Matthew 24:30-31 — “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.”
As has been shown on pages 44 and 45, Matthew 24:30-31 cannot be taken literally. The following is a scriptural analysis of the symbols in this highly figurative passage.
Heaven and Heavens
Discussing the destruction during “The Day of The Lord,” Isaiah 34:2-5, 8 states that “all the host [multitude] of heaven shall be dissolved…and shall fall down…for my sword shall be bathed.” (Verses 4 and 5) The literal heavens do not contain a multitude of people. But the people in the symbolic heavens (the corrupt religious systems) will be punished (symbolized by his sword drenched in blood) by the returned Lord. Joel 2:9-11 describes The Day of the Lord in which a great army causes the earth to “quake” and the heavens to “tremble.” Literal heavens do not tremble before an army, but revolutionary forces will terrify and overthrow the nominal church heavens. The heavens of Joel 2:10 are the same as in Matthew 24:29-31, for in the heavens of both scriptures the sun and the moon are symbolically darkened.
Joel 2, a parallel scripture to Matthew 24:29-31, reveals that clouds symbolize trouble. In Joel 2:1-2 there is reference to the “clouds” that become distressingly ominous in the early dawn of the Lord’s new day. “A day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains;
a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations.”
Note from this that the “clouds” which appear in the early dawning of the day of the Lord’s presence really consist of “a great people and a strong,” the like of which has never before been known. This is a reference to the uprising of armed forces so tremendous that civilization will crumble and fall under the impact of the revolutionary struggle they precipitate. These clouds of trouble are even now visible.
The Greek word optanomai can mean mental perception. (See Appendix
The word “angel” in the Greek, aggelos, literally means “messenger.” Often it refers to the angelic host, but it can just as appropriately refer to any messenger of God. For example, the returned Christ is symbolized by an angel that binds Satan for the 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3).
The word “trumpet” is used in scripture to symbolize a proclamation of truth. In the context of speaking the truth clearly, Paul said, “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (2 Corinthians 14:8) Again, Joel 2 parallels Matthew 24:30-31 and reveals the symbolic meaning of this trumpet. Joel 2:1 says that it is a proclamation of truth that warns the people of The Day of The Lord. In Zephaniah 1:14 and 16, The Day of The Lord is spoken of as the “day of the trumpet” in which a warning of truth is given “against the fenced cities, and against the high towers [vested interests of the present evil world].”
The trumpet in Matthew 24:31 is the same as the “last trump” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and “the trump of God” in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, since all three are related to the return of Christ. This trumpet is symbolic of a great proclamation of truth at Christ’s return.
Revelation 7:1 speaks of winds from the four corners of the earth that, when loosed, result in great destruction. Loosing of
four winds would produce a whirlwind, which is another symbol used in scripture to describe the final and severest phase of the “time of trouble” (Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 25:32; Isaiah 66:15-16).
After determining from parallel scriptures the meaning of the symbols in this highly figurative passage, Matthew 24:29-31 becomes easily understood. In answer to the disciples’ query on the signs of his presence (Matthew 24:3), Jesus listed a number of events that have always been true throughout history: “wars and rumours of wars;” “nation shall rise against nation;” “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes.” Then Jesus said, “All these are the beginning of sorrows [or tribulation].” These are not unusual events; they are common to history.
Then in Matthew 24:29 Jesus says, “Immediately after the tribulation of
those days [the common tribulation of history]” something is going to happen in the heavens. “The
powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” Drastic changes will rock the
nominal church heavens.
“The sun [the gospel sun] shall be darkened, and the moon
[Mosaic Law] shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven.” The Gospel (New Testament) and the Mosaic Law (Old Testament) were always under attack from those outside the church. Revelation 12:1 shows the sun and the moon have always been the sustaining power of the woman, the true church. But the phenomenon of our time is that the Bible (Sun and Moon) is under attack from modernists within the church who deny the divine inspiration of Scripture. A survey taken among delegates to the National Council of Churches revealed that over one-third could not state they had a firm belief in God.
