Dear Radio Friends,
Jesus is coming again. This is the Christian hope. We say this not only because Jesus has promised it, and not only as something we expect sometime off in the future, but because we see the coming of Jesus Christ all around us. This is one of the points that we have emphasized in this series of messages on the last times, especially as we have looked at the signs of His coming. The signs of the coming of Jesus Christ are not far-off events in the future, immediately before He comes again; but the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ are events that are taking place all around us in the nations, in the creation, and in the church.
Today we are going to consider the coming of Jesus Christ—the last sign. Earlier in Matthew 24 the disciples asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the world?” Jesus gives to them many other signs of His coming, but now He really comes to the answer to their question: What is the sign of Thy coming and the sign of the end of the world? That sign is the sign of the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven. We are going to consider Matthew 24:30: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
As we have gone through this series and looked at the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ, we have been waiting for this. As we live our lives in this world, we long for this. This is our hope. The interest of the child of God in the coming of Jesus Christ is personal. Jesus does not come just to deliver His church or to raise the dead in a general sense, but the ascended Jesus Christ, when He comes again, will come to me, a believer who is a part of His church. He will come to raise my dead body. On that day, I will see Him. He is my Lord and my Savior.
We can think of it in terms of this illustration. There is a woman who is a wife and a mother, and her husband is deployed, sent off to war. Perhaps, think of this not of the days in which we live, of modern technology and communication, but think back a hundred years, to the time of World War I. Her husband goes off to war, goes across the seas on a boat, and she has no contact with him. He is gone for a long time. She does not know how he will be deployed and she waits and she longs for him to return. She reads the papers every day. She sees around her that the war in which he is fighting is coming to an end. This tells her that he is coming; these are signs of his coming, his return. Then, finally, there is the day of his arrival. He steps off the boat, or he steps off the plane, and there he is. This is the day of his return. This makes her heart leap. So, as we think about this as the church, the bride of Christ, who waits and longs for the coming of Jesus Christ, we are talking about the day of His final arrival.
In the first words of the text (Matt. 24:30), there is a time element. “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man.” “And then.” When, we ask. This takes us back one verse at least, to Matthew 24:29, where Jesus says, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” What Jesus is describing here is the created universe falling to pieces. This all seems to take place almost at the same time that He comes in the clouds of heaven. You cannot imagine this imploding of the universe as something that happens over days or weeks or months. It will be a time of great distress right at the moment when Jesus comes again. This is described for us in Luke 21:25 -27 this way: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
But this question of “when” takes us not just to the end of the physical universe, the created universe as we know it, but it takes us back also to the events immediately preceding the end and the coming of Jesus Christ. It takes us back to the other signs of the coming of Jesus Christ that we have been looking at in this series of messages. So, I want to re-cap a little bit and remind you of these signs and of the fact that they are present in the world throughout history, but increase in frequency and intensity immediately before Jesus comes again.
The first sign that we looked at was the sign of the gospel preaching. Then, when the gospel has been preached to the ends of the earth, when the last of God’s people have been called to faith by that gospel, then shall the end come.
Another sign of the end is the turmoil among the nations. It is true that at the very end the nations will be deceived under the rule of Antichrist, but there is always war in the hearts of man and rumors of war and, in fact, the Scriptures speak in Revelation 16 of the battle of Armageddon, the struggle between the religious and the political aspects of the kingdom of Antichrist and between the east and the west, and this turmoil will always be there even during the time of the Antichrist and his peace and promise of prosperity. That is because war is in the sinful heart of man. Even though Satan and the Antichrist will promise a kingdom of peace and prosperity, the principle on which that kingdom is founded is a principle of selfishness, of man, of man satisfying himself, and that kingdom will be the highest expression of man-centeredness. So it will be a kingdom that cannot stand, a kingdom that, in the end, will be divided.
Then, think of the catastrophes in the earth—the earthquakes and famines and pestilence in divers places. These are the signs that lead up to that final cataclysmic event that is the destruction of this universe.
When? During times of lawlessness, abounding iniquity. In the last days men will be eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage as they did in the days of Noah when the Flood came and destroyed them all.
Also, this will be a time of apostasy. People will have departed from the truth. There will be a great falling away. There will be the rise of false Christianity and the worship of man and of the Antichrist. Also a time of pleasure-madness. Men will be lovers of themselves and of pleasure more than lovers of God.
