The “Coming of the Lord” can refer in a general way to the Lord’s accomplishing His purposes among men. God ‘came’ to destroy Egypt (Isaiah 19:1). Jesus promised He would ‘come’ to establish His kingdom, the church. So as we interpret these verses, we need to keep a couple of facts in mind:
(1) Jesus said that the events of Matthew 24:29-31 would take place immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem.
(2) Matthew 24:34 indicates that the events took place during the lifetime of the generation then living.
(3) The terminology of Matthew 24:29-31 can refer to events other than the Second Coming.
a) Matthew 24:29 – When Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, this signaled the fall of the Jewish nation.
b) Matthew 24:30 – The ‘sign of the Son of Man’ was the destruction of the temple. The destruction of Jerusalem was one of the Lord’s most striking predictions – and one his listeners would live to see fulfilled. When Jerusalem was destroyed, the tribes of the earth would mourn. At that point, everything would be ready for the Son of Man to come – that is, to continue with His plan for the salvation of the world.
c) Matthew 24:31 – This verse can be a symbolic prediction of the carrying out of the Great Commission, taking the gospel into all the earth. The Greek word for “angels” means “messengers” whether human or angelic. God’s messengers (evangelists) would go throughout the world, gathering “His elect.”
This interpretation is consistent with the use of the same type of language used in other places, and keeps these verses in context with the chapter.
As Jesus wrapped up His teaching on the destruction of Jerusalem, He told them a parable (Matthew 24:32-35: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away”).
Even as they knew that summer was near by looking at the leaves on the fig tree, so they could know that the destruction of Jerusalem was near when they saw the Roman army approaching.
All that Jesus had described in Matthew 24:4-35 would take place during the lifetime of “this generation,” the ones to whom He was speaking. Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, less than 40 years after Jesus spoke these words. It was not the return of Christ which would take place within a generation, but the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.
During His ministry Jesus consistently used the expression “this generation” to refer to the generation alive at the time of His speaking. In the first section, He spoke of “those days” (Matthew 24:19, 22, 29); but concerning the second section, after verse 35, He spoke of “that day” (Matthew 24:36). Jesus consistently used the expression “that day” or “the day” to refer to His coming for final judgment.
Beginning in Matthew 24:36, Jesus specifically talked about His second coming at the end of the world, and stated that there would be no signs, warning, or opportunity to flee. It will happen so unexpectedly that no one will understand what is taking place until it happens.
Matthew 24:36-44: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
“That day” will come the same way the flood came and as a thief would come (1 Thessalonians 5:2 – “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night”), and it will catch most people completely unprepared.
Jesus also makes it clear that “when” He will come back is not the most important thing to know. The most important thing to know is whether or not you are ready for Him to come! If you are ready, it won’t matter when He comes. If you are not ready, being able to predict the date won’t help you. Since we do not know when He is coming, we need to be ready at all times.
I. The state of the world at the end
The Bible does not point to physical signs like earthquakes and wars when it talks about the second coming of Jesus. However, it does talk about the moral and religious state of the world and very clearly states that it will get progressively worse, not better!
Luke 18:8 – “…when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” Here Jesus is saying that when He comes back, there won’t be very many real true believers on earth. This has never been more true than it is today – especially the last 50 years. Cults are growing faster than all of the different types of Christian churches in the world combined. In 1960 the Church of Christ was listed as the fastest growing church in the world – today we are behind the church of Satan.
2 Timothy 3:1-5: “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!”
Does this sound familiar? Do these people sound like some people you hear about every time you turn the news on, or maybe even some people you know personally? It sounds like Paul was writing our news headlines today!
Although the term “last days” applies to the whole Christian era, Paul’s description of people’s attitudes in this passage has never been more true than it is today. Not only is it bad, it is only going to get worse (2 Timothy 3:13 – “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived”).
The Bible says in Revelation 20:7-10 that the whole world will be in a period of spiritual decline at the end. Revelation 20:7-10: “When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
These verses describe the final resurgence of evil just before the end of time. The battle is not among nations, but between good and evil—the church will get hounded and pounded and be completely surrounded by the forces of evil – but evil loses.
Jesus is coming back, maybe soon, maybe long after we are gone. Even though the state of the world leads us to believe it could be any time, we still don’t know when that time will be. So it is a waste of time to try and guess the date based on the things we see in the world.
Jesus is coming soon – are you ready?