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 the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.'
I. THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IS PRECEDED BY REVOLUTIONS.
1. These are described under the figure of the shaking of the powers of the heavens.
(1) The mechanical heavens bear rule over the physical earth. They are therefore made emblems of government, whether political or religious or both. The shaking of the heavens imports the removal of such governments (see Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Daniel 8:10; Joel 2:10, 30, 31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9, 10).
(2) The sun is the symbol of the supreme power in the state, and of monarchy in particular. The darkening of the sun imports the humiliation, if not extinction, of the supreme civil rulers.
(3) The moon is the emblem of the ecclesiastical system, Anciently, the times and ceremonies of the Church were measured and ordered by the revolutions and changes of the moon. As the true Church, like the moon, borrows its light from the Sun, viz. "of righteousness," so have spurious religious systems borrowed theirs from civil rulers. The moon eclipsed represents a dispensational change in the true Church, and confusion to the false Churches.
(4) Stars represent particular rulers, as princes and leaders in the state; and "angels" or ministers in the Church. The stars leaving their orbits and falling obviously imports the effects of revolution upon he leaders of religious corporations.
2. Trace now the fulfilment of the prophecy.
(1) The Jewish system literally collapsed "immediately after the tribulation" of the days of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans took away their "nation." They also took away their "place," or temple. And the destruction of the temple involved the abolition of the Levitical system, of which the temple was the very centre. Thus the sun, moon, and stars of that people came to grief together.
(2) The prophecy had a further fulfilment in the calamities, revolutions, and ultimate overthrow of the Roman empire. We find the same figures applied in the Apocalypse, first to the overthrow of the pagan powers of the empire by Constantine; and next, to the subversion of the empire itself by the northern invaders (see Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:12). The application of the word "immediately" in reference to these events will not surprise when we take into account the character of prophetic language, and the vast range of time to which it is applied.
(3) The final instalments of fulfilment will take place when the antichristian powers, civil and ecclesiastical, shall come into judgment. This event will come "immediately after the tribulation" upon the Jews comes to its end in their restoration to their land and covenants.
(4) Who can say whether this prophecy may not also have a literal accomplishment in the mechanical heavens themselves? There is a remarkable relation between astronomical and political changes.
3. In all commotions Christ will be merciful to his people. "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet," etc. (ver. 31).
(1) These words may be applied to the calling of the Gentiles. They are said to come from the "four winds" or "comers of the earth" (cf. Matthew 8:11, 12; Luke 13:28, 29). God's message comes as the sound of a trumpet (cf. Numbers 10.; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 33:3, 6; Romans 10:18).
(2) They may be applied to the gathering of the Jews. They are still in a sense God's "elect." They are destined to be gathered out of all the nations into which God has driven them in his anger. The angels with the trumpet will be God's messengers in gathering them (cf. Daniel 8:10; Esther 8:16; Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9).
(3) They may be applied to the gathering together of the elect of God, who shall be called forth from their graves "by the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God" (cf. Exodus 19:13, 16; Leviticus 25:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52).
II. THE "SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN," AND THE "COMING OF THE SON OF MAN IN THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN," ARE THE SAME.
1. This was the sign for which the sceptics clamoured.
(1) The Jewish rulers were offended at the mean appearance of Jesus. "The carpenter's Son!" "Of Nazareth!" "Have any of the rulers believed?" Pride has a natural antipathy to humility. But the pride of all false glorying must be stained.
(2) They overlooked, or refused to see, that Messiah was to come in this very quality of humiliation. The "Root out of a dry ground!" (see Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2, 3; Psalm 22:6; Mark 9:2). The antitype of "David in all his afflictions." So of the "prophets and righteous men" who suffered for righteousness' sake.
(3) The rulers had refused the "signs which Jesus did," most unreasonably accounting them insufficient. Men are not now sceptics for lack of cogent evidence. Unbelief is of the "evil heart" (cf. Psalm 14:1; Hebrews 3:12).
(4) The sign from heaven, for which they clamoured, was that of the Prophet Daniel (cf. Daniel 7:13; Matthew 16:1). That sign was not intended for this generation. The sign from the earth - that of the Prophet Jonah, was to be given to them (see Matthew 12:38-40).
2. They will receive it to their confusion.
(1) Confounded by their pride, they missed the event of the first advent of Messiah. Yet by that very pride which blinded them they were urged to fulfil the prophecies which they failed to see. So God makes the perversity of scepticism to praise him.
(2) They confounded the time of the second advent. They looked for Messiah as a King when they should have looked for him as a Priest. Here also their pride confused them.
(3) How will that pride be confounded when they shall see the very blessed Person whom they had rejected and crucified, "coming in the clouds, of heaven, with power and great glory"! As the "sign of the Prophet Jonah" was Jonah, so the "sign of the Son of man" is the Son of man. In the cloud, viz. of the Shechinah, Jesus went into heaven, and in the same cloud will he return (see Acts 1:9-11).
(4) Sooner or later, all sinners will "mourn." Those who have not mourned in contrition will "wail" in despair (cf. ver. 30; Revelation 1:7). The cloud of the Presence was a pillar - support, viz. in union, of vapour and fire. As judgment came from that Presence in the water which destroyed the old world, so from the fire of the cloud will come forth those flames which will consume in the judgment to come. - J.A.M.
Immediately after the tribulation of these days shall the sun be darkened.I. There will be a manifestation of Christ in truth and UNMISTAKABLE REALITY. Till the moment of His coming, it will be possible to deceive. False prophets were the bane of the old dispensation; false Christs are the bane of the new. Then He will stand before men as the true Messiah. "I am the truth" will be condemnation for millions in that day.
