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What is the sign of the Son of Man in Matthew 24:30?

by Stephen Davey

Jermaine asked: What is the sign of the Son of Man that will be seen in Heaven according to Matthew 24:30?

Well, Jermaine, we're not entirely sure, but I'll tell you what we can know. 

What Matthew is describing is Jesus' return to earth at the end of the Great Tribulation. Jesus told His disciples in that passage that at the end of this time of tribulation, the entire world would see Him coming on the clouds. 

We know that this is not Jesus coming to rapture the church. The whole world does not see the rapture of the church, but the whole world does see Jesus’ second coming. In the rapture, only the church will be taken up to meet Him in the clouds. We will then be taken to the Father’s house (John 14). In His second coming, Christ will come in the clouds, not for His people, but with His people, seen by all the world. He will set up His reign upon the earth. 

As to the sign, there are two common ideas of what that might refer to. 

One popular view is that it will be a light and/or a cloud. Think back to the time of the Exodus when God led His people with His Shekinah glory. A light and a cloud led Israel. Many believe that something like that will surround Jesus when He comes. 

When Jesus ascended to Heaven in a cloud, an angel told His disciples that He would return the same way (Acts 1:11). The clouds symbolize the heavenly origin and character of the King.

A second view held by many people is that the sign will simply be Jesus Himself. When Christ appears, it will signify the imminent judgment that He brings.

While I hold to the first view, that light and clouds will surround Jesus, we don't know for sure.

GOING DEEPER:

Understanding the "Sign of the Son of Man" in Matthew 24:30

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus delivers a profound discourse on the Mount of Olives, often referred to as the Olivet Discourse. This sermon, spanning chapters 24 and 25, is rich with eschatological themes and prophetic insights. One of the most debated and intriguing aspects of this discourse is found in Matthew 24:30, which reads:

"Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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."

Context of the Passage

To grasp the full meaning of the "sign of the Son of Man," it is crucial to understand the broader context of Matthew 24. Jesus is responding to His disciples' questions about the destruction of the temple, the signs of His coming, and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3). Throughout this chapter, Jesus details various events and signs that will precede His second coming, including wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, and the spread of the Gospel.

The "Sign of the Son of Man" Explained

The "sign of the Son of Man" has been the subject of much interpretation and debate among scholars and theologians. There are several key aspects to consider when interpreting this passage:

  1. Heavenly Manifestation: The term "sign" (Greek: σημεῖον, sēmeion) often denotes a miraculous or supernatural event. In this context, the "sign of the Son of Man" is something that will appear in the heavens. This aligns with other eschatological prophecies that speak of cosmic disturbances and heavenly signs preceding the return of Christ (cf. Joel 2:30-31; Luke 21:25-27).

  2. Visibility to All: The passage states that "all the tribes of the earth will mourn" and "they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven." This indicates a universal visibility of the sign. It suggests that the return of Christ will be a global event, witnessed by all humanity. The mourning of the tribes can be understood as a response of both fear and realization, especially among those who have rejected Christ.

  3. Divine Glory and Power: Jesus' return is described as being "with power and great glory." This echoes Old Testament imagery, particularly from Daniel 7:13-14, where the "Son of Man" comes with the clouds of heaven and is given authority, glory, and sovereign power. This portrayal emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus' return, not as a humble servant, but as the triumphant King and Judge.

Interpretive Perspectives

There are various perspectives within evangelical theology regarding the exact nature and timing of the "sign of the Son of Man":

  1. Preterist View: Some scholars interpret the sign as referring to events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. They argue that the "coming" of the Son of Man is metaphorical, representing Jesus' vindication and judgment upon Israel. However, this view struggles to account for the global visibility and cosmic scope described in the passage.

  2. Futurist View: The predominant evangelical interpretation is that the sign refers to a future, literal event that will precede the second coming of Christ. This view holds that the sign could be a specific celestial phenomenon, such as an unusual alignment of stars, a supernatural light, or even the visible glory of Christ Himself. This perspective aligns well with the global and unmistakable nature of the event described.

  3. Symbolic View: Another perspective is that the sign represents the fulfillment of all prophetic signs leading up to Christ’s return. In this view, the cumulative effect of wars, disasters, and cosmic disturbances serves as the "sign" that the Son of Man is about to return. This interpretation emphasizes the interconnectedness of all eschatological signs rather than a single, distinct phenomenon.

Theological Implications

The "sign of the Son of Man" carries significant theological weight for believers:

  1. Hope and Anticipation: For Christians, the promise of Jesus' return is a source of hope and encouragement. It assures us that despite the turmoil and suffering in the world, Christ will return to establish His kingdom of justice and peace.

  2. Urgency in Mission: The global nature of the sign underscores the importance of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Knowing that Jesus’ return will be a worldwide event should motivate believers to share the Gospel with all nations, as the time of His coming is unknown.

  3. Call to Faithfulness: The Olivet Discourse includes numerous exhortations to remain vigilant and faithful (Matthew 24:42-44). The anticipation of the "sign of the Son of Man" should inspire Christians to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel, prepared for Christ's imminent return.

Conclusion

The "sign of the Son of Man" in Matthew 24:30 is a profound and multifaceted prophecy that points to the glorious and undeniable return of Jesus Christ. While interpretations vary, the overarching message is clear: Jesus will return in power and great glory, an event that will be visible and evident to all humanity. This promise not only provides hope for the future but also compels believers to live with a sense of urgency and faithfulness in their daily lives, eagerly anticipating the day when they will see their Lord and Savior coming on the clouds of heaven.

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Comments

Linda Taylor says:
What other sign point to Jesus Christ?? The scripture specifically says "SIGN". I believe it could be a cross. Maybe like An announcement or heads up or Something to that effect before christ, actually unveils himself in order to make sure everybody is paying attention. It's something that i've been praying about, and this is I believe the spirit is saying to me.