by Roger McCay
31 January 2021
Sermon Passage: Matthew 24:29-44
Link to Audio Version
Confusion as to times and fulfilments of the last days, given by Jesus, is a problem among Christians. Indeed, much misinformation has been absorbed by many in the evangelical community from popular, sensational, yet very misleading end-times books sold on the Christian market, such as The Late Great Planet Earth and The Left Behind Series. The result of the evangelical community having absorbed many of the purely imaginary ideas put forward by such books into its collective consciousness is confusion. Kenneth Gentry states it plainly:
Among the vast majority of evangelicals this passage [The Olivet Discourse] is as absolutely confused as it is immensely popular. Indeed, the average evangelical approach to the Olivet Discourse is so seriously misconstrued that it places its fulfillment at the wrong place in history, misses Christ’s whole point entirely, applies its judgments to the wrong people, and spreads its catastrophes far beyond it’s intended focus. Thus, the popular conception has the wrong time, purpose, objects, and scope for its judgments.
Such confusion is rather ironic, as the Olivet Discourse was Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ confused question, correcting their misconceived assumption with purposeful distinctions.
However, clarity, concerning the Discourse, does exist. There is a balanced, scripturally harmonious, historically consistent, orthodox, and logical understanding of Jesus’ words. This position holds that some of what Jesus taught would happen in the generation then living, and some would happen at an indefinite later time. Among those holding this view, variations exist in identifying certain verses with near events or far events. In other words, identifying which verses were fulfilled during AD 33-70 and which refer to Jesus’ second coming, his Parousia at the end of history. In particular, some take vv. 29-31 as a reference to his second coming. Then others see that event as a coming, but not the final Parousia, understanding vv. 29-31 as referring to the coming of judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70.
As it is, back in 2018, when I preached Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13), my thoughts were that the equivalent verses in Mark to vv. 29-31 in Matthew referred to Jesus’ second coming. However, further study of the Scriptures has developed my understanding (a phenomenon I hope we can agree happens to all of us in our continued Scriptural studies). So, I’ve come to be convinced that while vv. 29-31 refer to a coming, that coming is the glorified Christ’s coming of judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. After that, Jesus then refers to his second coming, starting in v. 36.
Last week we looked at how, in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25), Jesus was answering the question of his disciples, correcting their misconception. Their question in 24:3, really two questions, “when” and “what,” was asked due to Jesus’ statement concerning the temple being destroyed in v. 2. Jesus then answered them in detail, answering the question “when” (starting in v. 4 and going all the way through v. 35), concerning the things that would happen before the generation that was then living would pass away (v. 34), including the temple’s destruction. These various events Jesus mentions were not signs of Jesus’ second coming, including the great tribulation of AD 70 (v. 21). Indeed, he is specific in v. 27, that when people are desperate for the conquering Christ to come and save them from their tribulation and are drawn to various false-Christs, to not be fooled. Jesus’ physical return (his Parousia, bringing the consummation of his Kingdom) was not to be during that time. For, when he returned at his second coming, it would be an unmistakable event for everyone.
Today, we pick up at v. 29:
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Here, Jesus gives another time reference, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.” This statement places the event he is about to describe as happening immediately after the days of the great tribulation in AD 70 Jerusalem that he had just described. He is not referring to some event at an unknowable future time.
Despite this clear time reference, some point to v. 29 and say this is proof that Jesus is referring to something that is yet in the future, as such calamites have not happened. If they had, we’d know about it, right? However, such misconceptions are due to a failure to recognize that Jesus is using language that is typical Old Testament prophetic, apocalyptic language—language that his disciples would have been steeped in and would have immediately recognized. He draws his “words from Isa. 13:10 and 34:4,” which, as R.T. France explains,
Of these the first is a description, in the symbolic language of apocalyptic, of the fall of Babylon, and the second of God’s judgment on ‘all the nations’, but particularly on Edom. Similar language is used elsewhere of God’s judgment within history on cities and nations (e.g. Ezek. 32:7; Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9).
