The Final Troubles, Matthew 24:29-31
“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” (Matthew 24:30).
by David Rice
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The text above refers to the closing work of the present harvest of the Gospel Age. Christ has been present since the opening of the harvest in 1874, but only at the close of this period will the judgments of God crescendo sufficiently to induce the world to
recognize the hand of divine providence in a transition of the ages. Matthew 24:30 refers to that time.
“We cannot say that the sign of the Son of Man in heaven will be his parousia. On the contrary, the parousia of Christ will not be known to the tribes, or families, or the earth in general,
but will be known only to the most-saintly ones of the Church of Christ. Consequently, the sign of the Son of Man must in some sense relate to his epiphania, or shining forth in the ‘flaming fire’ of judgment, which the whole world of mankind will recognize (2 Thessalonians 1:79)” (Sermon Book, “The Sign of the Son
of Man in Heaven,” page 420).
We sometimes use the word apokalupsis, which means a “revealing,” to refer to this closing experience of the harvest, leading us into the Kingdom of Christ. Matthew 24:29-30 applies to this period of time. Verse 31 steps back somewhat, as we will discuss further on.
There are three broad parts of Jesus’ discourse, sometimes called the “Lord’s Great Prophecy.” After the disciples’ introductory questions that prompted this prophecy, we have
(1) Jesus’ answers to their questions in verses 4-31, (2) three lessons about those answers from verses 32-51, and (3) three parables relative to the subject, in Matthew 25.
Each part, in turn, has three sub-parts. In the first case, the sub-parts are (a) things that will occur before the “end,” (b) things that will occur during the “end,” and (c) things that will occur at the climax of the “end.” The disciples had asked Jesus in verse 3 about the “end of the world” — or more precisely, the closing
period (sunteleias) of the age (aionos). In responding to them, Jesus took them through things expected before the harvest, things that would occur during the harvest, and things that
would close the harvest and introduce to the world the presence of the new king.
When Jesus spoke to the disciples about the end of the age, in verses 14-28, he used terms that are easy to relate to the Roman conquest of Judaea from 66 AD onward. However, as most Christians appreciate, the fulfillment thus described about the end of the Jewish Age has a broader and more far-reaching application to the end of the Gospel Age.
Understanding how Jesus’ words applied to experiences ending the Jewish Age can help us better understand the larger application to the end of the Gospel Age. Hence, we comment
Verse 29. “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.”
This text describes things following some previous “tribulation.” Verse 21 speaks of this tribulation, using the same word. Verse 21 tells us that while the saints are fleeing “Judaea”— in the first case from 66 AD onward, in the second case fleeing nominal Christendom from 1874 onward — the period would be one of
distress and “great tribulation.” It was indeed, in both cases (but in the latter, on a larger scale).
Narrowing our focus to the ending period of the Gospel Age, we have seen trouble on an unprecedented scale. There are three broad phases of the “time of trouble” These were represented in the vision of Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:11,12, as wind, earthquake, and fire. The “winds” include World Wars I and II. That was followed by an “earthquake,” the break-up of the European colonial powers, culminating in the breakup of the Soviet Union by 1989.2
(1) Gk. the inhabited earth:
(2) The year 1989 saw revolutions in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and
Romania. The official dissolution of the Soviet Union
followed in December 1991.
That was followed by the “fire” of Islamic insurgency. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 precipitated the first Gulf War, and Islamic turmoils have continued ever since.
Verse 29, however, speaks of a crescendo to this period. “Immediately after” those days of “great tribulation,” things would briefly get worse in a closing collapse. Following the previous extended and intermittent trouble, the sun and moon would be darkened, the stars of heaven would fall to earth, and the spiritual control of the heavens would be dislodged.
These are intense symbols that refer to the end of a whole system of political and religious control. Notice similar descriptions in Isaiah about the fall of Babylon in ancient
times: “The stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine” (Isaiah 13:10). This prophetic language describes the collapse of a whole order of things. In our day, it means the seventh plague of Revelation, that is, Armageddon and its follow through. These final shadings and distress will lead to the birth of a new world order under Christ (Revelation 16:16-21).
When the leaders of Israel, who condemned Jesus, solemnly invoked him to say whether he was the Son of God, duty called for a reply. He said, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Some of those then living would see those words fulfilled in the judgment against Jerusalem when
the Romans breached the walls and the Jewish polity fell. The intense symbols of the sun, moon, and stars abandoning their normal functions applied then — and they will apply again
at the close of this harvest.
Verse 30. “And then [tote, at that time] 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.”
The world will “see” Jesus through the intervention of his divine power, just as the Jewish people “saw” him and his power in the collapse of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The word “see” here means to grasp with the eyes of our mental understanding, as when, after evidence and discussion, we “see the point.” In John 12:45
Jesus said, “he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.” Of course, “no man hath seen God at any time” in the literal sense (John 1:18). With Jesus in glory, the world will recognize his divine intervention and thus see his power and glory.
The “clouds of heaven” remind us of “one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven … to the Ancient of days” (Daniel 7:13). There are no literal clouds of moisture in the spirit realm. The symbol apparently compares the commotion incident to gathering clouds, and perhaps also to the expected rains that will ensue, which thus leave blessings after
There will be power, and great glory, exhibited in the majestic forces commanded by the new king. Revelation describes the occasion with other dynamic symbols. “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True … on his head were many crowns … and the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:11-14).
Jesus said that during this time “all the tribes of the earth shall mourn.” With trepidation due to the approaching collapse of Jerusalem, people from all the tribes of Israel would have been
anxious. Today, in the larger application, all nations will be anxious as the trouble mounts during the final crisis.3
Verse 31. “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
To understand the fulfillment of this text, let us reflect on how it applied at the end of the Jewish Age. When the Roman armies advanced against Jerusalem in 66 AD, then came about what Jesus had warned of: “Ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies … know that the desolation thereof is nigh” (Luke 21:20).
The ending experiences of the Jewish Age harvest were upon them.
Jesus said, when they would see these things, “Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in
the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance” (Luke 21:21, 22). The gathering of the elect referred to in verse 31 is a gathering from the dispersion occasioned
by Jewish Christians fleeing Jerusalem, heeding Jesus’ warning.
The broader fulfillment of verse 31, which is of special interest to us at the end of the Gospel Age, refers to the gathering of the elect during the Harvest. The saints are encouraged to come out of Babylon during the Gospel Age harvest, as they recognize the waywardness of Babylon, its false practices, and its false teachings. As they flee Christendom (spiritual Judea, spiritual Babylon), God would gather and care for them spiritually.
This gathering does not follow the apokalupsis of Christ in verse 30. Rather, coming at the end of Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ questions, it is an assurance that God’s care for the saints
would gather them and care for them during the harvest period.
The saints are gathered “from the four winds” in the sense that their former dispersion into Christendom is described symbolically as being scattered to the four winds.
“I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven” (Zechariah 2:6). Matthew 24:31 similarly tells us that the saints will be gathered from this dispersion, “from the four winds of
Verse 31 speaks of a “trumpet.” The trumpet suggests a trumpet of truth sounding as a rallying cry for gathering the saints together. The same symbol appears also in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 about the return of Christ and beginning of the harvest.
The trumpet of truth gathers the saints who flee spiritual “Judaea,” nominal Christendom, and head to the “mountain” kingdom of God (Matthew 24:16, Psalms 125:2). When the
Armageddon crash comes upon the world, the saints will have been gathered home. “To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints” (Psalms 149:9).