All these signs we have looked at as we have talked about the end times. This is the setting. And then shall the end come. Then shall the sign of the Son of man be. Not only will it be a day when all the elect church of God have been gathered, but it will be a day in which the world has made itself ripe for judgment, and all the purposes that God has for history will have been accomplished and completed. And then God, having no reason anymore to forbear in pouring out His judgment on mankind, will send His Son.
That is the event that we consider here today. Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man.
Now the coming of Jesus Christ is described here in these words: “the sign of the Son of man in heaven.” What is this sign? This sign does not refer simply to some signal or sound to announce the arrival of Jesus Christ. Certainly there will be a great sound: the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. You can imagine the noise as this universe disintegrates. But this sign does not refer to that. Nor does it refer to some sign that God will place in the sky to show the redemption of Christians, perhaps, as some see it, a sign or symbol of the cross. No. This sign will be… Christ Himself.
Understand what a sign is. A sign is a visible representation of a spiritual reality. The spiritual reality, the invisible reality, that we will get a glimpse into on that day is the reality of heaven. Heaven is not something that is distant from us, but simply this, something that we do not see. Think of Elisha’s servant in II Kings 6. His eyes were opened and he was able to see the angels that surrounded the city. This was the spiritual reality that he did not see. It was not that the angels came just then but the angels were always there. His eyes were opened to see them. The idea is that in the last day, when the sign of the Son of man comes, God will make visible to man what is invisible to the natural eye. The realities of heaven will be displayed. As Revelation 6:14 has it, “The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” Or, as Isaiah 64:1 puts it: “Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.” The sign, the thing that we will see in that day, the spiritual reality, will be Jesus Christ Himself in His exalted glory.
So Jesus refers to this sign as the sign of the Son of man. This title, “Son of man,” is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. It does not refer simply to the fact that Jesus was human, had a human nature, that He was born of a man or a woman, but it refers to the fact that Jesus is the exalted Messiah. It refers to the glory that He would receive in His human nature. In Daniel 7:13, 14 we have the Old Testament use of this name that Jesus adopts for Himself: “I saw one like to the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days, and dominion was given to him,” Daniel says. This is a prophecy of the ascension and the glory of Jesus Christ in His ascension. We will see the sign of the Son of man, that is, the curtains of heaven will be rolled back, there will be a revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ.
The verse tells us five truths about the coming of Jesus Christ. First, it will be a personal coming. That is, Jesus Himself will come on the clouds of heaven. I Thessalonians 4:16, “The Lord Himself shall descend with a shout.” He will come, not only so that there will be a personal showdown between Him and the Antichrist in that day, but He will come especially to meet His bride. This is what His bride, the church, is waiting for. As believers in the church, we do not wait for the end of the world just so that our suffering may end or for freedom from sin or for the bliss of the new heaven and the new earth or even just to be reunited with our loved ones who have passed away, but our hope is to see Jesus Himself. In many ways, that is the measure of our faith. What is your faith and what is your hope in this world? That is, what are you waiting for? What are you longing for? As a believer, you long to see Jesus. That is heaven—to be ever with the Lord. This will be a personal coming. Jesus says: “I go to prepare a place for you; and I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14). So, first, it will be a personal coming.
The second truth concerning the coming of Jesus Christ is that it will be a sudden coming. You have that here in Matthew 24 in two different ways. The first is a rapid succession of events leading up to the coming of Jesus Christ and the sign. In verses 29 and 30, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven.” There is a rapid succession of events. Those days, we read earlier in the chapter, verse 22, will be shortened. They will come to a sudden end. But the other thing that indicates the suddenness of the coming of Jesus Christ here is that Jesus says three different times in Matthew 24 that no one knows the day or the hour and that He will come as a thief in the night. This calls us as believers in the earth to be watching and ready continually for the day of Jesus Christ. This is the point of Jesus’ further instruction in this chapter and in the following one in parables. He speaks of the parable of the fig trees and the sign of spring in the fig tree and says, “Watch.” Or, the watchman who does not know when the thief will come so he is always alert. Or the servant whose master is gone away but, because he is a faithful servant, he is always ready for the return of his master. Or the ten virgins in the next chapter and the five who are ready. The coming of Jesus Christ will be sudden, but not in this way, that it will be terrifyingly sudden for God’s people but something that we are watching for because we do not know the exact day or the hour.