Consider the language of Isaiah’s prophecies: God’s judgment coming upon Babylon (Isa. 13:10) – “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” God’s judgment coming upon the nations and Edom (Isa. 34:4) – “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.”
Like the OT prophets who used such imagery, Jesus, in Matt. 24:29, is not referring to literal cosmic calamities. Like in those prophecies (where temporal judgment upon political powers, resulting in national disaster, was in mind), Jesus proclaims a temporal judgment coming upon a nation, Israel, centered at Jerusalem in AD 70, happening before the generation of Jesus’ time had passed away (v. 34).
30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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.
Jesus again gives a specific time indicator here—“then,” also translated “at that time.” Again, he is not referring to an event in the future thousands of years later. This is a specific reference to the judgment heralded by v. 29 that would come down upon Jerusalem, all happening before the generation then living would pass away (v. 34).
So, what of the sign of the Son of Man? France addresses this saying,
The sign of the Son of man in heaven has been interpreted in many different ways. From a very early date it was understood as a visible appearance of a cross in the sky, but the text does not say this, and in the light of the symbolic language of v. 29 we should not expect such a literal interpretation.
A more literal translation per word order (how the Greek words it) helps in our understanding: “And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven.” This would be a sign, not a literal appearing of Jesus floating in the sky. It was, as one man puts it, “a sign that proved he was in heaven sitting at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:30-36).” Sam Storms explains:
Those who would witness the events of 70 would see the sign of Jesus’ enthronement when they saw Jerusalem’s destruction. Thus the “sign” of the Son of Man being enthroned and vindicated in “heaven” is the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple on “earth”. It is the sign that appears, not the Son of Man. What does the sign signify? It signifies that the Son of Man is in heaven, exalted, vindicated, and enthroned at God’s right hand.
When the smoke would rise from the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Acts 2:19; Rev. 19:3), all the tribes of the land would mourn. Your translation probably reads tribes of the “earth,” but, perhaps, the better translation, considering the context, is “land.” It also hearkens to the reference to the mourning of “the land, each family,” the tribes of Israel, in Zech. 12:10-14, when they look on “him whom they pierced.” This is the response of Israel when they see the Lord Jesus’ vindication, the horror of what they did to the Messiah, and the righteous judgment that came down upon them by the Christ, the Son of Man, now enthroned in heaven. As they screamed when they called for his crucifixion, “His blood be on us and our children.” Thus, so.
What about the Son of Man coming on the clouds? Jesus, shortly after the Discourse (at his trial before the Sanhedrin, in Matt. 26:63-64) was asked by the high priest, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Jesus there told the high-priest and the Sanhedrin that they would see what they and the tribes of Israel would mourn over, “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
The high-priest tore his robes, and cried blasphemy, because he recognized the reference Jesus was making, just like he had made in his Discourse. Jesus was referring to Daniel 7:13-14:
13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
Jesus was referring to heavenly realities that would be felt upon the earth in his vindication and vengeance upon Jerusalem (Isa. 61:2; Luke 21:22). Jesus is not referring to his Parousia, his second coming here. The term in the Greek is notably absent. He uses a different word. This coming was of a different nature, one that would be seen, as Storms puts it, “in the sense that they will ‘understand’ or spiritually perceive that Jesus is the vindicated and enthroned king” over all creation. Rather than a coming to earth, this “coming on the clouds of heaven” alludes to Daniel’s vision of the coming of the Christ into the presence of the Father, to take up his mantle of rule, the Kingdom of God, having all authority over the heavens and the earth (Matt. 28:18). As Gentry so aptly states, “this actually refers to Jesus’ ascension [not his second advent]. In the destruction of the temple, the rejected Christ is vindicated as the ascended Lord and shown to possess great power and glory.”
Indeed, the coming on the cloud language hearkens to the reference of the Lord’s coming in judgment upon Egypt in Isa. 19:1, “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt.” Such prophetic language, as Jesus uses in Matt. 24:30, fits well with the exalted Lord’s “judgment-coming,” in power and glory, upon Jerusalem.
