In the Fulness of Time/Part 139

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2011
A series of occurrences come to pass in somewhat rapid succession immediately after the end of the tribulation period. To list them all, obviously, would involve a major study of eschatology. Matthew’s gospel is limited to several significant things summarizing the return of Christ to the earth.

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The Coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:29-31

Mt. 24:29-31 “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, 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, 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.”

A series of occurrences come to pass in somewhat rapid succession immediately after the end of the tribulation period. To list them all, obviously, would involve a major study of eschatology. Matthew’s gospel is limited to several significant things summarizing the return of Christ to the earth. First, there will be a celestial blackout (the fourth of five such wonders) which is associated with the gathering of the nations to war against Israel: “I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will judge them there for my people and for my heritage, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and they have parted my land…. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision, for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The LORD also shall roar out of Zion and utter his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake” (Joel 3:2; 14-16). This invasion by the LORD is also reiterated in the book of Revelation: “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations (Revelation 19:15).

Matthew’s account then lists the appearance of Christ as: “the sign of the Son of man in heaven” (24:30), which Robertson explained as “the sign which is the Son of man, an appositional genitive” (Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930. Vol. 1, p. 183). Our Lord Himself is the sign, and His appearance will be “with power and great glory,” no doubt referring to the Shekinah glory manifested by Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:4 when: “his face did shine like the sun, and his raiment was as white as the light” as another proof of His Messiahship. In connection with this appearance: “then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.” Certainly this can be connected with Zechariah 12:10-14, where Israel mourns for Messiah as for a firstborn son, and where the kingly tribe of David, the prophetic family of Nathan, and the priestly family of Levi are pointed out specifically as mourning. Isaiah 66:10-12 looks to the wider mourning of all the nations: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all ye that love her; rejoice with joy for her, all ye that mourn for her…. Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations, like a flowing stream.”

Finally, Christ assures His disciples that Israel shall be regathered and restored. It is clear that He is not speaking of the Rapture of the Church, since He sends his angels with the sound of a trumpet; at the Rapture, He Himself comes to meet His Bride, the Church, in the air, not on the earth. As noted, Israel is called God’s “elect” in Isaiah 45:4, and is spoken of as being called from the various lands “when the great trumpet shall be blown,” so that neither of these things point to the Church in the Jewish context of Matthew 24. As further proof of this, Isaiah 66:8 speaks of Israel being born as a nation as soon as her travail is over: “Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in a day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” This corresponds with the prophecy of the apostle Paul in Romans 11:25-27, that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be brought in. And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”

Seven Illustrations of His Coming. Matthew 24:32-25:30

Having taken His disciples chronically through the 70th “Week” for Israel, up to the time of His return in power and great glory, Jesus then proceeded to give this series of seven illustrations dealing with His coming back to earth. It is necessary to be reminded that He was speaking in a Jewish context in answer to their questions as Jews, concerning things pertaining to His coming with regard to Israel. Thus, to bring into this discussion any doctrine concerning the specific destiny of the Church saints would have been confusing, to say the least. He did not even begin to make promises about the Church and the coming of the Holy Spirit until two days later in His Upper Room Discourse in John 14-17. It was only then that Jesus made any mention of His coming to receive them unto Himself: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). At that time, as Paul wrote: “the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). But here in the Olivet Discourse there is nothing like this revealed, since this message concerns Israel (Matthew 24:1-25:30), and then the Gentile nations in Matthew 25:31-46.

Illustration 1. The Fig Tree: No Doubt of His Coming. 24:32-35

24: 32-35 “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When its branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near; So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

This is to be taken as a natural illustration of that which happens seasonally to a fig tree. When leaves begin to form on the tender branches, it is certain that summer is near. Just as certainly, when “all these things” of the Tribulation Period (24:4-28) occur, then it will be certain that the glorious event of the return of Christ “is near, even at the doors.” But what did Jesus mean when He said that: “This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled”? This statement could not have referred to the generation living in Christ’s day, that is, those who might be living to see the destruction of Jerusalem. As bad as that destruction was, it could not even come close to a fulfillment of all the things mentioned by Christ. Nor could it be the nation of Israel spoken of as a “generation” in the sense of a “race of people.” This would have been redundant, to say the least! Jesus had already told them that there would be some Jews who would endure to the end of the Tribulation (24:13), that some would be preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom right up to the end of that “age” (24:14) and that He would send His angels to gather His elect from the four winds (24:31). Since He was talking to Jews about some who would be deceived about false Messiahs and false prophets, they would have already had every reason to believe that Israel as a “generation” would continue in existence until He returned in power and great glory!

Therefore, what the word “generationdoes mean in this context of His prophecies about Israel, is that things will happen so swiftly and surely that the actual generation of those people who observe the beginning of the birth pangs will live to see the consummation “of all things” pertaining to the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the 70th “Week” of Tribulation: “spoken of by Daniel the Prophet” (Matthew 24:15).

As further certainty, Jesus added that, through all the changes in the celestial and terrestrial, through the darkening of the sun, moon and stars, the shaking of heaven and earth, the groaning of creation would give way, and “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), nevertheless, His words, all of them, including all the prophecies, will be fulfilled, “In the fulness of time!”

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