Stars can symbolize either faithful or unfaithful teachers. These “stars” which “fall from heaven” represent
false teachers who gravitate from a spiritual to an earthly ministry on a political and social level. Indeed, the powers of the heavens are shaking. The battle between the fundamentalist and modernist has sorely rent the church heavens. The God-is-dead theology was but one example of this shaking. Since Vatican II, Catholicism is also being sorely rent.
Matthew 24:30: “And then [after the tribulation of those days] shall appear the sign [Greek,
semeion, evidence] of the Son of man in heaven.” One of the first evidences of Christ’s
parousia, presence, will appear in the nominal church heavens. It is the symbolic darkening of the sun and moon, and the fall of the stars. When we see a wholesale attack by leaders in the churches on the divine inspiration of the Bible, and ministers falling from a spiritual condition to a political or social gospel, then we know that Christ has returned.
From Joel 2:9-11, we saw that it is agnostic revolutionary forces that are shaking the heavens. Indeed, their philosophies have influenced theologians to reject the Bible and degenerate to political battle. This was reflected in the recommendation of the Conference on Church and Society (Detroit, 1968) that the churches should support violence if necessary to achieve social change. These revolutionary philosophies are also shaking the earth.
Revolution has been on the march since the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces erupted into World War II. Then followed the Communist takeover of one-third of the world. The flame of revolution spread throughout Africa and Asia as oppressed nations threw off the yoke of colonialism. We have witnessed the black revolution, the sex revolution, and the youth revolution of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. No wonder the Luke account (Luke 21:25-26), when speaking of the shaking of the heavens, adds, “Upon
the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves [the restless and lawless elements] roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on
the earth [society]; for the powers of heaven [nominal church] shall be shaken.”
The roaring sea and waves symbolize the restless masses of humanity (Isa. 57:20), curbed but not fully restrained by the laws and regulations of society. Everyone has heard some of this “roaring,” with occasional stormy outbreaks dashing like tidal waves against the earth (social order) and seeking to swallow it up. Restrained for a time, these waves are gathering weight and force. As prophetically shown, it is only a matter of time until all the mountains (kingdoms) are “carried into the midst of the sea,” into anarchy. Psalm 46:2
In this connection Matthew 24:30 says, “all the tribes of the earth mourn” as they “see” the Son of man coming in the “clouds
[trouble] of heaven” (and “earth,” Luke). This unprecedented trouble has caused all mankind to mourn. They are experiencing the world shattering before them. Mankind sees the clouds of trouble. Many even discern these drastic changes as birth pangs that must precede a new world order. As the trouble intensifies, they will begin to discern the Son of man in the clouds of trouble and recognize that the “great tribulation” will give birth to the Kingdom of Christ on earth.
While the heavens (nominal churches) of Matthew 24:29 are experiencing a great shaking, verse 31 shows a harvest work in progress. “And he [Christ] shall send his
angels [messengers] with a great sound of a trumpet
[truth], and they shall gather together his elect from the four
winds, from one end of heaven [nominal churches] to the other.”
Zephaniah 1:14, 16 reveals that “the day of the Lord” is also “a day of the
trumpet.” This rules out a literal trumpet that sounds momentarily, and confirms a symbolic trumpet of truth that sounds for a period of time.
Matthew 24:31 describes a great gathering of the elect, the church (1 Peter 1:2), that is accomplished by a
proclamation of truth (trumpet) during Christ’s presence. This is a reference to the harvest work at the end of the Gospel Age which is described in detail in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. Here Jesus says that the angels are the reapers that gather the
wheat (faithful Christians). Reapers do not refer to spirit angels, but to the
Lord’s people who engage in the harvest work. Matthew 9:38
Since tares look like wheat, the lesson is that the angels (messengers of the returned Lord) will do a separating work, not between the church and the world, but in the nominal church, the present “heavens.”
This work is represented under various symbolic descriptions—it is the gathering of the wheat from the tares into the barn (Matthew 13:30); it is the gathering of the good fish into baskets and the casting of the unsuitable fish caught in the gospel net back into the sea (Matthew 13:47-49); it is the gathering of his jewels (Malachi 3:17); it is the calling of “my people” out of Babylon (Revelation 18:4); it is the midnight cry to the virgins, which separate the wise from the foolish (Matthew 25:6); and, in this prophecy, it is the gathering of the “elect” from all the non-elect of Christendom, from the four winds—from every quarter.
