Behold Your King—Part 6

The Sign in Heaven

“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.” —Matthew 24:30

FIVE days before Jesus was crucified he rode into the city of Jerusalem on an ass and was hailed as king by a multitude of his followers, who shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (Matt. 21:9) Following this triumphal entry into the city, Jesus visited the Temple and exercised his messianic authority by driving out the money changers. Undoubtedly this was a time of high excitement for the disciples; for they would see in these experiences what appeared to be convincing evidence that the one whom they had accepted and followed in the belief that he had come to be king of Israel and of the world was about to begin his reign. This conviction was of vital interest to them because he had promised that if they were faithful to him they would have the privilege of reigning with him.

Jesus remained in the Temple that day and taught the people many important truths concerning his kingdom. He forecast the downfall of Israel’s polity and the casting off of the scribes and Pharisees as the mouthpieces of the Lord. While he had just been acclaimed king by many, he knew that the Israelites as a whole, misguided by their hypocritical leaders, were opposed to him and were plotting against his life. Knowing this, he quoted a prophecy of the Old Testament concerning a stone which the builders rejected but which later became “the head of the corner.” This “stone” was Jesus.—Matt. 21:42-44; Ps. 118:22

While the privilege of being associated with Jesus in the kingdom of the Lord was first offered to Israel, this nation had proved unworthy of the honor; so he prophesied that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation “bringing forth the fruits thereof.” “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate,” he said, in a final word of condemnation, and added, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—Matt. 23:38,39

Revealing words are these! Only a matter of hours before this, many had used this very expression in acclaiming Jesus as their king. While Jesus knew that this was a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy (Ps. 118:26), he knew also it did not mean that the nation as a whole had accepted him; hence this general acceptance must wait for a time still future. Now the nation was cast off from being the special channel of divine blessings to the world and would go through much tribulation during the centuries to come. Finally, however, their eyes were to be opened to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and king, and then all Israel would join in saying, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

Without doubt the disciples heard this prophecy, even as they also heard the words of condemnation against the scribes and Pharisees, who, as Jesus said, were at that time sitting in Moses’ seat. Upon leaving the Temple following these hours of truth-revealing discussion, Jesus further prophesied that the Temple itself would be destroyed—that there would not be one stone left upon another.—Matt. 24:2

When he rode triumphantly into the city as king and was acclaimed such by his friends, the disciples may have thought that his kingdom was about to be established; but now they would know differently. They would know that his real coming as king to Israel and to the world was future, that he was going away and would return, and that not until then would the people as a whole join in the acclamation, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

While the thought of a further waiting for the kingdom may have been discouraging to the disciples, they were not stumbled by it. Instead they set about to find out, if they could, how long the waiting period would be and how they would know when it was over. So we find them the next day holding a private interview with the Master. The record indicates that they asked him three leading questions: (1) When shall these things be? (2) What shall be the sign of thy coming? and (3) What shall be the sign “of the end of the world?”—Matt. 24:3

The first of these questions, relating to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, was not directly answered by Jesus. But Jesus did answer the two questions concerning the sign of his coming and the end of the world. To get the facts clearly before us, however, it is important to remember that in the Greek text the word parousia is used and is mistranslated ‘coming.’ It means ‘presence,’ not ‘coming.’ Similarly, it is necessary to a clear understanding of the text to know that the word translated ‘world’ is aion and means ‘age,’ not this planet on which we live. What the disciples really asked was, “What shall be the sign of thy presence and of the end of the age?”

Why did the disciples ask what sign, or signs, would accompany the Master’s second visit to earth? It was because only through the signs which accompanied his first visit and ministry had they’ been convinced that he was truly the Messiah. There was no way of knowing what the Messiah would look like; so the disciples, even as John the Baptist, had to rely on signs. But now Jesus was going away, and there was mystery attached to his going. On one occasion he said to the Jews, “Whither I go, ye cannot come.” (John 8:21) Vaguely his disciples may have realized that he was to be taken away from them through death. He had given them clear indications of this, explaining, “The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” and, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 6:51; 3:14; 12:32) To them, however, Jesus was the Messiah and King of Israel, and how could he exercise these offices of glory unless he remained alive? To them it was unthinkable that his enemies would be victorious and put him to death. So they were puzzled.