II. Christ will be manifested in UNIVERSALITY. At present He is here and there as men carry the message. His coming then shall be like the lightning flash, which penetrates everywhere, awfully beautiful, irresistibly destructive, and fearfully silent.
III. The AWFUL, MAJESTY in which He will appear. This is set forth in the appalling changes that will come over the material heavens.
IV. Christ will be manifested as IN SEARCH OF HIS OWN. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost," not secretly as before; but His angels shall conspicuously gather together the dead.
(E. T. Marshall.)
I. THE SIGN OF CHRIST'S HUMILIATION. "This shall be a sign unto you" etc. (Luke 2:12). A most disappointing sign this must have been to the shepherds, if they shared the current expectation of a regal and triumphant Messiah. A sign of exquisite tenderness and attractiveness to us.
II. The sign of Christ's GLORY. Our Lord, in answer to the question of the disciples, "What shall be the sign of Thy coming," etc., sketches a solemn prophetic picture of the events that are to precede it — the apostasies, and wars, and famines, and tribulations — and then finishes with this as the final omen, "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the heavens." Vast conjecture and speculation have been awakened as to the nature of this sign. The many descriptions of Christ's coming given in Scripture agree in one particular, that He comes in clouds. Examine this sign, and seek to interpret it .... As in the sign of Christ's first coming there were marks of glory accompanying the marks of humiliation, so in the sign of His second coming there will be marks of His humiliation accompanying the marks of His glory. Both signs are true, they shine on the pages of prophecy as we read, like the dazzling lenses of a revolving lighthouse, first one and then the other; now the glory and now the humiliation; now the suffering and now the conquest. The one has been fulfilled. Glory, then, in the accomplishment of the one. Watch for the appearing of the other. "What I say-unto you I say unto all — Watch."
(A. J. Gordon.)I. The persons of whom that assembly will be composed.
II. The process by which that assembly will be collected.
III. The manner in which that assembly will be arranged. Only two classes will be recognized. The last division of the assembly will be public and visible. How momentous the events which that division has created and displayed!
IV. The decision which on it will be pronounced. The principles by which the decision will be guided. The consequences which the decision will involve.
(J. Parsons.)I. Vicious habits.
II. A resort to infidelity or universalism to relieve the mind from presentiments of a judgment to come.
III. A false hope and a false profession.
IV. The approach of age without religion.
V. Carnal security.
VI. Satisfaction with worldly good.
VII. A loose and presumptuous confidence in God's mercy.
VIII. Increasing hardness of heart.
IX. Neglect of prayer and the means of grace.
X. The rejection of many calls. How many of these marks of death do you find upon yourself?
(E. Griffin, D. D.)within you, but the crises of judgment are periodical and outward. The kingdom is within the individual the kingdom of habit, which eludes observation; silently formed day by day, growing as seed grows in the earth, full of slow, secret developments; the kingdom of impressions received — no change on the face showing the inner working; the kingdom of life discipline — lessons quietly, privately learned — experiences which only you know of laid to heart — memories hoarded; the kingdom of prayer, aspiration, spiritual communion, into which you can enter alone, none knowing how or when you pray — the Divine Host coming in silently, "without observation." It comes also, this spiritual kingdom, to nations, "without observation;" slowly beneath its invisible sway slavery disappears; the place of woman is secured; human law brought into nearer affinity with Divine law; the brotherhood of man gradually acknowledged, in theory, at least; even the horror of war alleviated. Thus slowly, without observation, do the kingdoms of the world tend to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. But, oh, how much remains to be done! Philosophers talk of the military barbarous phase giving place to the industrial phase in civilization, and we enter the Inventions Exhibition, 1885 — that late product of the nineteenth century — and the first things which meet our gaze are certain awful cannons and war implements for the destruction of human life, and the unfaternal torture of human beings. Cold steel, gunpowder, and the big battalions have it all their own way in a world which laughs at arbitration, sneers at right, and still swears by Christ. And now see how the judgment crises of this kingdom within work themselves out, and are as startling and as terrible as any appearance of the Son of Man in the clouds, surrounded by His angelic heralds of judgment. Every time the measure of a nation's iniquity is full, there comes such a judgment crisis. It came to Jerusalem when the armies of Vespasian, in the year 70, trampled out the heartless and effete ecclesiastical system of the old Judaism. It came to Rome when the unparalleled corruption of the Caesars had spread to the provinces, and in due time the empire went to pieces, under the weakness of its head, and was broken up to be re-constituted in the Christian nations of modern Europe. It came to England when the Reformation stamped the authority of the Pope out of the kingdom. It came again when huge popular oppression and political wrong nerved the people to strike for justice in the execution of an English king. It came to France after centuries of organized selfishness and robbery of the poor by the rich, in the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, 1793. It came again with the overthrow of an adventurer, who in our time rose to power by treachery and massacre, and wielded the sceptre of France for more than twenty years until the judgment fell upon him at Sedan and hurled him from the throne. People were taken in by Napoleon III. and the glitter of his empire. They thought that he at all events had outdone Providence. But neither he nor any one else can do that. One Frenchman at least saw clear — stood firm for the permanence of spiritual principle, and waited for the kingdom of God which cometh not with observation. That was Victor Hugo. Nothing could induce him to enter France whilst Antichrist was on the throne. The day after Sedan he presented himself at the ticket-office in Brussels, and left that night for Paris.
(H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
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