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Sermon Message


"The Glorious Appearing"

Matthew 24:29-31
Theme: Our Lord, for the encouragement and exhortation of His followers, reveals the sequence of events that surround His second coming.

(Delivered Sunday, October 26, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

Have you ever considered what may be the most significant spot on the planet earth? I don't know what your choice would be; but I would propose that it be the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

What makes the Mount of Olives so significant? For one thing, it's from that singular spot on earth that, after our resurrected Lord gave His final instructions to His disciples, He then bodily ascended from the earth to return to His Father in heaven (see Acts 1:12). Imagined what it must have been like to have been there and to have seen what Luke tells us they saw:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-11).

Jesus, they were told, would one day return in the same manner as they saw Him depart. And it will be to that very same spot that He will return. The Old Testament book of Zechariah tells us that on the day that our Lord returns, "His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east" (Zechariah 14:4).

And there's one more thing: It was on this very same spot that our Lord spoke the words of this morning's passage, in which He detailed for His disciples the sequence of events that would surround His return. Matthew 24:3 tells us that Jesus spoke these words to His disciples "as He sat on the Mount of Olives".

This morning, I'd like to read a portion of what our Lord said from that tiny spot—shortly before His departure from it in quiet humility, and concerning His return to it one day in divine majesty. In Matthew 24:29-31, Jesus tells us;

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).

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Lord and Master doesn't leave us in the dark as to what will happen in the end times. He unfolds the drama of His return to us through a sequence of seven specific events. And I believe that He shares these things with us in order to edify us with hope, and to exhort us toward faithfulness during our time of awaiting His return.

The first "act" in this unfolding drama is . . .


Jesus begins by telling us when these events will occur; "Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . ."

The "tribulation" that Jesus speaks of here is the period of time He described in detail in verses 15-28—that future period He called "great tribulation" (v. 22). It will be the time that the Bible describes elsewhere as one in which the "man of sin" (the Antichrist) will rise to world dominance; and which will be characterized by unprecedented suffering for both the Jewish people and for those who follow Jesus the Messiah. It's a time that will be cut short by the return of our Lord, and by the outpouring of God's righteous wrath on those who sinfully rebel against Him.

Now; many assert that Jesus' followers will not undergo the great tribulation. They say that we will be taken away in 'the rapture' before the tribulation begins. Many popular Bible teachers have taught that the Lord Jesus will take His church away in a "secret return"—just before the events of the great tribulation will occur. But do you notice what our Lord said? He said that the "gathering of the elect" that He describes later in this passage doesn't occur until "immediately after the tribulation of those days".

I believe that the thing that has motivated the teaching that the church will be "raptured" before the tribulation is the conviction that God will, in no way, pour out His wrath for sin upon His church—which is a teaching with which I heartily agree. The Bible plainly teaches us that God's wrath will not be poured out on those who are in Christ. Jesus Himself has taken all the wrath for our sins on His cross. But I would suggest that the mistake that many make is in confusing the outpouring of "God's wrath" with "the great tribulation".

The Bible makes those two things distinct. As it tells us very clearly in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." But just a few verses before that, Paul also told the Thessalonian believers that they should not be shaken by the afflictions and persecutions they were undergoing; "for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know" (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).

We are encouraged in the Scriptures to "wait" for God's Son from heaven, "whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). But we have no promise in the Scriptures that we will be exempt from "tribulation". In fact, the experience of the church throughout its time on this earth has been that of which our Lord forewarned us while He Himself was still on this earth; "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33). Many of our brothers and sisters in some parts of the world today are experiencing dreadful tribulation for their faith. One day, that tribulation will intensify into the world-wide experience of "the great tribulation". Nowhere in Scripture do we find a promise of "a secret return" of Jesus to deliver His church from "the great tribulation".

But here's the encouragement we do receive from our Lord's words. Jesus also told us, "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). The experiences of tribulation—and even ultimately "the great tribulation"—will come to an end. And it will be "immediately after the tribulation of those days" that our Lord will gloriously return, and that we will forever be united to Him.

Our Lord and Master doesn't leave us in the dark as to what will happen in the end times. He unfolds the drama of His return to us through a sequence of seven specific events. And I believe that He shares these things with us in order to edify us with hope, and to exhort us toward faithfulness during our time of awaiting His return.

Let's commit ourselves to walking faithfully with Him, no matter what. And in it all, let's remember what our Lord promises: that when the great tribulation is over, the time of His return will have come!

* * * * * * * * * *

He then tells us about the next great event that surrounds His return . . .


He says; "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." It's almost as if, before He returns this world, He pauses first to give the universe a vigorous 'shake' (see Haggai 2:6-7).

Now; these words are describing something astonishing. And many Bible teachers and scholars have assumed that they must be speaking of something figurative or symbolic. But I believe they are describing something very literal.

For one thing, the description our Lord gives is of something that seems to be mentioned in many different places in prophetic Scripture concerning the coming Day of the Lord. I find it hard to believe that something mentioned so often in Scripture—and often in nearly the same terms—is meant to be taken symbolically. For example, Isaiah 13:9-10 says;

Behold, the day of the LORD comes,
Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,
To lay the land desolate;
And He will destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not give their light;
The sun will be darkened in its going forth,
And the moon will not cause its light to shine (Isaiah 13:9-10).

Similarly, in Joel 2:30-32 God says;

“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the LORD
Shall be saved.
For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance,
As the LORD has said,
Among the remnant whom the LORD calls" (Joel 2:28-32).