But, despite the things concerning him which they did not understand at that time, there were other points which they did realize. He had just given a clear indication that a time was coming when the nation of Israel would acclaim him as king, as the one who had come in the name of the Lord. To them this meant that he would indeed be away from them for awhile; so they wanted to be sure that when he returned they would know of his presence, even as they had been so highly favored to know of his first presence—a presence which had been revealed by signs. So they asked, “What shall be the sign of thy presence, and of the end of the age?”

A few days after the disciples asked Jesus these questions, he stood before Pilate accused by his fellow Israelites of aspiring to be a king, which, if true and as Pilate would view the matter, would make him guilty of treason against the Roman Empire. Jesus acknowledged that he was destined to be a king: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world,” he affirmed. He explained, however, that his kingdom was not of this world or order (Greek, kosmos). (John 18:36,37) In other words, when the time would come for him to commence his reign, it would presage the beginning of a new order, or age; so the disciples were quite right in associating the Master’s return with the end of this present age. In reality, signs which would indicate the ending of one age preparatory to the beginning of another would also denote the presence of Christ; for, as we shall see from the Scriptures, it is his return that will bring the age of Satan’s rule to an end.

Beginning with Pentecost, and as a result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of truth at that time, the true followers of the Master have understood more clearly what was involved in his going away and are therefore prepared to understand better the manner of his return and the characteristics of his second presence. In a previous study we learned that Jesus died to redeem the world from death and that in the resurrection he was not restored to life as a man but as a glorious spirit being of the highest order—even that of the divine nature.

Concerning God we read that he is “invisible.” Here, then is a most important reason why we must depend upon signs to indicate the second presence of Christ. It is because, now, being like the Heavenly Father in nature, and no longer a man, he is “invisible” to human eyes. It is, then, an invisible King whose presence in the world to establish a kingdom is revealed by signs. In Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question as to what would constitute the evidence of his presence, the Master not only told them what the signs would be but also emphasized the necessity of watching faithfully for those signs so that they might know of his return. He explained that the time of his presence would be as a “thief”; hence, while present, he would be unknown to all except the faithful watchers who detected the signs and were able to read them correctly.—Matt. 24:43; Rev. 3:3

When the disciples asked concerning the evidence of the Lord’s return, they used the Greek word semeion, which is the singular form of the word and is properly translated by our word “sign,” also in the singular. However, when Jesus answered their question, he made it plain that there would be more than one sign. For example, Luke quotes part of Jesus’ reply, saying: “And there shall be signs [plural] in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”—Luke 21:25,26

In addition to these signs, Jesus mentions others; but for our present study we will confine ourselves to this list, as we believe that it is quite sufficient—when we note the marvelous manner in which they are being fulfilled—to establish the fact that we are even now living in the days of the presence of the Son of man, earth’s future King. While Luke quotes Jesus as mentioning signs which would appear in the “sun, and in the moon, and in the stars,” Matthew’s account of this same statement refers to it simply as a sign that would appear in heaven. The thought is the same, however, for the sun, moon, and stars constitute what we speak of as the “heavens.”

Matthew’s account tells us that when the sign of the Son of man appears in heaven, “all the tribes of the earth mourn,” while Luke’s report states that, accompanying the signs in the sun and the moon and the stars, there would be “upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity,” and that there would be a roaring of the sea and of the waves. Luke explains that the distress of nations with perplexity is due to the fact that the “powers of heaven” are shaken. The sign in the heavens, therefore, is the fact that their powers over the affairs of the earth are shaken, causing worldwide distress and an almost universal fear of still greater tragedies to come.

What, then, is meant by the statement that “the powers of heaven shall be shaken”? The Apostle Peter was one who heard this great prophecy of the present time directly from the lips of the Master, and later he wrote an epistle concerning the time of the Lord’s presence and indicated that one of the evidences thereof would be the fact that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (II Pet. 3:10) For, what Jesus described as a shaking of the powers of the heavens Peter explained as a passing away of the heavens, their elements melting with fervent heat. And what Jesus referred to as “distress of nations with perplexity,” with the “sea and the waves roaring,” Peter identified as “the earth also and the works that are therein” being burned up.