The third truth concerning the coming of Jesus Christ is this, that it will be public and visible. Jesus says concerning His coming that the tribes of the earth shall see Him coming in the clouds. In Revelation 1:7: “Every eye shall see him, also those who pierced him.” The public, visible coming of Jesus Christ will bring everything in this world to a grinding halt. Man is busy with all the activity of his life, going here and there. Then, suddenly, Jesus will appear and every eye will see Him. Think of a day when a nation is attacked, for example, September 11. Or December 7, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. On that Sunday morning, people were out taking their jogs and exercising. Some were doing laundry. Others were worshiping out in the open in Hawaii. Then suddenly this attack came and everything came to a halt. So it will be on the day when Jesus will come. It will be a public and visible coming. Every eye shall see Him. Perhaps we wonder how that can be because the earth is round. How could every eye on that day see Him?
That points to the fourth truth concerning His coming, and that is that it will be a miraculous event. Every eye will see Him. That will not be by news report or television or streaming over the Internet. No, every eye will see Him. The naked eye will see Him. Every eye in all of the earth will see Him. We cannot explain how that will be and we do not need to—just to say that it is a miracle. Jesus says in Matthew 24:27 that it will be like a flash of lightning that goes from one end to the other end of the sky. The curtains of heaven will be pulled back and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man.
The fifth truth concerning His coming here is that it will be glorious. It will not be like His first coming, in which only a few people saw Him come, and in which He came into the lowliness and humiliation of Bethlehem. But He will come on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory. And every eye will see Him. He will come in the glory of His exalted position at God’s right hand. He has been given a name that is above every name and the glory of the Father and a seat at God’s right hand and everything has been placed under His feet. Then He will come, as Psalm 2 has it, with a rod of iron, and He will come to judge the nations. We, as God’s people, will see and experience the glory of Jesus Christ in the things that He immediately does at His coming.
We are going to look at some of those things in the up-coming messages, the things that will happen after Jesus comes again, but that glory will be the gathering of His church, the resurrection of the dead, the final Judgment Day, the vindication of God in the destruction of the devil and the wicked in hell, and the glorious re-creation of a new heaven and a new earth. All the glory of Christ will be ours in that day, for when we shall see Him, we shall be like Him. An important part of the miracle is this, that it will all take place in an instant, in the snap of one’s fingers. I Corinthians 15:52 says, “In a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
Now we see in the text a response to this coming—a mixed response. “All the tribes of the earth shall mourn.” This refers to those who hate Christ and hate the gospel, who have received the mark of the beast and worship his image, from every part of the earth—all those who wonder after the beast. The sudden coming of Jesus Christ will make something very clear to him—that there is no escaping the wrath of God. Malachi 3:2 says this, “Who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth. For he is like a refiner’s fire.” What will put fear in the heart of man in that day is the collapse of this physical universe. Man depends on the stability of this natural world. In his human wisdom, he has put God out of the universe and he sees himself as the ruler of the waters and the mountains and the skies in this universe. He makes this world and the universe his god and he worships the creature rather than the Creator. But suddenly, when Christ comes on the clouds of heaven and the powers of the heaven are shaken, it will be clear that this world is not God but that this world belongs to God, that in God we live and move and have our being. There will be in that day no more time for repentance, no more to be brought to faith, but only terror before the wrath of the Lamb.
It is quite striking in Scripture that God’s people in that day will respond quite differently. They will see and experience all the same things in the last day: the stars falling from the heavens, the mountains being rent, the great cataclysm. But God’s people will not be terrified. Luke 21 depicts them as still, restful, and expectant: “Life up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh,” Jesus says, “when you see all these things.” It will not be a day for God’s people to gloat in the destruction of the wicked. No, because that day will not be about us, it will not be our day. It is the day of the Lord. We will glory, but we will glory in the fact that God is honored, that God is vindicated in that day. That is the longing in the heart of every child of God, that God receives the glory.
But we will rejoice in that day. God’s people will rejoice and have this different response because, as the bride of Christ, they wait for the groom to appear. All the experiences of the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ that they will have gone through will have spiritually prepared them for this day. In their tribulation, when a loved one is killed, when the church is scattered as a result of persecution so that it is hardly able to worship anymore, when God’s people experience hunger and nakedness and they have to hide in the dens and caves of the earth, all of these things God will use to keep them spiritually alert and awake and watching and longing for the day of Jesus Christ, crying out: “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly.” Because in the end, that is the Christian hope—the day of the coming of Jesus Christ. Our hope is not found in anything here on the earth but in the day when Jesus comes. What a glorious day that will be! We will see Him in His glory, and, seeing Him, we will be made like Him. Our prayer is: “Come, Lord Jesus, Amen.”
Dear Radio Friends,