Who Will See “the Sign of the Son of Man”?
ONE of the most striking prophecies that Jesus Christ uttered included an application to himself of Daniel the prophet’s vision at Daniel 7:13, 14. The prophet was given a symbolic view of the world governments from Babylon (under which he then lived) down to the end of all human governments and to their replacement by Messianic rule. Concerning the Messianic King, Daniel wrote:
“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.”—Dan. 7:13, 14.
Jesus Christ is the one here described as being “like a son of man.” (Compare Luke 5:24; 7:34.) The Jews demanded that, to prove to them that he was truly the Messiah, he demonstrate it in a visible way by appearing on the clouds of heaven, according to their view of the prophecy and its fulfillment. But Jesus told them that they would receive no such sign. (Matt. 12:38, 39; 16:1-4; Mark 8:11, 12) Rather, the Scriptures indicate that the “sign of the Son of man” in power and glory would be seen much later.
Who, then, will see “the sign of the Son of man” as he comes “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”? Jesus indicated that all on earth would do so. He said: “All the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man.” (Matt. 24:30) Since Christ is now an invisible spirit person, human eyes cannot literally see him, but they can discern his presence by the things occurring. (1 Tim. 6:16) Some will discern his invisible presence early; others—described as beating themselves in lamentation—not until he begins taking action to destroy the elements that make up this present world system of things.
This action on his part, Jesus said, would mean a tribulation for the earth that would be without equal “since the world’s beginning.” (Matt. 24:21) The initial part of that tribulation will be the destruction of “Babylon the Great”—of all worldly religions, particularly focusing on the so-called “Christian” religious organizations professing to follow Christ, but actually misrepresenting him. (Rev. 17:1, 2, 16-18; 18:21) Following this will be the showdown fight between the political, commercial and military elements of this world against the “King of kings,” Jesus Christ.—Rev. 19:11-21.
DAYS “CUT SHORT”
The nation of ancient Israel claimed to be God’s people. They had the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. But they practiced false worship and persecuted Jesus Christ and his followers. They were friends, not of God, but of the world. They rejected Jesus, the one whom God anointed and presented to the Jewish nation as King. Instead they cried, at the time of Jesus’ trial before Roman governor Pontius Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:12-16) For their rebelliousness God cast them off from him and destroyed Jerusalem by means of the Roman armies, in 70 C.E.
Christendom has been like ancient Jerusalem. She has the Bible and claims to be the sole representative of the true God. But she has belied her claim by persecuting those who proclaim God’s Messianic kingdom. She has been an integral part of this world, meddling in its politics. (John 17:14; Jas. 4:4) Therefore God will destroy her, just as he did ancient Jerusalem.
In the destruction of first-century Jerusalem the siege lasted a short time, only 142 days. During this time 1,100,000 Jews were killed and 97,000 survived, to be sold into slavery. Jesus had foretold: “Unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.”—Matt. 24:22.
In Jesus’ words about the days being cut short, the “chosen” ones were, first, the Christians living in Jerusalem and Judea, who were the first ones to discern the prophetic judgment of Jehovah about to fall on Jerusalem, and who got out, fleeing to safety across the Jordan River. On account of getting these out in advance, ‘out of the way,’ as it were, God could quickly do the job of destroying Jerusalem by means of the Roman army. It was a mercy on his part not to wipe out every last soul.
In a similar manner, God’s “chosen ones,” the anointed, spirit-begotten brothers of Jesus Christ yet on earth at this time, get into the place of safety. They discern by the evidences, the events of our times, that the Son of man is invisibly present and that destruction of this system of things is near. They do not bodily take themselves out from among the people, as in the case of the Christians in Jerusalem. But they take refuge in Jehovah under his Messianic king, whom they recognize and serve. They trust in his kingdom, not in the efforts of men, to bring peace and security to the earth. Their faithfulness has been noticed by a “great crowd” of other persons who join in worship with them.—Rev. 7:9-17.
The “chosen ones” and their companions having been clearly identified and brought under the invisible protection of the King, the destruction can then go ahead. It need not be a long, drawn-out tribulation, but can be “cut short.” In this way some flesh is saved. This “flesh” is saved, not to be sold into slavery, but for survival into God’s new order, because of exercising faith in the Messianic kingdom and discerning Christ’s invisible presence. Hence, though spared from death as were those 97,000 survivors in Jerusalem, the “chosen ones” and the “great crowd” are not “pictured” by those unrighteous ones back there. There is a similarity only in the fact that, in both instances, flesh was spared; and also in Jehovah’s mercy in not wiping out all the Jews there, nor all the people at this time.
NOT MISLED BY FALSE MESSIAHS
In telling what would happen to Jerusalem, Jesus warned his disciples of false messiahs in their day, and also the things that would be necessary for Christians to watch for in expecting his pa·rou·siʹa or “presence” in Kingdom power. He said:
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Christ,’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, even the chosen ones. Look! I have forewarned you. Therefore, if people say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”—Matt. 24:23-28.