And, as we know from the OT, the Lord historically used pagan nations to bring judgment down upon the Jewish people, like Assyria and Babylon. In AD 70, like in the destruction of Israel and Judah many centuries before, God now uses Rome as his instrument of judgment (Matt. 22:7).
Yet this time, rather than exile, the divorce was final (Jer. 3:8; Rev. 19:2). Within 40 years of Jesus’ pronouncement, Jerusalem and the temple would be a smoking ruin, totally leveled—gone. Of the city, only some guard towers for the Romans were left standing. The population was mostly dead (1,100,000 people), and the rest carried off into slavery.
With Jerusalem’s destruction, the Bride of Christ, the Christian church, was set free from its bondage to Judaism. With the fall of Temple Judaism, with the destruction of Jerusalem, the old covenant was dramatically concluded. As Heb. 8:13 says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete.” The destruction was necessary. Gentry explains, “This occurs so that she might become a truly universal church, rather than a racially-focused, geographically-confined people.” Judaizers had been a threat to the church from the time of Pentecost, during the church’s gestation from AD 33. Their emphasis on circumcision and ceremonial laws confused the early Christians (to put it mildly), and was “a serious threat to the universality and advance of the Christian message.” We saw this explicitly illustrated in our recently concluded study of Acts. Thus, with the Temple gone, “a major hindrance to the spread of the Christian faith” was removed…. Christianity is now a distinct religion.”
This was, in a sense, the end of an age and the fulfillment of Matt. 21:43: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” Jesus warned the hard-hearted Jews that the kingdom of God would be taken from their nation and given to another nation, the elect from all the nations, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9).
Thus, with Jerusalem and the temple’s destruction, the church age began (in a sense, the birth of the Bride of Christ). It was not the beginning, but it was a beginning. This age, with Christ Jesus, the head of the church, reigning over heaven and earth, would last until the full number of the elect (the whole Bride of Christ, both Jew and Gentile), was redeemed by Christ (Rom. 11:25-26). It is the age in which we now live.
However, for the full number of the elect to come to Christ, the gospel must be preached to them (Rom. 10:14-15). This is to what Jesus was referring, in Matt. 24:31:
31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The word for “angels” here also means “messengers,” which is the better translation, as it was to such people that Jesus was referring. The loud trumpet call is the proclamation of the gospel by the Lord’s messengers (preachers, teachers, evangelists, and Christian witness in general). It is the trumpet of the gospel sounding the good news of redemption, and it is reminiscent of the trumpet blown announcing the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:9; Isa. 61). And, as the elect hear the gospel and believe, they will be gathered to Christ, his people, the church throughout the whole world, “from one end of heaven to the other.” Thus is our call to proclaim the gospel, my friends. Jesus is talking about us and the age in which we live.
Having answered the first part of the disciple’s question, “when,” Jesus now answers the second part, “what,” concerning his (the glorified Christ’s) second coming, the Parousia, starting in v. 36-37:
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Verse 36 begins with transition language used in changing from one topic to another, which can be rendered, “Now, concerning that day.” This hearkens back to the second half of the disciples question in v. 3. In saying “that day” Jesus is now speaking of his second coming at the end of the world, his Parousia, of which they confusedly inquire in v. 3. Verse 37 clarifies, indicating “that day” as being the day of “the Parousia of the Son of Man,” using the exact word the disciples used in v. 3.
Jesus, contrary to the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, does not give any timeframe or time reference or any signs whatsoever to indicate when that day would be. He emphasizes that point, saying “no-one knows” when it would be, “only the Father.” Thus, as the church age began, so it would continue until some indefinite time in the future.
As Jesus goes on, he does, however, illustrate what that time would be like, starting in v. 38. While we know the birth pangs and tribulations will continue (Rom. 8:22), no signs will indicate the nearness of his return. Indeed, life will continue on as usual. People will be eating and drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, working, and spending their days like usual. With no fore-warning, “Bam!!!” the Lord will return, taking all who are not his to judgment and destruction, sweeping them away like those destroyed in the flood. The unbeliever will be taken; the believer will be left behind. It’s better to believe and be left behind for glory, my friends.
Jesus says in v. 42, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Brethren, Jesus tells us truly. He is coming like a thief in the night, unexpected (vv. 43-44). Let us not put off readiness for his return. Trust in Christ and be ready, alert, and prepared, living each day following after him, in obedience of faith. The fulfillment of his prophecy in AD 70, is a guarantee that his prophecy of his final return is as deadly serious.
Thus, the Harlot, old Jerusalem, has been thrown down (Rev. 18:21), and the Bride, the new Jerusalem has been raised up, claimed by Christ, supplanting the old (Rev. 3:12; 21:2, 9-10; Heb. 12:22-24; Gal. 4:26). The bride is now set free to grow to maturity, as the elect (citizens of the Kingdom of God) are gathered through worldwide gospel proclamation. Christ has claimed his bride (Rev. 19:7), but Christ is still to come and claim his glorified bride. So the Bride awaits that day of the final coming, that day, at the end of the age, the end of the world, with the consummation of Christ’s kingdom—the Lord claiming his Bride in glory unto eternity.
Now, like I said last week, our study of the Olivet Discourse, in Matt. 24, is to help prepare us for our upcoming study in Revelation. If we have an understanding of the framework of Jesus’ Discourse, then we have a framework for understanding Revelation. The Discourse provides a key to understanding Revelation. Thus, in Revelation, like the Discourse, there is a sense of near and far, the already but not yet. Indeed, most of what we’ll study in Revelation has already happened from our point of view, including most of the events Christ prophesied in the Discourse. There are not two separate realities and timelines. There is just one. Christ has outlined that reality. Revelation corresponds to it. In Revelation, as in the way prophecy does, the long-term prophecy is grounded in the near-term (near from the perspective of John and the first-century church). What must come soon has already come, yet there is a sense of not yet and imminent. The near-term fulfillment for its original audience is a guarantee of the long-term fulfillment. The prophetic long view telescopes through the church age, from initial fulfillment in AD 70 until the eschaton; as the elect are gathered through the proclamation of the gospel, undergoing tribulations foreshadowed in the first part of the Discourse; as Christ reigns at the right hand of God over heaven and earth; as the kingdom of the world continues in rebellion against the kingdom of God; with the long view pointing to that day, the hope and vindication of God’s people—Jesus’ second coming, the resurrection, glorification, and the final judgment.
My friends, the fulfillment of the glorified Christ’s first coming is a guarantee for the second. Be alert. Be hopeful. Because Christ came in judgment on Jerusalem, his Bride must be ready for his final coming.
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Olivet Discourse Made Easy (Draper, VA: ApologeticsGroup Media, 2010), 2.
 R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 346.
 France, 347.
 Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, Fourth revised edition. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), 165.
 Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2013), 269.
 Cf. Robert Hillegonds, The Early Date of Revelation and the End Times (Fountain Inn, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2016), 116, who identifies the smoke in Rev. 19:3 with the sign: “The sign of the Son of Man from the Discourse is the smoke from Jerusalem that goes up forever and ever.”
 This is consistent with a normal use of “tribe” in the new Testament referring to the OT tribes of Israel. Storms, 270, comments, “The word translated “tribes” (phyle), when used in the New Testament, typically refers to the Old Testament tribes of Israel (see Matt. 19:28; Luke 2:36; Acts 13:21; Rom. 11:1; Heb. 7:13–14; the only exception is Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6 where the word is found in a stock phrase).” Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Olivet Discourse Made Easy (Draper, VA: ApologeticsGroup Media, 2010), 115-116.
 Storms, 270–271.
 Ibid., 271, quoting Gentry, The Great Tribulation, 61.
 Gentry, Olivet, 118.
 Ibid., 125. Concerning the dramatic conclusion of the old covenant Gentry references “Heb. 8:13; cf. John 4:21-23; Gal. 4:21-31.”
 Ibid., 122.
 Ibid, 123.
 Ibid., 125.
 Cf. Gentry, Olivet, 128-137, for thirteen reasons why there is a change of reference here in v. 36ff.