Will Kynes, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University
WATCH FOR CHRIST’S RETURN
When times get tough, people long for a hero, a savior to deliver them from affliction. The recent war in Ukraine, for example, catapulted Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, onto the world stage. However, no human, even one as brave and resolute as Zelenskyy, can bear the weight of our ultimate hopes for justice and divine blessing. There is only one true Messiah. Though tribulations like those Jesus warns of in Matthew 24 may leave us longing for a savior, Jesus encourages us not to be deceived. The true Messiah will be unmistakable.
Guard against deception by false messiahs. (23–25)
During this time of intense tribulation for which Jesus is preparing His disciples in Matthew 24, people will long for a messiah, someone to deliver them. The power hungry will seek to capitalize on that credulity. False messiahs will promise salvation, and false prophets will claim inspired insight. Craving hope, even God’s chosen people will be tempted to put their trust in them. But Jesus warns when such claims are made, “Do not believe it.”
Creation itself will announce the return of Christ. (26–29)
The Messiah will not be out in the wilderness as John the Baptist was (Matt. 3:1–12) or hiding in the inner rooms. No human will need to announce His location. Instead, like lightning flashing across the sky, the return of the Son of Man will be visible to all and missed by none.
Here, Jesus finally answers the disciples’ request for the sign of His coming (v. 3). He reinforces his meteorological simile with a proverb. As surely as a gathering of vultures signals a carcass, so the sign of His coming will be clearly recognizable. Drawing on imagery from the prophets (Isa. 13:10, 34:4; Joel 2:10), Jesus expands the witness to the Messiah’s return in the skies. We might say that de-creation, rather than creation, announces Christ’s return, as this imagery of the celestial lights being darkened reverses God’s creative acts on the fourth day of Genesis 1 (vv. 14–19).
The return of Christ will be unmistakable and obvious. (30–31)
The day of the Lord will be a day of judgment. Along with deliverance for the elect, those the Lord has chosen “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (see also Zech. 2:10), judgment will come against those who have subjected them to the tribulations. The reference to the “mourning” of “all the peoples” or tribes is repeated from Zechariah 12:10–14, where it refers to all of Israel mourning over “the One they have pierced.”
Revelation picks up this language, and like Matthew, combines it with Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man “coming with the clouds” (Rev. 1:7; Dan. 7:13). The sign of the Son of Man in heaven will be the unmistakable indication of His triumph over wickedness, injustice and sin and, in His vindication, of the blessing of His people, Jew and Gentile from across the earth, gathered together in His presence.
We should celebrate and support those heroes whom the Lord uses to bring justice and restoration to this broken world in all sorts of ways, large and small. But we should not be deceived (or deceive ourselves) into thinking they are our true messiahs. Do not believe it. One day, Jesus will make all things right, ushering in a new heaven and earth, and people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” will declare, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9–10).