All of this is, of course, symbolic language—the literal earth “abideth forever.” (Eccles. 1:4) It is well to note in this connection that Peter speaks of heavens and an earth that passed away at the time of the Flood; but the literal sun, moon, and stars, and the literal earth remained as they were. The apostle spoke of the heavens and earth which were before the Flood as making up the “world that then was.” (II Pet. 3:5,6) The Greek word here translated ‘world’ is kosmos, meaning ‘order,’ or ‘arrangement.’ It was the order of things, the ‘civilization’ that existed before the Flood, that came to an end as a result of the Deluge; hence, by following through with this prophetic analogy, we learn that it is the present social order, the present civilization, that comes to an end as a result of Christ’s return and presence as the prospective King of the new world of tomorrow.

What, then, is symbolized by the “heavens” and the “earth” which pass away at the presence of the Lord? There are scriptures which give us a clue to the proper answer to this question. For example, Jesus, in speaking of some of the elements of the symbolic earth, said that there would be a roaring of the “sea and the waves.” Turning to Isaiah 17:12,13, we read: “Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters.”

Comparing this with Jesus’ statement concerning the “distress of nations with perplexity,” it becomes obvious that his reference to the roaring of the sea and the waves was his way of illustrating the international distress which would result from the presence of the Lord. This language, translated into present-day usage and experience, is graphically descriptive of the international chaos which has been continuously and relentlessly on the increase in this our day. It is a time of acute distress and perplexity; and in the Greek text the word that is translated “perplexity” really means “no way out.” And how true it is that the nations can find no way out of this distress! Every hoped-for remedy, when attempted, results in failure, while the distress continues and increases.

It seems evident, then, that the “earth,” with its various elements, symbolizes the civil governments and other arrangements under which the peoples of the world have lived in more or less orderly manner throughout the centuries. Now order is giving way to disorder, as the kosmos, or order of things which we have called civilization rapidly deteriorates into chaos. The ingenuity of man, scientific and otherwise, is being utilized chiefly in promoting destructive strife among the nations and, oftentimes, within the nations.

Old standards of law and order are giving way to the anarchistic theory that one person has as much prerogative as another to determine what is right and what is wrong. Hence, adding to other phases of worldwide distress is the rapid spread of moral anarchy. How aptly, indeed, does the restlessness of the sea illustrate this breaking down of a world order! The psalmist, using the same symbolism and referring to the kingdoms of the world as “mountains,” tells us that though the mountains “be carried into the midst of the sea,” we should not fear.—Ps. 46:2,3

What, then, are the “heavens” which, up to the due time for the presence of the Lord, exercised “power” or control over the symbolic earth? A very definite factor in holding together the civilization which we now see falling apart has been the power of religious restraint. This has been true in practically every part of the earth, in heathendom as well as Christendom. The restraining views and methods have varied in different lands, depending upon the alleged characteristics of the particular god or gods whose laws were made binding upon the people; but practically everywhere, and for centuries, the governments of the earth have controlled the people by making them believe that the laws which they bound upon them had been ordained by a deity or deities whose authority was supreme and whose ability to punish lawbreakers was unlimited.

Now, however, this element of world order is rapidly losing its power to control the people; and one of the great fears of society’s doctors, who are trying to keep a dying world alive, is that the onrushing forces of atheism, implemented as they are by powerful antireligious governments, will completely destroy religious influence in the affairs of men.

This, we believe, is what the Master referred to as the shaking of the powers of the heavens. We know that the literal heavens exercise a tremendous power over the literal earth; hence the symbolism in which ecclesiastical authority over the nations is seen as the “heavens” is a very apt one indeed. Through the prophet the Lord said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” (Isa. 55:9) Here is the thought behind the symbolism of the heavens—they are higher than the earth, and men have been caused to believe that the edicts of the religious institutions of the earth have been above the ways of men and hence should be obeyed as coming from God.

It is true that God’s ways are higher than ours and also that they are true and righteous altogether. But we should remember that a false god is the prince of this world, or, as Paul describes him, the “god of this world.” (John 12:31; II Cor. 4:4) This is Satan, the Devil, the archenemy of God and man, and the deceiver of all nations. (Rev. 20:1-3) This unseen “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) has ruled the world to a large extent through the false religious systems of the earth.

In the Book of Revelation we are told of a “woman … which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” (Rev. 17:18) This woman is also described as a “city”—an unholy city. (Rev. 17:5; 18:2-4,10) It is said that this woman is “the mother of harlots” and that the “inhabitants of the earth” were made “drunk with the wine of her fornication.” (Rev. 17:2) I n contrast to this picture we are told of another woman, a “chaste virgin,” who becomes the “bride” of Christ and who, with him, is to reign over the earth for a thousand years. She also is spoken of, together with her Bridegroom, as a “city”—the “holy city, new Jerusalem,” which comes “down from God out of heaven.” (II Cor. 11:2; Rev. 20:4,6; 21:2,10) It is clear, we think, that the harlot woman who commits fornication with the kings of the earth represents a counterfeit of Christ’s kingdom—that counterfeit which men have called “Christendom” but which is described by God as “Babylon.”

Perhaps the most marked identification of this harlot woman is contained in the assertion that the nations were made drunk with the wine of her fornication. This is a very apt symbolism of the union of the apostate church with the civil governments of Europe. Christ is the true Head and Bridegroom in the kingdom to be established by him during his second presence. The true church becomes his bride following her exaltation to glory, honor, and immortality in the “first resurrection.” (Rev. 19:7; 20:6) Her test of loyalty to her prospective and heavenly Bridegroom has been to wait for his return and meanwhile to suffer the reproaches of the world while she lays down her life in his service, preparing herself to be united with him in the kingdom.

But the church which became apostate was not willing to wait for her Lord to return. Instead, harlot-like, she joined hands with civil governments and then claimed that this union constituted Christ’s kingdom on earth. This was the wine, the doctrine, of her fornication, and with it the nations were led into a drunken frenzy of almost continual warfare with one another, all blasphemously in the name of the Lord. One section of Christendom was pitted against another from time to time and in whatever manner it suited the best interests of their unholy mistress, the apostate church.

This does not imply that there was nothing good in the laws sanctioned and upheld by the unholy alliance of church and state, for in some respects those laws were taken from the Scriptures. Murder on the part of individuals was prohibited, although legalized murder, called war, was glorified. Theft was forbidden, although in the name of the Lord the people were robbed in many ways by both the civil and religious authorities which held them in virtual slavery. The divine institution of family and home was upheld, and in some respects the laws of the true God were copied. Good or bad—and partly both—the restraining influences of these higher powers, which reached the people by means of the civil authorities of the day, held civilization together.

It was far from an ideal world, but a semblance of order was maintained, even though largely because of the ignorance and superstition of the people, which through the centuries had been fostered by the harlot woman. The people were made to believe that any inclination to disobey “the powers that be” would lead to dire consequences—if not in this life, then surely after death. The fear of eternal torture was held over them as a whip to keep them in slavery to a system under which princes grew fat in luxury and priests grew rich in their exploitation of the people by promising them a quick passage through an imaginary, yet Devil-inspired, purgatory. It mattered not to the rulers if their subjects were ignorant paupers, so long as they obeyed their dictates without question and kept the peace.

Is it a dark picture which we have drawn? Well, it happened in the “Dark Ages”—a period which was made dark by the misrule of a counterfeit kingdom of Christ. But it was not to last forever! The light that foretells the approach of a new day gradually began to dawn. Napoleon, whatever his sins may have been, struck a deathblow to the system that ruled the world during the Dark Ages when he took the pope a prisoner. The discovery of America and the growth of American democracy also helped to break the shackles which had bound Europe. The rapid increase of knowledge along all lines which resulted from the invention of movable type was another contributing factor leading toward liberty.

But, while the almost universal control of the old world by the power which was seated in Rome was broken, the ideology of that wicked system was adopted independently by most of the rulers of Europe. They made state churches out of many of the Protestant systems, uniting with them as they had done formerly with Catholicism. So the “powers of the heavens,” though now divided, still ruled, still held the people under restraint. (Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:26) This situation continued without much outward change until the beginning of World War I, in 1914.

With the outbreak of the war, forces came into play which began drastically to shake the powers of the heavens—ecclesiastical control. In that war, as in the past, the “wine” of Babylon’s fornication flowed freely. In Germany, and in the countries allied with Germany, the soldiers were told by the clergy that if they died on the field of battle fighting the “enemy” they were sure of a heavenly reward, the reason being that in fighting for their government, they were fighting for God. In all the countries allied against Germany the men were told the same thing. Yes, to the shame of the American clergy, they too joined in pouring this “wine,” which had been prepared originally by the apostate church of Rome.