When Christ would return in an invisible presence he would not come as a man on earth. Therefore Christians should not look for him “in the wilderness,” so that they could train with him in some out-of-the-way place for a revolution. Nor would he be in some secret “inner chambers,” where he could conspire against world governments with his followers. No, his presence was to be like lightning, not in its being instantaneous and unexpected, but in its being seen over a wide area, in the open, for everyone to behold. (Luke 17:24; compare Psalm 97:4.) His followers would not keep their knowledge of his invisible presence secret, but would give it widespread proclamation.—Matt. 10:26, 27.
The “chosen ones,” Jesus said, would not be deceived and disappointed by false Christs. They are symbolically like “eagles” in having sharp spiritual insight. As an eagle knows where the carcass on which he is to feed is to be found, so the farsighted “chosen ones” would gather together to the looked-for Messiah, Jesus, to feed on the spiritual food at the right Messianic place, because they would discern the true Christ.—Luke 17:37.
THE EXPRESSION “IMMEDIATELY AFTER”
Jesus gave these warnings, which had an application, first, to Jerusalem with her people, and then to Christians during the centuries after Jerusalem’s destruction. Following this warning he used the expression “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” (Matt. 24:29) This expression constituted a division, timewise. What he said from this point on applied only in one sense, namely, in modern times, not to Jerusalem back there. How can this be properly said?
The first-century usage of the term translated “immediately” (Greek, euthéōs) was different from our use of the English word today. The Greek expression did not necessarily mean that there was no time lapse. Dr. A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, in explaining this fact, refers to a similar expression (though a different Greek word is used), saying: “The use of en tachei [“shortly”] in Rev. 1:1 should make one pause before he decides. Here we have a prophetic panorama like that with foreshortened perspective.” Also, we might note the long lapse of time involved in the expression by the apostle Paul: “The God who gives peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.”—Rom. 16:20.
Actually, Jesus spanned a space of centuries of time by the expression “immediately after,” for the things he thereafter described were not seen in the first century. Historical records do not show that the Roman besiegers of Jerusalem and the other “tribes of the earth” beat themselves in lamentation at any sight of the Son of man coming on clouds and with “power and great glory.”
Rather, the things Christ here foretold find their fulfillment in our time. He predicted the darkening of conditions in the world, as if the sun had gone out and the stars had fallen from heaven, there being no bright outlook ahead. These things have happened since 1914, when World War I marked a turning point in world affairs, introducing the darkest period of mankind’s history.
But this planet or its entire population will never be destroyed by nuclear warfare, nor by any man-directed means. For, at earth’s darkest moment, “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.
This refers, not to the beginning of Christ’s pa·rou·siʹa or invisible presence, but to his “coming” (Greek, er·khoʹme·non) at the “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” When he comes “with the clouds, and every eye will see him” he will be invisible to fleshly eyes. (Rev. 1:7) “Clouds” would naturally hide anyone in them, the expression therefore symbolizing that the one “coming” is himself invisible. Not with fleshly eyes in a literal sense, but from observation of what the Son of man does at that time, everyone will see that what takes place is not from men, but from heaven. The “tribes of earth” who have been brought into conflict with God because of false religion and by the commercial, political organizations will “beat themselves in lamentation” as they see the Son of man’s superhuman power exercised against their armies and systems.
During Christ’s pa·rou·siʹa, which precedes his “coming” to execute judgment, the message of the Kingdom and its establishment has been declared like a mighty trumpet blast in the direction of the “four winds”—in every direction—for the gathering of Jehovah’s anointed, spirit-begotten “chosen ones” into unity of worship. (Matt. 24:31) Also, others have heard and listened with a desire to serve God, and are serving along with the “chosen ones.”
TO FIND FULFILLMENT IN THIS GENERATION
Not one thing only, but many things now taking place concurrently prove that we are near the day and hour of that future appearance of the “sign of the Son of man” to all persons, even unbelievers. But before that, by viewing the events since 1914 C.E. in connection with Jesus’ prophecy, those who believe God’s Word see the already-existing “sign” of Christ’s invisible presence now. Jesus’ next words to his followers indicate that he will not allow them to be caught going along with the worldly system of things in its hopes, schemes and frustrating works. He said: “Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors. Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.”—Matt. 24:32-34.
Since the kingdom of the “Son of man” is “an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away,” it is a comfort to know that these things will take place in our own generation. (Dan. 7:13, 14; 2:44) For this One will reign in the fear of Jehovah his God, and he will rule, not to exploit the people, as men have done, but for their peace and happiness.—Isa. 11:1-5; 32:18.
If the readers of this article observe with discernment the things Jesus described as taking place now, they can count themselves greatly favored to have their eyes open to see the “sign” of Christ’s presence. Now they have opportunity to take steps to learn more about Jehovah’s purpose for this earth and can correct all their ways to walk in a manner pleasing to God. They can thereby look for God’s protection when they see the “sign of the Son of man” when “coming” to execute judgment on this system of things.