And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
Many evangelicals associate this verse with the return of Christ. The language “coming on the clouds”, in evangelical culture, almost always refers to the glorious inauguration of His second advent. Given the fact that the events of this verse are part of a chain of events linked with tight timeframe references, most evangelicals take the futurist interpretation here. The text describes a great tribulation, and then uses some decreation language about the stars falling and the moon not giving its light, and then presents the events of this passage: the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and glory. If we assume that the stars falling and the moon not giving its light is to be taken literally, and if we assume that the “coming of the Son of Man” means His second coming (that is, back to earth), then we would reasonably conclude that these passages are referring to future events that haven’t happened yet. In my previous post, I dealt with the meaning of the decreation language in Matthew 24:29, by pointing out the fact that scripture ubiquitously uses descriptions of falling stars and other destructive cosmic phenomena to refer to the undoing of a city or a nation. This interpretation fits nicely with the events that occurred within one generation of Jesus’ predictions; namely, the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. In a similar manner, we need to figure out what this verse means too.
In a new testament passage like Matthew 24, it is easy for us to read a phrase like “the Son of Man coming on the clouds”, and to assume that “coming” means “coming to us” or “coming back to earth”, where we are the object that the Son of Man is coming to. It’s even easier to assume this when it has all we have ever assumed in our lifetimes; we tend to carry the presuppositions and interpretations that we learned when we were younger into our later years, and many Americans (Christians or not) have been inoculated since their youth with more theology from The Far Side comic and the Left Behind series than the Scriptures, and these lingering worldviews cause them to interpret the word “coming” to mean “the return of Christ”. It’s only when we examine the context of the passage that we understand what exactly Christ is saying. Here, the context includes the preceding verses of the chapter, and the chapter before that, but it also includes the Old Testament references that Jesus is quoting here. It might be a good idea to see the meaning and the context of those passages. In this case, they come from the book of Daniel, which records the details of the moment that the Son of Man would “come with the clouds of heaven”. Daniel says,
I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, honor, and a kingdom, so that all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
This is a very different context than what we are used to attaching to the phrase “the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven”. We are used to associating this language with the end of the world, but here, Daniel associates it with the beginning of Christ’s reign as King. He is not coming here, but coming there; not coming to end the world, but coming to sit on the throne of Heaven. This is what Jesus was referring to when He proclaimed that He would be coming on the clouds with power; not His future coming in judgement against the world, but His present reign over His kingdom on the world.
The everlasting dominion of Christ is not just a spiritual reign in Heaven. It is not as if Christ is ruling in Heaven, and leaving the earth to its own affairs until His return. The text is clear: He came to the Father to rule over all peoples, nations, and people of all languages, forever, just as King David wrote,
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The Lord will stretch out Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “rule in the midst of Your enemies.” (Psalm 110:1-2)
That is to say that Jesus, the one whom David calls “my Lord”, ascended to Heaven in order to rule on Earth, “in the midst of His enemies”. There is no greater position of power for a ruler to possess than to be the One to Whom God says, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”, and the consequences of that authority are that the enemies of Christ are made into a footstool for His feet, one by one, until the last enemy is defeated (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). This is what we mean when we say that Jesus Christ is King of kings, and Lord of lords: we mean precisely that He is everlasting, that His reign is unstoppable, and that His decree is to subject all things to His rule.
This is why Jesus says the tribes of the earth will mourn at His coming (Matthew 24:30). They will mourn because their defeat is assured. No despot of history, no matter how cunning, how brutal, or how powerful, will ever outlive the Lamb of God seated in Heaven, much less raise up a kingdom which would rival His eternal dominion. No Godless worldview, even ones as popular as Marxism and Critical Race Theory, or as prolific as Islam, will stand until the end of history. Every enemy of Christ, even if it persists in its insubordination for centuries, will eventually be shattered by the King of kings. Of the extent of the kingdom of heaven, Isaiah says,
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of armies will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)
No earthly thing can stand forever, because Christ’s kingdom will increase without end. Christ’s agent for this increase is His church. The church is His kingdom on earth, a holy array of volunteers at His disposal to make war with the kingdoms of this world (Psalm 110:3). As such, our role is to make war with the kingdoms of the world and crush them, so that every knee bows before our Lord and every heart worships Him in spirit and in truth. This is the charge given to us:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
In other words, we will not win this war by taking up arms and inciting bloody revolution. Our weapons are the fruit of the gospel: discipleship, baptism, and obedience. We are in a war, and as such, every Christian is a soldier in Christ’s army. Like an army, each enlisted member is given a different role and a different set of duties, but all roles and duties are critical and pursuant to the same end. We must be faithful in the duties that our Lord has given us to do; every good work, from personal holiness, to prayer, to street evangelism, to child-rearing, to theology, to carpentry, to preaching, to computer programming, to spousal faithfulness, to anything and everything else (Colossians 3:17). In these things we contribute to the victory of the kingdom over the enemies of Christ, not because there is victory in us, but because victory has been purchased by Him.
This, to me, is the most glorious point of postmillenialism: the gospel is the entirety of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that His work on earth did not end with His resurrection. This is a matter of gospel significance, and to me, this is the central issue of the church in our day. He died for our sins, rose for our justification and eternal life, and ascended to take His seat at the right hand of power to establish and advance His kingdom on the earth. We have this gospel; therefore, go.Share this post:
Chris Carter is the Editor in Chief of The New England Reformer. Chris earned a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from Clarkson University, but his post-univserity studies have taken him through various topics in theology and church history. He currently lives in Rochester, New York, but he also occaisionally preaches at a small baptist church in his hometown in Vermont.