The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
  "The coming of the Son of man"

Scripture:  Matthew 24:15-35

15 "So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. 19 And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 Then if any one says to you, `Lo, here is the Christ!' or `There he is!' do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Lo, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, `Lo, he is in the wilderness,' do not go out; if they say, `Lo, he is in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 28 Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man 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; 31 and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Meditation: Do you take God's judgments lightly or seriously? When Jesus warned his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy Temple, he quoted from the prophet Daniel who prophesied the desecration of the holy place in Jerusalem as "an abomination that makes desolate" (Daniel 12:11).  This came to pass around 170 BC when the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, determined to wipe out the religion of Israel. He captured Jerusalem and set up an altar to Zeus in the temple court and sacrificed swine's flesh on the altar. He also turned the priests' room and temple chambers into public brothels. Jesus now prophesies that the holy place would be desecrated again. This time the destruction would be far worse for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. This time there would be no deliverance, no restoration nor purification. Jesus' advice was very practical - flee before the destruction comes!

When the Romans decided to destroy Jerusalem in 70 AD, they first cut off all food supplies to the walled city and allowed no one to escape. They then waited for its inhabitants to starve to death before they entered the city and destroyed it and leveled it to the ground. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, over a million inhabitants died. Josepheus described in detail the seige and famine. "The famine confounded all natural passions; for those who were just going to die looked upon those who were gone to their rest before them with dry eyes and open mouths. A deep silence, also, and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city. ..And every one of them died with their eyes fixed upon the Temple." (Josephesus, War of the Jews, 5.12.3)

While Daniel prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem because of the stubborn pride and rebellion of its inhabitants, he also foretold that God would send his Anointed One, the Son of Man who would come on the clouds of heaven to bring God's reign on the earth (see Daniel 7:13-15). Daniel's vision describes a royal investiture of a human king before God's throne. This king, whose authority comes from God, is given world-wide rulership and power which lasts forever. Many Jews in Jesus' time expected the Messiah King to come at any moment. Jesus warns his disciples that many false Christ's (the Greek form of the word for 'Messiah') and false prophets would lead people astray. The Jews were looking for the right sign to show them who the true Messiah would be. Jesus pointed to himself as the definitive sign of God's imminent kingdom.

Jesus illustrated his point with two parables or word pictures - how lightning strikes the earth and sky and how eagles search out their prey. When lightning appears in the darkened sky,  its powerful surge of  flashing energy and light and its piercing noise strike awe and terror. You don't need a special sign to make it visible or to show where it is striking. It manifests itself quite clearly.  In like manner, when "the son of Man comes" it will be as clear as the lightning in the heavens. Jesus quoted a familiar proverb to his audience: "Where the body is, there the eagles (or vultures) will be gathered together." Eagles, like vultures, are attracted to carrion - dead or dying prey. The Book of Job describes the eagle spying out its prey from afar (Job 39:29).  What's the point of this analogy? If we are not spiritually alive in Christ, then the Day of Judgement will catch us unprepared to meet the Lord when he comes to separate the "sheep from the goats" (Matthew 25:31-33) and the "wheat from the weeds" (Matthew 13:24-30).

Jesus used the image of a fig tree to teach his disciples an important lesson about reading the "signs of the times".  The fig tree was a common and important source of food for the Jews. It bore fruit twice a year, in the autumn and in the early spring. The Talmud said that the first fruit came the day after Passover. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would usher in the kingdom of God at Passover time. The signs of spring are evident for all who can see. Just so are the signs of God's kingdom and his coming in judgment.  The "budding" of God's kingdom begins first in the hearts of those who are receptive to God's word. Those who trust in God's word will bear the fruits of his kingdom. And what are the fruits of that kingdom?  The kingdom of God righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

We do not know when the Lord will return again.  But the Lord does give us signs, not only to "wake us up" as a warning, but also to "rouse our spirits" to be ever ready and eager to see his kingdom come in all its power and glory.  The "Day of the Lord" will strike terror in those who reject the kingdom of God, but it will be a day of joy and rejoicing for those who long to see the Lord face-to-face. The Lord wants us to be filled with joyful anticipation for his coming. He surely comes to us each day and knocks on the doors of our hearts. And he will surely come again to establish his kingdom in all its fulness.  Do you read the "signs of the times" with God's perspective and do you pray with joyful confidence for God's kingdom to come in all its fulness?

"Lord, fill me with gratitude for the gift of redemption and increase my hope and longing for your return again in glory. May that day bring joy to my heart rather than sorrow. Help me to serve you faithfully and to make the best use of my time now in the light of your coming again."

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(c) 2007 Don Schwager