The Second Coming of Christ: Matthew 24:27–31
Towering over the efforts of mankind, the marvelous inventions that have made life comfortable, the grandiose plans of politicians, and any dreams we may have is the fact that Jesus Christ will come to the earth a second time. His return, although expected, will change the world and bring lasting peace to troubled people, but it will also bring judgment to the lost. His return will mark the climax of the ages. The curse of sin will be removed, and mankind will finally get its just reward.
The Second Coming of Christ means different things to different people. Some immediately think of the Rapture of the church—that time before the Second Coming when the church will be taken to heaven before God’s judgment is poured out on this sinful earth. Others think of that very judgment. The Second Coming can bring thoughts of the Kingdom age, blessing and hope, fear and despair. But one thing is certain: It will be a unique event.
Jesus’ View of His Return
To understand what the Lord sought to portray in this portion of Scripture, we must understand to whom He was speaking. We must also consider the human author of this gospel and the purpose for which it was written.
Matthew 24 and 25 are often referred to as the Olivet Discourse. It was given in response to the questions asked by the disciples in Matthew 24:3. Matthew’s Gospel answers one of those questions: “ … what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” It should be noted that these questions were asked and answered prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and well before the inception of the church.
This Gospel was penned by Matthew, who was a Jew. He was writing to his own people, the Jews, to prove to them that Jesus was their Messiah and coming King. Because it would be impossible to have an earthly kingdom of the magnitude Jesus promised without the King being present, He picked up on the disciples’ question concerning the sign of the Kings’s coming. Matthew’s goal was to show that the King is coming and just how He will come.
Because Jesus responded to the Jewish disciples before the church began and because Matthew was writing to Jewish people about their coming King, some conclusions can be drawn. First, Jesus’ answer had nothing to: do with the church. Second, when the Rapture of the church occurs, Jesus will not, come back to the earth, but believers will meet Him in the air. Matthew 24 definitely portrays the visible, bodily return of Christ to the earth to establish His long-awaited earthly Kingdom. He will return to be King of kings and Lord of lords.
His Coming Will Be Visible (v. 27)
To describe just how visible His return will be, Jesus used the illustration of lightning: “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”
Lightning is very powerful and highly visible. On a stormy night it is possible, even with closed eyes, to see the flashes of light. John, one of the disciples who was with Jesus on the mountain when He gave this illustration, later wrote of Jesus’ Second Coming, “every eye shall see him” (Rev. 1:7). Thus, just as lightning is a visible phenomenon, so it will be with Christ’s Second Coming.
In an earlier portion of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned the people who will be living just prior to His Second Coming against false prophets who will claim that Christ has already come. If they say He is here or there, in the desert or in a secret place, people are not to believe them. Even if they are able to perform seemingly supernatural miracles and claim they are Christ, people fare not to pay attention to them. When Jesus returns, the world will know it. It will not be in obscurity, like His first coming. The second time He will come as King, and the heavens will be ablaze with His glory.
Jesus’ illustration of lightning also showed the swiftness of His Second Coming. A flash of lightning lasts only momentarily. Some propose that the Lord’s coming will occur over a period of time; that is, He will descend slowly from heaven. I hold the view that although His return to the earth with the armies of heaven may not be instantaneous, it will be rapid and will not extend over a long period of time. It will be in the reverse order of Acts 1:10 and 11. Certainly the Lord ascended rapidly; otherwise, the disciples would not have stood “gazing up into heaven” in amazement, needing the angelic messengers to remind them that He would come again in like manner.
His Coming Will Cleanse the Land (v. 28)
“For wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” At first glance, this verse seems to be out of place in this passage. It doesn’t appear to connect with the remainder of the paragraph.
The key that unlocks the meaning of this verse is found in the word carcass (Gr., ptwma). Thayer’s Lexicon gives, as the primary meaning of this word, “failure, defeat, calamity,” with a secondary meaning of “fallen” (in the case of human beings, corpses).
This verse, if compared with Ezekiel 37, could very well be speaking of Israel. In Ezekiel, bones were brought together in a prophetic vision. They formed complete corpses strewn all across a valley, but no life was in them. Later, when the prophet spoke as directed by God, life was given to the bones, and they were raised. God declared the bones to be “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek. 37:11).
In verse 28 Jesus may have been referring to the spiritual state of Israel at the end times, which will be lifeless and hopeless, fit only for the vulture to eat. He also may have been referring to the blasphemy and unbelief of that period just prior to His Second Coming. Just as when an animal dies and birds of prey swarm around it, so when there is total moral corruption and decay, divine judgment may come.
His Coming Will Follow Tribulation (v. 29a)
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days … ” This passage must be viewed in the context of the entire chapter, the first half of which refers to the Tribulation period, as taught in the Book of Daniel.