The “wine of fornication” did its work, at least partially, during that First World War, but the aftereffects were not at all what the nations expected. The intermingling of thoughts and viewpoints which was bound to occur when young and thinking men of all parts of the world were brought together—sometimes in the trenches, sometimes in prison camps and in other ways—had an effect. Doubts were raised in the minds of many as to whether their side alone had been fighting for the Lord. That the objectives of the war on both sides were not attained caused a further disillusionment, as, through the trying years that followed, that stark fact became more and more apparent.

With disillusionment came a worldwide turning to pleasure, legitimate and otherwise. The people who, through the distressing years of the war, fought for God, as they had supposed, now, in fulfillment of the Scriptures, became “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” (II Tim. 3:1,4) But even more significant, the people of the world, on the whole, not only forgot God, but became unbelievers. The extent to which this is true is now apparent by the fact that in the two most religious countries of the world, the United States and Great Britain, today only a very small proportion attend church.

But this is not all. Out of that World War came the birth of the first communist government in Russia. From the very start one of the characteristics of that government was its opposition to religion. The Greek Catholic Church, which was the illicit mistress of the czarist government, was ruthlessly banned and her fraudulent practices brought publicly to the attention of the people in many ways. The teaching of atheism was encouraged and sponsored by the government.

Since then, it is true that, for reasons of expedience, Moscow claims to have granted freedom of religion within Russia, but this is largely in name only. While the Greek Catholic Church has been given a “legal” standing, this means only that it is permitted to carry on with its ritual on behalf of a minority of the older generation which has not accepted Moscow’s atheistic teachings, under which the youth of the land are reared.

And now this atheistic government, seizing the opportunity presented by a weakened world, has expanded its influence beyond Russian territory. A large part of Germany is subjected to this government-sponsored ideology of unbelief. The shadow is cast over Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and is threatening other nations. Meanwhile, because such a very small minority of the people in the remaining countries of the earth have any faith in God, they are the more open to the growing influence of an ideology which officially rejects the thought of being subject to laws which are alleged to have come from a higher power.

It is this situation the world over that is contributing to the fear of those who wish to restore the status quo of the pre-1914 civilization. This is one of the great fears in the United States, particularly among those high in the government. One of the evidences of this is the fact that presidents have sent personal representatives to Rome to confer with the pope. The time was when a word from the Vatican would have restored at least an outward semblance of order in Europe. But the powers of the heavens are being shaken, and more and more their ability to hold the old order together is weakening.

This, then, is the sign that is appearing in the symbolic heavens, the sign of the presence of Christ, the prospective King of earth. On one occasion Jesus raised the question as to whether he would find faith on the earth when he came, and now we can see that this question was well justified. (Luke 18:8) And, as Jesus foretold, the people of the nations are mourning, some because of the distress that has come directly to them and to their families, and others because they see that the civilization which gave them prosperity and power over their fellows is falling apart.

A very realistic description of this is given us in Revelation, chapter 18. The opening verse of this chapter depicts the return of our Lord. John describes him as “a mighty angel,” whose power caused the earth to be filled with his glory. First he pronounces doom upon the counterfeit of his kingdom and bids those loyal to him to separate themselves therefrom, that they be not partakers of the plagues which destroy it. This message has already gone out to the Lord’s people, and thousands have responded. Now the work of destruction is well advanced, and we can see the beginning of the foretold “mourning” of those who prospered so greatly under this system.

“And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,” writes the apostle. John also writes that the supporters of this system will say: “Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour [the hour of her judgment] so great riches is come to nought.”—Rev. 18:9,10,16,17

The Scriptures are not limited to the use of only one symbolism to illustrate great truths of the divine plan. We have seen how fitting is the lesson of the powers of the heavens being shaken as one of the signs which betoken the second presence of the Lord. We have seen also that in full harmony with this is the Revelator’s description of the waning powers of the ecclesiastical heavens, when he tells of the fall and destruction of mystic Babylon. But it is interesting in this connection to note that in the vision of this destruction of the harlot woman John sees her “utterly burned with fire.”—Rev. 18:8

So it is that “fire,” as well as “shaking,” is one of the symbols used to portray the overthrow of various elements of “this present evil world.” (Gal. 1:4) For this reason “fire” is associated with the manifestation of the presence of Christ; that is, he is revealed by fire as well as by the shaking of the heavens. On this point the Apostle Paul, writing to the Thessalonian church, says: “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—II Thess. 1:7,8

