that will appear in the sky.