Scripture: “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. 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. 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.“ Matthew 24:29-31 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus further develops Daniel’s record of the abomination of desolation concerning his Parousia (see Daniel 9:27). While world history moving forward will witness wars and catastrophes that foreshadow the unthinkable rise of the evil perpetrated in the last days, the Son of Man’s spectacular display of pure light that extends the earth’s horizon will eclipse the darkness (confirming his power, authority, and soon victory) and thus bring joy and celebration to those who persevere—but terror to those who have rejected him.
Today’s reading, the third segment, adds more details about the coming of the Son of Man. Following the tribulation (a time of suffering never before witnessed), celestial disasters will foreshadow the shaking of creation to make all things new (see yesterday’s Daily Focus for an expanded explanation from Hebrews, chapter 12). Here, we read of likely fiery asteroids and meteors that will rain on the earth and darken its sky. Then, on an epic scale of a Rembrandt chiaroscuro masterpiece (light pressing through the darkness), Christ will come “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v.30 above). And his angels will gather the elect (those he and the Father have saved for eternal communion with them) accompanied by the trumpet blasts of war and certain victory.
Of note, the “sign of the Son of Man” (v.30a) may refer to the signal Isaiah describes as the “root of Jesse,” who will rise and gather the nations in a post-apocalyptic age (Isaiah 11:10-12). And what is this sign/signal, Christ himself or a prelude symbol of him? If the former, then Jesus employs this language to emphasize his fulfillment as the root of Jesse. Alternatively, as Chrysostom and other church fathers suggest, it may be an image of Christ’s cross that ties together the inauguration and consummation of his Covenant of Grace. Regardless, this powerful sign will confirm what thousands of generations have believed by faith.
Takeaway: The heavenly disturbances described in verse 29 align with Jesus’ opening line to his discourse on the final judgment (25:31-46). Here, Jesus follows the apocalyptic imagery of cosmic disasters told by Israel’s greatest prophets (see Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:31 and 3:15; and Amos 8:9). Each prophecy is scribed with artistry, combining facts with figurative speech to emphasize magnitude. Regardless of whether Jesus does the same in this discourse, the prelude to his coming will shock and awe earth’s remaining inhabitants and set the stage for the grand climax of creation history. And the parallels between the sky’s darkness at his return and his crucifixion (27:45) jump off the pages of Matthew’s Gospel, for the heaviness and weightiness of the blackened sky at Calvary foreshadow the Parousia where Christ will mete final judgment and sentencing against Satan, his minions, and all who have rejected the Son of Man.
But what are we to make of Jesus’ comment that all the tribes (nations) of the earth will mourn when they see him “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (v.30b)? It likely points to Zechariah’s prophecy addressing all the inhabitants of Jerusalem mourning over him whom they have pierced (12:10). As mentioned in recent Daily Focus devotions regarding prophecies, Zechariah speaks to the near and distant future: Christ’s crucifixion (500 years later) and his eventual return. So while some mourned over his death, many will mourn over his return which signals their demise.
What’s our takeaway? Zechariah adds, “On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (13:1 ESV). Indeed, the One who cleansed us from sin, as symbolized by his cross and our baptisms, will be a sign to us at the end of the age of his completed work in us (confer Philippians 1:6). For our Lord and Savior has paid the penalty for our sins in full, is now delivering us from the power of sin (through the sanctifying work of his Holy Spirit), and will rid us of the presence of sin at the end of the age. So draw near the Son of Man (who will gloriously return on cloud vapors) and drink from his living water (John 4:13-14), for we will find refreshment and restoration in him that renews his shalom peace and joy in us—even if our present circumstances remain unchanged.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, whose cross at Calvary is a sign of our cleansing and whose cross at the end of the age is a signal of his completed work in us. Still, we struggle in this life with the presence and power of sin. So would you please help us draw near your Son and find refreshment and restoration that renews his shalom peace and joy in us and strengthens us to continue his mission to the nations here and now? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling