Recall that Jesus is on the Mount of Olives having just forsaken the temple and those who had rejected Him as their Messiah (Cf. Mat 23 & 24:1). Upon His departure He predicted the destruction of their temple as a natural consequence of their having rejected His Holy Spirit from filling it (Mat 23:38, 24:2). Now overlooking the temple mount on His way back to Bethany, He is responding to His disciples’ request for when these things would take place, and a sign of His coming and the end of the age (Mat 24:3). In His response He has warned of false Christs who would appeal to men’s worldly desires for a worldly ruler that caused them to reject Him as their Messiah. As these would war after the world He has also warned that tribulation would come to His disciples who would not war with them (Mat 24:9). Those seeking a worldly messiah to provide them a worldly salvation would also be so completely deluded by their worldly religion that rather than the righteousness and holiness of God’s people standing as the pillar and support of the truth (1Ti 3:15) in His temple (cf. Rev 3:12), ungodliness and unfaithfulness would be found standing in the holy place where it should not be (Mat 24:15, Mar 13:14). This is the abomination that would leave their house a desolation and was the sign by which His disciples would know they must immediately flee. For as God’s wrath is poured out upon those gathered in that harlot city—whether physical or spiritual—it would result in a time of unprecedented tribulation from which no life would be saved had not those days been cut short (Mat 24:22).
What does Jesus now say will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days”? See Mat 24:29-31. Are we then to understand as some believe that Christ will send forth His angels and gather together His elect from the four winds before He comes in judgment upon the wicked? Or are we to understand that Christ’s coming in judgment upon the wicked is perhaps what prepares the way for His messengers to gather the righteous into His kingdom where they will shine forth as the sun? See Mat 13:41-43, 5:3,10. In what way was this true of the destruction of the Jewish nation in 70 a.d. and the spread of the Christian Church among the Gentile nations that followed? In what way was it true of the distress and suffering during the Protestant Reformation and religious wars that consumed Europe that led to the Great Awakening and the principles upon which our own nation was founded that made it a beacon of hope to the entire world? In what way was it true in regard to the great tribulation of two world wars and the communist oppressions in the 20th century in which tens of millions perished, but which also resulted in people like Corrie ten Boom, Richard Wurmbrand, and countless others like them inspiring tens of millions more so that the gospel spread behind the iron curtain and throughout even China? In what way was it true of the tribulation endured by those in Iran under its Islamist regime during its long war with Iraq, or those in Syria and Iraq suffering today, and the many Muslims in those hardened lands who in their disillusionment are now turning to the hope of Christ? Cf. Isa 26:9.
How do these things help us to understand a broader sense of both “immediately after” and “the tribulation of those days” in Mat 24:29? How is this sense different from how these words are typically understood? How is it actually in keeping with the ways we have observed God working in the world throughout history? Are we to believe that these words of Jesus had no meaning for Christians in the first 1900 years of the Church because The Tribulation so many today expect hasn’t happened yet as they suppose it will? Or is it more reasonable to believe that these words of Christ have had meaning for God’s saints throughout history because they articulate truths that reflect the eternal power and divine nature of God in His creation that are applicable for all time? Is it possible that they could have meaning for us today, but in a manner different from what we perhaps envision? When tribulation comes to us in whatever form it may take and we seek deliverance from that tribulation in the false messiahs of the world rather than allowing our grain of wheat to fall to the earth and die as the true Christ’s did (Joh 12:24-26), is it more likely that we will be gathered into His kingdom being poor in spirit and persecuted for the sake of righteousness, or that we will be swept away to destruction for not heeding His warnings?
1. Recall that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words used for angel refer to a messenger, often as an ambassador, whether heavenly or earthly; see Gen 32:3,6, Num 20:14, 21:21, 22:5, Luk 7:24,27, 9:52, Jam 2:25; cf. 2Co 5:20.↩