Please keep this in mind as you read Matthew 24, the Lord is answering His disciple’s questions. Jesus told them a number of things that would happen before the end came; the gospel would be preached to all the world, they would see the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel had spoken of (Luke tells us that this refers to the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem). There would come a time of great tribulation. Then immediately after the tribulation, they would see the sign of the Son of man come in the clouds of heaven.
This is very important as many have argued that no one saw Jesus in the destruction of Jerusalem in ad70. Some still maintain that Jesus would return for all to see physically all over the world. It is important to note the words of Jesus himself. Let’s begin.
23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.26 “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. (Matthew 24)
In verses 23-26 of Matthew 24, Jesus emphasizes to his disciples that his coming will not be a physical bodily coming. If someone says, “Here is Christ, or there,” they were not to believe them. If someone said, “He is in the desert or he is in the secret chamber,” they were not to believe them. Why? If His coming was to be physical and bodily, why would someone not be able to say, “He is over there?”
How would they see His coming? They would see it in the judgement that was to fall upon Jerusalem.
This is why he says his coming would be like lightening,
For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Vs 27)
By comparing Scripture with Scripture we can see that lightning refers to God’s judgement. Jesus compares his coming to lightning and by that he is saying that His coming will be seen in judgement. This absolutely follows the context of discussion from the chapter 21.
He also tells them that his coming will be like a bird of prey going after a corpse
For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Vs 28).
This language can be found in the judgement language of the Old Testament. It doesn’t stand in isolation for us to give it our own interpretation.
This study is important because many Christians are not familiar with the apocalyptic language of the Old Testament. Without this you will not understand what Jesus is saying here. This is a language that is perculiar with the Jews of those days and can be found in the prophetic books.
In apocalyptic language, great commotions and judgements upon earth are often symbolized by commotions and changes in the heavens. This language is never taken literally by them and neither should us.
THEN THE SIGN…
When is “then?” “Then” refers to “immediately after the tribulation of those days” of verse 29. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which was the great tribulation, this sign will be seen.
The great tribulation was covenant judgment over Israel. It was a series of catastrophic events that befell a nation that the narration of it would put anyone into a sad state.
“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:” – Deuteronomy 28:15 (NKJV)
“And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.” – Deuteronomy 28:63 (NKJV)
The historical account of what transpired in AD70 comes from Josephus, a non-Christian Jew who wrote at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. In the preface to his writings “The War of the Jews,” Josephus said this, “Whereas the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that were ever heard of.” (PREFACE, Section 1)
In this he agrees with the words of Jesus that it was the most devastating thing that affected the Jewish people. It is just more than the fact that people died. All that transpired brought to a close to that Jewish age and it can’t be resurrected again.
Now to another aspect of that discourse is this.
Who asked what the sign of his coming would be?
His disciples (verse 3). Who was Jesus talking to? The disciples. Whatever the sign was, it was to appear in 70 AD immediately after the tribulation of those days, which was the destruction of Jerusalem. It was a sign to “that generation” not to us some 2,000 years later.
To understand what this sign was, we first need to have a correct translation. A word-for-word rendering from the Greek reads: “And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven.”
The point is this: