The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (8)

Part Seven

False Christ’s and the True Christ

Jesus continues His answer to the disciples’ second question by repeating that although there will be many false Christ’s and false prophets, and many attention-grabbing supernatural happenings, one should not be fooled (Matt. 24:23-24).  We should take note that contra the scientistic naturalism so prevalent among “intellectuals” in our day, the Tribulation will be charged with spectacular supernatural manifestations and calls to worship.  It will be an extremely “spiritual” time, with no room for cool rationalism.

Verse 27 says that the real coming of Christ will be so singular and incontrovertible that nobody could mistake it.  It will be like a blast of sheet lightening across the sky.  Therefore, during this short period prior to the return one can expect news outlets working overtime in their propaganda and  false flags, “signs and wonders” distracting the masses, groupthink fomenting “the madness of crowds,” and the label “conspiracy theorist” and the like aimed at any who will not accept the “fact” that God has already come to earth in the person of the “prince” (Dan. 9:26b-27a) or Antichrist.  

The Return!

Immediately after the tribulation of those days 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.  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.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31.

            The second coming of Christ is the beginning point of the real New World Order, not the utopian nightmare of the elite classes.  Jesus’s coming again into the world that He made but which crucified Him is not, as I understand it, the second part of a two part drama, but better the second phase of a single work, sandwiching the time of the Church. 

            In His continuing narrative on the Mount of Olives Jesus predicts that right on the heels of the Tribulation great cosmic signs will be beheld, involving the sun, the moon and the stars.  That is, the “firmament” of Genesis 1 will start to work erratically.  Providence, which through Christ upholds the normal functions of the sky (cf. Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3b) will falter, thus declaring to blind mankind the reality of his dependent creaturehood and the imminent shift in the control of the world-system.  “The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven” (Matt. 24:30).  Whatever it is, this “sign” will be in contrast to the malfunctioning of the heavens that presages it. 

            The earth will have witnessed not just intense suffering – whether localized around Israel or spread out throughout all lands – but it will have become familiar with great manifestations of spiritual power.  Nothing however, will compare to what happens next!  Jesus, the Danielic Son of Man, will appear “on the clouds of heaven.”  His countenance will be terrible; His grandeur intoxicating; His evident power crushing. 

            At the sight of the returning Christ a loud trumpet sound is heard, and angels descend for the purpose of gathering up the elect.  We are not told where the saints are taken, but as earth becomes the scene of the Kingdom it seems likely that they are carried to a place of safety ahead of the wrathful vengeance of Christ (Isa. 61:1-2; 63:1-6; 2 Thess. 1:6-9; Rev. 19:11-16). 

As in the Days of Noah

            I cannot expound every verse in Matthew, so I jump to Mathew 24:36 where Jesus picks up the thread of verses 15—31.  He refers to a “day and hour” that remains unknown to all but God the Father.[1]  This reminds us that “the Creation Project” which God began “in the beginning” is still running and will run until the new heavens and new earth are made.  This “day and hour” is too specific to mean the entire second half of the Tribulation.  It relates to the advent itself.  Thus, immediately before Christ comes people will be going about their business, which is what is meant by “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matt. 24:38). Then the day and hour will be upon them.  Just as the rain began falling once God shut Noah in the Ark, so the intervention in the affairs of life by the returning Christ will happen all of a sudden. 

            This brings up a question: doesn’t this way of putting things ignore the terrible sufferings that will be experienced during this time?  How can life go on as normal in the midst of so much upheaval? 

            My answer is somewhat tentative, since I do not believe the Scriptures furnish us with enough information to construct the end times picture with the degree of detail we would like.  But the fact is that there have always been many whose lives were only tangentially affected by evil times, especially the rich and powerful.  In what may well be an allusion to the same time of Tribulation the Apostle John records the black horse rider ordered not to touch the oil and the wine; products consumed by the wealthy (Rev. 6:5-6).  In a similar manner Paul, when speaking of the Day of the Lord, says that unbelievers will be celebrating “peace and safety” just before “sudden destruction comes upon them” (1 Thess. 5:3).  Another thing to consider is the extent and intensity of this “time of Jacob’s trouble.”  I think it is very possible that the “Great Tribulation” will impact some areas a lot more than others, particularly in the Levant.  I am not saying that it will not be felt on other continents, but perhaps not to the same extent.  One must also recall that in Nazi Germany life went on for the majority of compliant people even though millions of Jews, gypsies, handicapped, and POWs went through Hell on earth at the same time. This at least indicate that life’s patterns can continue in evil times for those on the “right side.”           

Jesus next mentions two men and two women in Matthew 24:40-42:

Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 

            I have made comments about this saying already in my chapter on Luke.  Are these verses perhaps speaking of the rapture or perhaps a removal of the saints before wrath?  If we examine verse 42 first, we see that Jesus is issuing a warning.  But is the warning about being taken or being left?  It is not easy to be definite, although as with Luke, the example of Noah (Luke also includes Lot) tilts the interpretation toward those taken being carried (paralambano) to safety.[2]  Glasscock writes,

It might be best to understand the taking of these as the collecting of the elect of v. 31 (not the rapture of the church, but the gathering of the sealed Jews and faithful Gentiles of the Tribulation) and leaving the others behind for the judgment about to come on the earth.[3]

            Matthew 13:41-43 and 13:47-50 appear to have the angels gathering the unbelievers to judgment with the saints being left to enter the Kingdom.  This may mean that my position given above needs reversing.  But I still feel justified in my interpretation, for I do not believe Matthew 13 precludes the saints being carried to safety before the ungodly are dealt with.  Moreover, the separation in Matthew 13 appears to take place after Jesus has returned (see below the separation of “the sheep and the goats” in Matthew 25:31ff.), and thus describes a different situation than Matthew 24:40-42. 

[1] Mark 13:32 says that not even Jesus knows this information.  We must parse such sayings carefully.  The Lord is saying that as the Servant of God He is unaware of the exact timing of His return.  This is because He has willingly set aside His divine prerogatives such as omniscience and omnipresence in order to become who He had to become for us. (cf. Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 10:9-10).   

[2] I do think that an argument can be made for a “rapture” in Matthew 24:40-41 when it is combined with Revelation 14:14-16, but it is not decisive.  Moreover, I cannot see the Church in either context. 

[3] Ed Glasscock, Matthew, 477.


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