Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
The very first thing to note is that this passage does not refer to a global event as many have seen it referring to the end of the world. Where it says “earth,” the root word is ge, which means “land,” as in the land of Israel.This passage does not use the word kosmos, which would refer to the whole planet earth. That is why many translations use the phrase “tribes of the land” or, at the very least, include it in the footnotes. This answers the question of audience relevance.
Second, the phrase “coming on clouds of heaven,” would have triggered in the first century Jewish listener the Old Testament “cloud-comings” of God in judgment upon ancient historical people and nations. It is not a positive phrase because it represents an impending judgment.
When Jesus talks about the coming of the Son of Man, He is referring to a coming of judgment, not to His Final Return. A judgement that was to executed to bring an end to apostate nation and system that was not in line with God’s program and agenda in His dealings with people.
Third, the “sign of the son of man in heaven” is likely a reference to the sign we read about earlier from Josephus—the sword that hung in the sky for a year over Jerusalem before AD 70.
Jesus was speaking to an audience that was intimately familiar with the very details of Old Testament literature which they were exposed to on a constant basis. They had heard the Old Testament read and expounded countless time throughout their lives, and had memorized lengthy passages from childhood.
So when Jesus spoke to His disciples about the fall of Jerusalem, He used prophetic vocabulary. There was a “language” of prophecy, instantly known to those familiar with the Old Testament.
Relating the Jewish culture, Jesus answered that they would see “the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). In the Old Testament, when God was going to bring destruction upon a city or a nation, it was said that He would “come on clouds in the sky.” What did they understand? They saw what it meant to them, It simply meant “to come in judgment upon a city or nation,” We will see in the following verses where this phrase was used and applied as we must let scripture interprete scripture.
The following passages was fulfilled by the destruction of an Old Testament city or nation:
He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning (Psalm 18:9-12).
The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104:2-3).
A prophecy against Egypt: See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt with fear (Isaiah 19:1).
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come (Joel 2:1-2).
The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the LORD is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness (Zephaniah 1:14-15).
The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet (Nahum 1:3).
Now that we have seen the Jewishness of the context, we can understand that:
(1) The disciples were asking about when Jesus would “come” in judgment upon Jerusalem,
and 2) Jesus responded with many signs that would lead up to verse 30 of Matthew 24, where He would finally “come on clouds” and bring judgment.
In the book of Revelation chapter 1, John confirmed same in vs 7
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
He was commissioned by God to send the message to the 7 churches in Asia about his coming. This coming was still described as coming on clouds. The message of the book of Revelation was primarily to a Jewish audience who were expecting Jesus return in judgement over the nation of Israel.
When Josephus gave record of events that led to the destruction of Israel in 70AD, he documented some strange events that occurred that was beyond human comprehension. He called them extraordinary signs. 3 of them are worthy of note:
1) “A meteor, resembling a sword, hung over Jerusalem during one whole year.” This could not be a comet, for it was stationary, and was visible for twelve successive months. A sword too, though a fit emblem for destruction, but ill represents a comet.”
2) “On the eighth of the month Zanthicus, (before the feast of unleavened bread) at the ninth hour of the night, there shone round about the altar, and the circumjacent buildings of the temple, a light equal to the brightness of the day, which continued for the space of half an hour.” This could not be the effect of lightning, nor of a vivid aurora borealis, for it was confined to a particular spot, and the light shone uninterrupted for thirty minutes.
3) “Soon after the feast of the Passover, in various parts of the country, before the setting of the sun, chariots and armed men were seen in the air, passing round about Jerusalem.” Neither could this portentous spectacle be occasioned by the aurora borealis, for it occurred before the setting of the sun; nor could it have been merely the fancy of a few villagers, gazing at the heavens, for it was seen in various parts of the country.
It is important this localized prophecy has been fulfilled and there is no need for us to be shaken now about it. He did it so that the judgment would be passed us for revel in the glory of His kingdom.