“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. 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. 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.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Since this passage is so controversial, let’s break down what Christ said.
The sun will darken immediately after the days of tribulation. The moon will not give light immediately after the days of tribulation. The stars will fall from heaven immediately after the days of tribulation. The powers of the heavens will be shaken immediately after the day of tribulation.
The phrasing is clear. It prohibits any understanding that shifts it from the tribulation Jesus spoke of earlier. Jesus said immediately. He did not say 2000+ years later. Skeptics look at this and say, “Yeah temple is gone. Jerusalem is destroyed, Yes the Jews were dispersed. But the sun is still shining. The moon shines at night. Therefore, Christ’s prediction failed and at the very least He was a false prophet.
Many have gone through great mental and linguistic contortions to extricate Jesus from this problem. Here are some options given.
First, there are cases of primary and secondary fulfillment of prophecy in the bible. That is a prophecy can have immediate fulfillment. There can then be a later fuller fulfillment. The problem is there is no record of the sun and moon not shining after the fall of Jerusalem
The Second approach is immediate does not mean immediate. It must be understood figuratively. One of the basic rules of bible interpretation is how would the contempoary audience have understood it. Is there any reason in their context to assume the disciple understood it as figurative? How are time references understood in the bible? Time references are almost always literal.
But if immediate means immediate, how are we to understand this passage? Chapters 13 and 34 in Isaiah help us out.
“For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.” (Isaiah 13:10)
“All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.” (Isaiah 34:4)
These passages are about divine judgment. Divine judgment is often communicated by metaphor. “Is not the day of the LORD darkness and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:20)
This is the same type of language. Jews of that time would understand it that way. So how would the disciples understand Jesus’ words about the sun moon, etc? It was the judgment of God. Jesus meant what He said. We do not need to do mental gymnastics. Scripture tells us how to interrupt scripture. Immediately after the tribulation come the judgment of God.
After the sun is darkened, the moon does not shine, the stars have fallen and the powers of heaven are shaken the Son of Man will appear. The skeptic will give you Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed but Jesus did not return immediately. So Jesus was wrong. They are aided in their assertion by those who use this passage as referring to Christ’s final coming. So hold on scooter let’s read what it says. Let’s not read our preconceived ideas into it. Jesus said the Son of Man will appear. Who is the Son of Man? The Messiah is the Son of Man. Who is the Messiah? Jesus! So Jesus is the Son of Man. Jesus said He will appear immediately after the tribulation. That is, Immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem. What does the Greek say? Reading both Thayer and Strong I would have to concur “appear” is a good English translation of the Greek.
Here is the problem. Many see “appear” but read “return.” What appears and where? The sign of the Son of Man” will appear. The sign of Christ is not Christ. It is a sign. They are not the same. Second, the sign will appear in the heavens. In the heavens is not on earth. It is in the sky amoung the clouds So a sign will appear in the clouds. That is a very different thing from the return of Christ to earth. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The next part of verse 30 says, “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” So the Son of Man, i.e. Jesus, will come. But he is coming on clouds, not terrestrial earth.
.”When the Son of Man appears all the tribes on earth will mourn. According to both Strong and Thayer, the word translated earth refers to a region. Or it could refer to the entire globe. But remember the first three rules of interpretation, context, context, and context. The understanding of region applies better here. So all the of the land of Judea will morn. And therefore the tribes of the land are the tribes of Isreal.
The coming of the Son of Man in this context does not refer to Christ’s ultimate coming. Rather it is a reference to His coming in judgment on Isreal. And all the tribes will see the Son of Man.
This is where Josephus, a non Christian historian is very helpful. Josephus was an eye witness fo the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. He records somehting amazing.
I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.” But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, (23) began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!”Josephus, Flavius. Josephus Flavius: Complete Works and Historical Background Book 6 Chapter 5 Section 3
The Son of Man did come. He was seen. He was heard He came in judgement of Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple. He came exactly as He had prophecied.
Praise God He keeps His promises. We can count on His word.