November 2007 - Vol. 13

photo by Wojtek Soleki

“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, 
so will the Son of man be in his day” (Luke 17:24).

The Sign of Jesus’ Return in Glory

Reading signs of the Lord's return
How good are you at reading signs? The people of Jesus’ time expected that the coming of the Messiah would be accompanied by extraordinary signs and wonders. Jesus’ first coming was clouded in mystery and wonderment: a son of David born in a cave at Bethlehem; magi from the East guided by a star to worship the newborn king of Israel; a carpenter miracle-worker who gave sight to the blind and raised the dead; a suffering servant who bore the sins of many upon a cross; a risen Lord who stormed the gates of Hell to release its captives.

Jesus on a number of occasions prophesied that he would return again at the end of the world to finish the work he came to accomplish through his death and resurrection.

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28)

sunset over the Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada, by Don Schwager 

The Day of the Lord
The image of the “Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” is taken from the vision of the prophet Daniel (see Daniel 7:13-14). Daniel’s vision is a royal investiture of a human king before God’s throne. This king, whose authority comes from God, is given worldwide dominion and power which lasts forever.  The Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messianic king who would free them from foreign oppression. Jesus tells them that when he returns he will establish a universal kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice for all.

When the Pharisees asked what sign would indicate the coming of God’s kingdom, Jesus exclaimed: “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day” (Luke 17:24). The prophets on numerous occasions pointed to the Day of the Lord when God’s Anointed One would come with great power and glory. “Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near” (Amos 2:1).

Why did Jesus associate lightning with the "Day of the Lord"? In the arid climate of Palestine, storms were infrequent and seasonal. They appeared suddenly and unexpectedly, seemingly out of nowhere, covering everything in thick darkness. With little or no warning lightning filled the sky with its piercing flashes of flaming light. Its power struck terror and awe in those who tried to flee from its presence. 

Jesus warned the Pharisees that the "Son of man” would come in like manner, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, on the clouds of heaven to bring God's judgment on the "Day of the Lord". No special sign will be needed to announce his appearance. Nor will his presence and power be veiled or hidden, but all will recognize him as clearly as the lightning in the sky. 

While we do not know the time of his return, we will not mistake it when it happens. It will be apparent to all, both believers and non-believers as well. When the Pharisees asked Jesus what sign would indicate the "Day of the Lord", Jesus replied that only one sign would point to that day and that sign was Jesus himself. 

The presence of God's kingdom
Jesus surprised the Jews of his time by announcing that God's kingdom was already present among them in his very person — the Son of God sent from the Father to redeem the world from sin and destruction (Luke 17:20-25).  In Jesus we see the power and the glory of God's kingdom. His power overthrew the powers of darkness and sin. Jesus knew that the only way to victory was through the cross. On that cross he defeated death and cancelled the debt of sin for us. The victory of his cross opens the way for us to become citizens of God's kingdom. Do you seek the coming of God's kingdom with joyful hope? 

"Lord Jesus Christ, may your kingdom come and my your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Be the Ruler of my heart and the Master of my life that I may always live in the freedom of your love and truth." 

[Don Schwager is a member of the Servants of the Word and author of the Daily Scripture Readings and Meditations website.]

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