Jesus foretold two momentous events to happen after the completion of his public ministry. The first was the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and its prestigious Temple. That had warning signs for those who wished to escape the catastrophe. Those who accepted the gospel of Jesus escaped the calamity, and others had severe consequences because they ignored his words. The return of the Son of Man will be another assured event that will affect the entire world. The angles will sound the trumpet and gather the chosen ones of God. Christ will save the righteous and punish the unfaithful. Since only the Father knows the date and time of the return of the Son of Man, it can happen unexpectedly. Jesus warned the disciples that his second coming and judgement will happen, and they should be vigilant as faithful servants of God.
BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 24:29-36)
The Coming of the Son of Man
(Mt 24:29) Immediately after the agony of those days, the sun will grow dark, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the skies, and the forces that control the universe will be shaken. (30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky; all the nations of the earth will beat their breasts, when they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) He will send his angels to sound the trumpet and gather the chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the earth to the other.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
(32) Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches grow tender and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. (33) In the same way, when you see all that I have told you, know that he is near, even at the door. (34) Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. (35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away.
The Unknown Day and Hour
(36) But as for that day and that hour, no one knows when it will come, neither the angels of God nor even the Son, but only the Father.
Jesus denounced the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees who sat on the chair of Moses. They do not practice what they preach (Mt 23:3). Jesus called them blind guides (Mt 23:19, 24), hypocrites (Mt 23:25, 27), and whitewashed tombs (Mt 23:27). After such severe criticism on the contemporary leaders, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!” (Mt 23:37). Then Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:1-2). He explained to the disciples in private about the end times. He foretold the appearance of fake Messiahs and false prophets to deceive the people (Mt 24:4-5, 11). Wars, famines, and earthquakes will happen (Mt 24:6-8). The disciples will face persecution and martyrdom (Mt 24:9). But they are not the end of the age (Mt 24:6). Jesus asked them to preserve the faith to the end, by which time Christ’s disciples will preach the gospel throughout the world (Mt 24:13-14). He told the precautions they have to take during the forthcoming tribulation (Mt 24:15-26). Finally, the Son of Man will come “just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west” (Mt 24:27).
The Coming of the Son of Man
(Mt 24:29) Immediately after the agony of those days, the sun will grow dark, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the skies, and the forces that control the universe will be shaken.
Immediately after the agony of those days
Jesus spoke of the impending destruction of the Temple along with the warning tribulations. He also predicted his return in glory for the last judgement and for the establishment of the perfect kingdom of God. Since the evangelist presented the two similar but separate events together, there was a confusion that both would happen one after another. The second coming of Christ did not occur immediately after the destruction of the Temple, causing a gap between the two. The interpreters justify Matthew’s use, “immediately after the agony of those days,” by saying that the prophets had a practice of expressing the seriousness of an assured event as if it was imminent.
According to Luke, before the return of the Son of God, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk 21:24). The time of the Gentiles is an intermediate and lengthy period from the destruction of the Temple to the return of Jesus Christ. During that extended period, the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). When Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, the kingdom of heaven was tiny like a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds.” It has to become fully grown as the largest of plants on which the “birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches” (Mt 13:31-32). Because of the similarity of both events, the disciples like Matthew got confused and believed both would happen in sequence.
The Catholic Church teaches this intermediate time of the ascension of Jesus and his glorious return: “Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men the definitive order of justice, love and peace. According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by ‘distress’ and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching” (CCC-672).
the sun will grow dark, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the skies, and the forces that control the universe will be shaken.
The Bible uses the sun, moon, and stars figuratively. These heavenly bodies are symbols of the parents and brothers of Joseph in his dream (Gen 37:9-11). John in his vision saw, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1).
The prophets present the fall of rulers and kingdoms in a hyperbolic language with the non-functionality of heavenly bodies. Isaiah prophesied the fall of Babylon: “Indeed, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and burning anger; To lay waste the land and destroy the sinners within it! The stars of the heavens and their constellations will send forth no light; The sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not give its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their guilt. I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, the insolence of tyrants I will humble” (Isa 13:9-11). While predicting on the judgement of Edom, Isaiah said, “All the host of heaven shall rot; the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll. All their host shall wither away, as the leaf wilts on the vine, or as the fig withers on the tree” (Isa 34:4).
