It’s January 9, and unless you’re totally off the grid, you’ve been exposed to articles and blog posts telling you what to expect in 2022: Will the markets go up or down? What will be the significant changes in technology? What can we expect regarding COVID 19? Which football team will prevail? It wasn’t the beginning of the year, but Jesus’ disciples had questions for him about the future. Their question was complex, and the answer Jesus gives is challenging. But a crucial part of his answer focuses on himself, as you see in Matthew 24:30–31. And his answer affects how you live in 2022.
The sign of the Son of Man will appear. Don’t be deceived by other signs. The disciples asked for the sign of Christ’s coming and of the end of the age. Jesus had been speaking in the temple as he grieved over Jerusalem. As they left his disciples remarked on the building, verse 1. Jesus prophesied the total destruction of the temple. Then, leaving the temple, he sat with his disciples on the Mt. of Olives, opposite Jerusalem, probably with the temple in view. The disciples asked a compound question, one that was doubtless far more complex and multi-faceted than they realized, verse 3. Wars and rumors of wars, etc., are not evidence that the end is here, verse 6. You have probably had people suggest to you that the terrible state of the world must (or at least very likely) mean that Jesus is going to return very soon. Some might even give expression to the idea that things can’t get much worse. But Jesus explicitly warns against looking at those things as signs of his coming. Even false prophets will perform powerful signs, verse 24.
The ultimate sign is the Son of Man. Apocalyptic language described the day of the Lord in the Old Testament, verse 29, Isaiah 13. People may say, well, the sun is still shining, and the stars haven’t disappeared, so what Jesus is talking about obviously hasn’t happened. But the language that Jesus quotes from Isaiah was describing the fall of Babylon—and that has happened. Prophetic language often speaks in terms of its own day. Prophetic foreshortening may be present in Jesus’ teaching as well as in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Beware of having too neat a system—it can be easy to try to fit Scripture into your system, rather than derive your system from Scripture. The Son of Man did come in judgment on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Read Josephus for graphic descriptions of the terrible suffering involved in the siege and capture of the city. The abomination of desolation is language originally used by Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:11). It received its initial fulfillment in the desecration of the temple in 168 B.C. by Antiochus Epiphanes. See Luke 21:20 for a parallel, which clearly indicates the presence of the armies that laid siege to Jerusalem. The historian Eusebius reports that many of the Christians in Jerusalem heeded Christ’s warning and fled before the worst of the atrocities in the city. The ultimate sign is the unmistakable return of the Son of Man at the end of the age, verses 27,30. Old Testament visitations of God’s anger and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. are only faint anticipations of the great and terrible day of the Lord. “It is not etherealized mysticism we have here but mysticism whose orbit is defined by the historical accomplishment of the past, the exaltation of Christ in the present, and the certainty of the appearing of his glory in the future.” (John Murray, “Structural Strands in New Testament Eschatology,” unpublished manuscript. Westminster Theological Seminary Library)
Recognize Christ’s power and great glory. The coming of the Son of Man is reason for this generation to mourn. The reference to this generation not passing away until all of these things have been fulfilled (v.34) is difficult. Some take generation in the sense of race. While possible, this is unlikely linguistically. A distinction can be made between the things that were fulfilled in the near future (i.e. by 70 A.D.) and those which are yet to be fulfilled. But does that do justice to “all these things”? A few even argue that Christ’s return is completely past!! “Generation” may have ethical overtones. See 23:36; 16:4; 12:39, 41, 42; 11:16. Jesus seems to be reflecting, not so much on the timing of his return, but rather on the character that his return exposes. “[T]hese earlier instances are but a prelude to the full, resonant chorus of the later days, when the final issue of our Lord’s ministry was felt to be hastening on to its decision. These later passages connect the title with the parousia of Jesus in power and glory…. The main thing these passages have derived from Daniel is, however, the atmosphere of the supernatural in which they are steeped. The ‘coming’ is a theophany-like coming, a coming out of the other world. Nothing else in the Gospels has so impressed the stamp of the supernatural and superhuman upon the self-portrayal of Jesus as these ‘Son of man’ passages dealing with the parousia. Nothing but the avowal of sonship from God in the highest sense can be placed by the side of them in this respect.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, pages 232–234) The reference to mourning picks up on the language of Zechariah 12:10–14. The prophet may have in view in the short term the rejection by the people of a leader whom God had provided for them, perhaps Zerubbabel. But John 19:37 shows you that the prophet is eyeing something more distant—the piercing of the body of the Savior as he gave himself for his people. And John, in Revelation 1:7, takes that language to point to Christ’s return in glory and judgement . Christ’s return means judgment on those who reject and oppose him. That gives hope and comfort to suffering churches in Revelation 2 and 3, and it give comfort to God’s people suffering today. There is room for Christians to differ in their understanding of the details of Christ’s return. It is crucial to believe that he is returning. Exactly how is less important.
Rejoice in the coming of your Judge! This is the Day of the Lord. This is the vindication of God’s people. The clouds are an indicator of divine majesty. See Daniel 7 and Acts 1. Power and great glory mark the culmination of the earthly work of the Messiah. Christ ans he ascends, claims that all power and authority has been given unto him. His glory is revealed as he pours out his Spirit at Pentecost. The glory of King Jesus is evident as the gospel goes from Jerusalem to Judea, then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. Acts ends with the gospel being proclaimed without hindrance in Rome, even though Paul was in chains. That glory is being revealed as the Spirit draws you to trust in Christ and then goes about shaping your life to conform to his image. Give due weight to all of these. But also look beyond, to something even greater, even more glorious. “In the Son the world has its foundation and example, and therefore it has in him its goal as well. It is created through him and for him as well (Col. 1:16). Because the creation is his work, it cannot and may not remain the booty of Satan. The Son is the head, Lord, and heir of all things. United in the Son, gathered under him as their head, all creature return to the Father, the fountain of all good. The second coming is therefore required by his first coming. It is implied in the first; in time, by inner necessity, it will proceed from the first; the second coming brings the first coming to its full effect and completion and was therefore comprehended in a single image with the first coming by Old Testament prophecy.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 685) Christ’s return is the remaining event in redemptive history. It is that to which his incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection all lead. Those who trust him, those who live in covenantal fellowship with God, look to that day with rejoicing rather than terror.
Don’t be distracted from the central event. Your Lord is coming in power and great glory. Be ready for him!