Just as the Rapture specifically refers to the church, the Tribulation period refers not to just any period of trial on the earth but to a specific time period. The second advent described in this portion of the discourse has Israel in view, along with the time of tribulation that will immediately precede Christ’s Second Coming.
Cataclysmic Changes in the Heavenly Bodies (v. 29)
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
Earlier we considered the power and brilliance of lightning as it pierces the night sky. In comparison to the events mentioned here, the effect of lightning becomes infinitesimal. The entire universe will be thrown into total disarray. The prophets (Isa. 13:9–10; Ezek. 32:7–8; Joel 3:15) spoke of these same events.
Luke brought out another aspect of these cataclysmic heavenly occurrences. He mentioned the “distress of nations … the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Lk. 21:25–26). People living on the earth at that time will be filled with terror. They will not know which way to turn as darkness enshrouds this sinful globe, and the heavens will seem to totally disintegrate. It will be a very difficult time as fear grips the hearts of multitudes of people.
His Coming Will Be With a Sign (v. 30a)
“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven … ” Jesus’ description of these signs in the heavens was His direct answer to the disciples’ question in verse 3, “what shall be the sign of thy coming … ?” This answer has been debated for centuries. Many of the early church fathers thought the sign would be a display of the cross in the heavens. Others thought it would be a shining light surrounding the returning Christ.
At the end of verse 30, Matthew stated that Jesus would come in “great glory.” John stated that when Jesus was on the earth in the flesh, “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (Jn. 1:14). In any case, Christ will come in the midst of glory. He is the Shekinah glory in the flesh, and He will come in unparalleled glory.
Because of the magnitude of the disorder in the heavens prior to the Lord’s return, darkness will encompass the entire earth. Thick, heavy darkness will bring deep gloom to the inhabitants of the earth. That should not come as a surprise because Scripture states, “men loved darkness rather than light” (Jn. 3:19). Perhaps God will allow mankind to experience real darkness for a season.
Imagine what it will be like when the heavens are lighted by Christ as He comes clothed in all His brightness. It is no wonder that there will be no need of light in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:23)—Christ will be its glorious light.
His Coming Will Cause Great Sorrow (v. 30b)
When Jesus comes in all His glory, great sorrow will befall many: “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.” Zechariah stated that this mourning will be like that which took place when King Josiah died (Zech. 12:11; cp. 2 Chron. 35:22–25). The tribes probably refer to the tribes of Israel that are currently scattered across the earth. They will mourn because for so long they have rejected the one who was pierced for them, Jesus their Messiah.
His Coming Will Turn Sorrow to Joy (v. 30c)
Several passages refer to Israel’s national sorrow being turned to joy. The Prophet Zechariah promised, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1). Paul reiterated the same message in Romans 11:26: “And so all Israel shall be saved.” God also promised to “remove the iniquity of that land [Israel] in one day” (Zech. 3:9). When the Jewish people see Jesus coming, their sorrow will be changed to joy as they experience His cleansing.
Sadly, the Scriptures also relate that two-thirds of the Jewish people in the land of Israel will perish in the Tribulation. But for those who live to the end of that period, salvation will come quickly. When they see the Lord coming, they will cry out for mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. They will look to the one who was pierced for them. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for look in Zechariah is the same word God used to tell the Israelites to look at the serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness (Num. 21:8–9). That look delivered them from a plague. This look will deliver them from sin and eternal separation from God. There will be true rejoicing.
His Coming Will Gather the Elect (v. 31)
Angels will be dispatched to the earth at Jesus’ Second Coming, just as they were at His first coming. Their mission will be to gather the “elect” from all over the earth.
Much controversy surrounds the doctrine of election, and it is not my desire to add fuel to that fire. However, to understand the truth of verse 31, the word elect must be considered in the context of this passage.
In Isaiah 45:4 God calls Israel His “elect.” In other passages (e.g., Ps. 105:6; Isa. 41:8; 43:20) God calls Israel His “chosen.” Not only is this word used of Israel, but, in a narrower sense, it is used of that godly remnant of Jews who are faithful to the Lord in the midst of their people. This concept is found three times in Isaiah 65. One illustration is in verse 9: “And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there” (italics added). This seed will not be all of Israel, but a group from within the nation.
It is plain that the church will not be present at that time. It will have been raptured long before. That angelic gathering will take place with the sound of the trumpet, and believing Jews worldwide, along with believing Gentiles, will be gathered to Him. What a day that will be!
The events described in Matthew 24 could occur very soon. God gave the prophetic Scriptures to prompt believers to holy living and draw unbelievers to Himself. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to do His will in our lives in light of these truths.