“The Sign of the Son of Man”
SIGNS surround us in our modern world. In cities and countryside, on streets and highways, in buildings and homes, they give us directions, advice, or warnings, and they publicize or identify the presence of persons, things, qualities or conditions that we usually do not immediately see. A simple nameplate on the front of a house is a sign to us that certain persons live there, even though we may not see them. A “skull-and-crossbones” sign on the front of a bottle tells us that the contents, which we see, possess a poisonous quality, which we do not see.
Signs can be most helpful, but only if we understand their meaning. If wrongly read, they could lead us into error, confusion, accident, or even disaster. Thus one definition for the word “sign” is: A word that means, stands for, designates, or denotes something to an interpreter.
There is one sign today that is of the highest importance to every person on earth. For us to see it, to understand it correctly and to act in accord with it promptly will spell the difference between life and death for each of us. What is this sign? Where can it be seen? And how should it be read?
THE MOST VITAL SIGN
Christ Jesus referred to this sign when he said: “Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt. 24:30) Why not open your copy of the Bible to this Mt chapter 24:1-29 and read the preceding verses and see the setting for this statement? On doing so, you will find that it forms part of Jesus’ great prophecy on the “conclusion of the system of things” (“end of the world,” AV) and the time for announcing “good news of the kingdom” and its establishment. This gives us the key to the understanding of “the sign of the Son of man.”
As recorded in Mt 24 verse fifteen of this chapter Jesus had just referred to the prophet Daniel, and from the expressions he now used with reference to the “sign,” there is no doubt that Jesus was referring back to the prophetic vision recorded at Daniel 7:13, 14: “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.”
The “Ancient of Days” is the God of eternity, Jehovah. (Ps. 90:2) He is the Universal Sovereign, the source of all right to rule. The one “like a son of man” is Christ Jesus, as he himself indicated at John 3:13-15 and Luke 22:66-69. What is shown to be taking place here that Jesus could refer to as “the sign of the Son of man”? It is the act of God’s Son in receiving authority from his Sovereign Father to rule in an everlasting kingdom. This event brought the establishment or “birth” of his kingly rule. (See also Revelation 12:1, 2, 5, 10.) Do not fail to note, please, that this event takes place, not in the skies of earth’s atmosphere, but in the invisible heavens of Jehovah God’s presence. At the due time, God’s Son, who had been waiting at his Father’s right hand, would enter into full regnal power and authority, obeying his Father’s command: “Go subduing in the midst of your enemies.” (Ps. 110:1, 2; Heb. 10:12, 13) Other Bible prophecies and the facts in fulfillment, considered frequently in the columns of this magazine, show this event to have taken place in the year 1914 C.E.
HOW THE SIGN IS SEEN
Why, then, you may ask, did Jesus say the sign would “appear” in heaven and that all the tribes of the earth would “see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”? Why have we not seen Christ Jesus in a glorious return? Is that not to be expected in view of the statement at Revelation 1:7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, and those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief because of him”?
A helpful comment in this regard is found in A Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott. Concerning the Greek word for “see” used at Matthew 24:30 and Revelation 1:7, their lexicon (Volume 2, page 1245a) lists this as one of the meanings: “Metaphorically, . . . of mental sight, to discern, perceive.” Yes, the Bible speaks not only of seeing with our eyes but also of seeing with our mind and with our heart. Just think about the words at Romans 1:20, which tell us: “His invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship.” Note that with the mind we can perceive or see things that are positively invisible to the human eyes, in this case God’s invisible qualities.
So, with regard to “the sign of the Son of man,” we ask, With what eyes did Daniel first see this prophetic sign? Was it not in “visions of his head” and thus with the mind’s eye rather than the fleshly eye? (Dan. 7:1) It was in a similar vision that the apostle John was transported far into the future and could say: “I saw, and, look! a white cloud, and upon the cloud someone seated like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” (Rev. 14:14) Inasmuch as “the sign of the Son of man” took place in the heavenly courts, it is only with the ‘eyes of the heart of appreciation’ that “every eye will see” this installed king, Christ Jesus.—Eph. 1:18.
But what about the use of “clouds” in all these texts? Would that not place the “sign” within earth’s atmosphere, where literal clouds form and float and hence within the range of human eyesight? Take another look at the seventh chapter of Daniel, where the “sign” is first presented. Do you see Daniel’s use of symbolisms by which world governments are represented as “beasts” that come up out of the “sea”? (Dan. 7:2, 3) So, too, in Da 7 verse 13 he uses “clouds” in a figurative way to contrast with the symbolic “sea” and thus to show the heavenly situation where the authority is given to the “Son of man” whereby he rules and crushes the beastly governments that the sea of humanity has spawned.—Compare Revelation 13:1-3 and Re 17:15.
