Jesus—His Life and Message: The Coming of the Son of Man (Part 1)
March 9, 2021
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Coming of the Son of Man (Part 1)
The previous article, the last of the series about the Jewish temple, ended with Jesus telling the people of Judea that tribulation would come upon them when the Romans would destroy the temple and the city of Jerusalem. He said:
Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.1
Jesus continued by saying,
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”2
Jesus warned that during the coming trouble, some would take advantage of the situation by claiming that they were the Messiah. Some would even falsely appear to do miracles and prophesy. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus had warned of such people:
“Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”3
“And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”4
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about a number of Jewish nationalist leaders who, in the time before the siege of Jerusalem, manifested such signs and wonders. Of course, the New Testament gives examples of Jesus’ disciples performing “signs and wonders” as they went about doing God’s work.
Awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.5
Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.6
In the book of Acts, as well as in some of the Epistles of Paul and in Revelation, there are references to nonbelievers who performed magic and displayed signs and wonders, as well as references to those who would do so in the future.
There was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.7
Then the lawless one will be revealed. … The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.8
Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. … It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people.9
Jesus also pointed out that due to the signs and wonders, it is possible that even some believers could be led astray by the false christs and false prophets.
“See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”10
Having warned that false prophets would perform signs and wonders, Jesus gave further instructions to help believers not be led astray during the time leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. One author explains:
These trying to lead them astray will be claiming that they have special knowledge; whereas ordinary people do not know where the Messiah is, they do. If people will only trust them, they will lead them to him. Jesus says definitely, “do not believe it.” His followers must not be led astray in this way.11
Jesus’ Future Return
As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.12
This verse draws a sharp distinction between the events during the siege of Jerusalem and the still future return of Christ. The Greek word used for Jesus’ return or second coming is parousia. He made the point that His parousia would not be a secret event; rather, the coming of the Son of Man will be as clear as a flash of lighting which lights up the sky. When Jesus returns, everyone will see it, as He will make clear later in this chapter. Jesus was setting His return and the end of the age apart from the coming destruction of the temple.
Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.13
Bible commentators have a wide range of interpretations for this verse. It seems likely that the meaning is that the parousia, the return of the Son of Man, will be as obvious as the presence of a carcass upon which vultures descend.
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.14
Jesus’ words are closely modeled on two Old Testament passages.
Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. 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.15
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.16
Throughout the Old Testament there is similar imagery proclaimed by prophets. (See Ezekiel 32:7–8; Amos 8:9; Joel 2:10, 30–31; 3:15.)
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.17
This Gospel speaks of the sign of the Son of Man appearing in heaven. In the Gospels of Mark and Luke we read “they will see the Son of Man,” with no mention of the sign. This Gospel also mentions the effect that the Son of Man’s coming will have on the people of the earth—they will mourn. His return will not be met with joy by all. People will recognize that Jesus’ return changes everything and will put an end to life as they have known it.
Jesus clearly stated that He will return to earth. However, His return will be different from the first time, when He was born as a child. This time, He will come with power and great glory, a phrase which refers to the majestic appearance of a king. Clouds are often associated with the presence of the divine, which is the meaning here.
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.18
The appearance of the King brings about the gathering together of those who are His, those who have received Him and believed in Him. The sending of His angels with a loud trumpet is also mentioned by the apostle Paul.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.19
The gathering of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other, makes the point that no believer will be left behind, none will be missing.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.20
Fig trees are abundant in Palestine, and those to whom Jesus was speaking were familiar with how and when figs grow. As the appearance of the fig tree’s new shoots is indicative of the coming of summer, in like manner, when believers see the events Jesus has spoken of make their appearance, such as those described in verse 29, they are to understand that His return is near.
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.21
While a variety of interpretations have been made by Bible commentators as to who “this generation” is, it is clear that Jesus is referring here to the generation that will be alive at the time of His return.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.22
Jesus followed up by stating the certainty that what He has said will happen. While heaven and earth have lasted through the lifetimes of generation after generation, they will eventually pass away; but, in contrast, Jesus’ words will last forever. What He has said will be fulfilled.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 24:21–22.
2 Matthew 24:23–24.
3 Matthew 24:5.
4 Matthew 24:11.
5 Acts 2:43.
6 Acts 5:12. See also Acts 4:16, 29–30.
7 Acts 8:9.
8 2 Thessalonians 2:8–9.
9 Revelation 13:11, 13. See also Revelation 16:13–14.
10 Matthew 24:25–26.
11 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 607.
12 Matthew 24:27.
13 Matthew 24:28.
14 Matthew 24:29.
15 Isaiah 13:9–10.
16 Isaiah 34:4.
17 Matthew 24:30.
18 Matthew 24:31.
19 1 Corinthians 15:51–52.
20 Matthew 24:32–33.
21 Matthew 24:34.
22 Matthew 24:35.