“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn and beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a loud blast of the trumpet; and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the skies to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31
These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken to his disciples shortly before his death on the Cross. Here he promises them that one day soon he will come again to the earth in order effect what theologians refer to as the Consummation. At that time Christ will raise the dead, transform the living saints, catch them all up into the air, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed.
In the paragraphs ahead I want to highlight the central elements of Christ’s return as they are reflected in these special words to his disciples. Then, having done so, I want to ask a two-fold question: Why has God structured the Consummation in this way, and what are we who are still journeying through our life on this earth meant to learn from it?
Let us begin.
First, there is a darkening. Prior to the Lord’s coming, God literally extinguishes the sun, the moon, and the stars. The result is thick darkness, the kind that engulfed the earth-in-the-deep at the dawn of creation, and a kind that will recall the thick spiritual darkness that engulfed all mankind because of the fall of Adam (Gen. 1:1-5; Ex. 10:22; Col. 1:13). But as it was in the beginning, so here: It sets the stage for the appearing of light: the Light of the World, the One who will now separate all light from all darkness forever. In that day sinners will recoil from the Light, but the saints of God will declare that it is exceedingly good (Gen. 1:1-5; Eccl. 11:7; 2 Cor. 4:6).
Secondly, there is an appearing: above all of the Son of Man himself, but also of the sign, the power, and the glory that will attend him at his Coming. Because of the one Resurrection, every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7). But with the seeing of the eye, there will also be a seeing with the mind. In his Light, all will see light (Ps. 36:9). The spiritual truth that was previously made known to men and nations through creation, conscience, Christ, Holy Scripture, and the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel will now appear: palpably, powerfully, and inescapably (Josh. 4:23-24; Is. 45:20-25; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 3:4-6; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:15).
Thirdly, there will be mourning. It will emanate from all who previously suppressed the knowledge of the truth in unrighteousness, who loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18). Yes, there will be mourning over the loss of the things they worshiped in life, over the final collapse of the idolatrous City of Man (Rev. 18). But far more dreadfully, there will be mourning over the loss of their eternal souls (Mark 8:36). Scripture itself anticipates their heartbreaking lament: “If only I had sought the Lord when he could be found; if only I had called on him when he was near; if only I had believed and obeyed the light by which God tested my love of the truth. For now the door is shut, and the thing that I feared has come upon me” (Job 3:25-26; Is. 55:6; Prov. 3:20-33; Matt. 25:10; John 1:9; 3:16-21; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 18:1-24).
Fourthly, there will be gathering—a gathering of his elect, a gathering of his enemies, and so a gathering of all men and nations, together will all angels, both good and evil (Matt. 13:30, 24:31, 25:32; Luke 19:27). It is a gathering unto the one Judgment: unto eternal reward and eternal retribution (Matt. 25:31-46). But above all, for human beings it is a gathering unto truth: the truth about what each one did with the light he was given during the days of his pilgrimage upon the earth (Luke 12:47; John 3:16-21; Rom. 2:1-16).
Finally, there will be a centering. At the Parousia the luminaries above will be dissolved, and the earth below will be consumed by fire (Is. 34:4; Zech. 14:6; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 20:11). And then the true Center will be revealed: the High King of Heaven, seated on his glorious throne, with all men and all angels gathered before him, awaiting the final disposition of all things. Thus shall all mankind finally realize that the One here enthroned at the center of the physical universe is the One who has always been enthroned at the center of his Father’s affection, purpose, plan, and work. Thus shall all mankind finally behold the Son of God for who he is, and for what God appointed him to be: the Alpha and the Omega: the divine Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Ruler, Judge, Re-creator, Light and Life of the world.
Do we understand why God has structured the Consummation this way? And do we understand why he has told us all these things ahead of time?
Yes, in so speaking he means to instruct, equip, warn, and richly encourage his believing people. But beyond this, he also means to address the unbelieving world: all of the people who are not yet his people. By structuring the Consummation as he has, and by revealing its structure to the world in his Word and through his Church, he is asking beloved sinners everywhere these all-important questions:
“Who or what is your center? To whom or what are you devoting your life’s time, talent, treasure, and energies as you journey through this world toward the hour of your death or the day of my Son’s return? Have you considered him: his life, his teaching, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, his people, and his book? Is he not, far and away, the world’s best candidate for every man’s true center? Will you not therefore turn aside and see this great sight (Ex. 3:3)? Will you not earnestly inquire as to who he is and why he came? And will you not keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until you have found out for sure (Matt. 7:7-8)?
“Beloved sojourners, I tell you the truth: When the High King of Heaven comes again he will indeed be disclosed as the absolute center of all things. And no tongue or pen will be able to describe the joy of those pilgrims who sought and found the Truth, and who then made him the absolute center of their lives” (John 14:6; Jude 1:24).