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The Sign of the Son of man

Query for the Month

of February 2002


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Matthew 24:

21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened… 

29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 

What is this great “tribulation” and what is the “sign of the Son of man”?


The text comes from a discussion held by Jesus and His disciples as they sat on the side of the Mount of Olives on the afternoon of the day before the crucifixion.

In this talk Jesus answered a question put to Him by the disciples. 

Matthew 24:

1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and His disciples came to him for to show Him the buildings of the temple [How great it was, set up to the glory of God]. 2 And Jesus said to them [sadly], “See you not all these things?  Verily I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” [God is not in this house, Luke 13:35]

3 And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when shall these things be?  And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?”

In their minds the two things were synonymous - they thought that the destruction of the temple could only be at the end of the world.  Because of this, and because He knew that they could not accept the whole truth at that time, Jesus gave an answer in which He covered both events. It was soon to be the end of their world, the end of the Jewish dispensation, but not yet the end of the whole world.

We now know from history that the temple was destroyed about 40 years after the talk, in the year 70AD, when Roman soldiers burnt it to the ground and then ploughed up the earth in an effort to recover the melted gold.  Not one stone was left upon another.  All that survives today is a portion of one of the outer courtyard walls.

Therefore to get the complete context of His thought we need to read through the chapter in two distinct modes - one with the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD in mind, and the other with the thought of the end of the world which is yet to happen. (There is another application of the prophecy which spans the whole 2,000+ years of history, but that has no place in our present discussion.  As we read we should think either already fulfilled, or going to be.)

Everything mentioned between verses 4 and 28 has already happened in the experiences of the early church, and it was all completed by about the year 300AD, a period of about 250 years.  However, everything in those verses also has a place in another line which extends from the repeating of a certain message (Matthew 24:14;  Revelation 10:10-11) to some unspecified time in the future, but certainly a much shorter period.  In one generation, in fact.  Matthew 24:34.

Thus the first "time of tribulation" came when Christians were proscribed by the state as outlaws and burnt at the stake or fed to the lions in Roman amphitheatres in those early centuries.   It came before and after the flight of the Christians from the doomed city in the year 70AD. Matthew 24:16-20.  It came first from their own church, the Jewish system, and then from the worldwide governing state of the time, Imperial Rome.

The second "time of tribulation" also begins before, and continues after, a flight by the true Christians in the last days.  Before the time to flee comes there will be a series of worldwide laws which will end in classifying non-conformist Christians as enemies of the various states of the entire world.  They are non-conformists in that they do not agree with church/state combinations in which everyone, regardless of personal experience, is classed as a believer from birth (usually though christening).

Isaiah 66:

5 Hear the word of the LORD, you that tremble at His word; “Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for My name's sake, said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified’ [called themselves His followers]: but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.”

  6 [Then there will be] A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that renders recompense to His enemies. 

Unlike the first centuries there will not be any safe place for them anywhere in this world, and they must therefore find their protection only in God during the time of trouble. 

He will say to them:-

Isaiah 26:

20 “Come, My people, enter you into your chambers, and shut your doors about you: hide yourself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. 21 For, behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.”

And they will answer:

Psalm 27:

4 One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple [the sanctuary in heaven]. 5 For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion [the second apartment]: in the secret [place] of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a Rock.

During that time of law-making they will be subjected to increasingly rigorous persecution as mentioned in verses 21-22 of Matthew 24, while at the same time being harassed by many people claiming to be the returning Christ.  These "advents" will be accompanied by many undeniable wonders and unexplainable (to the general public) miracles. See Verse 24 and Revelation 13:13-14.

So strong will these illusions become that unless each person is totally fortified by the word of God regarding the "sign of the Son of man", they will be deceived through one or another counterfeit into believing that Christ has come.  Verses 11 and 24.  Many professed Christians will give up and accept.  Verses 12-13.  As a precaution against this deception Jesus told us that there will be a series of signs which it will be impossible for Satan to copy, before the real advent.  Verses 29-30.

First, the sun will go out temporarily, which event will also affect the moon's shining; then the stars in the sky will appear to fall and the "powers of the heavens shall be shaken" as the earth rocks to and fro.  Verse 29.  These signs will occur in a very short space of time at the end of the first four of the seven last plagues.  Revelation 18:8.

Because the first four plagues will occur in different parts of the world at different times, repeating themselves over a period, they will not readily be identified for what they are.  The "grievous sore" (Revelation 16:2), the pools of "blood" in the salt water and then in the fresh water supplies (Revelation 16:3-4), followed by intense heat causing major droughts (verse 8), will all appear relatively "normal" to those who live in those days.  Because the last plagues are just that, the LAST, there will have been a series of major incidents before them into which they will merge for a while. 

However, when the sun "goes out" (Revelation 16:10) then the people of God will know where and when they are. The intense blackness, similar to that in Egypt during the plagues of the exodus, will be something not easily ignored for it will be all over the world at the same time. See Exodus 10:21-23.  Even the normal night will change when the daylight portion of the earth is plunged in to darkness. It is not often that any of the inhabitants of the earth are in a situation where they cannot see their hand before their face (it does happen when caving), but this will be true of all at this time regardless of their position on the globe. 

This is that "midnight" which so often characterises the stories of the second coming, as illustrated in Exodus 11:4-5.  That intense darkness will be interrupted and lifted by the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven.  He will personally announce the details of the day and the hour of the second coming.  Some will understand the voice and others will think that it is thunder.  (Compare John 12:28-29.)

Matthew 24:

35 [Jesus said], “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour knows [makes known] no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.”

37 “But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, 39 and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

So the Christians will know a day or so BEFORE the event that it is near (they are told the day and the hour!  e.g.  "Tomorrow at 3pm").  In this way their "tribulation" will be shortened. They will then be on the lookout for the promised sign while the people of the world will still not appreciate what is going on. (Noah knew that he was in the ark while the general population did not know what was happening.)

Any talk today of Christ coming suddenly in the night while we are asleep is referring to the fact that some might die during their slumber and pass into the sleep of death, and then be resurrected at the last day.  Therefore for them the time of the second advent will appear to have occurred overnight. It will NOT happen that way to the living Christians of the last generation, for they will be well aware of the time sequences.

Let's go over that again!

The last religious laws will condemn all non-conforming Christians to death as outlaws.

The people of God - some in prison cells, some hidden in solitary retreats in the forests and the mountains – will still be pleading for divine protection, while in every quarter companies of armed men, urged on by hosts of evil angels, are beside them preparing to anticipate  the death decree. It is then, in the hour of utmost extremity, that the God of Israel will interpose for the deliverance of His chosen. Says the LORD;

Isaiah 30:29-30

"You shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goes... to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the Mighty One of Israel. And the LORD shall cause His glorious voice to be heard, and shall show the lighting down of His arm, with the indignation of His anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones."

With shouts of triumph, the hordes of evil men and women will be about to rush upon their prey, when, lo, a dense blackness (the fifth plague, Revelation 16:10-11), deeper than the darkness of the night, will fall upon the earth. Then a rainbow, shining with the glory from the throne of God, will span the heavens and seem to encircle each praying company. The angry multitudes will be suddenly halted. Their mocking cries will die away. The objects of their murderous rage will be forgotten. With fearful forebodings they will gaze upon the symbol of God's covenant (Genesis 9:12-13), and long to be shielded from its overpowering brightness.

In the midst of the angry heavens there will be one clear space of indescribable glory, through which will come the voice of God Almighty like the sound of many waters giving the time of the second advent, and saying: "It is done." Revelation 16:17. 

That voice will shake the earth. There will be a mighty earthquake, "such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great." Verses 17, 18 . The sky will appear to open and shut like a scroll.  The mountains will shake like reeds in the wind, and ragged rocks will be scattered on every side. The whole earth will heave and swell like the waves of the sea. Its surface will break up. Its very foundations will seem to be giving way, for it has "waxed old like a garment".  See Isaiah 51:6.  Mountain chains will sink. Inhabited islands will disappear. The seaports that have become like Sodom for wickedness will be swallowed up by the angry waters.

It is at this point that the rejecters of God's grace will realise that they have lost the rebellion.  True to their satanic nature, they will blame, not themselves, but those who led them into the situation.  They will then turn upon the various religious leaders they have trusted and try to kill them instead of the Christians.  In this way the "waters" of the river of Babylon are "dried up" and the support for false religion collapses. This is the sixth plague.  Revelation 17:15 and 16:12.