The prophetic language of the destruction of Egypt was also in a similar style. “When I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken all its stars. The sun I will cover with clouds; the moon will not give light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you; I will spread darkness over your land – oracle of the Lord GOD” (Ezek 32:7-8). Joel prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem also similarly. “I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth, blood, fire, and columns of smoke; The sun will darken, the moon turn blood-red, Before the day of the LORD arrives, that great and terrible day. Then everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD will escape harm. For on Mount Zion there will be a remnant, as the LORD has said, And in Jerusalem survivors whom the LORD will summon” (Joel 3:3-5). Hence, the tribulations presented in the heavens before the second coming of Christ can also be a hyperbolic presentation of the horrific obliteration of the sinners and salvation of the righteous.
Peter speaks of a physical transformation and establishment of a new heaven and new earth with the return of the Son of God. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out” (2 Pet 3:10). “But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). Hence, the world will transform for perfection. It will end the people’s rebellion against God and sin. Only the righteous will enjoy that new world of holiness and peace.
the sun will grow dark, the moon will not give its light
Temporal solar eclipse happens in a certain part of the world about every eighteen months. However, the occultation at Jesus’ return must be an extraordinary phenomenon, like the three hours of darkness during the hanging of Jesus on the cross (Mt 27:45). John had a similar vision. “Then I watched while he broke open the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; the sun turned as black as dark sackcloth and the whole moon became like blood” (Rev 6:12). That shall be the heavenly spectacle that will happen before the return of Christ.
the stars will fall from the skies
The “falling stars” mentioned here can be an extraordinary shower of meteors or a similar astronomical event. John saw in his vision, “The stars in the sky fell to the earth like unripe figs shaken loose from the tree in a strong wind” (Rev 6:13). Unlike the beautiful shooting stars that disappear in the sky, multiple stars that hit the earth can be catastrophic.
the forces that control the universe will be shaken.
The ancient belief was that an external force was controlling the course of the heavenly bodies like moon and stars in their appointed courses without fail. Their disturbance causes the fall of the stars.
(30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky; all the nations of the earth will beat their breasts, when they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
God created the sources of light in the sky to illumine and manage the day and night. “God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night, and the stars” (Gen 1:16). However, as part of tribulation at the return of Christ, they halt their function. At that time, he will appear in the sky.
the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky
The Son of Man refers to the God incarnate who suffered as a human (Mathew 12:40, 17:22, 20:18-19,28), and enjoyed supernatural qualities (John 1:51), and sat at the right hand of the Father (Mt 26:64). The sign of the Son of Man is his coming in a cloud with power and glory (Dan 7:13; Lk 21:27) along with the holy angels.
all the nations of the earth will beat their breasts
The tribes or the nations of the earth represent the evildoers among the twelve tribes of Israel (Zec 12:11-14) and other sinners all over the world. Hence, they dread the appearance of the judge who will punish them. Revelation states, “Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen” (Rev 1:7). It will be the fulfillment of John 19:37: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”
when they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven
The early church expected the return of Jesus from the heaven in the clouds for two reasons. While the disciples “were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). During this time, “suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:10-11).
The cloud mentioned here is not the regular one, but “the clouds of heaven” which the rabbis call Shekinah with the meaning “that which dwells.” Such a cloud, manifesting the glorious presence of God, was visible when the Israelites escaped from Succoth in Egypt. The Lord appeared to them in a cloudy pillar during the day and a fiery pillar by night (Ex 13:20-22). The Lord’s glory later filled the tabernacle. “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle” (Ex 40:34). This glorious presence of God continued in the Temple of Jerusalem (1 Kgs 8:10-11).
In his vision, Daniel saw the Son of Man coming in the clouds to establish his perfect kingdom. “As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14). Psalm describes clouds as the chariot of God. “You make the clouds your chariot; traveling on the wings of the wind” (Ps 104:3).
with power and great glory.
Christ’s second coming will differ from the first. The first was his humble incarnation to invite humanity for reconciliation and to offer his life as ransom for our salvation. The second is in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. In Peter’s view, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out” (2 Pet 3:10). Jesus foretold his glorious coming to judge the nations. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him” (Mt 25:31-32). “The Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27).
This revelation of Jesus on his second coming with power and glory was comforting and promising for the apostles, who had misunderstood Jesus as an earthly king. They found justification for their giving up of everything for Jesus during his public ministry and for undergoing persecution and martyrdom for the church.
(31) He will send his angels to sound the trumpet and gather the chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the earth to the other.