The “mighty angels” which are to be revealed with Jesus are undoubtedly the members of his glorified church. The word angel means ‘messenger,’ and these will be messengers with him to dispense the blessings of the new kingdom. But first every vestige of Satan’s empire must be destroyed, and all opposition to the laws of God’s new world broken. The gathering to himself of those who will reign with him is part of the work of Christ in the first years of his second presence. This is fully accomplished before the old order is completely destroyed; hence Paul’s reference to the “flaming fire” which reveals the presence of Christ when his church is with him is a sign which is still future. It is closely associated with the fire which destroys mystic Babylon. We can even now see the beginning of the smoldering flame; but Babylon still lives, although dying. Christians who are faithful to their Lord shall be with him before the final phase of her destruction is accomplished.

Now let us observe that it is by both the shaking of the heavens and the flaming fire that the presence of Christ is revealed. Matthew’s account of the Lord’s prophecy on this point says that when the sign of the Son of man appears in heaven—that is, the shaking of the powers of the heavens, rendering them incapable of adequately controlling the restless masses as they had once done—then all the tribes of the earth would mourn. Following this, “they” see the Son of man coming in the heavens. The text indicates that the mourning of the people commences before they see the real cause of their distress; but to the Lord’s own people, the faithful watchers, both the shaking of the symbolic heavens and the distress of the nations in the greatest time of trouble the world has ever known are signs of his presence and of the end of the age. it is important thus to distinguish between our reading of the signs and the more complete development of them by which the eyes of all mankind will be opened to discern that it is the return of Christ, the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” in preparing to establish his kingdom that has brought about the destruction of the old order which men call civilization.—Rev. 19:16

In this connection it is well to understand the manner in which the people of all nations will “see” the Lord. We have already noted the scriptures which emphasize that the resurrected Christ, as a personality, cannot be seen literally by human eyes, that both he and the Heavenly Father dwell “in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” (I Tim. 6:16) But just as the heavens in which the sign of the Son of man appears are symbolic, so also is the sight with which his presence is discerned. The use of the eye as a symbol of discernment is quite common in the Scriptures. Speaking of the ability of his disciples to comprehend certain truths concerning the divine plan which were hidden to others, Jesus said, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.”—Matt. 13:16

Later the Apostle Paul, describing the knowledge of the Early Church concerning the first presence of Jesus, when he came as a man to redeem men, said, “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Heb. 2:9) The Prophet Isaiah, writing of Christ and describing him as the “Arm of the Lord,” informs us that the Arm of the Lord will be revealed “in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 52:10; 53:1) Job, expressing his confidence in the Creator, said, “Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God”—but the Scriptures tell us that actually no man can see God, in a literal sense, and live.—Job 19:26; Exod. 33:20

These are but samples of the many passages of scripture in which the words see and sight, as well as the eye itself, are used to symbolize discernment. And it is in this sense that every eye will eventually see Jesus in the clouds of heaven. It means that they will discern the fact of his presence by virtue of the sign in the heavens; that is, that the former powers of ecclesiastical control over the masses have been broken, resulting in world chaos.

But even so, it is well to remember that in our study of the development of the plan of God we are not dealing with minutes or hours or days, but with years and ages. What requires but a few words of scripture to describe and a few seconds to read, may and usually does refer to that which takes years in development. So it is with the sign of the Son of man which appears in the symbolic heavens. It has already appeared, and, as watchers, we discern it and understand its meaning. The world sees also, and fear fills their hearts because of it; but as yet they do not discern its real meaning; they do not see that it means the presence of a new King of earth, a new spiritual ruling power, the foretoken of “new heavens” which, in association with a new symbolic earth, will be the new world of tomorrow.

Later, as the sequence of world-changing events continues to emphasize to the people the utter futility of all human efforts to bring order out of chaos, and peace and prosperity out of war and starvation, in the Lord’s own way they will be made to realize the true meaning of what is occurring—that Jesus has come, and as the Arm of Jehovah his first work is to set aside the old order of things which is based upon selfishness, that the people might the more fully realize their need of Christ’s coming kingdom. (Ps. 110:1-6) Then they will realize that what they first thought to be a dire calamity concerning which they said, “Alas, alas,” was but evidence that the King of a new world order had come and was preparing to establish his righteous kingdom in the earth.

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