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Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. . . . But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. (Matthew 24:30, 36).


Jesus speaks of His return in two parts. The first part is in the three verses of Matthew 24:29–31 in which He describes the unusual events that will happen at His return. The second part is found in verses 23 through 51 in which He gives several warnings about being prepared for His coming, which could happen at any time.

The discourse on the Return of Christ is understood in several different ways depending on people’s views of eschatology. One view is that this part of Christ’s discourse is a continuation of His previous comments on the destruction of Jerusalem showing the immediate aftermath of that horrific event. Millennialists view this as the events that surround the Second Coming of Christ just prior to the millennium. Some millennialists view the sun and moon darkening and the stars falling from heaven as figurative things whereas otehrs see them as literal events.

A third and less known view of this discourse is that of the proponents of the Church Historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation. This view understands the events described by Christ to be symbolic and making a brief outline of the church age. There are some striking similarities between the symbols Jesus uses and symbols found in the Book of Revelation. There is logic in associating this part of the Discourse with the Book of Revelation; Jesus is the author of the Book of Revelation through the Apostle John and it makes sense that He would give His disciples a preview of what He would later reveal. Revelation 1:1 can be seen as the link between the Discourse and the Revelation: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.”


Transition To Christ’s Discussion on His Return


In Matthew 24:24 Jesus tells the disciples that the false Christs who will come to Jerusalem will predict peace and victory for the Jews against the Romans. He says that these false Christs will work wonders and deceive even the elect, if that could be possible. Some of these false prophets will say Messiah will be in the desert, and some say He will be in the inner rooms of the temple. But they all will say that Messiah will defeat the Romans. While this message may appeal to the Jews in Jerusalem, the Christians must take warning and not pay attention to them.

Jesus tells them His return will not happen with such pomp and circumstance or for such a purpose; it will come suddenly and without warning as He says in verse 27: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”


Jesus Describes His Return


Jesus begins describing His return in verse 29 saying, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.” This statement automatically throws the millennial doctrine off track as it has the sun and moon darkening and stars falling out of heaven when Jesus returns; but, Jesus says this will happen following the tribulation of the destruction of Jerusalem. This statement appears to give some credibility to the idea that Jesus is expanding on the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem He just mentioned. However, what Jesus said also applies to the Church Historic understanding when considered in conjunction with the symbolic language that follows.

The Greek word “immediately” indicates a close proximity in time ranging from immediately to soon. The introduction of the Book of Revelation tells us that the Revelation reveals to God’s servants “the things which must shortly take place.” The Amplified Bible puts an interesting slant on this expression: “certain things which must shortly and speedily come to pass in their entirety.” What is implied is that the events of the Revelation seen in symbolic form will begin to happen “shortly and speedily” and will be played out until they are completed, however long that may take. The Living Bible places an unusual paraphrase on this opening verse of Revelation: “The book unveils some of the future activities soon to occur in the life of Jesus Christ.” This rendering comes from the fact that it is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ”, or about Jesus Christ. The name Jesus Christ is in the genitive, which denotes possession, therefore the language implies that what is revealed belongs to Jesus; it is about Him. We know that the Church is the body of Christ so to understand the Book of Revelation as an outline of the history of the Church, “activities soon to occur in the life of Jesus Christ,” is not in the least a stretch of the imagination.

The Greek word “immediately” in Matthew 24 is not the same Greek word as “shortly” in Revelation 1:1, but both words mean the same: a brief space of time. Therefore, Jesus’ comments on His return in the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation begin with the same premise: Jerusalem has fallen, what happens next?


Strange Things In The Heavens


Continuing in verse 29, Jesus says that immediately after the tribulation following the destruction of Jerusalem “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The Church Historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation sees that before the return of Christ—in whatever sense He returns—there will be a falling away from that which gives light. If the sun, moon, and stars are symbols, we must understand what they represent. These entities are sources of light and direction to the natural earth; what entities can they represent in the history and life of the Church, the body of Christ?

The Apostle John begins his gospel with a statement about Christ that will give us some understanding about light and its importance in the spiritual realm. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4–5). John speaks of the Second Person of the Godhead, whom he calls the Word. Christ is the light that shines into the darkness of a sinful world bringing the light of salvation and holiness to mankind. Dr. Albert Barnes explains this for us in his Notes on the New Testament:


The life was the light of men. Light is that by which we see objects distinctly. The light of the sun enables us to discern the form, the distance, the magnitude, and the relation of objects, and prevents the perplexities and dangers which result from a state of darkness. Light is in all languages, therefore, put for knowledge—for whatever enables us to discern our duty, and that saves us from the evils of ignorance and error. “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light,” Ephesians 5:13. The Messiah was predicted as the light of the world. John 8:12, “I am the light of the world;” John 12:35, 36, 46 “I am come a light into the world.” The meaning is, that the Logos or Word of God is the instructor or teacher of man-kind. This was done before his advent by his direct agency in giving man reason or understanding, and in giving his law, for the “law was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator”; after his advent by his personal ministry when on earth, by his Spirit, and by his ministers since.


In the Discourse, Jesus tells us the first thing to be darkened will be the sun. Dr. Barnes explains that “the light of the sun enables us to discern the form, the distance, the magnitude, and the relation of objects, and prevents the perplexities and dangers which result from a state of darkness.” The sun is the primary source of light for the earth. As the sun illuminates the earth and enables us to discern form, distance, and relation that would otherwise be dangerous, so Christ, the Word of God, illuminates mankind to the dangers of sin and enables us to discern proper spiritual relationships. He reveals God’s plan of salvation from sin, sin that has held the human race in spiritual darkness since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.