He will send his angels
At the last judgement, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him” (Mt 25:31-32). “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” (Mt 13:41). Thus, the angels have a specific role in the second coming of Christ.
to sound the trumpet
Trumpet or shofar is a wind instrument, made from the horns of oxen or ram with hole cut at the small end. They are also made of brass in the shape of a horn with a large end like a bell to amplify the sound. The way people signal the shofar would denote the intent of its blast. A soft sound would signal the invitation for assembly during the time of peace (Num 10:1-7; Isa 18:3; 27:13; Ps 98:5-6). A loud sound would warn the people of war (Judg 3:27; Neh 4:14) or a calamity. Israelites used trumpets for feast celebrations (Lev 23:24; 25:9; Ps 81:3-4) and for the anointment of their king (1 Kgs 1:34; 2 Kgs 9:12-13) like we use church bells in the modern times.
During the great theophany at Mount Sinai, there was “a very loud blast of the shofar, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (Ex 19:16). “The blast of the shofar grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God was answering him with thunder” (Ex 19:19). At the return of Christ, the angels will blast the trumpet and the dead will rise with an incorruptible body (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thes 4:16). “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:17).
and gather the chosen ones
The angels will collect in one place the faithful whom God chose from all over the world for reward. Jesus described how he would divide the people at the last judgement. “He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Mt 25: 31-33). While explaining the parable of the weeds among the seeds, Jesus said, the angels “will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:41-43).
With the coming of Christ, he included among the elect, the gentiles who believed in him along with the righteous Israelites (Mt 8:11-12; Lk 13:28-29). The angel will exclude in the collection the people of the Old Covenant who rejected Jesus.
gather the chosen ones from the four winds, from one end of the earth to the other.
Bible uses wind as a metaphor. The four winds refer to the four directions or corners of the earth or heaven. Jeremiah speaks of the disaster of Elam, an ancient kingdom east of Babylon: “I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four ends of the heavens: I will scatter them to all these winds, until there is no nation to which the outcasts of Elam have not gone” (Jer 22:36). In Prophet Zechariah’s vision, the angel said of the four chariots, “These are the four winds of the heavens, which are coming forth after presenting themselves before the LORD of all the earth” (Zec 6:5). These four winds of the heavens mean four directions and therefore the entire world. The Bible uses the four winds, mostly to mention unusual events or visions of prophets (Ezek 37:9; Dan 7:2).
The phrase, “One end of the earth to the other” also stands for the whole earth (Deut 4:32; Jer 25:33). God said, “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!” (Isa 45:2). The Psalmist sings, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD; All the families of nations will bow low before him. For kingship belongs to the LORD, the ruler over the nations” (Ps 22:28-29). “May God bless us still; that the ends of the earth may revere him” (Ps 67:8). Jesus foretold about the eternal banquet in heaven, “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29).
The Revelation refers to the four winds and the four corners of the earth. “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on land or sea or against any tree” (Rev 7:1). God promised the redemption and restoration of His people, stating, “Fear not, for I am with you; from the east I will bring back your offspring, from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north: Give them up! and to the south: Do not hold them! Bring back my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (Isa 43:5-6). Hence, the angels will collect the chosen people from all parts of the earth, presupposing the universal proclamation of the gospel before the end times. After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his eleven apostles, saying, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16).
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
(Mt 24:32) Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches grow tender and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near.
Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
Since Jesus was on the Mount of Olives while he was addressing his disciples about the end times, he pointed to a fig tree that stood close to them. Olives and dates were also growing on that mountain. The people in Judea knew the fig tree and its seasonal changes. Hence, Jesus made use of that as a parable for assessing the changes happening to the kingdom of God.
When its branches grow tender and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near.
In areas where the four seasons are explicit, people notice how the trees change in appearance during the spring to prepare for summer. The appearance of false Messiahs and false prophets (Mt 24:4-5, 11), wars, famines, earthquakes (Mt 24:6-8), and tribulations (Mt 24:15-26) will be the signs of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem. Since the disciples believed in this prediction of Jesus, they fled to Pella when they saw the signs of a Roman attack on Jerusalem.
This parable applies to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and not to the second coming of Christ. His arrival would happen at an unexpected time. Jesus said, “stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (Mt 24:42).
(33) In the same way, when you see all that I have told you, know that he is near, even at the door.
