Jesus promised a sign would occur in the heavens, when He ascended there, sat on the throne to reign, and began the work of putting all His enemies under His feet. His Kingship is the sign!
Nickel Therapy Sessions and Judgment Comings
The melancholy boy walked timidly away from the five-cent therapy booth, questioning the psychological advice Lucy had given him again. “There is no better emotional outlet than kicking a football”, she mused with an air of clinical sensitivity. “If you cannot trust your therapist”, Charlie Brown muttered to himself as he was walking away, “then who can you trust?” That thought seemed to push him over the edge, propelling his lumpy little body awkwardly toward the prize, activating his casserole abs and cupcake quads into the locked and loaded position and ready to fire. With the safety off and the trigger pulled, his foot swept briskly through the air, missing the ball entirely that had now been pulled out from under him, yanking his husky little body up toward the sky like Darius on a warm summer day, only to crash under the weight of his unmet expectations.
When scenes like this play out over comic books or airwaves, we chuckle at the silly dolt who fell for it once again. We laugh, even while detesting all of the modern-day Lucy’s over at Buzzfeed and the ad approval division at Twitter who treat us in much the same way. Yet, as much as I personally detest clickbait and rug pulls, I found myself almost giving in to my inner Lucy on the blog last week. Almost.
For a split second, I almost went with the title, “Ten Reasons Why The Second Coming Has Already Happened”. And of course, if you read the article, that is perfectly true so long as you let me define the word “coming”. But after some prayer and counsel from an older brother in the faith, I added the clarity that was needed to the title, and all was well. But, I am sure you are wondering, why is all of this important?
Because I do not want to be a Lucy in your life when it comes to this topic. I want you to kick the eschatological ball down the field and through the uprights. I want you to understand what the Bible is saying about these things and not be left lying on your back in eschatological grief and confusion.
Spiritual v. Physical “Comings”
To do that, we have been introducing the concept that there are two kinds of divine “comings” in the Bible. There are times when God “comes” against a people for their sins. When this occurs, the coming is always spiritual, covenantal, always in the apocalyptic genre, and always in the context of divine judgment. There is also another kind of “coming” where God pursues a people in order to rescue them. When this happens, the coming is always physical, incarnational, and personal.
For instance, when God comes bodily in the garden, it is to rescue Adam and Eve from their sins. When God comes bodily to Abraham it reveals God’s promises to Abraham and to cut him into the covenant. When God comes physically to the people of Israel, it is to rescue them from Egyptian slavery. When God comes physically and incarnationally in the first century, it is to rescue all of God’s elect who were in slavery to Satan, sin, and death. And, when Christ comes physically at the end of human history, it is to rescue God’s people, finally and forever from the curse and death, and to deliver them imperishable and incorruptible into eternity with Him (See 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4).
And yet, this bodily, salvific, and incarnational coming does not account for all of the kinds of “comings” that we see God engaging in within the Bible. For instance, look at Isaiah 19:1
Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt;
The idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence,
And the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
In a passage where lifeless idols, made of wood and stone, take on personified attributes of trembling, and where human hearts are melting faster than a Yankee candle under a flamethrower, then is it any wonder that the language of “coming” is not describing a physical and bodily event but a spiritual judgment coming of God against a wicked nation. When you also understand that “clouds”, “suns”, “moons”, “stars”, and “heavenly shakings” show up in every single passage where a major nation or city comes under the judgment of God (such as Babylon In Isaiah 13, Egypt in Isaiah 19 and Ezekiel 32, Tyre in Isaiah 23 & 24, Edom in Isaiah 34, Judah in Jeremiah 4, and against Jerusalem in Joel 2 and 3, Amos 5 and 8, as well as various other passages) then you realize that there is a tremendous amount of passages where God truly and actually “comes” against a nation in judgment, without it being bodily and incarnational.
As we have been proving over the last several episodes, the “coming” passages described in Matthew 24, especially in verses 29-31, do not represent the end of human history and the bodily final coming of Jesus but are the fulfillment of prophecies in the Old Testament, where God promises His day of wrath will eventually fall on Judah. When Jesus answered His disciples’ questions in Matthew 24, a forty-year countdown clock began, that would end in God “coming” against the Jews and their city being leveled to dust.
In that spiritual, covenantal, and apocalyptic sense, I can say that the second coming has already come. And I intend to share more evidence with you this week that this reading of Matthew 24 is the Biblical reading. But, for the sake of clarity please let me repeat my aforementioned qualification. I am not a full preterist. I believe in a bodily end of world history coming. And I believe that this coming is still in our future. I contend that this is not what Matthew 24 is speaking about, and to that end, let us continue where we left off last week.
Evidence 4: The Sign in the Sky?
When Jesus says:
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky…
We have several issues that need to be understood. First, the time frame has not changed. “And then” signals a logical and chronological sequence of events that ties this entire prophecy together. After forty years of signs and evidence that will increase in magnitude and intensity over a single first-century generation (Mt. 24:3-28, 34), one of the final signs will be shown in the heavens that will signal Christ’s Kingdom has come and that the old Kingdom is passing away.
Second, there are a few linguistic challenges in this passage that need to be worked out if we are going to understand what it means. For now, we will only deal with the first one, which is the translation of the word “sky”.
In our modern English translations, it appears as if the Son of Man will make an appearance in the sky. If you read further down, it seems like all the world will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds and the people of the earth will mourn over what they have done. This is what the dispensational types would have you to believe, but it is not a faithful translation of the text.
More will be said below, but the word that is being translated as “sky” here, which exists in the material realm, is actually the common word for heaven, which is in the spiritual dimension. To illustrate my point, you and I cannot build a rocket that will fly to the heavenly throne room where God dwells, because heaven does not have a physical address at some interstellar crossroads in the cosmos. Heaven exists in an entirely different plane of existence that we cannot travel to with material ends. One might say that heaven is skyward, but that is only until you start accounting for the rotation of the earth, our location in orbit with the sun, and various other issues like this.
Whenever God appears in bodily form, or divine form, or also when He disappears in bodily form, He does not go up or down or take a specific direction of flight. He simply shows up at a location, or leaves a location, almost out of thin air. For instance, when the crowds are looking to kill Him, He vanishes. When He transfigured before His disciples, He does not go anywhere but merely pulls back the material curtain so that they can see the spiritual realm. In this sense, heaven is not a location that one needs to travel to but an overlapping sphere of reality that God may step in and out of effortlessly without even moving.
The only exception to that rule is Christ’s ascension UPWARD into heaven, which has massive theological implications that we will look at in a moment. For now, suffice it to say that heaven is not a physical or material space where God travels to and from. It is an immaterial and real plane of existence that God may step in and out of at His pleasure.
This is incredibly important because we need to know where the sign occurs. If it occurs in a material sky, and if Jesus will be riding a material cloud, and if all the material world will see it happen, then we have a problem. Because there is no record that an event like this ever occurred. In that case, this would be good evidence to support a futurist conclusion.
But, this interpretation ignores the fact that a switch in genres has occurred and that we can no longer interpret these verses with the same rigid wooden literalism we employed before. Usually, most people (not including dispensational futurists) understand this kind of linguistic switch intuitively when it happens.