[Christ is] the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9–13).


Jesus mentions that the moon would also be darkened. The moon is a natural satellite that orbits the earth once a day. It has no light of its own; it only reflects the light of the sun. It is natural, then, that if the sun would cease to shine the moon would have no light. Christ is the light and the Word He reveals is found in the New Testament, which clearly reveals God’s plan of salvation and all that is essential to be believed to be a disciple of Jesus. The Old Testament stands in relation to the New Testament in the same manner as the moon stands in relation to the sun; as the moon reflects the light of the sun, the Old Testament reflects the light of the New Testament. The Old Testament reveals mankind’s problem of sin and God’s intent to redeem mankind from sin. But the Old Testament had only an imperfect way of dealing with sin through the temple worship and the sacrifices of the Law of Moses.


For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. (Hebrews 10:1).


The Old Testament is called a shadow. A shadow is a projection of an object as it stands in the presence of light. A shadow reveals the shape of the object, a distorted view of its size, but it does not reveal the precise image of the object. The Law of Moses gave a shadow of salvation in its sacrifices, but that shadow was merely a distorted outline and did not give a true picture of the salvation from sin God intended to make available to mankind. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin.” (Verse 4).

Christ, the Word, the light of God, reveals God’s real plan of salvation from sin that could not be seen under the Old Testament. “But this Man [Christ]  . . . offered one sacrifice for sins forever . . . for by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Verses 12, 14). Hebrews 1:2–3 says the same thing, but in more detail.


[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.


In His Discourse, Jesus says that along with the darkening of the sun and moon, the stars will fall from heaven. In the quotation from Dr. Barnes above we learn that the ministers of Christ are those who minister light to mankind. He writes that Christ first ministered light through His personal ministry, through his Spirit, and then by His ministers after His ascension to heaven. The stars are lesser lights in the heavens. Because stars remain fixed in the heavens they enable people to orient themselves as o their position on earth and serve as means of giving directions for navigating from one place to another. As such, stars are an appropriate symbol for the ministers of Christ’s church.

Jesus connected the stars falling with the shaking of heaven. This same symbol is used under the sixth seal in Revelation 6:13–13:


I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.


Also, in Revelation 8:12 under the sounding of the fourth angel we see the symbolism of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened:


Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.


It is not possible to explain the Book of Revelation at this point, but it is evident that the symbols Jesus used in His Discourse are found in the Book of Revelation and have meaning in both contexts. What is evident in the Discourse is that sometime after the fall of Jerusalem and the ascent of the church, the church would experience a time of apostasy where the understanding of New Testament salvation would be darkened, the Scriptures would lose their effect, and an apostate ministry would be of no spiritual value. History tells of the church’s fall into apostasy that began around the Third Century and lasted through the Dark Ages.


Christ Coming In Clouds


In verse 30 Jesus describes Himself as coming in a cloud with power and glory. This symbolism calls to mind 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17:


For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will 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. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.


This verse concerns the literal return of Christ at the end of time. The shout, voice of the archangel, and trumpet along with the resurrection of the dead certainly can be understood as power and great glory.

However, the clouds of heaven of which Jesus speaks are not the clouds mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Thessalonians. Jesus said that before His coming in the clouds “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.” Revelation 5:1 speaks of the sign in heaven that may help us understand what Jesus is saying.


Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.


The sign in heaven is the plagues of the seven vials, or seven bowls of God’s wrath. Again, it is not possible to explain the entire Book of Revelation here, but these vials or bowls of wrath are poured out on the different environs of the earth bringing great distress and loss to the inhabitants of the earth of the Revelation. The things pictured here in symbolic form are fulfilled in the history of the church.

In Matthew 24:31 Jesus says that His angels will then gather the “elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Some people explain this as a rapture where God takes the Christians out of the world leaving only sinners. A similar scene is found in Revelation 7:1 where Christ’s angels, His ministry, stand “at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” Later in Revelation 14:19, an angel, Christ’s ministry, is seen with a sickle gathering the vine of the earth. Again, it is not possible to explain the entire Book of Revelation here, but considering that these passages may speak of the same time in the history of the church, we learn there is to be a gathering of God’s people by God’s ministry that constitutes a coming of Christ in His body, the Church as it is restored from the apostasy and Dark Ages.




Much has been said in a short space. Jesus speaks of His return in the sense of His body, the Church. At some time after the fall of Jerusalem and the ascent of His Church, the Church will experience an apostasy that will result in the visible apostate body having lost sight of the truth of the Scriptures and a ministry that will be of no spiritual value and unable to give guidance and counsel in matters of truth. This began in the Third Century and continued until the Protestant Reformation.

At some time thereafter, the sign of Christ’s coming would appear in the heavens. The Reformation was a profound shock to the Church in its apostate condition, but out of that great movement God was able to call a ministry faithful to Himself and filled with His Spirit so as to declare the truth of the Word, the light, and bring God’s people out of spiritual darkness into the light of salvation from sin and holiness of life.

How can this be the coming of Christ? The Church is the body of Christ. That Church was lost to sight through spiritual darkness. As God moved in history, the truth of God’s Word was restored, a faithful ministry was called, and the Church, the body of Christ, returned.

Some have tried to predict the literal return of Christ only to be wrong. There are those who call themselves prophets who believe they have special insight into prophecy and understand current events to such a degree they have a roadmap to the Second Coming of Christ and His millennial reign. But keep in mind what Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Be ready!