Before the return of Jesus and the last judgement, the Jews had the opportunity for reconciliation with God and follow the teachings of Jesus. Those who accepted his gospel believed in his prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and escaped on time like Noah and family escaped the deluge that destroyed all others.
The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, which was inconceivable, happened as Jesus told after 40 years of his prediction in 70 AD. During the Roman attack of Jerusalem under the leadership of Titus, the Temple was the last refuge of the people. Though Titus desired to preserve the magnificent Temple, a drunken soldier shot a flaming arrow at the Temple, resulting in a huge fire. It cremated the people live in the holy place and melted the precious metals like gold. So, the soldiers threw down the remaining portion of the Temple stone by stone in search of the precious metals until Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled, “Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Mt 24:2).
The destruction of the Temple was a prelude to the ultimate salvation of the true believers and the destruction of the sinners at the return of Jesus for judgement. “For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be [also] at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt 24:37-39). So, instead of being selfish and ignoring God, the people have to seek the salvation in Jesus and remain faithful to the Lord. When the Son of Man comes at an unexpected time, the Lord will reward the faithful servants of the Lord.
(34) Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.
Since the return of Christ is at an uncertain time, the people living during his public ministry did not witness it. However, some of them faced the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans because that happened forty years after Jesus predicted it. Another questionable interpretation is that by “this generation” Jesus meant the Jews throughout the centuries.
(35) Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will not pass away.
Heaven and earth will pass away
The Bible presents three heavens:
Constant change happens in the first and second heaven (sky), especially in the constellation that is the study topic of astronomers.
earth will pass away
Constant changes happen on earth throughout the centuries. “Our restless earth is always changing. Tectonic plates drift, the crust quakes, and volcanoes erupt. Air pressure falls, storms form, and precipitation results. … These powerful forces shape our air, land, water, and weather—and constantly transform our planet” (https://www.fi.edu/exhibit/changing-earth).
Heaven and earth will pass away
Besides the geological and astronomical changes in the universe, the Bible speaks of passing away of the heaven and earth. “Of old you laid the earth’s foundations; the heavens are the work of your hands. They perish, but you remain; they all wear out like a garment; Like clothing you change them and they are changed, but you are the same, your years have no end” (Ps 102:26-28). “Raise your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth below; Though the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, My salvation shall remain forever and my victory shall always be firm” (Isa 51:6).
Like the destruction of Jerusalem that happened, Jesus confirmed of his second coming when there will be destruction of the evil and full restoration of the righteous. The heaven and earth will have transformation at his second coming. “The sun will grow dark, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the skies, and the forces that control the universe will be shaken” (Mt 24:29). However, it will not be a destruction of their substance, but purification from all impurities of sin. “The heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:12-13).
my word (The Word of God)
The Word of God has different meanings in the Bible. They are:
my word will not pass away.
Since Jesus is the Word of God, he is the truth (Jn 14:6) that will remain eternally. Jesus told the Jews, “‘the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.’ They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father” (Jn 8:26-27). The Father’s word stands forever (Ps 119:89). “The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa 40:8; 1 Pet 1:24).
Since Jesus spoke the truth from the Father, he confirmed that what he taught will never fail even when the heaven and earth will pass away. During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place” (Mt 5:18). Jesus wanted his disciples not to be wavered in faith in the Lord’s word even if they notice change in the heaven and earth. Unlike the universe, his words are permanent that will come true.
Since the early Christians questioned the delay of Jesus’ return, Peter justified the postponement and assured of his arrival. “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out” (2 Pet 3:10).
The Unknown Day and Hour
(Mt 24:36) But as for that day and that hour, no one knows when it will come, neither the angels of God nor even the Son, but only the Father.
Though the destruction of Jerusalem on 70 AD was predictable from the signs of the time, the time of Jesus’ return and judgment is unpredictable. Only God the Father knows it. So, Jesus warned the disciples to be prepared for it by being faithful to his teachings.
Following this verse, Jesus presented examples of what will happen at the return of the Son of Man. He compared that to the time of deluge when Noah and his family escaped in the ark by obeying God, while God destroyed all the sinners. (Mt 24:37-39). The selection to the eternal reward will be like choosing one-out-of-two men in the field (Mt 24:40) and one-out-of-two women grinding in the mill (Mt 24:41). Like a thief who breaks into the house at unexpected time, so will be the time of the Son of Man’s arrival. Hence, Jesus says, “you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44).