Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light…
The earlier verses of this chapter set forth principally the signs from the earth. The "tribulation" referred to here is that consequent upon the siege of Jerusalem in the first place, and in an extended sense may be viewed as continued through the whole period of the dispersion of the Jews.
I. THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IS PRECEDED BY REVOLUTIONS.
1. These are described under the figure of the shaking of the powers of the heavens.
(1) The mechanical heavens bear rule over the physical earth. They are therefore made emblems of government, whether political or religious or both. The shaking of the heavens imports the removal of such governments (see Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Daniel 8:10; Joel 2:10, 30, 31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9, 10).
(2) The sun is the symbol of the supreme power in the state, and of monarchy in particular. The darkening of the sun imports the humiliation, if not extinction, of the supreme civil rulers.
(3) The moon is the emblem of the ecclesiastical system, Anciently, the times and ceremonies of the Church were measured and ordered by the revolutions and changes of the moon. As the true Church, like the moon, borrows its light from the Sun, viz. "of righteousness," so have spurious religious systems borrowed theirs from civil rulers. The moon eclipsed represents a dispensational change in the true Church, and confusion to the false Churches.
(4) Stars represent particular rulers, as princes and leaders in the state; and "angels" or ministers in the Church. The stars leaving their orbits and falling obviously imports the effects of revolution upon he leaders of religious corporations.
2. Trace now the fulfilment of the prophecy.
(1) The Jewish system literally collapsed "immediately after the tribulation" of the days of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans took away their "nation." They also took away their "place," or temple. And the destruction of the temple involved the abolition of the Levitical system, of which the temple was the very centre. Thus the sun, moon, and stars of that people came to grief together.
(2) The prophecy had a further fulfilment in the calamities, revolutions, and ultimate overthrow of the Roman empire. We find the same figures applied in the Apocalypse, first to the overthrow of the pagan powers of the empire by Constantine; and next, to the subversion of the empire itself by the northern invaders (see Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:12). The application of the word "immediately" in reference to these events will not surprise when we take into account the character of prophetic language, and the vast range of time to which it is applied.
(3) The final instalments of fulfilment will take place when the antichristian powers, civil and ecclesiastical, shall come into judgment. This event will come "immediately after the tribulation" upon the Jews comes to its end in their restoration to their land and covenants.
(4) Who can say whether this prophecy may not also have a literal accomplishment in the mechanical heavens themselves? There is a remarkable relation between astronomical and political changes.
3. In all commotions Christ will be merciful to his people. "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet," etc. (ver. 31).
(1) These words may be applied to the calling of the Gentiles. They are said to come from the "four winds" or "comers of the earth" (cf. Matthew 8:11, 12; Luke 13:28, 29). God's message comes as the sound of a trumpet (cf. Numbers 10.; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 6:17; Ezekiel 33:3, 6; Romans 10:18).
(2) They may be applied to the gathering of the Jews. They are still in a sense God's "elect." They are destined to be gathered out of all the nations into which God has driven them in his anger. The angels with the trumpet will be God's messengers in gathering them (cf. Daniel 8:10; Esther 8:16; Jeremiah 15:9; Amos 8:9).
(3) They may be applied to the gathering together of the elect of God, who shall be called forth from their graves "by the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God" (cf. Exodus 19:13, 16; Leviticus 25:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52).
II. THE "SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN," AND THE "COMING OF THE SON OF MAN IN THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN," ARE THE SAME.
1. This was the sign for which the sceptics clamoured.
(1) The Jewish rulers were offended at the mean appearance of Jesus. "The carpenter's Son!" "Of Nazareth!" "Have any of the rulers believed?" Pride has a natural antipathy to humility. But the pride of all false glorying must be stained.
(2) They overlooked, or refused to see, that Messiah was to come in this very quality of humiliation. The "Root out of a dry ground!" (see Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2, 3; Psalm 22:6; Mark 9:2). The antitype of "David in all his afflictions." So of the "prophets and righteous men" who suffered for righteousness' sake.
(3) The rulers had refused the "signs which Jesus did," most unreasonably accounting them insufficient. Men are not now sceptics for lack of cogent evidence. Unbelief is of the "evil heart" (cf. Psalm 14:1; Hebrews 3:12).
(4) The sign from heaven, for which they clamoured, was that of the Prophet Daniel (cf. Daniel 7:13; Matthew 16:1). That sign was not intended for this generation. The sign from the earth - that of the Prophet Jonah, was to be given to them (see Matthew 12:38-40).
2. They will receive it to their confusion.
(1) Confounded by their pride, they missed the event of the first advent of Messiah. Yet by that very pride which blinded them they were urged to fulfil the prophecies which they failed to see. So God makes the perversity of scepticism to praise him.
(2) They confounded the time of the second advent. They looked for Messiah as a King when they should have looked for him as a Priest. Here also their pride confused them.
(3) How will that pride be confounded when they shall see the very blessed Person whom they had rejected and crucified, "coming in the clouds, of heaven, with power and great glory"! As the "sign of the Prophet Jonah" was Jonah, so the "sign of the Son of man" is the Son of man. In the cloud, viz. of the Shechinah, Jesus went into heaven, and in the same cloud will he return (see Acts 1:9-11).
(4) Sooner or later, all sinners will "mourn." Those who have not mourned in contrition will "wail" in despair (cf. ver. 30; Revelation 1:7). The cloud of the Presence was a pillar - support, viz. in union, of vapour and fire. As judgment came from that Presence in the water which destroyed the old world, so from the fire of the cloud will come forth those flames which will consume in the judgment to come. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: