(1) “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye [shall] see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” John 14:19 Here is a plain statement by Jesus just prior to his death and resurrection that the world would never again see him. Then he adds that “ye,” the apostles and all the church, would see him again. Why? Because “ye shall live also.” Just as Christ was resurrected, so his faithful followers will be raised at his second advent. “The world seeth me no more.” When Christ returns, the world will not see him with the literal eye, but his followers will literally see him when they are caught up together with him in their resurrection bodies. 1 John 3:2
(2) Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that the glorified Christ is the express image of the Father’s person. Colossians 1:15 speaks of Christ, “who is the image of the invisible God.” These scriptures show that when Christ ascended into the presence of God, he was the exact image of the Father. From 1 Timothy 6:16 we learn that
 Christ is “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen,
nor can see.” If no man can see Christ after his ascension because he is the exact glorious image of the Heavenly Father, then no man can see the returned Christ of glory.
(3) Acts 22:6-8 and 11-14 record that a mere glimpse of the glorified Christ completely blinded Saul of Tarsus. It required the power of God through Ananias to even partially restore Saul’s sight. (Acts 9:17, 18)
(4) Luke 17:20 reveals King Jesus will return unobserved at his second presence of Christ, when he returns to set up his kingdom. Verse 20 states, “The Kingdom of God
cometh not with observation.” If Christ’s return were visible to man, then the Kingdom of God would come visibly.
Literal, or Symbolic
These four scriptures show that the glorified Christ will not and cannot be seen at his return. Yet Revelation 1:7 and Matthew 24:30 seem to indicate that all mankind will see the returned Lord. Will this be by literal sight or by mental perception (as, for example, when we say, “I see [understand] what you mean”)?
As Christians, we cannot afford to base our conclusions upon one set of scriptures and ignore other scriptures that do not fit with our views. We must accept the challenge: “Study to show thyself approved unto God…rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” The only valid way to ascertain the correct view of any Biblical doctrine is to collate all the scriptures on a given subject and then rightly divide them, that is, harmonize them. Only then can we be sure of the correct understanding. When all the scriptures on a given subject are brought together, they will harmonize. They will not contradict.
It is generally admitted that some scriptures are symbolic. For example, the
fig tree of Matthew 24:32 represents the nation of
Israel, and the eagles of Luke 17:37 symbolize faithful
Christians. The question is: How do we determine if a passage is literal or symbolic? Whenever a literal interpretation does violence to reason or places the passage
 in direct antagonism to plain statements of Scripture, it is a good indication that the passage should be considered figuratively, and its interpretation as a symbol should be sought in harmony with obviously plain and literal passages.
John 14:19; 1 Timothy 6:16; Acts 22:6-8, 11-14, and Luke 17:20 are all plain statements to the effect that the returned Lord cannot and will not be seen by the human eye. These scriptures should be read and reread. They are literal statements that cannot be taken symbolically.
Now for a consideration of Matthew 24:30-31 and Revelation 1:7 which speak of all mankind seeing the returned Lord: Are they literal or symbolic? In both texts, the Greek word translated “see” is optanomai. The following definition is from
An Expository Dictionary of New Testament
Words, by W. E. Vine:
Optanomai—to see; used (a) objectively, with reference to person or thing seen, or (b) subjectively, with reference to an inward impression or a spiritual experience or a mental occupation.
Thus, we see optanomai can mean either literal sight or mental perception. The following examples demonstrate how the Greek word
optanomai is used in Scripture to denote mental understanding.
Luke 3:6 — “And all flesh shall
see [optanomai] the salvation of God.” [One doesn't literally see salvation, one understands it.]
John 1:51 — “And he [Jesus] saith unto him [Nathanael], Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall
see [optanomai] heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” [Nathanael never literally saw this. In an allusion to Jacob’s ladder, Jesus is saying that the Son of man would become the real ladder of communication between heaven and earth.]
Revelation 19:10 — “And he said unto me,
See [optanomai] thou do it not.”
Matthew 27:4 — “…And they said…see [optanomai] thou to that.”
Matthew 27:24 — “…I am innocent…see [optanomai] ye to it.”
These scriptures prove that the Bible uses
optanomai, translated “see” in Matthew 24:30-31 and Revelation 1:7, in a symbolic sense to denote mental understanding.
