“But of that day and hour no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:36-37).
Chapter 24 in the book of Matthew has always been a mystery to me. To quote Winston Churchill (regarding Russia): “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Many Bible experts differ in their opinions regarding Matthew 24, and especially verses 36-44. The late Bible teacher Jack Kelley and renowned researcher Thomas Ice are two eschatological astute scholars who believe/d that the whole chapter is describing the Tribulation and the subsequent 2nd Coming.
Many other teachers, including writers Terry James and Gene Lawley, believe Matthew 24 is talking about two different end-time events. In their reckoning, the first part of the chapter describes the Tribulation and 2nd Coming, while verses 36-44 describe the Rapture of the Church.
I have struggled to come to a conclusion regarding which of these two differing opinions is correct. I have changed my mind several times throughout the years regarding this eschatological topic. I always assumed verses 36-44 were talking about the 2nd Coming, since Jesus was answering the disciples’ questions about the end of the world; and we know the Rapture occurs at least 7 years prior to his return to the earth. The previous verses of 23-31 are definitely speaking about Jesus’ return (2nd Coming) after the Tribulation. All the experts are pretty much in agreement on this point.
Verses 32-35 sum up the timing of when the 2nd Coming is to occur. In these verses, the modern nation of Israel is compared to the fig tree. When the fig tree’s branch is tender and leaves start appearing, then you know summer is near. Likewise, in verse 34, the generation of Jews that were born when Israel became a nation in 1948 will not pass until “all these things are fulfilled.” Moses described a generation as being 70-80 years old in Psalm 90:10. Do the math. The modern nation of Israel will be 80 years old in 2028.
The question remains: “Why would Jesus (who had been talking about his return to the earth with power and great glory) change the subject from the 2nd Coming and then start talking about the Rapture in verses 36-44? Earlier in verse 30, he described his return as a visible manifestation that all the earth would witness. No unbeliever will see Jesus in the sky at the Rapture…only the believing raptured Church. They are two totally different earth-shattering events. Also, Jesus never really discussed the Rapture with his disciples. He hinted at it in a few places, but it was a mystery until it was revealed later to Paul.
On the other hand, if Jesus was talking about the 2nd Coming in verses 36-44, how could it be compared to the days of Noah? Although it was a very wicked generation in those Antediluvian days, people were going about their everyday activities such as eating, drinking, and marrying before the flood came and took them away. They had no idea what was coming for them, even though they had been warned by Noah. Likewise, in Luke 17:28-30, the same can be said about the days of Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; for they were also eating, drinking, buying and selling merchandise, planting crops, and building houses. They also had no idea they were living in the last days before their great Tribulation.
However, when Jesus returns after the 7-year Tribulation, the remaining people who are still alive will not be going about their normal activities. They will just be trying to survive. “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:22).
So how do we reconcile this mystery/enigma/riddle? I believe we have to go back to the beginning of the chapter, in Matthew 24:3, where the disciples asked Jesus 3 questions: 1) When shall these things be? 2) What shall be the sign of your coming again? 3) What shall be the sign of the end of the world? The Jews (even the disciples) have always required a sign before they would believe.
The 1st question was regarding the timing of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus never answered this question for some reason. In hindsight, we know it occurred in A.D. 70.
Jesus answered the disciples’ questions out of order. He answered the 3rd question first. What shall be the sign of the end of the world? He describes the events and details in verses 4-31, thus answering their question. These are all signs that the end of the world (as we know it) is near, and Jesus will be returning to the earth soon.
Jesus answered the 2nd question last. What shall be the sign of your coming? He replies to this question in verses 36-44. In these verses, I have come to believe that he is speaking of the Rapture and not the 2nd Coming. The Rapture is the answer to the disciples 2nd question. The supernatural sign that precedes Jesus’ 2nd Coming is the Rapture. It is the proof that Jesus will come again physically to the earth.
If millions of people from around the world disappear all of a sudden (in the blinking of an eye) on a particular day and hour, and you are not one of them, you had better come to the conclusion that this is a supernatural sign from God. He wants those left behind to know that the end is near and Jesus is coming again, just as the Bible says. This time he will not come for salvation, but for judgment and punishment.
Genesis 7:7 is a brief description of events immediately preceding the flood when Noah, his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives went into the ark. “And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth” (Genesis 7:10). Noah, his family, and the animals were shut up in the ark for 7 days before the flood began. I wonder what the waiting was like before they heard those first (ever) raindrops falling on the ark’s roof.
“But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37).
The Rapture will precede the 2nd Coming by at least 7 years…probably more. During this interval, the Antichrist will appear on the world scene and Daniel’s “70th seven” prophecy regarding world events will resume. After 7 years of the greatest Tribulation known to man, Jesus will return to the earth to destroy his enemies and set up His Millennium Kingdom. The translated saints (who were raptured earlier) will return with Him as part of the armies of heaven. We will only be witnesses at the Battle of Armageddon, for Jesus will defeat the Antichrist and the nations of the world by Himself.
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he has on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords” (Revelation 19:11-16).
“Who is this that comes from Edom (Jordan), with dyed garments from Bozrah; this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? It is I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Why is your apparel red, and your garments like him that treads in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.
“And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth” (Isaiah 63:1-6).
Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus.