“When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming [presence], and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV).
After preaching in the temple, the disciples wanted to show Jesus the beautiful buildings of the temple complex. Originally rebuilt by Zerubbabel (Ezra 6:15), the temple was greatly expanded and improved upon by Herod. It was the center of Jewish worship for nearly 1,000 years and an impressive facility. The disciples had just heard Jesus lament over Jerusalem, saying, “Your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). By showing Jesus the various features of the temple, they may have hoped the predicted destruction would not include this beautiful place of worship.
However, Jesus made it clear that the temple would not be spared. He said, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). When he later sat down on the Mount of Olives, some disciples came to him privately asking three important questions: “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming [presence], and of the end of the world [age]?” The disciples were unaware of the long intervening period before his kingdom would be established. This is clear by their surprised reaction when Jesus told them he must “go away” (John 16:7, 16‑19). They apparently expected that his kingdom would be established in their lifetimes and the end of the present evil world was near.
Due to an incomplete understanding, these expectations were not unreasonable. However, Jesus now wanted them to know that the kingdom was a long way off. He began with a warning that many would come falsely claiming to be Christ. Many wars and “rumors of wars” would follow. But those events would not mark the end of this world. He added that his followers would be persecuted, false prophets would deceive many, and love would “wax cold” (verse 12). Before the end, the gospel of the kingdom would be preached to all nations.
Jesus added that the great abomination, prophesied by Daniel, would be established in power. As the prophecy approached the end of the age, he added more warnings of great tribulation, such as the world had never seen (verse 21). More false Christs would follow with deceptions so great even the elect could be led astray. Jesus simply warned, “believe it not” (verse 26).
His Promised Return
In the following verses Jesus then provided a meaningful description of his secret return. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming [G3952, parousia, presence] of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
Lightning is an electrical discharge in the atmosphere that does not travel the predictable pattern described by Jesus. The Greek word translated “lightning” (G796, astrape) would be better translated “sunshine,” or “bright‑shining.” The RVIC provides a more accurate rendering of verse 27. “For as the breaking sunshine cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the presence of the Son of man.” As the sun rises in the east, its rays travel westward as Jesus described. He is comparing his return to the morning sunrise. The sun brings warmth and helps plants process nutrients. Its benefits for life are well documented and most life on earth could not exist without it. The connection to these benefits may be one reason Jesus described his return as the rising of the sun. The effects of his second advent are prophetically described in two very different ways. “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall” (Malachi 4:1, 2). The proud and the wicked will have their works consumed while those who honor God will share in the great blessings of the Lord’s return and his kingdom. Both effects will result in the uplifting of mankind.
By comparing his return to the sunrise, Jesus was also indicating that in the early stages of his presence only those awake to unfolding prophecy would understand his involvement in world affairs. He is breaking down Satan’s empire while completing his spiritual temple. Knowledge of his secret presence, and the work being accomplished, has had a profound influence on the saints. Understanding the purpose and work of our Lord’s return has helped the brethren know what is expected of them at the end of this Gospel Age.
Eagles Gathered Together
After describing his secret return, Jesus added that “wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (verse 28). This may seem disconnected from the analogy of a sunrise. Eagles are admired as a symbol of freedom as they soar on wind currents. Their amazing eyesight helps them find prey from up to two miles away. These qualities may be among the reasons Jesus used eagles to depict the saints at the end of the age.
Our Lord’s return has been accompanied by a flood of revealed truth. Those willing to obey God’s command and “come out of her, my people” (Revelation 18:4), have been rewarded with a knowledge of God’s plan. Leaving the nominal Christian church systems has been a difficult step for many. It has often divided families and friends. But those who have responded have gained a spiritual vision that others have lacked. Their desire to be free from the chains of false doctrines has led many to join together in the study of God’s word.
There is a sanctifying effect that present truth has had on the hearts of saints. Understanding the ransom and sin‑offering has inspired many and deepened their devotion to God. Knowing that our Lord’s return brings restitution to this dying world has awakened zealous workers, and such hope strengthens the heart.
The events unfolding today are signs that we are at the threshold of God’s kingdom. The great trumpet of truth described by Jesus has sounded and is still sounding, gathering the elect from one end of heaven to the other. It is an extraordinary privilege to live at this end of the age and to witness the many signs of our Lord’s presence. The gathering of brethren out of the nominal systems and into individual ecclesias has been one indication of our Lord’s parousia.
The Fig Tree
“Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32‑34).
The meaning of this parable is often connected to the words of Jeremiah 24. There the prophet, when describing two classes of people in ancient Israel, speaks of them as “good figs” and “evil figs” (verse 2). God then makes a solemn promise to the good figs.
“I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (verses 6‑7).
Although this promise was made centuries ago, God has not forgotten. His words are now being fulfilled and, despite its current struggles, Israel will never again be plucked out of her land. The blossoming fig tree signifies that God’s kingdom is “at the doors.” Jesus said that the generation which witnessed these things would not pass away until “all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). The rebirth of Israel is now an indication that this generation will see the establishment of God’s kingdom.
Regardless of the precise length of a generation, we can trust that the kingdom will soon be fully established. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth [the present evil world] shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (verse 35).
Like a Thief
Jesus goes on to describe the reason for his secret return. “If the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:43, 44). The master of this present evil world is Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus returned as a thief so Satan would be unprepared.
Had he been aware of our Lord’s return, we cannot know how Satan would have prepared. Possibly he may have delayed some aspect of our Lord’s work. But we can be certain that Satan will not succeed in preserving the present order of things. Our Lord’s counsel to the wise is given in Revelation 16:15. “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” To keep our garments clean requires constant vigilance. The world offers countless distractions, but the spiritually wise will not lose focus on their consecration vows and will continue to serve the cause of Christ.
A Faithful Servant
In the closing verses of Matthew 24, Jesus describes “a faithful and wise servant” whom the Lord would use to give “meat in due season.” The ministry of Brother Russell is seen by most Bible Students as fulfilling this. Through his ministry the Lord has dispensed important truths especially needed at the end of the age. The call has gone out to leave the systems of spiritual Babylon and feed on the carcass of truth. It is with heartfelt appreciation that we acknowledge his meaningful work and continue to share the wonderful truths our Lord provided through his faithful servant.