Joel 3:14-16 also says;

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
The sun and moon will grow dark,
And the stars will diminish their brightness.
The LORD also will roar from Zion,
And utter His voice from Jerusalem;
The heavens and earth will shake;
But the LORD will be a shelter for His people,
And the strength of the children of Israel (Joel 3:14-16).

For another thing, Jesus speaks of the reaction to these remarkable events as if they were literal. Luke, in his Gospel, has it that our Lord said;

“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (Luke 21:25-26).

It is my belief that the Lord is describing something that will be so dreadful to the sight of the people of this earth—the sun going dark, the moon failing to give its light, the stars appearing to fall from the heavens, and the very heavenly bodies themselves seeming to shake—that some people will actually die of heart-failure.

Ungodly people often elevate themselves before others; and boast of how they have outgrown the need for God. But how small and insignificant and dreadfully helpless proud mankind will feel then! Our Lord lets us know that a humbling of the arrogant, self-reliant pride of sinful humanity will precede His glorious return for us.

How important it is that we be ready for Him by humbling ourselves before Him now!

* * * * * * * * * *

A third thing that we see is . . .


Jesus tells us, "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven"—or, as it is in the New International Version, "in the sky".

When our Lord calls Himself "the Son of Man", He is taking His name directly from the messianic prophecy of Daniel 7:13. The name "Son of Man" identifies Jesus not only as divine, but also as fully human. As the Son of God who took full humanity to Himself, He alone is worthy to be recognized as the divine Head of the human race—and thus to be the Son of Man.

But what is the "sign" that He speaks of? There have been many different ideas. Some of the early church fathers believed it would be something like what the Roman emperor Constantine said that he saw—the sign of the cross in the sky, with the words from God, "In this sign, you will conquer." Others have suggested that it will be a kind of "banner" or "ensign"—much like what a conquering king would raise at the time of a conquest. Some others say that it is the cataclysmic events in the heavens that we just read about. And still others suggest that it is Christ Himself—that He, in His coming, is His own "sign".

In the end, no one can know for sure what this sign will be until it is finally revealed. But I have confidence that whatever it is, it will clearly be 'His sign'. And no one will misunderstand its meaning—that the Son of Man is now about to appear on earth and begin His glorious reign. All the earth will know of His return.

* * * * * * * * * *

This leads us to the next great event . . .


Perhaps it is something about the "sign" of the Son of Man that they see that causes the people of the nations to wail. But in any case, we're told, "and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn . . ."

I believe we should understand this "mourning" in at least two ways. In Zechariah 12:10, we're told that, when the Lord makes His return to Jerusalem, "then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn." So, for the Jewish people, this will be a mourning and wailing of repentance over having crucified their King. What a day that will be—when the precious Jewish people finally own Jesus as the Messiah, and welcome His rule as King!

But it won't be a mourning of "repentance" for all. For the majority of the people of the earth, it will be a time of wailing in fear. The apostle John, in the Book of Revelation, writes;

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. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:12-17).

* * * * * * * * * *

Three more great events occur. We next read of . . .


The tribes of the earth, we're told, then "will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

"Clouds" are symbolic of His heavenly majesty. We're told that, when He was transfigured before His disciples on the mountain one evening, "a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" (Matthew 17:5). Later, when He ascended to His Father as the disciples watched, "He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). In Daniel's vision of the Son of Man, He appeared "coming with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13). And now, we're told that He comes to this earth "on the clouds of heaven"! What majesty!

And note too that He comes "with power and great glory". Revelation 19:11-16 describe His coming in these words:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11-16).

When He left this earth from the Mount of Olives two-thousand years ago, He left in great humility. But how different it will be when He returns to set foot upon it again!

* * * * * * * * * *

We're told that, upon His return to the earth, there will be two more events; and we should see them in close relation to one another. First, there will be . . .


He says, "And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet . . ." What an affirmation of His own great authority! He doesn't simply request that the angels go. He sends them. And He doesn't simply claim to send "the angels", as if they were not His. Rather, He says that He will send "His angels"!

They go out at His command, accompanied with a "great sound of a trumpet". For the Jewish people in the Old Testament times, the sound of the trumpet blast had a special significance. It represented the announcement of the year of Jubilee. Every fiftieth year, on the day of atonement, "liberty" was to be proclaimed throughout the land (see Leviticus 25:8-9ff). All people who were in debt would have their debts canceled. All people who had lost their homes or their property were allowed to return and take possession of their inheritance once again.

This trumpet blast will be a dreadful sound of judgment to many. But I believe it will be a joyous sound to the saints! Their Redeemer has come; and they are now about to enter into the joy of the inheritance of their Lord!

* * * * * * * * * *

And it's with that trumpet blast that the saints become glorified. The saints who are asleep in their graves will arise; and those who live will be transformed. Paul tells us, "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Elsewhere, he writes;

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 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 (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

And so, we come to the last great event that Jesus describes . . .


He says that He sends His angels with the great sound of the trumpet; "and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." He sends them forth into the north, the south, the east, and the west—unto every part of the globe that rests beneath the furthest reaches of the sky. Not one of His saints will be forgotten—no matter where they are.

* * * * * * * * * *

And may I suggest to you in closing that this is what our Lord came to this earth, ultimately, to accomplish on His cross? When He gave Himself on the cross for us, it was certainly to redeem us from our sins. But He didn't seek simply to take away our sins and then leave us. He died for us in order to glorify us and bring us into eternal fellowship with Himself, that we may thus "always be with the Lord".

How good He is to let His followers know these things in advance! May our knowledge of them move us to love Him more; and to follow Him with confident expectation and obedience of faith—looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

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