In Part One of “the sign for the unbelieving,” we looked at the tendency of the school of FUTURISM to employ a literal interpretation to the events and figures used by Jesus and His apostles when they spoke or wrote of the “Last Days.” In fact, they will often go beyond what is warranted by the biblical texts, using their imagination to depict scenarios, etc. that their biblically naive audiences will often accept without really checking the facts. This explains why Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, can sell over 30-million copies and make a block-buster movie of the same name. You can read about Lindsey’s very free interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in my blog post, The Key to Unlocking Bible Prophesy (February 28, 2013).
In Part Two, we offered a viewpoint that provides a sane approach to a better BUILD (Biblical Understanding Into the LAST Days). This viewpoint suggests that Jesus and His apostles employed a method of describing the Last Days that they had simply borrowed from the prophets of the Old Testament when they (the prophets) spoke or wrote of God’s acts of judgment or deliverance–apocalyptics. Apocalyptic literature is highly figurative language which symbolizes the realities they describe. Several Old Testament examples were provided from a storehouse of apocalyptic texts found there. Knowing this, we can now examine Jesus’ somber announcement of the SIGN that will portend both the long anticipated HOPE of Christ’s Church, and the END of the AGE (Matthew 24:3) of the Mosaic Covenant, along with its Temple, its ordinances, its priesthood, its sacrifices–all that was a “shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 8:5;10:1)–and the final, “teeth-gnashing” doom of “every tribe [that] will mourn” when they see in heaven the SIGN that will vindicate everything Jesus Christ said, and did, and claimed, and promised. Let’s look at that SIGN.
“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.” –*Matthew 24:29-30
Passages like this, those of FUTURISM say we can expect to see literally fulfilled. Pointing to texts like Revelation 1:7, where the Apostle John references Jesus’ words of Matthew 24:30, it can appear that they have a solid case:
“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
Remember, Jesus is using Jewish apocalyptic language. Just before He gave the SIGN of the Son of Man in Mt. 24:30, He said the sun would be darkened, the moon not give it’s light, the heavenly bodies would be shaken, etc. We showed how these celestial portents symbolized the overthrow of nations and the downfall of rulers and nobles in the Old Testament. They did not have a literal, physical, visible-to-the-eyes fulfillment.
If this is how the writers of the Old Testament used descriptions of celestial portents and terrestrial calamities when prophesying the judgments of God on nations or people, and if FUTURIST teachers also understand the figurative nature of these Old Testament texts, why do they not use this same understanding when interpreting the words of Jesus and His apostles who employed the same language while prophesying of God’s judgments in the New Testament? This same reasoning applies to Jesus’ SIGN for the unbelieving of Matthew 24:30,
“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.” –Matthew 24:30
Speaking symbolically in the verse just before this about the sun, moon, heavenly bodies, etc., does Jesus then suddenly shift to speaking literally of “coming on the clouds of heaven”? Again, the best way to interpret language in the New Testament is to see how similar language was used in the Old Testament. Are there any similarities we can turn to? Yes, there are.
The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) describes the “pillar of cloud” that went before Israel during their Exodus out of Egypt. The people of Israel recognized in this cloud the presence of God.
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 likens the cloud with the presence of God’s glory filling the newly dedicated temple: “. . . the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.” So also in Ezekiel 10:3-5,
“Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks.”
In Isaiah 19:1, the prophet describes the doom to come upon Egypt by God’s coming: “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.”
Notice the Lord’s presence is the result of His “riding on a swift cloud.” God’s presence was seen, not literally with the eyes. No one actually saw God riding on a cloud, and no one actually saw God’s presence with their eyes. This is language that describes the fact that the Egyptians would recognize and perceive that the judgements and doom that was coming upon them would be directly “seen” as God having come down.
So also in Ezekiel 1:4— “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.” What follows is Ezekiel’s highly symbolic description of God whom he saw in a “great cloud.”
And finally Daniel 7:13-14, the very passage of Old Testament Scripture that Jesus “borrowed” when He spoke the words of Matthew 24:30.
“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. 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.”
The cloud symbolism always describes the sovereignty, glory, power, authority, dominion, and presence of God in the events that the prophets, Jesus and His apostles describe, using apocalyptic language. So, when Jesus told His disciples, “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,” He meant it in the same way the “cloud” imagery was used by the writers of the Old Testament.
Immediately after those horrible days of the Great Tribulation (AD 70) that Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:15-28) would come upon the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem and Judea, “every eye” saw in the bloody carnage wrought by Titus and his Roman legions, marching into the very Temple itself with their eagle-tipped standards, then “all the tribes of the earth” (meaning the tribes of Israel) “and those who pierced Him” mourned. For in the woeful destruction of their holy place and sacred Temple, they “saw” the presence of the Son of Man “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, had come on His white horse (Rev. 6:2; 19:11) to receive, as prophesied by Daniel, “. . .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.” –Daniel 7:14. Amen.
God’s best to you! And remember, He’s still in charge!
*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible (ESV), bold-faced italics, mine.
© Ron Moser, www.lastdaysunraveledblog.com, 2013