A thoughtful reading of Matthew 24:30-31 and Revelation 1:7 reveals terminology that lends itself to symbols and, in fact, are often used in the Bible as symbols. For example, in Matthew 24:30-31, words that frequently are used symbolically are here italicized.
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 [optanomai] 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.
This scripture cannot be taken literally. Any concept with which it is harmonized requires a symbolic interpretation. Some apply this scripture to the living saints being caught up with Christ to heaven. But here they are gathered “from one end of heaven to the other.” If understood literally, the saints would already be in heaven when Christ returns, and this scripture would teach that the saints are taken at that time out of heaven and not to heaven. This rules out a literal interpretation of Matthew 24:30-31.
It also says that they are gathered from the “four winds.” Are the saints gathered from four literal winds? Those who teach the rapture concept recognize this problem and symbolize the four winds and the word “heaven” in verse 31 to mean that the church will be gathered from all parts of the earth. However, this presents a greater problem. By what rule can we arbitrarily symbolize the word “heaven” in verse 31, yet insist that it is literal in
 verse 30 where it mentions “the sign of the Son of man in heaven” and “coming in the clouds of heaven”?
Matthew 24:30-31 is either literal or symbolic; it cannot be both. A literal application does not make sense. Therefore, both verses must be consistently symbolic.
Symbolic Meaning of Matthew 24:30-31
Heaven and heavens are often symbolic of corrupt religious systems (2 Peter 3:5-10; Isaiah 34:4-5; Joel 2:9-11).
See can denote mental perception (Luke 3:6; John 1:51; Revelation 19:10; Matthew 27:4, 24).
Clouds often represent trouble as in Joel 2:1-2, a parallel text of Matthew 24:30-31.
The word angels
is translated from the Greek word aggelos which literally means messenger and often refers to any messenger of God (Revelation 2 and 3, the seven angels or messengers to the church).
Trumpets are often used to denote a proclamation of truth (1 Corinthians 14:8; Joel 2:1).
With these symbols in mind the explanation of Matthew 24:30-31 becomes meaningful. The Master tells us in verse 30 that one of the first signs or evidences of Christ’s return will be in heaven, that is, in the corrupt religious systems. Verse 29 speaks of the powers of the heavens shaking.
Agnostic revolutionary influences have infiltrated the churches. The resultant battle between the fundamentalist and modernist has sorely rent the church “heavens.” Since Vatican II, Catholicism is being similarly shaken. The Son of man comes in “clouds of heaven,” that is, during this trouble that is shaking the churches. The Luke account includes “distress of nations with perplexity.”
This worldwide trouble in both the churches and the nations will increase in intensity until all the people of the earth mourn because of it. Finally, “they shall see [discern] the Son of man coming in the clouds” of trouble; that is, they will realize that the trouble is the result of our Lord’s return. While the heavens
 (nominal churches) of Matthew 24:30 are being shaken, verse 31 reveals that the returned Lord will “send his angels [messengers] with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect—from one end of heaven [corrupt church systems] to the other.” Revelation 18:1-4, a parallel passage, further confirms that this trumpet is a proclamation of truth. Through this great proclamation of the truth, faithful servants of God will call the Lord’s people out of Babylon.
Symbolic Meaning of Revelation 1:7
“Behold, he cometh with clouds [in a time of trouble] and every eye shall see [optanomai, discern] him [as the trouble intensifies, it will become evident that the day of God’s wrath has come], and they also which pierced him [the Jewish nation will especially discern Christ’s presence in the final phase of the time of trouble when they are delivered from an invasion of many nations—Ezekiel 38, 39; Zechariah 12:10]: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him [as the day of wrath intensifies, all will experience much sorrow and anguish].”
Revelation 1:7 cannot be taken literally since those who literally pierced Jesus have long since died. If “they also which pierced him” is symbolic of the living Jewish people, then the “clouds” and “every eye” seeing him must also be symbolic.
Thus, we find that the Bible does not contradict itself. Many scriptures plainly state that the returned Lord cannot be literally seen by man. In harmony with this, the few scriptures that refer to mankind literally seeing the returned Christ are symbolic and denote a mental discernment of Christ’s presence.
A more detailed scriptural proof of the symbolic explanation of Matthew 24:30-31, Revelation 1:7, and all other scriptures in which the word “see” denotes mental perception of Christ’s return, will be found in
Appendix B.