Babylon the great, made up of the united religions of the world, will then come in remembrance before God, "to give to her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath." Revelation 16:19.  Great hailstones, every one "about the weight of a talent [about 20kg]," which began to fall from their position in space when the sun darkened, will be doing their work of destruction. Verses 19, 21; Job 38:22-23.

The proudest cities of the earth will be laid low. The lordly palaces, upon which the world's great men have lavished their wealth in order to glorify themselves, will be crumbling to ruin before their eyes.  By these same stones prison walls are to be broken down, and God's people, who have been held in bondage for their faith, are to be set free.  All this will happen in the space of one day!  Revelation 18:8.

Graves will then be opened, and "many [but not all] of them that sleep in the dust of the earth. . . awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Daniel 12:2. This is a special resurrection before the main one and is composed of two types of people.  All who have died while correctly giving the final message will come forth from their tombs glorified, to hear God's covenant of peace with those who have kept His law, and to see Jesus come.

"They also which pierced Him" (Revelation 1:7), those that mocked and derided Christ's dying agonies, and the most violent opposers in history of His truth and His people, are also to be raised to behold Him in His glory and to see the honour placed upon the loyal and obedient.  Then will be fulfilled the promise Jesus made to them.

Matthew 23:

39 For I say to you, You shall not see Me henceforth, till [even] you shall say, "Blessed is He that comes in the name of the LORD."  See Romans 14:11.

Isaiah 2:10-12, 20, 21, margin

"In that day a man shall cast the idols of his silver, and the idols of his gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake terribly the earth."

Then there will appear against the sky a Hand holding two tablets of stone folded together. Says the prophet: "The heavens shall declare His righteousness: for God is judge Himself." Psalm 50:6. That holy law, God's righteousness, that amid thunder and flame was proclaimed from Mt. Sinai as the guide of life, will now be revealed to men as the rule of judgment.  Exodus 20:1-17. The Hand will open the tablets, and there will be seen the Ten Commandments, traced as with a pen of fire. The words will be so plain that all can read them. Memory will be aroused, the darkness of superstition and heresy swept from every mind, and God's ten words, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, will be presented to the view of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Soon there will appear in the east a small black cloud, about half the size of a man's hand.  Matthew 24:30. It will be the cloud of angels which surrounds the Saviour and which seems in the distance to be shrouded in darkness. The people of God will know this to be the sign of the Son of man as He told Caiaphas the high priest,  

Mark 14:

61 But [first] He held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, and said to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am: and you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” 

Later, the same message was given to His followers.

Acts 1:

9 And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He [slowly] went up, behold, two men [angel messengers] stood by them in white apparel; 11 which also said, “You men of Galilee, why stand you gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven.” 

In solemn silence the people of God will gaze upon the sign as it draws nearer and nearer the earth, becoming lighter and more glorious, until it becomes a great white cloud, its base a glory like consuming fire, and above it the rainbow of the covenant.

Jesus will ride forth as a mighty conqueror. Not now a "Man of Sorrows," to drink the bitter cup of shame and woe, this time He comes, victor in heaven and earth, to judge the living and the dead. "Faithful and True," "in righteousness He judges and make war." And "the armies which were in heaven" follow Him. Revelation 19:11, 14.  With anthems of celestial melody the holy angels, a vast, unnumbered throng, escort Him on His way. The sky will seem filled with radiant forms - "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." Revelation 5:11.

No human pen can really portray the scene; no mortal mind is adequate to conceive its splendour. "His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. And His brightness was as the light." Habakkuk 3:3-4. As the living cloud comes still nearer, every eye will behold the Prince of life. No crown of thorns now mars that sacred head; but a crown of glory will rest on His holy brow. His countenance will outshine the dazzling brightness of the noonday sun. "And He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and LORD of lords." Revelation 19:16.

The earth will tremble before Him, and every mountain and island will be moved out of its place. "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about Him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people." Psalm 50:3-4. 

Revelation 6:15-17

"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?'"

This is the sign of the Son of man!


The tribulation is the last battle in the war when Satan will try to eliminate all the true Christians through religious laws made at the request of the false religions. 

The sign of the Son of man is the slowly approaching cloud of angels who surround Jesus.  This cannot be counterfeited.  Its slow, measured, approach is a guarantee that the end has come!


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Next thought. To be discussed from March 1st 2002.

Galatians 5:

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would.

18 But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

Just what do these words mean to the Christian?

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