We are not to expect spirit angels to appear with wings and to fly through the air blowing a great trumpet, and here and there catching away some of the saints—no more than we are to expect to become literal fish to be put into literal baskets, or literal grains of wheat to be put into a literal barn. The angels or messengers used by our Lord in this harvest gathering will be such messengers as he has used in his service throughout this age—earthly servants, begotten of his holy Spirit, “new creatures” in Christ Jesus.
This “gathering of his elect [the church] from the four winds” means that this gathering will be accomplished before the four winds are completely loosed and become a whirlwind. The harvest work will be completed before the whirlwind, or final feature of the time of trouble, takes place. The elect are gathered “from one end of heaven to the other,” that is, out of all the nominal churches.
The harvest work of Matthew 13 and Matthew 24:31 is the same work of Revelation 18:1-4. Here the returned Christ gathers his faithful people out of Babylon (heavens, nominal churches) and provides them with a rich spiritual feast of present truth. Thus, by rightly dividing the word of Truth—comparing the symbols of Matthew 24:29-31 with symbols in parallel scriptures—the Bible becomes its own interpreter.
Revelation 1:7 is also often used to prove that every one will literally see the returned Christ. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see (optanomai) him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.”
The word “see” in the Greek is optanomai, which we have already seen can mean either mental perception or literal sight. This verse cannot be taken literally, since those who literally pierced Jesus have long since died. The Jewish people living on the earth when Christ returns did not literally pierce him. If “they which pierced him” is symbolic, then the “clouds” and “every eye” seeing him must be symbolic.
Christ returns in clouds of trouble. As the time of trouble reaches its climax, every eye, all mankind, will begin to discern that the trouble is the result of Christ’s invisible presence.
“They which pierced him” at Calvary are symbolic of the
Jewish people living at Christ’s return. Zechariah 12:10 shows that one of the final features of the time of trouble will be an invasion of the modern state of Israel. Israel’s deliverance from this invasion by the returned Christ will cause them to discern that Christ is present.
During the time of trouble, “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” The time of trouble is the direct result of Christ’s presence. As it grows in severity, all mankind will lament until they finally discern that it is an evidence of Christ’s presence.
Another scripture sometimes misapplied to literal sight is Matthew 26:64. Speaking to the High Priest, Jesus said, “hereafter shall ye see [optanomai] the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” The Greek word translated “see” is
optanomai, which here means mental perception. If this scripture is literal, then the High Priest will be living on earth when Christ returns, which is literally impossible. The High Priest Caiaphas was representative of the whole Jewish nation. As we have seen in the previous scripture, the returned Lord will be revealed to the Jewish nation in a very special way during the time of trouble—clouds.
Luke 13:35 says “Ye shall not see [eido] me, until the time come when we shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The Greek word here translated “see” is
eido. Eido can also denote mental perception or literal sight.
(Strong’s Concordance defines
eido as to see literally or figuratively.) The Jewish nation was cast off from special favor by these words of judgment pronounced by Jesus. But as Zechariah 12:10-14 shows, they will repent of their denial of Christ and see (discern) and experience the second presence of Christ and become a leading nation in Christ’s Kingdom.
Acts 1:11 is another scripture sometimes used to prove that the returned Lord will be seen by the literal eye. “…Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in
like manner, as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11 does not say as you see the Lord ascend into heaven, so in like manner shall you see him come again. It does not say that those who saw him go will see him come, nor that anyone else will see him come.
What Acts 1:11 does say is that the manner of his coming will be like the manner of his going. The manner was
not with great splendor and great demonstration, trumpet sounds and voices, a great shout rending the air and the Lord’s person shining in supernatural glory and brightness. But the manner was
quietly, secretly, none seeing him leave or knowing of the fact, except his faithful
followers. The world did not see him go, or even know he was going, and they didn’t care. Thus, only the church at first will discern his presence.
From a careful consideration of the scriptures in this appendix it becomes evident that the texts cannot be taken literally. They support the concept that all mankind will eventually see, mentally discern, the invisible presence of Christ.