In the Bible, clouds are the accompaniments of the “power and great glory” Jesus mentioned at Matthew 24:30, and also are symbolic of invisibility. (1 Ki. 8:10-12) At Mount Sinai it was in clouds and with thunder and lightning that Jehovah God “met” with Moses, and neither Moses nor the people below saw God with their fleshly eyes. (Ex. 20:21; 24:18; 33:20; Deut. 4:11, 12) Likewise, when God’s Son, Christ Jesus, took leave of his apostles and began his ascension to the heavens of God’s presence, the record at Acts 1:9 tells us: “While they were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision.” The cloud thus cut him off from their literal eyesight but, on the day of Pentecost, Jehovah God opened their understanding to perceive that Jesus had ascended even to God’s right hand. (Acts 2:33-35) Since the angels, standing by at the time Christ began his ascension, told the disciples that Jesus would “come thus in the same manner,” we can be certain that his ‘coming in the clouds’ will be invisible to fleshly eyes and be perceived only with the ‘eyes of the heart.’ Like his Father, Jesus now “dwells in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see.”—Acts 1:11; 1 Tim. 6:15, 16.
READING THE SIGN WITH UNDERSTANDING
What does this “sign” mean for you, yes, for every person living today? The empowering of Christ Jesus, the “Son of man,” with “rulership and dignity and kingdom” means that “peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (Dan. 7:14) Their doing so will mean life under a perfect government with all the grand benefits that will proceed from such a rule. The “sign” also points out the grave danger of failing to serve that kingdom willingly. Whereas the kingdom of the “Son of man” will be “everlasting” and ‘never will be brought to ruin,’ the kingdoms and governments of earth, which these persons of all national and linguistic groups have served, are faced with utter destruction.—See Daniel 2:44.
How providential it is for all of us, then, that this “sign” of the installed King in the invisible heavens, beyond the power of our human vision, has been made evident by yet another sign, one that is seeable by human eyes. This visible sign follows after and results from the invisible “sign of the Son of man,” since it is composed of the many events and conditions that the Bible foretold would follow and result from the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom rule. It is, therefore, a composite sign, and the appearance of all these events and conditions would thus “spell out” that visible sign and open the eyes of their readers to perceive that the ‘sign of the Son of man has appeared in heaven.’ Yes, they would fairly shout out the announcement: Christ Jesus is now ruling!
Read for yourself the description of the multiple features and details of this composite sign as given by Jesus at Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and Revelation 6:1-8, including global wars, widespread food shortages, pestilences, earthquakes in many places, increase of lawlessness, anxiety and fear of the future, and an earthwide preaching of the “good news of the kingdom” by persons who would be persecuted in all nations. That composite sign is not only visible in this generation since 1914; it is inescapable. It faces you every time you pick up your daily paper, its sound rings through every news broadcast on your radio or television, it is all around you as you go through each day of your life no matter where you may live.
By means of this visible, composite sign, over a million persons in all parts of the globe today acknowledge that they have been enabled to “see” “the sign of the Son of man” and to recognize its meaning. They have witnessed the way in which the evidence has piled up year after year for more than half a century, which evidence testifies to the fact that as of the year 1914 “the sign of the Son of man” appeared in heaven. They are, therefore, different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of the first century to whom Jesus said: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but the signs of the times you cannot interpret.” (Matt. 16:3) You can also be aided to see and read the meaning of the “signs of the times” by personal study of the Bible prophecies and by comparing these with the events of our day.
Realizing that Christ Jesus has received kingly authority and has begun his rule and that the end of the world systems of government draws ever closer, those who act in response to the import of “the sign of the Son of man” now submit to Christ’s Kingdom rule and put that kingdom first in their lives. (Matt. 6:33) They rejoice to serve as witnesses for Jehovah God and to draw attention to this “sign” in a grand publicity campaign that has reached into 197 lands and islands of the sea. Through them this magazine has come to you.
The day will come when “every eye” must see this “sign,” as Revelation 1:7 indicates. Unfortunately for the majority, this will be at the time described at 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9: “At the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.” Such ones who now refuse to open their minds and hearts in order to “see” the “sign of the Son of man,” or who insist on giving a wrong reason for the evidences pointing to it, will be forced to recognize the presence of Christ Jesus as reigning king when he acts to destroy all such in the war of Armageddon. Jesus said that, for such ones of “all the tribes of the earth,” the sign will produce, not joy, but only ‘lamentation’ and a ‘beating of themselves in grief.’ To them it will spell only disaster.—Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7; 16:16.
For your own life’s sake, allow your eyes of understanding to focus on this vital “sign.” With the help of God’s Word read it correctly, and let it lead you to “obey the good news about our Lord Jesus,” the Son of man, and to “serve even him.” Then the “sign” will spell life to you.